A short story: I was actually turned-onto the WNR3500 by my Mom. While she keeps crediting me with her successes, the fact is that I'm only providing her with the basic skills to find out about these things on her own. She did a good deal of research, and when she explained to me why she chose the WNR3500 (without the "L" suffix), I felt confident that it was a good choice.
The reason why both of us replaced our wireless routers/access points (WAPs) was because we were experiencing problems with the wireless signal dropping (in my Mom's case) or the connection intermittently freezing for a minute or so (in my case, what a pain when using a ssh interactive terminal session). We both tried different channels (remember: 1, 6, and 11) to see if interference from our neighbors' WAPs was the trouble. Alas, nothing helped.
The good news: The WNR3500 did help.
The difference between the WNR3500 and the WNR3500L is that the one with the "L" suffix is for use with the open source router project (I think the "L" means Linux, although I think both models effectively run Linux under the hood). Hardware-wise, the WNR3500L has a USB port that the WNR3500 does not have. The USB port can be used to attach a USB hard or thumb drive and use it as a network attached storage node. I also think that this can be used as one means of downloading different firmware to the unit.
Before I start: I wish to tip my hat to Netgear for recognizing the value of open source and encouraging experimentation with the hardware. So many hardware vendors discourage using the hardware for any purpose other than what the vendor originally intended. In this case, Netgear saw the value that open source gave to their business, and as such has encouraged further open source development using their product. Now, Netgear, please find an alternative to Flash on your web site and I'll really give you praise!
The WNR3500L is a Wireless N draft 2.0 compliant wireless router. It touts...
- 10/100/1000 Mbps Ethernet port for connection to the Internet (cable modem, DSL modem, etc.)
- Four port 10/100/1000 Ethernet switch
- Wireless N draft 2.0 compliant wireless radio (supports 802.11b/g/n)
- USB 2.0 port (for use as a disk server or development purposes)
- A fairly robust stateful firewall (robust in that it has some basic configuration)
- Support for two wireless profiles: One primary, and one for "guests" that can be segregated from the primary network
- Allows encryption using WEP, WPA-PSK (TKIP), WPA2-PSK (AES) and combined WPA/WPA2 modes. Encryption key can be entered as a passphrase or a 64-digit hexadecimal key.
- Auto-selection of wireless channel (don't know how this really works...)
- Can do PPPoE for use with older bridging DSL modems with providers that use PPPoE
- Parental controls and basic content blocking mechanisms, including time-of-day blocking
- Ability to send log events through e-mail
- Can be converted to a wireless repeater instead of a router/access point
- Integrated DHCP server (can be configured and disabled) and DNS forwarding
- Bandwidth control functions ("QoS") to give priority to VoIP or gaming consoles that are delay-sensitive
- DynDNS.org registration client (for use with the DynDNS free dynamic IP locating service)
- Traffic metering with warning (or connection disable) when a set threshold is met (for draconian ISPs that meter usage)
- Integrated upgrade utility that can check Netgear's site directly for firmware updates
While I did test many of the features, I was unable to test the PPPoE support (I don't have DSL), my application really didn't give me an opportunity to explore the parental controls and blocking functions, and because I'm not using the router functions I couldn't extensively test some of the more nifty features. I can say that I'm impressed with the range of functionality right out of the box without hacking the unit and replacing the firmware. In truth, while I did like the idea of that Netgear supports open source router projects with this unit, I found the Netgear firmware worked fine for my initial applications (although it is likely I'll try some of the open source projects in the future).
The few gripes I have are...
- The network time server is not configurable. I run my own time server, and the router wants to get the time from some external source. It would be trivial for Netgear to make this a configuration option. Right now my router is doing the equivalent of the stereotypical VCR "flashing 12:00" mode.
- The "guest network" option was enabled by default. Given the range of Wireless N, I feel that leaving any open access is very dangerous and is definitely violating most Internet providers' terms of service.
- The unit is light, and plugging wires into all the Ethernet ports will cause the unit to fall off a shelf or table. It would be helpful if the base had more weight.
- While I am only using 802.11g wireless adapters in my computers, I still am not seeing even close to 54 Mbps speeds (closer to 10 Mbps). It isn't clear why this is the case (it may not be the fault of the router).
- While Netgear came so far with their support for open source, their router recovery CD only works with Windows.
In general, I like the router. I am actually thinking about using it as my primary firewall and Internet access gateway (rather than using the second Ethernet port on my server for this purpose).
For those really hard-core hardware enthusiasts, here's what's inside:
- Broadcom BCM4718 system-on-a-chip processor (includes 802.11n support functions)
- Broadcom BCM53115S 5-port Gigabit Ethernet switch with two inband management ports and four per-port QoS channels
- Two integrated EHCI-compliant USB2 ports (one on the board, inside the case, TTL-level).
- 32MB SDRAM
- 8MB Flash memory (approx. 5.2MB used by router firmware)
I was able to pick-up my WNR3500L at my local Fry's Electronics for just under $100 (without tax), which happened to be the same price as the WNR3500 (without the L). Many places will charge about $20-$30 more for the WNR3500L.
All in all, I am happy with the router. There are cheaper models out there from other manufacturers (and even from Netgear). However, I think this was a good deal for the flexibility and functionality.