And as the newest member of Netgear's platinum family of home-networking gear, the MR814 also features a stylized silver case, which looks attractive enough to display on your desk. The device itself is fairly basic. On the back, you'll find four Ethernet ports for wired computers and one Internet port for sharing a cable/DSL connection.
Most companies fail at providing clear and helpful installation instructions that even novices can digest. But Netgear really shines in this area. For example, beginners can head straight for the included GearBox CD, where they will find a wealth of information, such as the interactive installation assistant. This animated version of the printed, 17-page installation guide leads you through the setup process and even provides boxes to check as you complete each step. If you need more in-depth information, the electronic reference manual offers a basic troubleshooting section, a brief overview of networking concepts, and a glossary. The GearBox CD also contains an ISP guide with settings for the most popular Internet providers; tips on using the router with Internet games and applications; and direct links to the router's Web Configuration Manager, Netgear's registration Web site, and other online resources.
GearBox CD index screen.
Once you get all the hardware and cables connected, you can configure the router using the easy-to-navigate Web Configuration Manager, which presents you with a split screen. On the right-hand side of the screen, you'll find a brief definition and explanation of each of the settings on every page. This unique feature sets Netgear apart from its competitors and spares you from flipping through the manual every five seconds. At the top of the page, you'll also find the Smart Setup wizard that can save you headaches by detecting your ISP type automatically.
Wireless setup screen.
The MR814 includes a fair number of advanced features, all of which you can easily access via the Web-based Configuration Manager. For example, the content-filtering tools let worried parents limit their kids' access to the Internet or other Web services by blocking certain URL keywords or domain names (such as those associated with sex and porn sites) or limiting access to the Web on certain days of the week and/or times of day. The MR814 keeps a log of Web sites visited, and you can have alerts sent to you via e-mail if your child attempts to access a restricted site.
The Web Configuration Manager lets you configure the router to allow gaming and other special applications, such as Half Life or Quake III that may require open ports or multiple connections. You can also set up one computer to act as a DMZ server, although this leaves the machine completely exposed to the Internet.
Finally, the MR814 supports 128-bit WEP encryption and wireless MAC address filtering--standard for most home devices. As a bonus, Netgear throws in a one-year subscription to Zero-Knowledge Systems' Freedom Personal Firewall software, which blocks ads and helps manage cookies. After the first year, the software will cost you $40 per year.
In CNET Labs' tests, the MR814 delivered throughput on a par with that of other home wireless devices, albeit on the slow end of the spectrum. It essentially tied the Microsoft MN-500 wireless base station in both Ethernet and wireless testing, falling short of the mark set by the top-performing HP wireless gateway hn200w and Siemens SpeedStream 2624 wireless DSL/cable router. In informal range tests, the MR814 delivered good results in our typical office environment, maintaining a solid connection between floors.
| Throughput tests |
Measured in Mbps (longer bars indicate better performance)
| Response time |
Measured in milliseconds (shorter bars indicate better performance)
| Range test |
Relative performance in typical office setting
For practical throughput tests, CNET Labs uses NetIQ's Chariot 4.3 software as its benchmark. For wireless testing, the clients and routers are set up to transmit at short ranges and at maximum signal strength. CNET Labs' response-time tests are also run with Chariot software using the TCP protocol. Response time measures how long it takes to send a request and receive a response over a network connection. Throughput and response time are probably the two most important indicators of user experience over a network.
Netgear backs the MR814 with a solid three-year warranty--average among router vendors but not as lengthy as some competing vendors' plans. For example, 3Com and Belkin both offer lifetime warranties. Still, three years should be plenty of coverage, especially thanks to Netgear's toll-free, 24/7 phone tech support. You can also find plenty of support on the company's Web site, including manuals, FAQs, firmware updates, e-mail tech support, and a searchable knowledge base.
Netgear support Web site.