Sunday, January 10, 2010

Netgear MBR624GU review

As promised yesterday, I've got ahold of a Netgear MBR624GU. The purpose of this box is to turn a mobile Internet access modem into your own personal WiFi + Ethernet hot spot. It took some doing to get it set up, and it's not quite as perfect as I had anticipated it would be, but I think it's largely close enough.

The first thing I noticed when I got the thing out of the box was that the USB port was recessed somewhat. In fact, the entire back panel is about a quarter inch in from the surface of the top and bottom plastic parts of the case. This means that you can't directly attach the USB modem. That means the thing isn't quite as portable as you would hope / expect, but it gets worse than that. Netgear includes a weighted USB port "base" to hold your modem at the far end of a 3 foot USB cable. Having played with the thing briefly, it's clear that they really expect you to put the modem effectively at arm's length away from the box itself. If you try and use a shorter cable / distance, the reception of your modem begins to suffer, probably because of RFI from the box itself. This is somewhat disappointing, but it does open up the possibility of, for example, putting the modem on the back shelf of your car while the box itself sits on the back seat.

The firmware version included in the unit as it came in the box was not compatible with the AT&T Quicksilver (Option iCon 322) modem. Fortunately, there is a firmware update you can download from Netgear's site that does support this device. With the firmware update, the modem was recognized, but still could not automatically connect. You need to supply an account name and password - "ISPDA@CINGULARGPRS.COM" and "CINGULAR1". Having added that, and used the supplied USB cable/dock, the device connected up all by itself and began working perfectly.

Speed tests show I'm getting about 1.5 MB down and 500 kbps up here at home. I was getting a little bit better upload speed from my laptop connecting directly, but I wasn't getting quite as much in the download direction. Of course, this is with a fairly small sample size, and in only one location. If nothing else, configuring my laptop to connect up to a WiFi access point is a whole lot less trouble than setting up the device was.

Having to separate the modem from the unit is a minor peeve - one that might have been overcome by better shielding. But apart from that, I can't find any faults with the device.

UPDATE: I got the Netgear "official" car cord for the router. It's a bit of a disappointment. It seems to be very, very sensitive to the voltage available. So much so that with the engine running in my VW, it works correctly, but when I switch the engine off, it reduces the USB bus voltage enough to make the card stop working. Using a car AC inverter and the router's AC adapter works fine, though obviously this will result in more draw on the battery. But if you intend on using the hot spot while parked, it's the only option that will work, apparently. On a long drive, however, the car cable should work just fine.

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