I can’t believe that it has been almost two years since I moved away from my Apple AirPort Extreme WiFi routers. You can see my original Linksys Velop review from May 2018 here. I grew my original three node Tri-band Linksys Velop network to five nodes that year and it worked pretty well for me. However, I’m a speed freak. I want the fastest possible network speeds that I can get and I zero tolerance for dead spots. I have a fairly large network with anywhere from 110 to 130 devices connected at any given time. I also have a smart home and stable fast WiFi is a must for a smart home to function successfully. This need for speed lead me to look at the NEW Linksys Velop WiFi 6 Mesh Router.
The Linksys Velop WiFi 6 Mesh Router is a BEAST!
It’s not only significantly larger in size, but it also improves upon the Velop Tri-band Mesh Router in every way. The specs are mouth-watering.
This is a follow up to my post back June 17th, 2016. Back then I had just moved to my new home and back then the only wired option for broadband internet was AT&T U-verse. Sadly the maximum speed was only 18Mbps down and a paltry 1.8Mbps up. Although Comcast’s Xfinity was available in my subdivision, they hadn’t run lines yet to the newly developed area.
6 months later I have Xfinity high speed internet again
I’ve traveled religiously with an Apple AirPort Express Base Station for years. It’s portable, it’s fast, and pain free in terms of setup. It just works. However, there’s one thing that made me look for a new solution. More and more hotel rooms and locations that I’m in on the road are now WiFi Only, meaning that newer hotel rooms are no longer equipped with wired ethernet jacks. Even those rooms that do have the wired ethernet ports are often disconnected. Sure I could just connect my devices to the WiFi network offered but that offers a set of challenges that I was avoiding by bringing my own router in the 1st place. When you connect to the hotel WiFi (free or paid) chances are each device has to go through a sign-in, login, accept the terms process. Usually this login is only good on average for up to 24 hours before having to repeat the process for each device each day. On the other hand if I connect my own WiFi router (hotspot) then I use one device to sign on/login etc. and all the other devices on my network can surf freely without the need to have to sign on/login individually.
Why the AirPort Express is no longer the solution
The AirPort Express is great and even the newer form factor has grown on me, however the AirPort Express requires a wired connection to the internet in order to work. If I’m in a hotel with WiFi only the AirPort Express has to go back in my bag. Sure the AirPort Express can be used to extend an existing “AirPort network”, but I have yet to see a hotel equipped with AirPort Base Stations, let alone the access needed to make that kind of configuration work.
Netgear built the WiFi Travel Router I was looking for
The Netgear Trek N300 does the one extra thing I need. It allows you to connect to an existing WiFi network and then share that connection via the WiFi network that it creates. Having my cake and eating it too. It can work in either a wired or wireless setup. If there is an Ethernet jack in the room then the Netgear Trek N300 can plug into it and route it just like the AirPort Express. However, if there is only a WiFi network you can have the Trek N300 join it and share it creating your own private password protected WiFi hotspot for the rest of your devices/guests.
How does it work?
As you might expect the setup requires a couple of extra steps when connecting it to an existing WiFi network. The first thing you’ll do is simply configure it with a web browser to set up the wireless network for your devices to connect to. Let’s say for example you want to create a network called “Get off my LAN”. Once you set that up with a password you’re all set to travel. Once you get to your hotel room or other public WiFi area, just power the Trek N300 up using the built-in foldout plug or plug in a standard micro USB cable (it comes with it) and power it via USB. This is a very nice touch because I don’t have to have an extra free wall outlet available. I can power it using my Anker 40w 5 port USB charger/power source.
Now simply connect to it from any of your devices. Bring up your web browser and enter the address of your Trek N300. Signin with your admin password and from there you will see a list of the visible WiFi networks to choose from. Choose the public network that you wish to connect to and you will likely be prompted by the public WiFi’s login page. Login as you normally would if you were connecting to this network directly, but you are actually connecting the Trek N300 to it. Once you’ve successfully logged in or paid your Netgear Trek N300 will be online and able to route that WiFi connection to your private WiFi network “Get off my LAN” for all your other devices/guests to connect to.
This Router/Range Extender works GREAT, especially after I upgraded it to the latest firmware. Unfortunately it won’t speed up a painfully slow hotel WiFi connection, but it will make it less painful for you to use by eliminating device limits and multiple device logins. Also it will give you one more layer of security because all of your devices will be behind the Netgear firewall and not visible to the public WiFi network.
The Bottom Line
The Netgear Trek N300 didn’t disappoint. I’m using it this week on the road as I write this post from my room at a Hampton Inn. There are no ethernet ports here in the rooms and without the Trek N300 I would have had to connect each device to the hotel public WiFi and sign in each device separately. You get an extra Ethernet port on it to connect wired devices too.
I recently relocated and I really missed the convenience of having wired ethernet in each room. Sure I have an Apple AirPort Extreme Base Station that does 802.11ac, but I still have some devices such as TiVo Mini (review coming soon) that require a hardwired connection. Yes I could go with ethernet over power lines or Moca, but nothing beats gigabit ethernet if you can do it. The challenge was running a cable from living room to my office, from my living room to my master bedroom and not being able to see the cables once in place. Category 6 Ethernet cables are traditionally thick and well, ugly. Sure you can get them in different colors or paint them, but they are still very very noticeable. Some even run them under the carpet or rug and still see a “bump”, not to mention eventually wearing the cable out with foot traffic. My plan was to take the longer route along the wall and baseboard, but tucked in and out of sight. To do this I needed a “flat” ethernet cable.
I ended up going with a couple of these 50′ white one from Amazon. Although I love buying cables from monoprice.com as they are almost always cheaper, but they only had black ones and at some point the cable does need to come up from the floor and attach to something. White would just looked better and less noticeable than a black cable since the point was all about hiding it. Once installed the cables performed just like regular Cat 6 Ethernet cables and I’m happy to have a more secure network that is faster than the fastest WiFi. Although gigabit speed is not a concern for TiVo or Apple TV since they don’t even have gigabit ethernet ports anyway, it’s nice in my office where my MacBook Pro 15″ Retina Display is plugged in while I work and getting gigabit speeds via my Belkin Thunderbolt Express Dock to my Mac OS X file server with Drobo 5D as well as my Drobo FS.
Drobo recently introduced their third generation 4-bay enclosure and I thought I’d take a look. I’ve been using Drobo storage units since 2008 (see my first review here). As a matter of fact that first unit is still in use today. Now I have five of them in total between home and my studio. So far to date I haven’t had any hardware issues with my Drobo units. They have actually performed quite well. I did have a directory corruption problem early on that required me to reformat and restore from a backup, but that could have happened on any drive. Other than that one incident my five Drobo enclosures have worked just fine. I know that some, including my buddy Scott Kelby have not been so lucky. As a matter of fact Drobo has gone through some major changes (for the better) as a company as a result. With that said and since I’ve not had any real issues I continue to use their products.
The new third generation 4-bay enclosure gets back to the basics. It reminds me of my first Drobo, only it’s cheaper and faster with a more solid design. With this new model you can put anywhere from 1 to 4 drives in it of any capacity. Of course you’re going to want to put at least two drives in it to get the data protection features. It has one interface on the back: USB 3. Aside from the USB 3 connection it looks and feels just like any other Drobo, but there are a couple of other things under the hood. It has a Power Fail Protection feature that protects the data you were transferring in the middle of a power outage. It also now sports a new Time Machine feature that lets you create a backup-specific volume. This is handy when you don’t want Time Machine to eat up all the available space.
You can configure it up to 24 TB
I get this question all the time. Certainly there are less expensive RAID systems out there that are not proprietary. I went with Drobo for the following reasons:
Beyond RAID (their technology) means that I can mix the drive capacities. As the price of 4TB drives continue to drop, for example, I can replace my 2 and 3 TB drives without doing them all at once.
I can swap out a drive without having to stop the work or reformat. If I need to replace a bad drive or increase the total storage capacity, I can just eject a drive and replace it with another (potentially larger) one.
I don’t have to be an IT expert to manage it. It sits in my server closet and just runs 24/7. If anything goes wrong it sends me an email.
What if it fails?
I’ve heard the horror stories. As a matter of fact you’d be hard pressed to find ANY product that someone doesn’t have a horror story about. However, I don’t rely on or totally trust ANY single solution when it comes to my data. No matter who makes my storage units or how great their reputation is, I’m going to have my data backed up in multiple places including an offsite backup via crashplan.com. So if it failed tomorrow, I’d probably replace it with another one as nothing lasts forever and it will die someday. My favorite model is the Drobo 5D. This baby is fast and is connected via Thunderbolt to my Mac mini server. Again, I haven’t had a moment’s problem out of it since the day I turned it on. It’s been running 24/7 since day one.
Although my Drobo units haven’t failed, my hard drives have! Here’s what Drobo does when a drive fails:
I got an email that the 5th drive was failing. I ordered a new one. It arrived in a couple of days. I ejected the bad one and put the new one in. I kept working the whole time. If you’re super paranoid you can set it to protect you against TWO drive failures. This will reduce your total available capacity, but two drives could die at the same time and your data would still be protected.
You can get the NEW 3rd Generation Drobo here for $349 or less. Drobo increased their warranty period from one year to two years.