Friday, January 17, 2014

How I got my Netgear N750 (DGND4000) router to backup my MacBook with Time Machine

As many people seem to have had problems backing up by using the USB port on their Netgear router and as the Netgear documentation and knowledge fora are sometimes wrong and totally inadequate I am documenting how I installed my drive.  As well as my thoughts on the router. This review is similar to one I put on Amazon.


WHY I BOUGHT THE ROUTER

I bought this router to replace a Netgear RangeMax WNR834B v2 router and a Speedstream 5100 Ethernet ADSL modem that AT&T supplied for their DSL service. 

We had two Netgear RangeMax routers and were using the 2nd one as a repeater, but it broke. So I thought the Netgear N750 would be a good upgrade. It has similar software - Netgear Genie - to set it up.  


WHY THE ROUTER IS NOT GOOD AS A REPEATER

However, a major disadvantage is that to use it as a repeater it must connect with the old-fashioned WEP security protocol, which means devices like iPhones cannot connect to it.  The old RangeMax routers could connect to each other with either WEP or WPS security that is compatible with many other devices. This enabled me to give the same SSID to each router and have one name for people to connect to in our home.

When I spoke with a Netgear support engineer about this  - it seems a silly software restriction to grey out the option for WPS security in this router -  he said that nobody uses a router as a repeater any more - not Cisco, not Netgear, not a whole long list of other companies he rattled off to me. He said I must buy a Range Extender (I did buy a WN2500RP Netgear repeater).  A range extender, boosts the signal. So although the Netgear N750 gives off a pretty feeble signal - the 5 GHz cannot reach the router, the 2.4GHz indicator glows a passable orange - the repeater can pick it up and improve it. 

This is an example of a manufacturer forcing people to buy products unnecessarily. 

Our house is made of concrete bricks with metal bars that hinder wireless signals - so we have to set up the repeater near a window and point the N750 in the right direction. The two old routers worked fine in this configuration. It took some adjustment of the router and repeater to even get an orange signal. I guess I could turn off the 5 GHz option, it suggests doing this to concentrate the 2.4GHz signal, but I didn't try this.


FUN INSTALLING A USB BACKUP DISK FOR MY MAC

The next bit of fun (a whole day's effort while doing other things) was trying to get the backup drive to work. I had a 750GB Seagate Free Agent drive that could take Firewire or USB. I had used it with NTFS formatting on Windows 7, 8 and 8.1 without difficulty, although a similar drive had crashed while under warranty as I was using it intensively to access pictures (Seagate says the drives are intended to backup use - but they did send a refurbished one to replace the broken one).  I connected the drive directly to my MacBook to ensure compatibility and it worked fine. I plugged it into the router and found it didn't show up.

The Netgear Genie software told me to plug in the drive. I had it plugged in - tried both the front and back ports - tried 2 different cables. Tried a USB thumb drive - didn't show up. Tried a 2nd thumb drive - it showed up on the router. It is very unclear in the router admin what the drive should be called - the router has a name (DGND4000), you give it a name (BlackDen - my name - I gave it Black In Den at first, but not sure whether this was the name it wanted and knowing it couldn't take spaces I renamed my router - this name is NOT what is used in the end - even though the Help file says what you name your router in Windows is the name for the Shared storage space), it has an IP number as a name, and the shared disk area has a name (readyshare).  So still not sure whether readyshare was the right name I settled on that.

I then read something about formatting in a tech support forum. My sector size was 4096bytes. As I wanted the drive to backup my Mac - running the latest Apple operating system (ignore the Netgear info that says it doesn't work on the latest OS) - I disconnected my drive from the router, plugged it into my Mac and went into the Disk Utility on the Mac, deleted my single partition, renamed the drive and formatted in a Mac Extended format - as shown in the Netgear literature. This did not work. I could not see the drive when I connected it to the router. However, the 2nd USB thumb drive had worked, so I knew the USB ports on the router were not dead - my initial suspicion. Note: formatting initially as Mac Extended did not work - I don't know if there was something in the Master Boot Record or if formatting as FAT then Mac Extended reduced the size of the sectors.

So I then suspected the Master Boot Record. On my Mac I formatted the drive for a 2nd time - removing the Master Boot Record and replacing it with GUID partition table (GPT). I formatted it as FAT - lowest common denominator formatting, I felt. Amazingly - on plugging it into the router it showed up on my Mac. 

However, on going into Time Machine it doesn't like FAT drives and said it would reformat in the Mac Extended format. So I let it do that. I disconnected the drive from the Mac. I put it on the router. Lo and behold it showed up on the Mac - furthermore the drive itself had the words Time Machine on it, not in the USB Storage area.  


Now the next challenge. To log in to the drive. Time Machine opened on the Mac I tried to choose the drive - it was there as the only choice - silly Time Machine doesn't like any old network drive - only Mac ones. Nevertheless the router had performed some tricks on the drive and now the Mac saw it as the default backup drive - great!

It asked me for the login to the router. One problem is the router only allows one person to login at once, so I couldn't see its settings on my PC while logged in and log in to it on my Mac. I logged off my PC and prior to this had logged into it on my Mac as 192.168.1.1, which I put as the address for my browser. This put it in Keyring - where passwords are stored in the Mac. I am not sure this step is essential, but in view of the next step it might be.

So I started the backup. It asked me to log in to the router. I did with its admin login. But the Mac didn't like it, said I didn't have the right permissions, because admin is not a Mac administrator name. So I tried to login with MYNAME - I am an administrator on the Mac. Guess what - the router didn't know me - because it can only support one login name. So my final option was to login as Guest. I thought the guest option wouldn't let me access the drive - not least because the wireless GUEST login for the router had been set not to see my network - but I guess the wireless Guest network for the router has little to do with Mac Guest logins. Amazingly the Guest login had the right permissions and the backup started.

To back up about a million files and 221.63GB it said it would take 2 days! Now having done 39.78 GB in about 4 hours, it says it will take 18 more hours to finish the backup. Not quick - but I just hope it finishes.

I have put this up in detail as many people seem to have had trouble and the documentation from Netgear is totally inadequate.

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