My very modest wireless home-network router, about four years old, died last week. It passed its various self tests; I did a complete hard-reset and reboot, but no success. Whatever the cause of failure–whether a permanently flipped bit in the firmware or a problem with the I/O–I'll never know, but I had to replace it.
And that's when the fear-factor started. Sure, getting new stuff can be nice, but it can also be a headache: new installation procedures to learn, old ones to forget; idiosyncrasies and subtleties of use, cabling and interconnection to figure out–you know the feeling. All you want is a quick form, fit, and functional drop-in replacement, but little-by-little, you can end up with a major redo of your entire installation. You want to see the familiar sequence of LEDs as the box does its thing (for a wonderful take on panel lights, see this monthly “Reflections” column entitled “The Blinking Light” by the inimitable Bob Lucky, in the November 2008 issue of IEEE Spectrum ).
So I was pleasantly surprised and somewhat shocked when the local Staples store had the exact same router, a Netgear WGR614, on the shelf, and for just $40. It wasn't a “leftover” unit either, it was current production. The revision level had gone from Version 6 to Version 7, but that was the only change I could see. Connection, installation, and setup took just a few minutes, and I was back in business. And since it's a time-tested design, I have more confidence in the integrity and reliability of the hardware and the firmware (despite, or perhaps due to, the upgrade).
Too often, the combination of the rapid change in our consumer-product technology, combined with the relentless new-product cycle means that you can't get a drop-in replacement for many things, when that's really all you want. So when the product dies, you have parallel joy and aggravation of shopping for and setting up the replacement. Sometimes that's fun and an opportunity to get the latest and greatest, but often it's really a headache you don't need or want.
So now I sit next to my replacement router, warmed by the familiar glow and flickering sequence of its many indicator LEDs, and I say “thank you” to the folks at Netgear! ♦