by Platon Scheblykin
05/26/2008 | 11:45 AM
A home router is quite an ordinary piece of hardware nowadays. It comes in various flavors, designs and technical specs, but mostly has such typical traits as four LAN ports, a WLAN module (if it is a wireless router), and one WAN port. Some routers offer extended functionality by means of USB ports, yet they are not anything extraordinary, either. Still, the market of home network equipment occasionally produces a router that stands out among the rest with some special feature. It is about such a device that we are going to talk today. The router is called BR-724 and is manufactured by Edimax. The mentioned name is for the American market. In Europe the router goes under the name of BR-6624.
So, the special feature of the BR-724 is that it has two WAN ports. It is not something unique, yet such models are indeed rare. What benefits can you get from two WAN ports? It depends on what functions are implemented in the router’s firmware for with these ports, of course. There are obvious advantages, though. You can have a backup Internet connection, increase the overall bandwidth by joining the two channels together, and connect two different WANs (e.g. a local network and an ADSL modem).
We will check out the BR-724 as a router and will test its Load Balancing technology that can distribute the load on the available WAN ports.
2 RJ-45 ports (10/100 BaseT) Fast Ethernet 10/100Mb/s auto MDI/MDIX
4 RJ-45 ports (10/100 BaseT) Fast Ethernet 10/100Mb/s auto MDI/MDIX
External power supply
140 (L) x 245 (W) x 34 (H) mm
Load Balancing I/O
The box contains:
Being radically different from a typical home device externally, the BR-724 resembles an industrial router rather. It has a square case made from 1mm steel with a straight outline and sharp angles. No decorations can be seen here. This approach is understandable as the BR-724 is positioned as a workhorse rather than a piece of furniture.
The router is ventilated by means of the holes in the side panels of the case. This is the only way for the air to circulate inside the case. The router’s indicators and connectors are traditionally placed on the front and back panels of the case respectively. The BR-724 has the following indicators (from left to right):
Each port has a dual indicator. One LED (Link-Act) shows that data is being transferred through the port while the other LED (10M/100M) indicates the speed at which the connection is established. Perhaps quite handy, this way of indication is rather old-fashioned because 10Mbps network cards are but rarely used today. The indicators are large and bright enough to be visible from a long distance in a brightly lit room.
The connectors of the BR-724 can be found on its back panel (from left to right):
The Reset button between the ports is for resetting/rebooting the router.
We’ll check out the router’s internals next. It is easy to take this device apart. You only have to unfasten two screws at the back of the case and take its top part off together with the back panel. By the way, a metallic case is preferable to a plastic one because the details of a metallic case usually fit together better and are a real pleasure to deal with.
Well, it is not quite clear why the developer chose such a large housing for this router. The PCB is much smaller and the remaining space is not used for indicators or connectors or anything. Four more screws need to be unfastened for you to be able to take the PCB out.
There is nothing special about the PCB, either. The piece of green textolite accommodates few components, all of which populate the face side of the PCB. A quick glance is enough to distinguish the main subunits: power circuit, system logic, connectors, and indicators. The PCB has quite a lot of free room, too. The mounting quality is high. Every element is positioned properly, there are no smudges or anything.
There are but few chips on the PCB. Nearly each of them represents a noteworthy unit.
The ADM5120 chip from Infineon must be the most important chip on board the BR-724. It is a System-on-Chip controller featuring a 175MHz RISC processor with MIPS architecture.
There are seats for two consoles (UART and JTAG) to be used with the ADM5120.
The router’s firmware is stored in an EN29LV800 chip from EoN. It has a capacity of 1MB.
The BR-724 comes with 16 megabytes of system memory in two EM638165TS chips from EtronTech.
The ADM5120 has only one WAN port. The other WAN port is based on an external controller. It is an IP101A chip from IC+.
As you’ve learned from the previous section, the BR-724 is not exceptional on the hardware level. Running a little ahead, it is much more exciting from the firmware aspect. We were actually surprised that the router’s firmware file was only half a megabyte large. The router doesn’t have much of flash memory, yet even the available amount is not utilized fully. You will see shortly what features the developer managed to squeeze into 500KB. As for re-flashing the router, you can do this in two ways: via the Web-interface or via TFTP. We didn’t have to update the firmware, though. The firmware from the BR-6624 model didn’t work while the downloadable native firmware available on the Web was an earlier version than what our router came with. People have long worked on alternative firmware for ADM5120-based devices. The results are presented in the Midge distribution but it lacks support for the BR-724 (as well as for the BR-6624). The router is not supported by such popular projects as OpenWRT mostly because their distribution cannot be fitted within 1MB, let alone 500KB. So, we will be talking about official firmware version 2.0 our router came to us with.
The router’s web-interface is not very pretty. The page is painted blue tones and consists of three parts. The header is decorative while the other two parts are functional. The left frame contains a menu of pages with settings. There are eight menu items, each regarding a particular aspect of the router’s functioning. These items are further divided into subsections which are nothing else but pages with settings. This two-level menu is quite easy to navigate. The larger part of the browser window is occupied by the right frame that displays the current page with settings. By the way, the first page you see on entering the router’s web-interface is the status page, which is usually very handy. Although most pages contain lots of settings, it is easy to find your bearings among them (after a short period of adaptation) because the settings are separated with colored markers. Besides, some web-interface pages contain links to other relevant pages. It is a very handy feature especially as most of the linked pages have a button to return to the previous page.
The Help system is bad, unfortunately. You can open it by clicking the Help button in the top right corner of each page with settings. The Help page opens instead of the settings page but its information is scanty and cursory. Such information is usually given as tips right on the settings page in other manufacturers’ devices while the Help system is much more detailed.
We’ll give you a brief description of the options available in the router’s firmware.
Opening the settings menu, the Basic Configuration section contains two pages, Primary Setup and LAN&DHCP. On the first page you can select the connection type for both WAN ports, specify external DNS servers, and enter the router’s domain name and MAC address. On the second page the parameters of the LAN interface and integrated HDCP server are specified.
The Advanced Port section contains settings of the router’s WAN ports. The Port Options page allows you to enter the address for checking the status of the network connection and specify the parameters of the WAN port for the Bridge mode, i.e. when NAT is disabled for this port.
The Load Balancing page contains the parameters of the namesake service and shows WAN connection statistics.
The Advanced PPPoE and Advanced PPTP pages contain additional parameters of these VPN connection types.
The next menu item is called Advanced Configuration. Nearly all of the router’s network services are set up here. The first page of this section is called Host IP. Here, individual machines on the router’s local network are specified so that they could be identified later for various purposes (e.g. to reserve IP addresses).
On the Routing page you can enable dynamic routing and fill in a static route table.
The Virtual Server page contains an editable list of machines on the local network that are going to be visible from the outside via certain protocols.
The Special Application page is where you can define ranges of ports that will be open for specific applications.
The Dynamic DNS page is for entering the parameters of your DDNS account.
The Multi DMZ page is especially interesting. You can set up not one, as in most SOHO routers, but several servers in a DMZ. And you can specify arbitrary external IP addresses for each WAN port individually.
The UPnP Setup page allows establishing UPnP connections via the router.
NAT service parameters are specified on the NAT Setup page.
The BR-724 allows you to view its ARP cache and add static records into it. You can do this on the ARP Status page.
The Advanced Feature page offers infrequently used settings such as port binding.
Security Management is the fourth item in the menu. You can define the parameters of various filters here. The section opens with the URL Filter page where you can create a list of permitted/prohibited websites using keywords or IP addresses.
Protocol filter settings can be found on the Access Filter page.
The Session Limit page is where you can specify the limits on the quantity or duration of network sessions.
On the SysFilter Exception page you can specify the rules for packets that won’t be processed by the integrated firewall.
The QoS Configuration section contains two pages, QoS Setup and QoS Policy, for setting QoS up on the router.
The next menu item is called DNS Configuration. It contains two pages, DNS Setup and Map Host URL. You can enter new records into the integrated DNS server here.
The last group of settings is called Management Assistant. It offers all settings pertaining to the BR-724 as a device. The first page of this group is Admin Setup. You can set up remote access to the router’s settings, change the administrator password and schedule the device’s reboots.
Notifications about failures can be set up on the Email Alert page.
Notifications can be sent via SNMP. To set this up, go to the SNMP page.
Remote logging can be set up on the Syslog page. You can also view the integrated log and specify the parameters for setting the system time.
The Diagnostic Tools page allows testing the passage of the main types of router requests.
The Upgrade Firmware page is the last one in the list. Besides loading new firmware you can save a backup copy of the router settings or reset them to their defaults.
The settings menu has one more item, Network Info. It contains two informational pages.
A detailed description of all the settings would take a lot of space because the BR-724 offers lots of parameters for you to play with. The settings themselves are an exhaustive description of the available parameters. You may only want Telnet and SSH access to be absolutely happy.
Benchmarking the bandwidth of the BR-724 at different variants of connection is going to be interesting. In the beginning of the review we noted that the two WAN ports could be used to increase the overall bandwidth of the external connection. On the other hand, the router features load balancing – we’ll check it out, too.
We used the following for our tests:
The first test is about the router’s maximum bandwidth, i.e. the bandwidth of its LAN section. You can’t expect surprises from this test as most routers deliver similar results in it.
The next test is going to be more interesting as it concerns the WAN ports. First, we will measure the bandwidth of each of the router’s WAN ports in two directions (into the LAN/from the LAN). We use the default settings and disable Load Balancing.
The results are disappointing. The BR-724 is one of the slowest modern SOHO routers. Its processor must be the reason for that. Not even the processor as such but the overall implementation of the functional subunits found in the ADM5120 chip. The use of all-in-one chips is not good for the parameters of devices they are installed in. If Edimax didn’t save on external network controllers, the router might have better results.
Now that we know the speed of the router’s network interfaces, we can proceed to the final part of our tests. We will see how the bandwidth grows if the two WAN ports are used simultaneously and how Load Balancing works.
The processor load indicator on the router’s status page reported only 64% when we were testing one WAN port, so we can expect a performance growth when using both WAN ports at once. In this test two desktop PCs with Gigabit Ethernet controllers and running endpoints are connected to the router’s WAN ports. A notebook with an IXChariot console is connected to a LAN port of the router. We enable NAT and disable Load Balancing.
WANs-LAN (LB off):
Strangely enough, the processor load does not increase to 100% and the performance remains on the same level. The load is distributed unevenly between the WAN ports, which is not good.
Now we turn Load Balancing on and run the tests again using the four algorithms this service supports on the BR-724. We change the network connection scheme to create real-life conditions: we connect both WAN ports of the BR-724 to the local network of another router that plays the role of a WAN. A PC is connected into the same network segment to work as a remote host.
WANs-LAN (LB Bytes):
WANs-LAN (LB Packets):
WANs-LAN (LB Sessions):
WANs-LAN (LB IP Address):
The load is distributed better now and we finally see the peak bandwidth of the WAN-LAN connection. It is about 52Mbps. The tests suggest that the four algorithms (balancing based on the amount of bytes or packets transferred, on the number of sessions established, on the amount of addresses used) are roughly similar in performance. The choice of the particular algorithms depends on your personal preferences. By the way, Load Balancing takes up the rest of the processor’s speed. The processor load indicator showed 100% during these tests!
The last test we will perform is meant to show us the operation of Load Balancing technology at different balance ratios. We use two algorithms – balancing based on bytes and packets transferred. We select a radical ratio of 80% to 20% for more clarity.
WANs-LAN (80%+20% Bytes):
WANs-LAN (80%+20% Packets):
That’s a rather odd outcome. The diagrams show that our changing the load ratio has but little effect. One port is loaded more than the other by only 10%, not 60%. Perhaps the implementation of this technology is not quite correct. On the other hand, we performed the test in a simplified environment and the technology may work better with a real network.
It is hard for us to evaluate the BR-724 objectively because we haven’t tested other devices of this type yet. This router is not the only model with two WAN ports available on the market and we hope to test other such devices soon. We can appreciate the BR-724 basing on some general requirements to home network equipment, though.
One fact against the BR-724 is that it is very slow. Of course, it is the slow processor that limits the router’s bandwidth. It is quite a common thing when the developer wants to put all the subunits into one chip. Such solutions often have mediocre performance. Is it compensated by functionality? We guess it is. Few developers manage to squeeze so many functions into such small firmware as in this model.
The BR-724 is obviously a niche product because the problems it can solve do not usually arise before an ordinary user. It will be a good buy for people who want to establish home hosting as well as for those who want to combine two external channels at home (or in the office) especially if one of the channels is ADSL.