Edimax nMax Wireless 802.11n Broadband Router Review

Are you looking for an inexpensive Draft N device with excellent functionality? Then you should check out our article devoted to a very affordable yet great product for SOHO wireless needs from Edimax. More details in the review.

by Platon Scheblykin
01/15/2008 | 08:47 AM

While the IEEE committee is postponing the date of ratification of the 802.11n specification, the organizations and companies that have anything to do with the new wireless standard are already busy working with it. The certification process for devices supporting 802.11n Draft 2.0 was begun right after the second draft version of the 802.11n standard was approved of by the Wi-Fi Alliance.

 

We already tested one Wi-Fi Alliance Certified device in our labs (that was the D-Link DIR-655 router, see our article called D-Link Xtreme N Gigabit Router Review) and now we can tell you about another such product. It is the BR-6504n router from the Taiwan-headquartered Edimax Technology. This company isn’t as renowned as D-Link or Linksys, but is not inferior to them in terms of product range or company’s age. As for the quality of its products, we are going to check it right now especially as the company gave us a great opportunity to review not just a router but the whole 802.11n Draft 2.0 kit including a Fast Ethernet router BR-6504n, a USB-adapter EW-7718Un, a CardBus-adapter EW-7708Pn, and a PCI-adapter EW-7728In.

So let's get started!

Specifications

Parameter

Characteristics

Wireless standard

- IEEE 802.11b/g
- IEEE 802.11n (draft)

Encoding standard

- WEP (64/128bit)
- WPA
- WPA2

Antenna

- 3 external dipole antennas (3dBi)

Signal modulation

- OFDM
- CCK
- DQPSK
- DBPSK

Operating frequency

- 2.4 - 2.5 GHz

Nominal data transfer rate

- 802.11n (draft): up to 300Mbps
- 802.11g: 6, 9, 12, 18, 24, 36, 48, 54Mbps
- 802.11b: 1, 2, 5.5, 11Mbps

Operating channels

11 for North America, 14 Japan,
13 Europe (ETSI), 3 (non-overlapping)

WAN

1 RJ-45 (10/100 BaseT) Fast Ethernet 10/100Mb/s port
with auto crossover

LAN

4 RJ-45 (10/100 BaseT) Fast Ethernet 10/100Mb/s ports
with auto crossover

Other interfaces

None

Power

External power supply unit

Dimensions

128(L)  x 120(W) x 18(H) mm

Additional features

WPS (Wireless Protected Setup)

Package and Accessories

We received the complete range of products from Edimax: BR-6504n Fast Ethernet router, Wireless LAN 32-bit PCI card, Wireless LAN 32-bit cardbus and Wireless LAN USB adapter.

As a result, the complete set of tested equipment including accessories looked as follows:

The antennas for the EW-7728In were missing, though, and we had to use the antennas from a D-Link DWA-552 PCI-card.

Exterior and Interior Design

The BR-6504n is a very compact device that can be easily installed just anywhere. It also features an original exterior. Well, its Mac-styled design concept with a white glossy sleek case is nothing really new nowadays, but this does look cute together with the small dimensions and the original front panel. The latter is a gray band encircling the router’s case.

The router can be placed flat or upright (using the included stand that is designed to match the exterior of the BR-6504n). The stand is fitted into the grooves in the router’s bottom. The device looks just as good and stylish with the stand as without it.

The BR-6504n is ventilated passively as is usual for its device class. Cool air comes in through the vent holes in the side panels and the hot air from the router’s components goes out through the top part of the rear panel. Although the vent holes are very small, not even visible from a distance, the router doesn’t heat up much at work.

The router’s indicators, connectors and controls are positioned like on any other home device. The front panel offers all the indicators (from left to right):

Although there are few indicators here, all of them are in the right corner of the front panel. As a result, they are small and very close to each other. The indication is based on ordinary single-color LEDs whose light is transferred to the front panel via light pipes. The indicator windows are all the same shape and labeled nearby. This implementation isn’t quite user-friendly, though, because the labels are hardly visible under poor ambient lighting. On the other hand, not all of the indicators are dual, and the two single indicators have different colors. So, the latter two are easily distinguishable even in darkness while the dual indicators are not as numerous as to confuse you.

The router’s rear panel carries the following connectors and buttons:

The connectors are few and don’t need any comments.

We dismantled the router to access its PCB. It was easy: we just unfastened the four screws at the bottom of the case and pulled the top panel up releasing the locks on the side panels.

The router’s PCB fills almost the entire space of the case. All of the components are soldered right on the PCB, including the WLAN module and antenna connectors. The latter are placed far from each other. The PCB design is clever overall but there are a few nuances that spoil the impression somewhat. Particularly, the PCB has too many unneeded connectors and some components are installed awry.

The router’s main components are mostly soldered at the top part of the PCB excepting the flash memory chip which is installed on the reverse side of it. One chip is covered with a metallic screen which is fixed to the PCB in two points – it is the RF-module.

The components of the BR-6504N aren’t very original. We’ll discuss them one by one now.

The processor is a RT1310A chip from Ralink. Unfortunately, there is little info available about this processor, so we can’t tell you anything about its capabilities.

The processor is accompanied with a console connector in our sample of the BR-6504n.

 

The router has got three chips of memory. Its firmware is stored in a 4MB Macronix MX29LV320 chip. The system memory is represented by two A2V64S40 chips from Powerchip Semiconductor, each with a capacity of 8MB.

The router’s LAN ports are based on a RTL8305SC chip from Realtek. It is a five-port Fast Ethernet switch with support for V-LAN, QoS and crossover detection.

The WLAN module chips are worthy of a special interest. We mean not only the router’s WLAN chipset but also the chipsets of the wireless adapters we found in the box. They are all based on Ralink’s RT2800 chipset.

We haven’t yet tested devices with this chipset. It complies with the second draft version of the 802.11n standard and supports 2T2R (2 Transceiver 2 Receiver) and 2T3R operation modes. The chipset exists in six modifications: RT2800P, RT2800PD, RT2800U, RT2800UD, RT2800E, and RT2800ED. The following table from the official datasheet shows the difference between them:

Here are brief specs of the chipset taken from the same datasheet:

Standard
802.11n current draft
802.11a/b/g
802.11i
802.11e
802.11d
802.11h
802.11j

Certi_cation WHQL
Cisco CCX
Wi-Fi Certification: 802.11a/b/g, 802.11n, WPA, WPA2, WMM, WMM-PS

WLAN Features
11b: 1,2,5.5,11Mbps
11g: 6,9,12,24,36,48,54Mbps
11n (20MHz): MCS0-15, 32 with Short Guard Interval Support (up to 144Mbps )
11n (40MHz): MCS0-15, 32 with Short Guard Interval Support (up to 300Mbps )
RTS/CTS
MSDU/PSDU aggregation
Block Ack
Reverse Direction Data Flow
Link Adaptation
Hardware WEP, TKIP, AES Engines
EAP – TLS, TTLS, LEAP, PEAP
WPA1/2 – PSK (WPA Home)
WPA1/2 – 802.1x (WPA Enterprise)
Roaming

Software Window 98, ME, SE, XP, XP-64, 2000, Vista
Windows CE
Linux Kernels 2.4, 2.6
Simple Configuration
WPS

 

 

 
Router


PCMCIA-adapter
 


USB adapter


PCI-adapter

We’ve got devices with two modifications of the chipset. The router, PCMCIA-adapter and PCI-adapter employ the RT2800P, which consists of an RT2860 MAC-controller and an RT2820 RF-module. The RT2800U modification employed in the USB adapter consists of an RT2870 MAC-controller and an RT2820.

Firmware and Web-Interface

You may have already guessed from the router’s specifications and the previous section of the review that the BR-6504N has entry-level functionality. You shouldn’t expect anything extraordinary from it. Anyway, even this functionality must be implemented properly and accessed through a user-friendly web-interface.

Although Edimax is not a leader of the world market, its products, particularly 802.11g routers, get enough support from developers of alternative firmware. We couldn’t find an alternative version for the BR-6504n, though, probably because it is new and people just hadn’t had time enough to write alternative firmware for it. So, we’ll be discussing the latest official version available at the manufacturer’s website. It is version 1.32 and the single one available for download.

The BR6504N’s web-interface has a complex three-section structure. The heading of each page contains the manufacturer’s logo, the titles of three main groups of settings, and the Quick Setup group for a quick step-by-step setup. The left of the screen shows a menu with subgroups of the corresponding group of settings. If you choose one subgroup, it often proves to contain smaller subgroups. When the lowest-level subgroup is selected, the larger part of the screen displays the current page of settings. Each page has a minimum of setup options – that’s why the menu has to have such a complex structure.

The Quick Setup group actually duplicates settings you can find in other pages, so we’ll start out with the second main group. It is called General Settings and contains nearly all of the router’s settings pertaining to the parameters of connections and to the configuration of the router proper.

General Settings: System

The System subgroup that begins the list is further divided into three subgroups, the first of which is called Time Zone. Here, you configure the system date and time and specify the address of an NTP-server.

The next page of the System subgroup, called Remote Management, allows to specify the address of a host on the outside network from which the router’s settings can be accessed.

The Password Settings page is where you can change the administrator password.

General Settings: WAN

The next subgroup in the General Settings group is WAN. As you may guess, this subgroup offers setup options for the router’s WAN port. The first six pages pertain to six main connection types: Dynamic IP, Static IP, PPPoE, PPTP, L2TP and Big Pond.

The next page has a self-explaining name as well. It is called DNS. You can specify the primary and secondary DNS-server addresses here.

The last page in the WAN group is DDNS. You configure the DDNS service here, specifying the server name, domain name, and administrator account parameters.

General Settings: LAN

The LAN Settings page contains setup options for the router’s local network. You can also configure the integrated DHCP server here. The table of leased IP-addresses can be viewed on this page, too.

General Settings: Wireless

The Wireless subgroup, with settings of the wireless connection, contains as many as five pages, first of which is called Basic Settings. Here, you can specify the operation mode of the WLAN module. It can be an access point, a WDS link, or Bridge mode. For the access point mode such parameters as SSID, active channel number and wireless connection standard can be specified.

The Advanced Settings page offers a lot of options that should not be tinkered with unless really necessary. These are mostly low-level settings such as beacon interval, fragmentation threshold, transmitter’s power, connection channel bandwidth, etc.

The Security Settings page offers security options for the wireless connection. The router supports all the three basic technologies: WEP, WPA (2) PSK, and RADIUS. For WPA, the traffic can be encrypted using the TKIP or the AES algorithm, which was selected officially for 802.11n.

On the Access Control page you can allow access to the router to wireless devices with specific MAC-addresses which are entered right here.

The WPS page allows to easily set up a wireless connection of a “router-client” type without entering additional settings on the client device. This is done by pressing a special button on both devices or using a special PIN-code. As a matter of fact, none of the wireless adapters we received from Edimax has such a button.

General Settings: QoS

The QoS subgroup contains one page only – you can specify and view QoS rules here.

General Settings: NAT

The NAT subgroup offers only one page until you enable NAT. This page is nothing else but an editable table of static routes. When NAT is enabled, the subgroup offers five pages among which you can’t find a routing table. We think it is a serious drawback since you often have to write routes in even with enabled NAT. As for the table proper, it contains all the necessary fields including a field that defines the route zone (LAN/WAN). You can use either a full-featured version of NAT or a simplified version called Fast NAT, which leads to interesting consequences (see below) but has limitations concerning certain protocols.

As for the pages that become available on your turning NAT on, the first of them is Port Forwarding where you can specify the appropriate rules.

The Virtual Server page allows to set up virtual servers on the router’s local network.

The Special Applications page is for defining port triggering rules.

The router’s support for the UPnP protocol is enabled or disabled on the UPnP Settings page.

The ALG Settings page contains a long list of specific applications whose rules are enabled by simply checking the corresponding checkbox.

General Settings: Firewall

The last subgroup in the General Settings group is Firewall, which contains four pages. The name of the subgroup is quite self-explanatory.

The Access Control page allows blocking access to the router for specific machines not only by MAC addresses but also by IP-addresses, certain protocols, ports, etc.

The URL Blocking page is where you fill in a list of addresses whose data will be blocked by the router. The addresses are specified by means of keywords.

The DoS page allows to block actions associated with DoS attacks.

On the DMZ page you can open any machine on the router’s local network for limitless bidirectional data exchange with the external network.

Status

The next group of the router’s settings is called Status. It is a set of pages with information about the router’s operation: system log, security log, WAN connection statistics, information about addresses leased by the DHCP server, etc.

System Tools

The System Tools group is the last one. It contains service settings of the router itself and includes only one subgroup, Tools, which consists of three pages. The Configuration Tools page allows working with the router’s settings file.

The names of the Firmware Upgrade and Reset pages are self-explanatory.

Now it’s clear that the BR-6504n is a basic model of a router and offers just the bare minimum of functionality you can expect from a home device. The available functions are reflected in the settings comprehensively, though. The disappearing routing table is the only serious drawback.

Performance

This one is going to be an interesting test session since we’ve got all kinds of 802.11n Draft 2.0 equipment from the same manufacturer that should be perfectly tuned to each other. All the equipment is based on a new wireless chipset from Ralink we haven’t yet dealt with. Although we’ve got devices based on chipsets from three developers, we are still waiting for a larger collection of network equipment to perform a comparative test. Instead of such a roundup review, we will now compare the Edimax kit with Linksys’ devices that have had the best results in our tests so far (this refers to the PCMCIA card and the Draft N Fast Ethernet router). Here is a list of equipment and software we used for the tests besides the equipment from Edimax:

You’ll see the results of tests of the router’s LAN interface (to check out its maximum bandwidth) and WAN interface (in both directions). We’ll also find out the maximum number of simultaneous WAN connections it can maintain.

LAN-LAN:


Click to enlarge

The WAN port was tested under load: we enabled NAT, Firewall and QoS. We performed two additional tests to see the performance benefits from using Fast NAT and were impressed really: the speed was almost as high as that of the LAN interface! However, Fast NAT has limited functionality in comparison with ordinary NAT, so there can be problems with data transfers via certain protocols (such as FTP). Anyway, Fast NAT can be really useful sometimes.

Next we placed the endpoint server into the DMZ to test the WAN-LAN direction.

WAN-LAN:


Click to enlarge

WAN-LAN (Fast NAT):


Click to enlarge

LAN-WAN:


Click to enlarge

LAN-WAN (Fast NAT):


Click to enlarge

Fast NAT helps increase not only the data-transfer speed but also the number of simultaneous WAN connections: 280 connections as opposed to 170 connections with ordinary NAT. Well, the latter number is very high, too.

Next we tested the wireless segment using Linksys equipment for comparison. First we compared all the wireless adapters connecting them to the BR-6504N as it was the main object of our tests. Data was transferred in two directions, from and into the wireless network. We used WPA2-PSK encryption with the AES algorithm.

The results are surprisingly good as the router shows full compliance with the Fast Ethernet standard in terms of speed. Frankly, we hadn’t expected that from such a device as the BR-6504n. These results also indicate the quality of the three wireless adapters. The EW-7718Un performs somewhat worse than the others, but it is quite normal for a USB adapter, and it is only inferior to the other two adapters from Edimax. The failure of the WPC300N may be due to poor compatibility between different chipsets, which is quite a common thing.

Next we measured the WLAN coverage area using almost all possible combinations of routers and wireless adapters. We measured the signal level of a WLAN-LAN connection in five points:

Point 1: Near the router
Point 2: At a distance of 4 meters without obstacles
Point 3: At a distance of 5 meters + two thin gypsum wallboards
Point 4: At a distance of 6 meters + one brick wall, about 30cm thick
Point 5: At a distance of 17 meters + one thin gypsum wallboard and one 50cm brick wall

We used only two first points for the PCI adapter since the system case is not a mobile device. The same encryption options as in the previous test were enabled.

We can see poor compatibility between the chipsets from Atheros and Ralink again but otherwise the results are good. Of course, the WRT300N remains the leader, but you could have hardly expected an entry-level router to beat it.

We also wanted to test all the adapters in ad-hoc mode, but found that they only supported the 802.11g and 802.11b standards then and dismissed the idea. We can only tell you that every adapter worked at a speed of 20-23Mbps.

Once again, the performance of the wireless kit from Edimax overall and of the BR-6504n in particular surpassed our expectations especially in terms of maximum simultaneous connections and top WLAN speed. The single disappointing thing was that the connection proved to be unstable. Despite the excellent results, the speed would often plummet down after a series of tests and restored only when we restarted the test.

Conclusion

The Edimax BR-6504n proved beyond our expectations. The exterior design is a strong advantage of the product. It is compact and stylish like few other routers of that class. The assembly quality is high, too, except for the white traces on the PCB. As for the electronic stuffing, there is nothing too extraordinary about it. The same or similar components can be found in many other entry-level home routers. The functionality of the firmware is average, too. It is the speed characteristics where the BR-6504n excels, matching the performance of more advanced devices.

You can consider highs and lows when deciding on the Edimax BR-6504n until you get to the pricing matter. In fact, this router costs the same money (~$80) as 802.11g routers. So, Edimax BR-6504n may be a great choice for people who have been previously planning to buy an 802.11g router or who just want to have an inexpensive Draft N device with excellent functionality.

Highs:

Lows: