Level One N_One 11n Wireless Broadband Router Review

The manufacturer promises that with this router we get performance and style in a single device. With advanced MIMO technology using 3 antennas, users should benefit from its throughput at long distances, signal multiplexing, and reduced wireless dead zones. Let’s find out if it is really so!

by Platon Scheblykin
12/16/2008 | 10:29 PM

The final ratification of the IEEE 802.11n standard is the most anticipated event in the near future of wireless networking but the manufacturers of SOHO network equipment began to produce Draft N supporting devices right after the first draft version of the new standard had been released. They thought the draft version would be largely compatible with the final version and they were right. Today, nearly every major maker of SOHO network devices offers at least one wireless router supporting Draft N. LevelOne has also released two Draft N routers recently, for example. The company offers them in two series, N_One and N_Max and we’ve got the WBR-6000 model from the former series for our tests. Although routers with the Gigabit Ethernet interface have become widely available, the WBR-6000 provides Fast Ethernet ports only. However, there are a number of reasons, most importantly the price factor, for many users to prefer a model with a slower network interface.

 

Let’s see what other benefits, besides lower price, the WBR-6000 can bring to you.

Specifications and Accessories

Parameter

Characteristics

Wireless standard

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

Encoding standard

- WEP (64/128bit)
- WPA (TKIP, AES)
- WPA2 (TKIP, AES)
- WPS: PIN and PBC support

Antenna

3 x 2dBi dipole antennas

Signal modulation

OFDM, CCK, DQPSK, DBPSK.

Operating frequency

- 2.412 ~ 2.462GHz (FCC); 
- 2.412 ~ 2.472GHz (ETSI)

Transmit power

17dBm ~ 20dBm

Receiver sensitivity

- 802.11b: -84dBm @ 11Mpbs
- 802.11g: -73dBm @ 54Mbps
- 802.11n (draft 2.0) : -69dBm

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 FastEthernet 10/100Mb/s 
Auto-MDIX port

LAN

4 RJ-45 FastEthernet 10/100Mb/s 
Auto-MDIX ports

Other interfaces

None

Power

External power supply unit

Dimensions

154(L)  x 143(W) x 30(H) mm

Additional features

WiFi Protected Setup (WPS)

The box contains:

Exterior Design and Configuration

The WBR-6000 boasts an eye-catching exterior design. Its black case is complemented with touches of orange at the very tips of the antennas and in one corner of the body. Such contrasting color schemes are not used often, but this solution works in this model. The exterior is somewhat ascetic as the router’s indicators and controls are not conspicuous. So, there are some things in the exterior of the WBR-6000 that make it different from other same-class products.

This router can be installed flat or upright. You just put it with the orange side down in the first case. In the second case, you attach a small stand to one of the case’s corners. The stand is fastened firmly, but the router is not steady on it and easily falls sideways, obviously because the stand has a small footprint. The antennas turn to be at the top when the router is installed upright, which makes it easy to connect the cables at the back panel. The antennas cannot be detached and that’s a problem, considering that they have a gain of only 2dBi.

The case is ventilated by means of two small vent grids in the opposite panels. When the router lies horizontally, this ventilation doesn’t work quite well and the bottom of the case becomes very hot. It is better when the router stands upright: the hot air is rising up and leaving the case faster due to the position of the vents, one of which turns to be at the top and the other, at the bottom of the case. The temperature of the case is lower then.

The router has indicators, even though they are inconspicuous at first sight. You can also note small labels at the top of the front panel. The indicators are placed behind a translucent strip on the front panel and are invisible when turned off. The indication system isn’t quite good. The labels are too small and cannot be read even from a short distance. Some indicators have unusual functions. Here they are (from left to right):

These are not all of the router’s indicators, however. Port specific indicators are placed at the back panel near the respective ports. This solution is typical of industrial switches and routers where these indicators are usually in full view, but it doesn’t work well for a home device.

The back panel also offers the following (from left to right):

It is now time to see what is inside this router. It was not easy to take the WBR-6000 apart. There are no screws here, but all the parts of the case are fastened together with latches. To open the latches up, you have to put something sharp between the black and orange parts. We couldn’t do that without leaving some notches on the edges of the case. Moreover, there is a jutting tab in one corner of the orange panel, and a prong on the internal side of the black part of the case goes into the hole in the tab.

If you don’t know about this thing, you will almost inevitably break the orange tab, just as we did. Therefore you should not open the router up without a real need because there is a risk of your losing your warranty.

The router’s PCB is almost as large as the case. The component mounting is good, but there are traces of rinsing solution that had already initiated corrosion of unprotected sections of copper interconnects in some places.

The Ethernet switch is the only chip to have a cooling heatsink.

The WBR-6000 is based on a SoC controller from Atheros. It is the AR7130 chip, the junior model in the AR7100 series.

Besides a PCI controller, USB host (MAC), two Gigabit Ethernet ports and other components, it incorporates a processor core with the MIPS 24K architecture and a clock rate of 300MHz.

The router is equipped with 16 megabytes of system memory in a Nanya NT5DS8M16FS chip clocked at 200MHz (CL=3).

The firmware is stored in a 25P32V6P chip from STMicroelectronics. We couldn’t find any info about it even at the manufacturer’s website, though. It must have a capacity of 1 megabyte.

All of the router’s ports are based on an Infineon ADM6996FC Ethernet controller.

And finally, the router’s wireless module is based on Atheros’s chipset: an AR5416 MAC-controller and an AR2133 RF-module.

 

There are three seats for console connectors on the PCB. The two adjacent seats are for UART and JTAG. The function of the first connector is unclear.

Firmware and Web-Interface

We did not find alternative firmware for this router, so we will be talking about its official firmware here. Version 3007 is available for download from LevelOne’s sites, but we could find version 3008 on the Russian site’s forum. It differs from the previous version with support for a new mode (PPTP+static routing). This is the only difference, so we will use version 3007.

The setup manager of the WBR-6000 is quite an odd thing. Its interface looks like a trial work of a beginner web-designer rather than a professional’s work for a serious device.

It would only look worse if it had no colors (but the available colors are not selected with much taste, either). Of course, there are few aesthetes among network users that would value the appearance of the web-interface above everything else, but we don’t think this matter should be neglected like that.

The web-interface has a radically simplified structure. The page displayed in the browser consists of two vertical parts. The narrower left part shows a menu while the wider right part shows the settings of the particular menu item. If there are any buttons, clicking on them will open up new windows with more pages. Besides the menu proper, the left frame offers a link to the integrated Help system. You can get to the appropriate Help page from almost any page with settings by pressing the Help button. The contents of the Help system pleased us a lot. Besides just explaining the purpose of the particular setup options, you can learn recommendations about the best settings for specific situations. We guess the biggest drawback of this Help system is that it is too succinct.

The menu structure doesn’t look logical to us, either. Perhaps there is some logic in it, but it differs from that of most other network equipment developers. For example, most of the router’s settings are dumped into the Advanced group whereas the option of changing the administrator password is an individual item of the root menu. The page for configuring the router’s LAN is also a separate menu item, although it would be logical to put the WAN configuration page there. WAN settings are accessed more often than, for example, the option of changing the router’s internal address. Some parameters that you expect to find on individual pages are combined with other, unrelated, parameters. For example, it is only after we had read the descriptions of most pages that we found DMZ settings on the same page with port triggering rules. All of this makes it quite difficult to set the router up.

The sloppy interface is partially made up for by the functionality of the firmware, though. There are some limitations and drawbacks, but the WBR-6000 does offer a few settings you don’t often find in devices of its class as we will describe shortly.

Main Menu

So, first goes the Quick Setup Wizard.

It may come in handy for those who need to test their Internet connection. The Wizard requires a live connection to your ISP and checks it out right during the setup process.

The next menu item is called LAN. Here you can only change the router’s address on the LAN and specify a range of addresses issued by the integrated DHCP server.

The Wireless item leads to a page where you can find Wi-Fi related parameters and a filter of MAC addresses of wireless clients. Besides that, this page offers buttons leading to wireless connection security and WPS settings. You can also enable wireless traffic shaping on the main page. Low-level connection parameters such as Beacon Interval, RTS Threshold, etc, are missing.

The fourth item, called Password, is an example of a poor menu structure. The namesake page only allows you to change the password for entering the setup manager.

The Status menu item leads to a page where you can get information about the current parameters of the router’s network interfaces as well as about the router itself.

The last menu item is called Advanced. It is here that almost all of the router’s settings can be found. When you click it, you see a list of links to settings pages accompanied with brief descriptions.

Advanced Settings

The Internet page is the first one on the list. Besides port triggering you can find DMZ settings here. You can choose between ordinary DMZ and multi-DMZ (when a specific machine on the LAN is assigned to each WAN port address). The latter modification of DMZ is not widespread.

The Access Control page is for setting rules to restrict Internet access for specific applications. You can also view the restriction log here.

The Dynamic DNS page is where you can enter your DDNS account parameters. The account must be created at one out of four available DDNS domains.

On the URL Filter page you can block the viewing of some websites by their symbolic addresses. This filtering can be applied to certain machines on the LAN and can be enabled by schedule.

Notwithstanding its name, the User Groups page doesn’t have any user accounts. Here you can divide all the network devices on the router’s LAN into five groups and apply different actions to these groups (for example, block traffic from certain addresses).

Additional DNS server addresses can be specified on the Options page. You can also enable UPnP support here.

The Schedule page is where you can write a schedule for some of the router’s services. The scheduled events must occur at least once a week.

The options on the Virtual Servers page allow to establish servers on the router’s LAN and make them available from the WAN.

The options of the WAN Port page refer to the WAN interface (MAC address, MTU) as well as to the ISP connection. Nearly every popular connection type is present here.

The PC Database page shows a table with names and IP addresses of the network devices that are connected now or have been connected recently (for DHCP). You can view and edit the table.

On the Config File page you can create/restore a backup of the router’s settings or reset all the settings to their factory defaults.

The router’s logging function is set up on the Logs page. Besides, you can send some parts of the log file and other messages to the email address you specify.

The Diagnostics page offers two diagnostic tools: ping and DNS Lookup (it shows you the IP address of a host by its domain name).

The QoS service is configured on the appropriate page. You can set traffic priorities up basing on specific applications or IP addresses. Three levels of priorities are available.

On the Remote Admin page you can specify the port the setup manager will be available through from the WAN.

The routing table and tools for editing it are available on the Routing page. The number of routes is not strictly limited.

The Security page is where you can enable protection from DoS attacks and block specific types of packets that can slow the router down considerably. Modern home routers usually don’t have any protection, even of the simplest kind, against DoS attacks.

The last page in the Advanced group is called Upgrade Firmware. It allows you to update the router’s firmware right from its web-interface.

That’s all the features available to you in the router’s interface. The setup manager has good functionality, even though in a sloppy interface. The WBR-6000 looks good in comparison with other cheap models in this respect.

Performance

We did not expect much from the WBR-6000 in terms of performance as this router was in fact one of the cheapest available on the market. Therefore we didn’t take the WRT300N v2 (the fastest Fast Ethernet router we had tested) as its opponent because that model was one of the most expensive. Instead, we compared the WBR-6000 with the Edimax BR6504N router which cost about the same money.

Here is a full list of equipment and software we used for this test session:

As you see, we used a wireless adapter from LevelOne’s N_One series together with the LevelOne router to make a fair comparison.

The router’s wired interfaces were tested first. We measured the speed of data transfer between two LAN ports. This is the maximum speed the router can show.

LAN-LAN:

Next we tested the WAN connection with and without load in both directions, measured the speed of a VPN connection, and found out how many simultaneous connections the router could support. We combined the first two tests and publish the results we obtained with the firewall and QoS turned on.

WAN-LAN:

LAN-WAN:

Strangely enough, the first and second tests produced identical results. This seems to be good because there is no performance hit while the average speed is as high as that of a LAN-LAN connection. Then we recalled that we had had similar results with the Edimax BR-6504n router thanks to Fast NAT. It is a special variety of NAT with low processor load and higher performance. However, Fast NAT has limited functionality in comparison with ordinary NAT and may be incompatible with the latter, so there can be problems with data transfers via certain protocols. We could not spot any problems ourselves, though.

Next, we tested the speed of a PPPoE tunnel established between the router and a VPN server set up in Ubuntu.

VPN (PPPoE):

We’ve got the same picture again: the speed is as high as that of the LAN connection. We thought we had done something wrong with the settings and configuration of the network, but the BR-6504n showed worse results under the same conditions. So, these numbers are as correct as we could make them be.

The next test is about the number of simultaneous connections the router can support. To perform this test we are increasing the number of identical network pairs in IXIA Chariot using the Throughput scenario in which we change the size of the transferred file from 100,000 to 1,000,000. We do so until there are errors during the test. The WBR-6000 proved to be able to maintain 700 simultaneous connections – the maximum result in this test. However, the test program got awfully slow at 200 and more connections, so 200 connections is the maximum practical limit.

There were no surprises when we tested the router’s wireless interface. We used a notebook with a WPC-0600 wireless adapter and established a secure connection between the adapter and the router. Its parameters were standard for Draft N: 40MHz channel width, WPA2-PSK encryption, AES encryption algorithm.

WLAN-LAN:

LAN-WLAN:

And finally we tested the router’s coverage at different distances and with different obstacles. We measured the signal level 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 two 30cm brick walls

Here are the results:

The BR-6504n wins this test. Although the LevelOne router is not far slower, its speed fluctuated too much. Besides, the speed of the WBR-6000 could sometimes drop to the level of IEEE 802.11g without any obvious reason.

Thus, the LevelOne WBR-6000 doesn’t seem to be worth its price because such routers are bought for their Draft N support. As for 802.11g, you can get a better router with 802.11g support for the same money.

Conclusion

The LevelOne WBR-6000 router is a good product in many respects, but its main advantage – the support for the new-generation wireless standard – is questionable. Perhaps this will be corrected in firmware updates, but right now this router is good at everything except for wireless networking. It has a high speed of the WAN interface, even though we have some apprehensions about it as we explained in the article.

The interface of its setup manager is no good, but still, the WBR-6000 may come in handy for a beginner user who wants to deploy a small home network. A strong argument is favor of this model is its low price, about $50. Such cheap routers make the new wireless standard available to more user categories.

Highs:

Lows: