Linksys WRT350N: Wireless-N Gigabit Router with Storage Link

Today we are going to discuss the Wireless-N Gigabit Router with Storage Link from Linksys that combines four devices in one box: the Wireless Access Point, a built-in 4-port full-duplex 10/100/1000 Switch, the router and Storage Link that lets you easily add gigabytes of storage space onto your network. Read our review for details.

by Platon Scheblykin
12/12/2008 | 06:03 PM

We are going to discuss a home router from Linksys today. So far we have only covered one router from this company in our network equipment reviews, and that was quite a long time ago. The model was called WRT300N and it was one of the earliest home routers that supported the draft IEEE 802.11n standard. The WRT300N was soon followed by another product from Linksys, a Gigabit Ethernet router with Draft N support and an integrated USB 2.0 port. Called WRT350N, the new model was among the earliest Draft N routers with Gigabit Ethernet.

 

We have long been waiting for the WRT350N to come to our labs, and finally it’s here. We will test it now and see what it is capable of.

Specification 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

- 2 x 4dBi dipole antennas
- 1 external planar antenna

Signal modulation

OFDM, CCK, DQPSK, DBPSK.

Operating frequency

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

Transmit power

- 802.11b: 18dBm
- 802.11g: 15dBm
- 802.11n (draft 2.0): 6dBm

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 Gigabit Ethernet 10/100Mb/s 
Auto-MDIX port

LAN

4 RJ-45 Gigabit Ethernet 10/100/1000Mb/s 
Auto-MDIX ports

Other interfaces

1 USB 2.0 port

Power

External power supply unit

Dimensions

188(L)  x 176(W) x 40(H) mm

Additional features

- WiFi certified
- ftp-server
- WiFi Protected Setup (WPS)

The box contains:

Exterior Design and Internal Configuration

Linksys’s routers have always been different from regular home routers, ever more so since the transition to the Draft N standard. Right now Linksys uses two design concepts in its routers, the WRT350N representing the earlier of them. This model looks like a clever gadget from a sci-fi movie rather than a humble network device for your home.

The router is shaped in an original manner, one of its antennas resembling a radar reflector. The exterior design is attractive and the WRT350N can easily match any interior. The router also represents a clever ergonomic solution: although its case lacks fasteners for wall mounting, you can install it both horizontally and vertically (using the included stand). The case’s feet are oval-shaped and can be fixed in two positions, too. When the router stands upright, the feet are turned in towards the center of the case to become inconspicuous. And when the router is placed horizontally, you can turn its feet by 180 degrees to make the device steady. By the way, when the device is positioned vertically, the router’s antennas are at the top, making it easy to connect the cables at the back panel.

The router’s case is made from thick plastic, all the details being neatly fitted to each other. The surface is matte, save for the front panel, and dust is inconspicuous on it. The front panel carries all of the router’s indicators – nine in total (from left to right):

The indicators are implemented not quite well to our taste. Their labels are too small and their light is too dull because of the translucent front panel.

The router’s Reset button and external connectors can be found at the back panel of the case (from left to right):

The router is ventilated by means of two square vent grids in the top and bottom panels of the case. And this ventilation turns to be rather insufficient. The router doesn’t overheat, but becomes really hot at work. The heatsinks of its chips were scorching hot when we checked them out after removing the top panel. Thus, the ventilation system of the WRT350N has to be listed among its drawbacks.

It is quite a problem to take this router apart. Externally, it is perfectly unclear what to start with. It’s only after some scrutiny that you notice that you should first lift up the panels with the vent holes. This will call for a screwdriver and some effort on your side. To take the PCB out after that, you’ll have to unblock four locks simultaneously to release the translucent front panel. And you also have to unfasten the four screws on the case to take it apart into two pieces and extract the PCB.

There is almost no free space left inside the case. The main PCB and the Wi-Fi module occupy the whole interior. A part of the main PCB near the processor is screened from both sides with copper foil, and there are heatsinks on the network controllers (we removed them to make the photos). The Wi-Fi module is implemented as a small mini-PCI card plugged into an appropriate slot of the main PCB. Component mounting is neat on both cards, but there are small stains on the main PCB.

We usually begin to describe router’s hardware from its processor, but we’d want to break the rule for once. The described model came to us with a UART console connector and we decided to make an adapter to connect to the router via a serial port. We found the console connection schematic for the NSLU2 and this schematic worked for the WRT350N, too. When assembling the adapter, you should keep it mind that you need to connect Pin 1 to Pins 4 and 6, and Pin 7 to Pin 8 in the serial connector that goes into the PC in order to be able to enter data in the terminal window. Everything should work right after you assemble and connect the adapter. To establish a terminal connection you must use the following parameters:

And now we will tell you about the main chips employed in the WRT350N. This router is based on Marvell’s 88F5181 SoC controller.

The chip is also responsible for the router’s USB port. Here is what we could learn about the 88F5181 via the console connector:

Processor  : ARM926EJ-Sid(wb) rev 0 (v5l)
BogoMIPS  : 331.77
Features  : swp half thumb fastmult edsp java
CPU implementer : 0x41
CPU architecture: 5TEJ
CPU variant  : 0x0
CPU part  : 0x926
CPU revision  : 0
Cache type  : write-back
Cache clean  : cp15 c7 ops
Cache lockdown  : format C
Cache format  : Harvard
I size  : 32768
I assoc  : 1
I line length  : 32
I sets  : 1024
D size  : 32768
D assoc  : 1
D line length  : 32
D sets  : 1024 

Hardware  : MV-88fxx81
Revision   : 0000
Serial  : 0000000000000000

The router is equipped with 32 megabytes of system memory in two EM6A9160TS chips from EtronTech.

Here is the memory information we obtained via the terminal:

~ # free
                total     used      free    shared  buffers
   Mem:  29036  19244   9792       0        1536
  Swap:      0           0           0
   Total:  29036  19244   9792 

~ # cat /proc/meminfo  
MemTotal:  29036 kB
MemFree:  9780 kB
Buffers:  1536 kB
Cached:  7980 kB
SwapCached:  0 kB
Active:  5084 kB
Inactive:  6204 kB
HighTotal:  0 kB
HighFree:  0 kB
LowTotal:  29036 kB
LowFree:  9780 kB
SwapTotal:  0 kB
SwapFree:  0 kB
Dirty:  0 kB
Writeback:  0 kB
Mapped:  2984 kB
Slab:  5108 kB
CommitLimit:  14516 kB
Committed_AS:  4568 kB
PageTables:  316 kB
VmallocTotal:  483328 kB
VmallocUsed:  8684 kB
VmallocChunk:  474572 kB

The router’s firmware is stored in a Samsung K8D6316UTM chip that has a capacity of 8MB.

The network ports of the WRT350N are all based on an 8-port Gigabit Ethernet controller Marvell 88E6131. However, the speed of the WAN port is limited to 100Mbps by the manufacturer. Besides, the 88E6131 has only three physical-level interfaces, so the other two had to be added with individual Marvell 88E1112 chips.

 

The router’s Wi-Fi module is based on an Atheros chipset consisting of an AR2133 RF-module and an AR5416 MAC-controller.

 

Besides the above-mentioned console, there is yet another seat for a console connector on the router’s PCB. It is a JTAG or GPIO interface.

Firmware and Web-Interface

Like most of modern network devices, the Linksys WRT350N uses embedded Linux in its firmware. This makes the device cheaper and also provides third-party developers the opportunity to write their own, alternative, firmware that may prove to be much better than the official version in functionality or usability. Today, there are a lot of individual developers and communities that are writing firmware for a wide range of home network devices on a regular basis. OpenWRT (openwrt.org) and DD-WRT (dd-wrt.com) are the most prominent projects when it comes to alternative firmware for Linksys products. At the time of our writing this review, the people at OpenWRT were still working on their firmware for the WRT350N while DD-WRT had already published a release. Alas, the differences in the hardware versions of the router must be taken into account here. The released firmware is compatible with the American version of the router (v1) which uses a Broadcom processor. The European version (v2) comes with a Marvell processor whereas DD-WRT specialize in processors from Atheros and Broadcom. Thus, until OpenWRT comes up with their alternative, there is only one firmware version you can use – the official one.

The latest official firmware is version 2.00.19 and we loaded into the router before the tests. We will now describe the setup options available when you access the router via your web-browser.

The web-interface is quite original for the SOHO class, but you can get used to it after a while.

The menu is organized as a horizontal row of tabs between the header and the main area. Each open page contains a list of options divided into groups whose names are located on the left of the list and opposite the corresponding group. A short description of the current page is given on the right. To get detailed help on the necessary page in a new browser page, you should click the appropriate button below the brief description. The Save Settings button in the bottom right corner of each page does what its name suggests. An Abort button is placed next to it. You don’t have to open up a special page to learn the firmware version of the router: it can be seen in the top right corner of each page.

The integrated Help system is far from perfect. Although you can get a notion of the purpose of a particular setup option, some descriptions are too succinct and there are no examples. The interface of the Help system looks like a draft rather than final version, too.

So, the router’s menu consists of eight groups listed in the top line. Each group offers a few pages with settings – the pages are listed in the bottom line. The menu structure is logical, so you can easily find the option you need. Perhaps some settings might be combined into one rather than multiple pages, but that’s our only gripe about the menu.

Setup

The first group of settings is called Setup. It contains four pages of parameters you should specify to make the router ready to work. The first and most important page is Basic Setup. You can set up the router’s WAN and LAN interfaces and system time here.

The DDNS page is where you can enter your DDNS account parameters. The list of DDNS providers is short – two names only.

This page might be combined with the Basic Setup page. It is called MAC Address Clone and you can enter any MAC address for the router’s WAN port here.

You can turn NAT off or edit the routing table on the Advanced Routing page. There is a maximum of ten static routes only, though.

Wireless

The Wireless group is about wireless connections, of course. The Basic Wireless Settings page is where you can manually specify the frequency, width and SSID of the connection channel or enable the WPS service for that purpose.

The security parameters of the wireless connection are specified on the Wireless Security page.

On the Wireless MAC Filter page you can enter up to 50 wireless clients that will be denied access to the router (or permitted to access it exclusively).

The Advanced Wireless Settings page contains frequently used setup options (other manufacturers often combine them with the main parameters) as well as fine-tune options you should not change needlessly (they are at the bottom of the page).

Security

The Security group contains two pages that might be combined into one: Firewall and VPN Passthrough. On the former page you can turn on the integrated SPI Firewall and enable filtering of some request types. On the latter page you can enable VPN tunnels via the router.

Storage

The settings of the Storage group can come in handy if you have attached an external drive to the router’s USB port. The Disk page will show you brief information about the drive. Here you can also format the drive and share specific folders on it.

The Share page is where you can share folders, too. Besides, you can edit the access rules for these folders and specify what user groups will be able to access them.

On the Administration page you can create user accounts and groups mentioned above. You won’t find some special settings in this or any other page of the Storage group, so this functionality is just average.

You can enable the integrated UPnP media server on the Media Server page and index the contents of the drive attached to the router. Indexing takes some time, though.

The last page of the Storage group is FTP Server. You can set up the integrated FTP-server here.

Access Restrictions

The Access Restrictions group contains only one page, called Internet Access Policy.

Here you can define up to ten rules for blocking external traffic based on certain IP addresses, domains or protocols. Or you can block all traffic according to a schedule. There are a lot of options here, but also some limitations concerning the number of rules and parameters. That should be enough for a home user, though.

Applications & Gaming

In the Applications & Gaming group you can set up certain services and protocols to work with NAT and define traffic priorities. Port forwarding rules are specified on the Single Port Forwarding and Port Range Forwarding pages.

Port triggering rules are specified on the appropriate page, too:

On the DMZ page you can choose one machine on the router’s local network that will be fully accessible from the outside.

Traffic priorities can be specified flexibly and effectively on the QoS page. You can do the same for the wireless traffic, too. We guess this is one of the best implementations of QoS we’ve ever seen.

Administration

The last but one group is called Administration and contains all of the router’s service functions. The Management page offers various settings that fall into three categories: Setup Manager access parameters, UPnP protocol settings, settings backup.

The router’s log files can be viewed on the Log page. Although they are divided into topics, each particular log is not very informative. Moreover, there is no log of the router’s system events.

The Diagnostics page is a pretty interface for the basic network commands Ping and Traceroute.

You can reset the router’s settings to their Factory Defaults and perform a Firmware Upgrade on the appropriate pages.

Status

The last menu group is Status. It offers information about the router’s WAN, LAN and wireless interfaces. The information is not extensive, and there is no page showing the status of the router itself.

Summing it up, the WRT350N’s Setup Manager is good overall, yet has some limitations we have mentioned in our description.

Performance

It is the performance of the router’s wireless interface that we are interested in the most. Linksys’s devices have always had good performance but we can’t expect anything from the WAN port due to its specification. It will also be interesting to test the USB port which is quite a rare feature for a home router.

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

We will publish the results of the Trendnet TEW-633GR for the sake of comparison.

First of all we measured the speed of data transfer between two LAN ports. This is the maximum speed the router can show and it is indicative of the quality of the Ethernet controller.

LAN-LAN (WRT350N):

LAN-LAN (TEW-633GR):

Despite the fluctuations of speed, the average data-transfer rate is impressive while the top speed is just excellent.

The manufacturer limited the speed of the WAN interface to 100Mbps, so the next test is not very interesting. Anyway, its results surprised us somewhat.

WAN-LAN (Firewall and QoS disabled):

LAN-WAN (Firewall and QoS disabled):

LAN-WAN (Firewall and QoS enabled):

LAN-WAN (PPPoE):

The first two graphs (with the firewall and QoS disabled) resemble those we usually see with Fast Ethernet routers, and this router’s speed is actually even higher than usual. But when the additional services were turned on (the next graph), the speed dropped although we had enabled a rule to free the channel for the specific LAN port. We found out that the firewall did not affect the speed much and the performance hit was largely due to QoS. The wide functionality and flexibility of the QoS rules must have made this service less efficient.

And the last graph shows the performance hit suffered by the router when it connected to a WAN via a VPN server we had established under Linux. We used an endpoint of IXIA Chariot launched on the same computer as the WAN. The results are somewhat below average in comparison with similar routers.

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 IxChariot 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 WRT350N proved to be able to maintain 210 simultaneous connections. That’s a good result for a home router.

The wireless connection in draft 802.11n mode was tested using WPA2 PSK encryption with the AES algorithm. These security settings are the default ones in the draft version of the new standard and are likely to remain such in the final version.

WLAN-LAN (WRT350N):

WLAN-LAN( TEW-633GR):

LAN-WLAN (WRT350N):

LAN-WLAN (TEW-633GR):

The Linksys router is ahead in this test, too. This is especially good because the WRT350N is somewhat inferior to the TEW-633GR in terms of hardware components.

Then 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 two routers are roughly equals here. The TEW-633GT is ahead in the middle points but the WRT350N is better in the last point. Perhaps the Linksys router is even somewhat better overall in this test.

And finally we tested the router’s USB 2.0 interface. We didn’t expect much from it, actually, because the developers do not pay as much attention to it in routers as in network storage and media players. Anyway, we used a 64K pattern in IOMeter to measure the port’s bandwidth and a 512-byte pattern to measure its latency.

We also tested the router’s FTP-server. FTP remains an important data-transfer protocol, so this test has high practical value. We uploaded and downloaded files with FlashXFP and marked the average download speed reported by the program in the server connection log. We used the following content types: a 700MB DivX movie (L), a 200MB folder with MP3 files (M), and a 200MB folder with photographs (S).

IOMeter:

Mode

Read

Write

USB

512B

IO/s

1722.86

1674.57

MB/s

0.86

0.82

64K

IO/s

97.79

102.88

MB/s

6.11

6.43 

FTP:

File Size

Download, MB/s

Upload, MB/s

L

6.04

7.14

M

6.73

6.41

S

7.62

3.29

The results are good. The synthetic benchmark produces similar results to the FTP-server test, which indicates a good implementation of the FTP server in this router.

Conclusion

The transition to Gigabit Ethernet in home network equipment is an important and long anticipated event because of the ever-increasing amounts of traffic in home and city LANs. Moreover, as we know from our tests of Draft N routers with Fast Ethernet ports, the 100Mbps speed is a limitation for the 802.11n standard. Therefore we can’t understand the developer’s solution with respect to the WRT350N’s WAN port.

On the other hand, the limited speed of the router’s WAN port may only be a problem for users who are connected to a faster provider network. For DSL modem users the speed of the WAN port is unimportant at all because the modem is going to be slower anyway.

Otherwise, the router proved to have excellent performance. When it comes to functionality, we only regret the lack of an integrated downloads manager. However, this feature is not obligatory. It is just a nice bonus you get in some other devices.

Thus, the most serious drawback of the WRT350N is that costs 10-15% more than similar wireless routers from other brands. We guess even the full-featured USB port doesn’t justify the price, especially as you are offered only a 100Mbps WAN port for that money.

Highs:

Lows: