by Platon Scheblykin
08/28/2007 | 10:33 AM
This article continues our series of reviews of network devices supporting the IEEE 802.11n draft specification. This time it is a Netgear product. This brand doesn’t need special recommendations. The company’s high-quality products have earned it a good reputation in its decade with something of being on the market. Netgear is also taking an active part in developing the IEEE 802.11n standard, so it is no wonder that the company has long been promoting its own network equipment series with support of the draft version of the new wireless communication standard.
The RangeMax NEXT Wireless series includes three devices: WNR834B, WNR854T and DG834N. The first two models are a regular wireless router with support of draft 802.11n and its Gigabit Ethernet version, respectively. The third model is an ADSL router and we’ll discuss it in this article.
The DG834N is a wireless router with an integrated ADSL2+ modem. It is positioned as a high-speed device without extra functionality. Let’s see if the DG834N is indeed as fast as advertised.
- IEEE 802.11b/g
- external dipole antennas
2.4 - 2.5 GHz
- 802.11g: 6, 9, 12, 18, 24, 36, 48, 54Mbps;
- 802.11g: 14~16dBm (at normal temp. range)
14 Japan , 13 Europe (ETSI), 3 (non-overlapping)
ADSL 2/2+ port
Supported types of
- ITU 992.1 (G.dmt) Annex A
4 RJ-45 (10/100 BaseT) Fast Ethernet
External 12V power supply unit
225.5 x 172 x 39 mm
The router’s accessories aren’t numerous, yet include everything you may want to make full use of the DG834N. Here’s what we found in the box:
The power adapter is big and becomes hot at work.
Netgear’s new home routers have changed externally although the overall design concept has remained the same. The DG834N has a white case with an expressly straight outline as opposed to the older models that used to have smooth lines of the case. Here, the corners are not rounded off but sharp visually and tactilely. The sides of the case are made from glossy white plastic and the other panels, except for the front one, from matte gray plastic. The front panel is a piece of translucent gray-sputtered glossy acryl with gray sputtering. It has cut-outs for the indicators and a manufacturer logo. We didn’t like the quality of manufacture, though. The router looks good, but you can feel its details wobble when you take it into your hands. The router’s stand is made from such a thin and supple plastic that it gets deformed even under small load. Another drawback of this router is that you can only put it down upright as the sticker on a side panel says:
Otherwise the router case may not be ventilated properly. This ventilation is performed by means of natural airflow. Air comes through the grid in the router’s bottom panel, becomes hot and rises up to leave the router through the holes in the top panel. It’s clear that if you lay the operating router flat, the airflow will be largely disrupted due to the lack of any holes in the side panels. If the router is positioned correctly, it is ventilated normally. It doesn’t become too hot while working.
There are indicators on the router’s front panel. Not numerous, they are designed in Netgear’s traditional way. Each indicator is an icon appropriate to the indicated function. The indicators are large enough to be visible from a distance but look somewhat dull, although not as much as to be illegible. There are a total of 8 indicators here (from left to right):
The rear panel carries all of the connectors (from left to right):
Where are the antenna connectors? They are in the case as you’ll see shortly.
The remaining space on the rear panel is given to router-related information, including the router’s default IP-address, and the login and password for entering the configuration menu. This is indeed helpful as you don’t have to search for this information in the manual, especially as the latter is only available in electronic format.
We were interested to see what was inside this router, its case being quite large for this device class. To take the device apart you just press on the four latches at the top or bottom of the case, releasing the appropriate side panel.
With one of the side panels removed, we can now see the router’s antennas. These are two ordinary dipolar antennas fastened on the opposite side panel. Their wires are connected directly to the WLAN module. This solution has obvious drawbacks. First, it prevents you from replacing the antennas without losing your warranty. Second, it is hard to orient such antennas in space properly. The lack of screws on the case is compensated by the screws the card is fastened to the case with. Hex slot screws are used here, so you’ll find it difficult to undo them without a special screwdriver. The card can be accessed without taking it out of the case. You can remove the other side panel to see the reverse side of the PCB.
The PCB is not a pretty view, by the way. Some components are installed sloppily. There are stains all over the card and traces of glue and flux. The screen on the Wi-Fi module is soldered to the main card at the corners only. The PCB seems to have been assembled at home rather than at the factory. The WLAN module resides on a separate card connected to the main one via CardBus.
It is an ordinary card that lacks the part of the case which is usually made from plastic and sticks out of the notebook. It is designed exactly like the reference card from Broadcom.
Finally, let’s discuss the hardware components of the DG834N. The router is based on the BCM6358 network processor, which is an improved version of the BCM6348. Both processors belong to Broadcom’s VIPER family and feature the MIPS32 architecture. Besides the processor proper (with separate instruction and data caches), the BCM6358 has an integrated ADSL2+ modem.
Broadcom’s BCM5325 chip is employed as the router's switch. It is a 5-port Fast Ethernet switch with support of VLAN and QoS queues.
The router’s memory is represented by MX29LV320CBTC-70G and EM6A9160TS-5G chips manufactured by Macronix and EtronTech, respectively. The former is a 4MB flash memory chip and the latter is a 16MB chip of DDR400 SDRAM.
The WLAN module is based on Broadcom’s Intensi-fi chipset which consists of a BCM4321 MAC-controller and a BCM2055 RF-module.
Finally, there are two seats for consoles on the router’s PCB. The larger J1 seat is for JTAG and the smaller J10 is for UART.
This section won’t be long because there’s little that can be written about the DG834N firmware. There are no alternative firmware versions you can use while the native firmware offers a limited selection of settings. We’ll be talking about setup options you can find in the latest version of the router’s official firmware.
And this firmware has two serious defects. It does not allow to configure priorities for each type of network traffic. And it supports neither multiple PVCs nor VLANs. This is indeed the firmware’s fault because the router has all the hardware capabilities necessary to perform the mentioned functions. The lack of them limits the scope of possible applications of the DG834N.
Now we’ll describe what we’ve got. Version 1.0.1.06 was the latest one at the time of our writing this. It can be written into the router easily. After reboot, you can begin to configure your router using its web-interface.
The interface looks like a web-page with four frames.
The header above shows the model name of the router. Below are three setup-related frames. The left frame contains a list of pages with settings grouped into six sections. Four sections, marked out with separators, contain all the available setup options, and the other two are an integrated Setup Wizard and a Help System. By the way, you don’t have to open the Help section to find information about router settings. You can just take a look at the right frame that displays a section of the Help file that corresponds to the options presented in the central frame. The Help System offers detailed explanations with a lot of examples.
Similar pages are organized into groups and the settings of the current page are displayed in the central frame. There are a few logical slips in the page structure, but they don’t spoil the overall picture. The advantage of this data representation is that you can see all the page names in a single list for easier orientation. On each page each subgroup of settings is separated from the others with a blue line, which helps find the necessary menu item. To specify router’s rules, you have to press an appropriate button to open a hidden page. Other parameters are edited right on the spot. All changes are saved very quickly.
Before describing the particular pages, here is a full list of them:
Now we’ll describe each page one by one.
Setup Wizard. Here you can configure the router’s main parameters step by step. The settings are displayed in a simplified way.
The pages of the Setup group allow to configure basic parameters of the router’s WAN and WLAN interfaces manually. This group begins with the Basic Settings page on which you specify the type and parameters of the connection to your ISP.
PVC parameters and the multiplexing method are specified on the ADSL Settings page.
The last page in the Setup group, Wireless Settings, contains basic WLAN parameters such as SSID, channel number, etc, as well as the option of choosing the encryption method for the wireless connection.
The Security group opens on the Logs page. Here you can view events that have occurred on the router, specify what types of events must be written into the log, and transfer the log to a specified location (for example, to a certain IP-address).
On the Block Sites page you can enter a list of sites that will be blocked by the router basing on keywords or domain names. This blocking can be permanent or scheduled.
The Firewall Rules page is where you specify new rules of the integrated SPI firewall and view/delete/edit the existing ones.
If you don’t find the required service when writing your firewall rules, you can specify them on the Services page.
The Schedule page is for scheduling the router’s rules.
To send a notification about an attack on the router or to send a copy of the log by a schedule, you should write the settings of the integrated mail service on the E-mail page.
The next group of settings, pertaining to the router proper, is called Maintenance. This group opens on the Router Status page which shows the current status of the router’s network interfaces.
The dynamic list on the Attached Devices page shows active machines on the router’s LAN.
On the Backup Settings page you can save a copy of the router’s settings into a file or load them from a file.
Go to the Set Password page to change the password for accessing the router.
The Diagnostics page is for pinging machines on the network, finding a server IP-address by its domain name, viewing the router’s routing table and, finally, for rebooting the router.
The final page in this group is called Firmware Upgrade. You can update the router’s firmware here.
On the WAN Setup page of the Advanced group you can specify the MTU size for the WAN port, disable protection against DOS attacks and specify a DMZ server.
The Dynamic DNS page is for configuring the namesake service.
The LAN IP Setup page allows to specify a range of IP-addresses to use for the local network, set up the parameters of the integrated DHCP server, and select the dynamic routing protocol. Here you can also reserve IP-addresses for devices with specific MAC addresses.
On the Remote Management page you can configure the way the router is administrated from the external network.
The static routes table is filled in on the Static Routes page.
The last page of the Advanced group, called UPnP, offers a list of devices connected to the router via the appropriate protocol. You can also disable the use of this protocol here.
The last group, Web Support, is only available when you’ve got an active Internet connection. The Knowledge Base and Documentation pages display the appropriate information about the DG832N from the Netgear website.
Talking about the drawbacks of this firmware, we can add the lack of port forwarding and triggering and the lack of virtual servers. Telling you the truth, this firmware is among the worst we’ve ever met in home routers.
Now we will check out the DG843N’s speed characteristics which are supposed to be its strongest point. Here is a list of equipment and software we used for the tests:
Unfortunately, we didn’t have WLAN cards based on the Intensi-fi chipset and we had to use devices with Atheros’ chipset instead. This may have affected the results since we haven’t yet fully investigated the problem of compatibility between different 802.11n chipsets. We compared the results of the WLAN interface of tested router with those of the Linksys WRT300N (v2). The latter is a Fast Ethernet router whose second version is based on the Atheros chipset.
We tested the router’s wired interface first. The router’s speed on the local network is indicative of its peak bandwidth.
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The WAN port was tested next. First we’ll show you the speed of data transfers into either side. This test was performed with enabled NAT, firewall and protection against DOS attacks. We used different test scenarios for the different traffic directions. To be specific, we used the High_Performance_Throughput scenario for the WAN-LAN direction and the Throughput scenario for LAN-WAN. We enabled ADSL2+ modulation for each test.
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As you can see, the results are average, meaning that many other ADSL routers deliver the same performance. We also performed a test of the maximum number of simultaneous connections using the Throughput scenario with the file size increased from 100,000 to 1,000,000. We were steadily increasing the number of WAN-LAN connections (this is the most important direction) until there were errors in the test. This way we found that the DG834N can maintain only 32 simultaneous connections, which is too few even for a Fast Ethernet router.
Next we tested the router’s wireless interface. Besides our ordinary tests we performed one more test to reveal the router’s “pure” WLAN performance. Having set up WLAN parameters, we measured the bandwidth between two Wi-Fi adapters connected via the router. This test is important due to the ongoing transition to the next-generation wireless networking. When high-speed WLANs become widely available, it will make sense to dismiss wired network segments altogether especially if the wired and wireless interfaces have comparable speeds. We used a WPA-PSK connection for this test. We selected AES encryption for the WRT300N and the only available secure connection variant for the DG834N.
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The WRT300N is almost two times as fast as its opponent. Perhaps this is due to the use of Atheros chipsets on both ends of the connection.
The following diagram compares the results of the routers in the WLAN test (the security settings are the same as above).
Both routers have excellent results. The low speed of the DG834N in the WLAN-LAN direction is probably due to minor problems with compatibility between the chipsets from Atheros and Broadcom. The Netgear router wins the opposite direction, even though by a small margin.
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 DG834N doesn’t win here, but turns in a good result anyway. The WRT300N is surprisingly good when the network card is oriented properly.
So, the WRT300N gains the upper hand in the WLAN tests but we guess the DG834N would have performed better with an Intensi-fi based network card.
Summing up this review, the strongest point of the DG843N is the high speed of its wireless interface and we are quite sure it would have performed even faster with a card based on the Broadcom chipset. Otherwise this router is no different than other such equipment, its only serious shortcoming being the number of concurrent connections, which is very small. The DG834N’s functionality and setup flexibility is low overall. Trying to make a fast router, the manufacturer somewhat neglected the functionality aspect, unfortunately. From the hardware point of view the router isn’t anything exceptional, either. It will suit people for whom speed is the main and only priority. Otherwise, we don’t recommend it to you. This device didn’t leave a very positive impression on us.