by Cable Guy
02/03/2012 | 05:16 AM
In the spring of 2011 we tested a 450Mbps wireless kit from Trendnet: a TEW-691GT router with an Ethernet-adapter TEW-687GA. Despite their advanced hardware specs, those devices could not show their best due to software limitations.
In this review we will test an updated kit that now includes a TEW-692GR router and a 4-port bridge TEW-680MB. Both are top-end models in Trendnet’s product lineup. As opposed to their predecessors, they support both 802.11n frequency bands: 2.4 and 5 GHz. The router can use both bands concurrently whereas the adapter can connect via either of them. Each device supports wireless data transfer rates up to 450 Mbps and features Gigabit Ethernet ports. Unlike many other high-performance products of its class, the router lacks a USB port for such extra features as network attached storage or network printing.
The TEW-680MB is positioned as a versatile solution for streaming multimedia files, including HD video. Working in the relatively unused 5GHz band, it can provide a very high speed. It also features fashionable green technologies but it’s hard to evaluate them under our test conditions.
This black and orange color scheme seems to have been reserved by Trendnet for its top-of-the-line products. The packaging is informative. You can see photos of the product, read its description in several languages, learn its specs and find a list of compatible devices here.
Besides the router/adapter, the box contains a 12V power adapter, a brief installation guide, and a CD with electronic user manuals in several languages. You can also find a stand in the router's box.
Each device has a black glossy plastic case which will have to be cleaned often. The router measures 16.3 x 15 x 2.9 centimeters but needs some space for antennas and cables. Rather oddly for such a top-end product, its three external 5GHz antennas are not detachable.
There are multicolored system status, LAN and WLAN indicators on the router’s front. A WPS button can be found on the top panel and a Reset one on the left panel. There is also a vent grid in the router’s left side. At the back you can see four LAN ports, one WAN port for internet connection, and a power connector. The TEW-692GR is supposed to be positioned flat or, with the included stand, upright. Wall mounting is not supported. So, the router’s exterior design is simple enough, but the glossy surfaces make it somewhat unpractical.
The TEW-680MB adapter seems to be no different from its predecessor except that it has more ports for PCs and more indicators. Its size is 6 x 11.5 x 13.5 centimeters. There is a WPS button on its top for connecting to a Wi-Fi access point.
There is a line of indicators on the front panel: Wi-Fi connection, wired connections, and power. The color of the LEDs is indicative of the connection speed and frequency band. There is a reset button on the adapter's bottom panel.
Like the pair of devices from the previous Trendnet kit, the TEW-692GR and TEW-680MB are based on the Ralink RT3883F processor which is a versatile SoC solution with MIPS architecture and an integrated dual-band radio module. The latter can only work in one band at any given moment: 2.4 or 5 GHz. Therefore, there is an additional Ralink RT3593 chip in the router so that it could support both frequency bands concurrently. The RT3593 is connected to the three external 5GHz antennas. Both devices use internal antennas for the 2.4 GHz band. There are microconnectors on their PCBs so you can improve the antennas if necessary. The radio module can work in 3T3R mode, delivering a data-transfer speed of 450 Mbps.
Each device has 64 megabytes of system memory. The amount of flash memory differs: 8 megabytes in the router and 4 megabytes in the adapter. The Gigabit Ethernet switch is based on an Atheros AR8327 chip. Although technically available, Jumbo Frames technology is not utilized in these products.
The Reset and WPS buttons are yet another common detail. Each device has a place for a console port. Each is ventilated passively. No heatsinks are installed on the processor and switch.
We used firmware version 126.96.36.199 for the router and 188.8.131.52 for the adapter.
The router is set up via a web-browser. The setup interface is designed in a classic way with pages grouped by a common topic. The interface elements and the integrated help system (unfortunately, not very helpful in some situations) are available in English only.
If you want to do everything quick and easy, you can choose the Wizard option. It will help you set up your internet connection and establish a secure wireless network.
You can use any of the popular Internet connection methods with this router: static or dynamic IP address, PPPoE, PPTP or L2TP. In every case you can change the MTU size and the external interface’s MAC address. If the router is connected to the internet via an access server, there are three possible operation modes: always connected, connection on demand, and manual connection. The field for entering the server name is only 15 characters long, which may prove to be too short with some providers. IP addresses for VPN tunnels are set up automatically but the WAN port address can be changed.
There is a typical selection of LAN settings here. You can enter internal IP addresses for the LAN ports, enable DHCP or specify fixed MAC-IP pairs. You have to enter them manually rather than export from the already issued addresses.
The router supports QoS but this feature lacks any documentation except for a single screenshot. The traffic management options only refer to outgoing connections. You can prioritize different types of traffic by application, port and packet size. QoS requires quite a lot of processor resources, so it may lower the effective speed of your internet connection.
There are two groups of identical pages for setting up the router’s Wi-Fi interfaces: one for 2.4 GHz and another for 5 GHz. You can disable the radio module or define its operation schedule, choose Wi-Fi mode (b/g, b/g/n or n for 2.4 GHz and a/n for 5 GHz) and specify up to four different SSIDs. Network name broadcasting can be disabled. You can also choose such options as channel number, channel width, guard interval, and MCS. The TEW-692GR supports up to 11 channels in the 2.4GHz band and 9 channels in the 5GHz band. The “virtual” networks work on the same channels and share the common bandwidth. They can only differ in encryption mode and black/white lists of client MAC addresses, making it impossible to organize internet-only guest access. As for security, the access points support open network mode, WEP, WPA and WPA2 (the latter two with a passphrase or via an access control server).
WDS is supported but involves a performance hit, so it is more effective to use special repeaters or additional access points to expand your wireless network coverage. If the router is installed in a hard-to-access location, you can start a WPS connection via its web interface by specifying the frequency band to search for clients in. The advanced options offer a few parameters that can help you fine-tune your wireless bandwidth.
The last page in this group is a table of connected clients with their MAC address, connection standard, speed and signal level.
Local systems can be accessed from the internet is multiple ways. The easiest way to provide such access is to place a PC into the DMZ for the router to direct all incoming requests to it. Another method is to use port forwarding rules on the Virtual Server page. You can have different numbers of public and internal ports but you have to use individual rules for each port. It is impossible to enter a port range. For each rule you can specify an IP address filter and operation schedules with days of the week and time period. Such schedules can also be used for the wireless modules.
You can forward multiple ports or port ranges using the rules of the Gaming sections but you won’t be able to have different public and internal port numbers with them. Schedules and the IP filter work here, too. You can also use semiautomatic port triggering, which may be handy for some applications.
NAT can interfere with some network protocols as it changes addresses in network packets. To solve this problem, there are special ALGs that can identify and correct packets so that they could successfully pass through the router. This feature works for multimedia streaming, voice communication and FTP protocols.
The extra options include adding entries into the routing table, enabling the UPnP protocol and allowing a response to an incoming ping on the WAN port.
The Access Control page provides a few options for blocking websites based on keywords in their URLs or blocking internet access for local systems based on their IP addresses. You can also set up a simple firewall by entering client addresses and application ports into its rules. The firewall can be enabled according to a schedule.
Administrative tools can all be found on a dedicated page. Besides changing the admin password, updating firmware and working with the router configuration, you are offered such options as DDNS client, reboot button, and remote management via the internet. The integrated clock can be synchronized via the internet and is used for the abovementioned schedules. The status page offers a quick overview of the router’s status, listing the current parameters of its network interfaces, firmware version and uptime.
The firmware developers seem to have just modified the previous version. We do not find some obligatory options for a top-class device such as an event log. On the other hand, the router does its main job of providing internet access and Wi-Fi well enough.
From a technical standpoint, the TEW-680MB is a Wi-Fi to Ethernet bridge. It can be used to connect Ethernet devices (TV-sets, game consoles, media players, IP video cameras and other equipment) to a wireless network. It offers as many as four Gigabit Ethernet ports and can serve multiple clients concurrently. You can also use it to link together segments of a local network.
You don’t have to turn on your PC to make this adapter work. The WPS technology, enabled by the appropriate button, will connect the TEW-680MB to your Wi-Fi network automatically. This method won’t allow the adapter to show its best, though. The factory settings of its wireless module can be improved using its web interface.
The Network section contains a single option for choosing the device’s address. You can enter the adapter’s IP address or have it acquired via DHCP. The Wireless section is more interesting. The status page reports information about the current connection such as network name, signal level and speed. The wireless adapter maintains statistics of sent and received data packets. The TEW-680MB allows you to set up several wireless AP profiles and quickly switch between them. Each profile contains a network name and its encryption method. You can add Wi-Fi networks found with the integrated scanner.
The wireless module’s performance can be improved by fine-tuning its parameters. You can choose from multiple options, for example dual channel mode. There is no explicit frequency band selection but you can choose 802.11a/n for 5 GHz. WPS connection can be established with the button on the adapter’s case as well as via its web-interface.
The Administrator group contains such popular options as firmware update, admin password, device name, saving and resetting the device configuration. There is a special button for resetting the adapter. The status page shows you information about the wireless connection as well as firmware version, uptime and wired network parameters.
We tested our TEW-692GR with iperf following our standard procedure. We checked out every internet connection method, measuring the data-transfer rate on a PC located on the LAN.
The TEW-692GR having the same processor as the previously tested TEW-691GR, we can see if the manufacturer has solved the problem of low PPTP performance.
The numbers indicate that the router is fast in PPTP mode. The exact speed is roughly proportional to the processor’s resources necessary to process the connection. You can get about 300 Mbps with a static IP address, 140 and 230 Mbps with PPoP (uplink and downlink speeds, respectively), 110/130 Mbps with PPTP and 60 Mbps with L2TP. Thus, the router can fully use a 100Mbps channel in every mode save for L2TP. It won’t be so effective with a Gigabit Ethernet channel, though.
In our previous review of Trendnet products we couldn’t reach 3T3R speeds but had a data-transfer rate of 150 Mbps with an ASUS adapter. Let's see if the new firmware has changed anything in this respect.
We used the following adapters: ASUS USB-N13 (Ralink, 2T2R), D-Link DWA-160 (revision A2, Atheros, 2T2R), NETGEAR WNA3100 (Broadcom, 2T2R) and Trendnet TEW-680MB (Ralink, 3T3R). The adapters from D-Link and Trendnet can use either of the two frequency bands while the other two adapters, 2.4 GHz only.
Notwithstanding the several pages with Wi-Fi options, it is not easy to find optimal settings. We carried out two series of tests: 1) at the default settings with WPA2-PSK AES enabled and 2) at high-performance settings (20/40 mode, the least used channel, etc).
The router and client were placed at about 5 meters from each other during this test. The router was positioned upright on its stand. The data-transfer rate was measured on a PC connected to a router’s LAN port.
Trendnet should be given credit for improving its firmware as you can get a speed up to 120 Mbps when downloading data to a wireless client. The other adapters are only 26 to 60 Mbps fast. When transferring data in both directions, sending has higher priority than receiving, which seems to be the correct solution, even though it leads to a catastrophic reduction in the downlink speed.
Now let’s see if the performance can be improved by fine-tuning the router.
When set up properly, the TEW-680MB can deliver up to 200 Mbps when receiving data at 2.4 GHz. The other results have improved, too. The only exception is the DWA-160 which is indifferent to the changes in settings in 2.4 GHz mode. The RT-N13U can only deliver 40 Mbps.
The best performance is provided by the WNA3100 and TEW-680MB. The latter can indeed be used for HD video streaming.
The tests suggest that the performance of modern 802.11n devices depends on a large number of factors: compatibility with other devices, wireless access point parameters, presence of other networks using the same frequency band, etc. But if you do everything correctly, you can get a higher speed than Fast Ethernet.
The Trendnet TEW-692GR is a well-made mainstream product. It doesn’t offer too many extra features, but it can connect your LAN to the internet using all popular connection methods. It can fully utilize the 100 Mbps bandwidth in most operation modes whereas its L2TP performance is limited to 60 Mbps. If you’ve got a Gigabit Ethernet channel, the router will only be able to use one third of its bandwidth with direct connection.
As opposed to many other top-end routers, this model lacks USB ports and is limited to internet access and Wi-Fi networking. It supports both frequency bands of the 802.11n standard and you can enjoy Wi-Fi speeds up to 100-200 Mbps by selecting appropriate setup options and client devices.
Priced at $130, the TEW-692GR looks an attractive offer in its class of 3T3R dual-band routers but you should make sure its performance in specific scenarios is high enough for you.
The TEW-680MB adapter, on its part, is interesting with its support for two Wi-Fi bands and as many as four Gigabit Ethernet ports. It may come in handy for connecting TV-sets and media players, ensuring high speed in the 5GHz band. Its price of $90 is justified by its high performance.