by Platon Scheblykin
07/21/2008 | 07:51 PM
Wireless network equipment with support of the Draft N standard has become widely available, the user being now able to choose from numerous devices of varying price and quality. Of course, the most expensive devices are going to be the most interesting in terms of functionality and specs.
Today, nearly every network equipment manufacturer offers products of this class, many of which are already officially certified by the Wi-Fi Alliance. One such model is going to be the subject of this review. It is the TEW-633GR wireless router from Trendnet. Its capabilities are not the best you can get from such equipment, yet it is quite deservedly placed by the developer onto the very peak of his product line. A Gigabit Ethernet switch, three antennas and a stylish design are just a few of the device’s characteristics. Read on to learn more about it!
The router came to us bundled with Trendnet’s Draft N PCMCIA wireless card called TEW-621PC. You can read their specs in the tables below.
The router specs:
- IEEE 802.11b/g
- WEP (64/128bit)
3 dipole antennas (3dBi)
- 2.412 ~ 2.462GHz (FCC)
- 802.11b: 18dBm
- 802.11b: -84dBm @ 11Mpbs
Nominal data transfer rate
- 802.11n (draft): up to 300Mbps
11 for North America, 14 Japan,
1 RJ-45 Gigabit Ethernet 10/100/1000Mb/s
4 RJ-45 Gigabit Ethernet 10/100/1000Mb/s
External power supply unit
150(L) x 162(W) x 25(H) mm
- WiFi certified
The Wi-Fi card specs:
- IEEE 802.11b/g
- WEP (64/128bit)
2 planar antennas
2.412 - 2.484GHz
- 802.11b: 18dBm
- 802.11b: -86dBm @ 11Mpbs
Nominal data transfer rate
- 802.11n (draft): up to 300Mbps
11 for North America, 14 Japan,
32-bit CardBus Type II
The box contains:
A best-in-class device is always a kind of a spokesman for its developer. As such, it must be easily recognizable and eye-catching. Every developer takes especial care about the exterior design of his top-end products. The TEW-633GR proves our point. Trendnet not only abandoned its traditional case design but also discarded its traditional color scheme in this device. The router is a small and neat black box with three impressive antennas. The TEW-633GR seems larger in photos than it really is. It is also among the lightest in its class. The exterior of the TEW-633GT is very nice-looking overall despite being rather unsophisticated. I hope it is going to be that good in everything else. The single drawback I can find in this design is that it uses black and glossy surfaces. It is a most impractical combination because dust, scratches and your greasy fingerprints are going to be just too visible on such surfaces.
Besides putting the router down flat, you can use the included stand to position it upright so that the device took as minimum space as possible.
The router’s ventilation works best when it is placed upright, by the way. There are actually very few vent holes in the case: some sort of grids on the panel with the antennas and on the opposite panel. Thus, the heat transfer is facilitated when one grid is at the top and another is at the bottom, which is the case when you place the router on the stand. The router’s antennas cannot be detached, which is a drawback of this model.
Indicators and controls are yet another aspect of the router’s exterior. The indicators can all be found on the front panel. They are as many and perform the same functions as on any other regular home router. It is the implementation that surprised me somewhat. Looking at the front panel you can guess the LEDs (or the ends of the light pipes) are placed behind the translucent plastic with labels. This would be the traditional implementation. The small grooves above the front panel seem to be just part of the case texture. However, when I powered the router up, the plastic behind the icons remained dark but the grooves began to shine. These turned out to be the ends of light pipes which nearly merge into the case material when inactive. The light pipes are designed like long strips on the edge of the case. They are perfectly visible from any angle if the router is placed horizontally. If it is positioned vertically, the indicators won’t be visible at all from one side. They are just the comfortable brightness for the eyes and yet can be seen from a big distance even in a brightly lit room. Here are the indicators the TEW-633GR has (from left to right):
Also close to the router’s front there is a WPS mode button (above the front panel) and a WLAN interface switch (on the left panel). The latter button is a simple but very handy solution. You don’t have to look for a Wi-Fi disable option in the router’s options – the device will do everything by itself and will save all the connections settings even.
The router’s connectors are located on the back panel. They are not many (from left to right):
It was not difficult to take the TEW-633GR apart and get to its system board. I unfastened two self-tapping screws located under the rubber feet and took off the top panel of the case. Just be careful when removing the panel so that you didn’t damage the locks that hold it in place. The router’s PCB is not fixed within the case. You can take it out of the case having first detached the wires leading to the antennas.
The PCB boasts high quality of manufacture just like the router’s case. The component mounting is very neat, there are no stains or anything on the PCB. There are also few empty seats on it.
Besides seats for two consoles which are usually not installed by the manufacturers of home network equipment, there are seats for detachable antennas and a front-panel USB connector. The rest of the empty seats are connected with the power circuitry.
The TEW-633GR is much alike to D-Link’s DIR-655 router we tested about a year ago in terms of components. Some component descriptions may coincide as the consequence.
The PCB carries a communications and media processor (CMP) from Ubicom’s StreamEngine 5000 series. Featuring a unique architecture, these processors are superior to similar processors with other architectures, at least in their manufacturer’s eyes. The TEW-633GR comes with the junior processor model marked as IP5160 which delivers as much performance as modern processors with MIPS and ARM architectures do (according to Ubicom). The manufacturer’s website offers a document that contains a detailed performance analysis of CMPs with different architectures. Here are a couple of tables demonstrating the superiority of StreamEngine 5000 processors:
A key feature of IP51xx processors that gives them an edge in terms of performance is that they have integrated memory besides just cache. Every data packet passes through this integrated memory and is processed much faster.
The exact specifications of the IP5160 are as follows (quoted from the Ubicom website):
As opposed to the DIR-655, the Trendnet router has 32 megabytes of onboard memory. This is quite a lot for a home router, but that’s a top-end model after all. Here, it is a P2S56D40CTP chip from MIRA designed as 4 x 4Mb x 16bit and with a rated frequency of 200MHz.
The router’s OS is stored in a Macronix 25L1605A flash memory chip. This chip has a serial interface and a capacity of 2MB.
The TEW-633GR employs a VSC7385 Gigabit Ethernet switch made by VITESSE. This SparX series chip is recommended for use in high-performance SOHO solutions. The chip offers 5 ports, has a 112KB frame buffer, supports IPv4 and IPv6 networks (with Jumbo Frames), and features integrated tools for QoS and other services. Having an integrated processor, it can even work as a router in its own right, but this capability is not utilized in the TEW-633GR.
The WLAN module resides on the main PCB. Here, we’ve got the AR5008-3NG variety of the xspaN AR5008 chipset from Atheros. It employs an AR2133 RF module and an AR5416 MAC controller.
There are three details on the PCB left that I’d like to mention. There is a switch in the corner that can physically enable/disable the integrated Wi-Fi module. The router automatically saves the necessary settings and reboots after each such operation. And there are two buttons: one is available at the top of the case and enables secure mode for WLAN parameters setup on the client device if the latter supports this feature. The purpose of the other button is unclear but you can only see it if you take the device apart.
As I wrote in the previous section, the TEW-633GR is based on the IP5160 CMP. This processor is quite an odd thing in terms of software support. It features a unique architecture which, as far as Ubicom’s documentation can tell, has a unique instruction set that is not yet supported by Linux developers. It means the processor is unlikely to get support from the authors of alternative firmware (OpenWRT or DD-WRT). So, the user of the TEW-633GR has to be content with the functionality offered by the official firmware because even the source code of the router’s firmware is not open. The latest version I could find at the developer’s website is 126.96.36.199. I updated the router’s original firmware to that version.
The router’s web-interface resembles the style and design of the router itself as it uses black hues and a minimum of extra features. The web-interface window displayed in your browser is not the same size always – it changes depending on the amount of information displayed.
Otherwise, it is quite a regular interface consisting of three logical sections. The header shows the manufacturer’s logo and the router’s model name. The rest of the page displays a menu (on the left) and a current page with settings (on the right). The menu has only two levels, with groups and individual pages. It is very easy to navigate this menu. The individual pages are not so intuitive, though. They often contain links to pages you cannot access from the page menu or have some settings hidden until you enable an appropriate parameter or feature.
The Help system is satisfactory. There is a brief tip about the currently displayed settings at the top part of each page but it is often uninformative. More details can be got in the Help menu, yet the information provided there is not exhaustive, either.
The settings menu of the TEW-633GR consists of five items, three of which (Basic, Advanced and Tools) contain all of the router’s settings and the remaining two (Status and Help) are purely informational. I will describe the Basic item first.
This group contains the basic settings of the router without which it cannot operate normally.
Wizard is the first page here. It provides a simple way to set the router’s basic parameters up.
The next page is called Internet. You can specify connection parameters for the WAN port. DNS servers are also specified here.
The Wireless page is for setting up the WLAN connection. You can specify such parameters as router’s SSID, channel number, channel width, WLAN standard to use, security parameters, etc. You can enter all the values manually or use the Wizard.
The last page in the Basic group is Network Settings. It contains very different settings such as the operation mode of the WAN port, the settings of the router’s LAN segment, DHCP server settings, etc.
The next group offers lots of settings. Called Advanced, it is responsible for the parameters of the router’s main features.
Virtual Server is the first page in this group. As the name suggests, you can create a list of virtual servers on the router’s local network and make these servers accessible from outside via certain protocols.
The Special Applications page is where you can write rules for specific applications that can’t work at regular NAT settings. This is also called port triggering.
On the Gaming page you can specify a list of ports that will only be open for a certain internal IP address.
The StreamEngine page is for setting up the namesake technology. An exclusive technology supported by the IP5160 processor, it is actually nothing else but an extended implementation of QoS. The picture shows an impressive list of parameters.
The static routing table is specified on the Routing page. The list of existing dynamic routes is displayed here, too.
You can restrict WAN access for your LAN machines on the Access Control page. There are a lot of parameters for access restriction: domain names, IP addresses, various protocols, etc.
The Web Filter page is where you can enter a list of websites all the users from the router’s LAN can access. The rest of the sites will be blocked.
MAC address based filtering can be set up on the MAC Address Filter page.
The router’s SPI firewall settings can be found on the Firewall Settings page. DMZ mode settings, which are usually found in a separate menu screen, are placed here, too.
The Inbound Filter page is for writing rules to filter external incoming connections by IP addresses.
You can fine-tune the router’s WLAN settings on the Advanced Wireless page. You shouldn’t tinker with these parameters if the connection is established normally.
Wired connection parameters that didn’t fit into any of the previous groups can be found all together on the Advanced Network page.
The WISH page is where you can specify your WLAN traffic priorities.
The last page in the Advanced group is called Wi-Fi Protected Setup. You can automatically send WLAN connection settings to any device that supports with mode by means of a special PIN code.
The last group of router settings is called Tools. Most of these settings are not related to the network interfaces.
You can change the administrator and user passwords and set up remote administration parameters on the Admin page.
The router’s date and time can be entered manually or using NTP. Go to the Time page for that.
The SysLog page is for specifying the address of a machine that will keep a remote log of the router’s events.
The router’s settings file can be manipulated on the System Settings page. You can also reboot the device from here.
The Firmware page is for updating the router’s firmware.
Dynamic DNS parameters are entered on the namesake page.
You can ping remote network devices connected with the TEW-633GR from the System Check page. Test results are displayed on this page, too.
The Schedules page allows you to compose a schedule for router services such as firewall. This is the last page with settings in the router’s interface.
The remaining two items are informational. I talked about the Help system above. As for the Status item, it shows various data in several pages.
The information covers almost everything an administrator and even a simple user may be interested in. There is a page in this group that can show the router’s integrated log with various level of detail.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t test the router together with Trendnet’s wireless card because my sample of the TEW-621PC proved to be defective. It wouldn’t appear on the notebook’s device list. So I had to use a third-party card instead. I chose a Linksys WPC300N v.2 which is based on the Atheros xspaN chipset, just like the TEW-621PC.
Here is a list of the equipment and software I used for my tests:
The router’s speed on the local network is indicative of its peak bandwidth.
The three following tests show the bandwidth on the WAN port. The first two tests were performed when the router’s services were disabled, but I enabled StreamEngine, firewall and inbound filter for the third test. All the tests were performed with enabled DMZ.
LAN-WAN (TEW-633GR, loaded):
I will also publish the results of the DIR-655 router from D-Link for the sake of comparison.
LAN-WAN (DIR-655, loaded):
You can see that the D-Link router delivers higher speed although the firmware I used for the TEW-633GR had been optimized for higher performance of the wired segment, according to the developer. The problem is only about firmware because the Trendnet router is even somewhat superior to its opponent in terms of hardware components.
I performed one more test of the external network to evaluate the router’s ability to work with multiple connections simultaneously. To remind you, the DIR-655 could maintain as many as 123 connections in this test. I created a pair in IxChariot using the Throughput scenario in which I changed the file_size parameter from 100000 to 1000000. Then I began to increase the number of pairs by replicating them until there were errors during the test. I stopped at 700 connections and didn’t go any further because the test ran too long even at that number. IxChariot could not even draw diagrams for 700 connections due to program limitations! 700 simultaneous connections is a very high number 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.
The next diagram compares the average speeds of the TEW-633GR and DIR-655:
The D-Link router is faster again, obviously due to better firmware.
Finally I tested the router’s coverage at different distances and with different obstacles. I 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 routers deliver similar results in this test. The Trendnet router keeps the signal stronger, which is good.
Overall, the difference between the routers is not too big. The TEW-633GR is slower but comparable to its opponent through most of the tests. There are but a few exceptions, e.g. the LAN-LAN test, where the DIR-655 is far better than the TEW-633GR.
Summing up the results of today’s tests, I should say the TEW-633GR router is overall good, yet it proved to be inferior to its opponent, the DIR-655, in terms of speed. A strong aspect of the TEW-633GR is that it can support a large number of logical network connections simultaneously. Anyway, I guess it is the price factor that is going to be decisive in favor of the particular router model. The TEW-633GR looks preferable as it costs about 20% less than the DIR-655.
The functionality and design of the TEW-633GR are average (among top-end Draft N models, of course). It only stands out among the others with its exclusive StreamEngine technology.
I would characterize the TEW-633GR as a cheaper alternative to the D-Link DIR-655.