By Craig Ellison
August 22, 2006
Our first look at a Draft-N product doesn’t deliver the ‘650% faster than 802.11g’ throughput, but will still do the job for a home network.
- Model: DIR-635
- Price: $129.99 list
- Pros: Massive amount of configuration options
- Cons: No support for WEP encryption (yet)
D-Link’s entry into the 802.11n Draft 1.0 market is the RangeBooster N 650 four port router. It’s part of their “Platinum Plus” series of products that promises superior speed, range and security as compared to all other D-Link wireless products, and now assumes the top spot in D-Link’s lineup of products.
At first glance, the DIR-635 appears very similar to the Platinum series WBR-2310 router. In fact, the hardware tooling is identical. The black and silver trimmed case is sleek and attractive. From the outside, the only obvious difference is the three antennas required for D-Link’s implementation of the Atheros XSpan chipset.
The first thing you’ll notice when you open the box is that there’s no printed quick start guide. A piece of yellow tape that covers the four LAN ports instructs you to run the CD first. The DIR-635 is supplied with an excellent, almost idiot-proof step-by-step setup wizard. The wizard asked if I was replacing a router or installing a new one. I selected “replacing a router.” Step-by-step animated instructions walked me though uncabling the old router and hooking up the new one. In addition to configuring the Internet connection, the wizard provided basic setup for the wireless connection. The only prompt was for the SSID (network name), and the wizard suggested a name like the Smith Family Network. (In general, that’s a bad idea. You really shouldn’t name your wireless network with a name or address that might provide clues to your identity.)
Simple, animated step-by-step wizard guides you through setup.
The installation wizard also recommended installing the included trial version of Network Magic, a networking utility that simplifies sharing files and printers on your home network. You can also configure some of your wireless security features through the Network Magic interface. At the conclusion of the installation, the router rebooted and checked for an active Internet connection.
In general, the setup wizard worked very well, but it did have a few shortcomings. Some of the advice provided was questionable (such as naming your wireless network), but more importantly, it didn’t guide me through setting up a secure wireless network. Nor did it prompt to change the administrator’s password for the router. Both of these oversights are interesting, as the CD jacket has places for writing down the SSID, security key and administrator’s password. In addition, in the absence of a printed quick start guide, the wizard should have included steps for attaching the three antennas. It would also have been nice if the wizard had included a link to the router’s administration home page to facilitate additional configuration. However, if you do run into problems, the package includes an insert that provides you with links to D-Link’s support site, a support e-mail address, and the toll-free phone number for their 24-hour support.
The DIR-635 is a router with four 10/100 Mbps LAN ports, a robust SPI (Stateful Packet Inspection) firewall and a Quality of Service (QoS) engine that prioritizes time-sensitive traffic such as VoIP or gaming traffic. The 802.11n Draft 1.0 wireless component is based on Atheros’ XSPAN technology.
802.11n Draft 1.0 products hold the promise of superior performance for both range and throughput. The products based on Draft-N achieve some of their performance improvements by using a 40MHz-wide channel. Standards-based 802.11b/g uses 20MHz. To avoid interference to (and to provide compatibility with) legacy 802.11b/g products, Draft-N products are supposed to periodically check for legacy traffic, and back down to a 20MHz channel if discovered. So while laboratory tests will yield performance numbers in excess of 100Mbps throughput, real world performance in areas with legacy networks will be reduced. I tested in a real world environment with multiple adjacent wireless networks.
The Web-based user interface on the DIR-635 features tabs across the top of the interface for Setup, Advanced, Tools, Status and Support. As each tab is selected, related options appear on a vertical navigation bar. Setup, for example, has options for setting up your Internet connection, LAN and Wireless settings.
The router supports DHCP reservation, a feature not found in too many routers. With DHCP reservation, you can “reserve” an IP address for a specific MAC address. This is useful when setting up a server on your network. You want to ensure that it gets the same address every time, but you want to leave the server configured for obtaining an address using DHCP. Interestingly, the DHCP server randomly assigned IP addresses out of its DHCP pool. D-Link is aware of the issue, and though not a problem, it will be addressed in a future firmware release.
The Wireless setup tab lets you configure all but the most advanced wireless options. By default, the router is configured for auto channel selection, 802.11b/g/n, and auto 20MHz/40MHz. Unlike the early days of Atheros “Super G,” there isn’t a way to force the router to use 40MHz channels. Atheros’ Clear Channel Assessment ensures that the 40MHz channel is used only when it won’t cause interference. There is an option to disable all wireless features (but then why did you spend all that money on a Draft N router?), as well as to disable broadcasting the SSID.
Security is disabled by default. It’s important to note that the RangeBooster 650 only supports WPA Personal (PSK) or WPA Enterprise which requires an external RADIUS server. The default WPA mode is legacy, which supports both WPA (TKIP) as well as WPA2 with the more robust AES encryption. The DIR-635 as tested did not support WEP, so if you have legacy wireless devices that only support WEP, it might be time to consider upgrading them to newer, more secure technology. D-Link says it’s likely that support for WEP will be added back into the router for 802.11b/g modes in a future firmware release, even as soon as this month. The version tested was 1.06.
If you’re really into configuring your router, you’ll love the RangeBooster N. Clicking on the Advanced tab brings up 11 configuration options on the vertical navigation bar including Virtual Server, Port Forwarding, Application, Application Rules and QOS Engine configuration.
The virtual Server configuration allows you redirect a public port on the router to an individual LAN address. There are 12 pre-defined services such as FTP, HTTP, Telnet, POP3, etc., or you can enter your own public and private ports. Additionally, you can choose TCP, UDP, Both or Other for each virtual server defined. The router supports up to 24 virtual servers.
Port forwarding allows you to open a range of ports on the router and to redirect data to a single PC on the network. You can open ranges of ports, multiple individual ports, or in either format. There are 79 applications with pre-defined port ranges, including many popular games as well as Playstation 2 and Xbox Live. 24 port forwarding rules are supported.
The advanced settings configuration page shows 11 categories down the left side. Port Forwarding has 79 pre-configured applications. Context-sensitive Hints and Help are always available on the right side of the screen.
Application rules are similar to port forwarding in that they open single or multiple ports when the router senses data sent to the Internet on a “trigger” port or port range. These application rules apply to all computers on the internal network. There are six pre-defined applications, including AIM Talk and BitTorrent, or you can define your own application. As with Virtual Server and port forwarding, the router supports 24 application rules, and you can schedule each rule for “always” or “never.”
In addition to the configurable Quality of Service (QoS) engine, the DIR-635 has options for configuring network filters, access control, Web site filters and inbound traffic filters. The SPI firewall configuration includes settings for Application Layer Gateways (ALG) for such protocols as PPTP, IPSec, RSTP, FTP, etc. ALGs handle the IP payload for some protocols to make them work with network address translation (NAT). I was also pleased to see that D-Link supports Dynamic DNS with the most comprehensive list of DDNS providers (12) that I’ve seen.
Though there are many available configurable settings, the default settings shouldn’t require much tweaking. Throughout the user interface, help and hints are available in a window on the right hand side of the screen. In fact, if you read all of the help, it’s not a bad primer on networking.
The real test of the router is its wireless performance. To test the DIR-635, I set up two notebooks, each with a D-Link RangeBooster N 650 (model DWA-645) Draft-N compatible card. I tested in infrastructure mode and, using two streams of data with IPerf, sent traffic between the two notebooks. Since the traffic was being sent between the wireless notebooks, the total throughput is approximately double the number reported by IPerf.
The DWA-645 client card driver installation gives you a choice of using Windows Zero Config or DLink’s wireless client (seen here). The DLink wireless client shows signal strength and which channels are used by neighboring wireless networks.
I tested in a typical home environment (mine). Before testing, I did a site survey and discovered six nearby wireless networks.
I created four test scenarios, and for each one, ran performance tests a number of times. The results below are the average throughput for each test scenario.
|Same room (1)
|Living Room (3)
Test One — Both notebooks in the same room as the router. The router was over six feet away from the notebooks. Result: 62.8 Mbps.
Test Two — One notebook in the same room as the router. The second notebook was moved to a bedroom over 19 feet away. There was one wall between the router and the client. Result: 56 Mbps.
Test Three — One notebook in the same room as the router. The second notebook was moved to the living room downstairs. Result: 49.3 Mbps.
Test Four — One notebook in the same room as the router. The second notebook was moved to the kitchen directly below the location in test two. Result: 35.4 Mbps.
Indeed, the D-Link DIR-635 router/DWA-645 client card combination provided excellent performance and coverage virtually anywhere in our home test environment.
My one disappointment with the router was that the LAN ports were only 10/100Mbps. Many of the new breed of routers are equipped with four Gigabit LAN ports. Since many notebooks and desktops have built-in Gigabit Ethernet adapters, it would be nice to have a router that supports Gigabit.
I’ll be re-testing the D-Link products when they release firmware drivers that improve interoperability with other vendors’ Draft-N products as we get them. For now, the RangeBooster N 650 Platinum Plus looks like a winner.