June 3, 2012

Of Gigabit Routers


After I got my M1 fiber broadband installed back in December of 2011, I decided to switch everything (and I mean everything) of the home network to a Gigabit network in phases. All our machines and devices were obviously capable of Gigabit speeds, so why restrict my internal speeds to old technology? So I then set about looking for the appropriate router switches and wireless routers for phase one of the change process.

As far as home networking goes, I’ve always been particular to D-Link. Its no-nonsense management GUIs and life time 1-for-1 replacement policies have always been a plus point for me for well over a decade. My first 11b wireless card was from D-Link and it when it spoilt, D-Link exchanged it for me to a brand new 54G card because they didn’t make the old card anymore.

So it was no surprise that I looked at D-Link first off and went out and got me an Xtreme N Gigabit DIR-655 wireless router. Its a 4 Gigabit LAN port, 1 USB 2.0 port, N based wireless router which boasts QoS and WISH (Wireless Intelligent Stream Handling) along with the standard WDS. Reviews weren’t half bad, but I have to say they weren’t peppered with high praise either. I soon found out why. First of all I’ll say this device isn’t all that bad for a simple wireless setup. It handles your basic encryption, broadcast of SSIDs and all that without issue. But for a more robust user, its brainlessness is mind boggling. Firstly the web based management console is mighty complicated. Ok, maybe its not as complicated as it is wordy. Theres just a lot of explanation for each section which immediately turns a user off. Another annoyance is its MAC filtering option. Most wireless routers offer this to ensure random strangers who guess your WPA2 (you aren’t still using WEP aren’t you???) passphrase still can’t access your network unless you authorise their network cards to use it, but D-Link seems to want to take this one step further and implement the MAC filtering for the 4 Gigabit LAN ports as well! Is that really so bad you might ask? Well no its not, except that in this case, D-Link makes absolutely NO distinction between wireless and wired filtering. You can’t turn one on and the other off, its either both or nothing. So you can’t just plug your new notebook into the network, you have to add its MAC address to the router’s MAC ACL. Thoroughly annoying! Whats worse, through 3 different upgrades of the firmware, the settings always get wiped out if the router powers off! Further testing showed that the settings wipe out only occurs if you set the MAC filters! I mean, come on! I spend a good part of the hour typing in all the MAC addresses I want filtered and then I power off the device and boom! Everything is gone! And before you ask, no there is no IMPORT function (that almost every other wireless router has) to import a saved MAC filter list to the router.

Being completely disgusted with the D-Link, I took it back to the shop and after a very long rant and complaint session with 3 assistants and the manager, manged to (and I understand this is a first time for the shop) exchange it for a TP-Link WR2543ND. The TP-Link was way cheaper so I got to pick a few other times to make up the price, but thats another story. Anyway, the WR2543ND has a dual band (2.4GHz and 5GHz) for transmission up to 450Mbps over the less crowded 5GHz band, WDS, QoS and a USB for file sharing, print sharing or even DLNA server for media. All in all a good wireless N router and it gives good range as well.

After using the TP-Link for a bit, I started to look into more TP-Link devices, just buying a WR1043ND (300MHz wireless N router) recently to boost my wireless signal to the rest of the house. In many ways TP-Link reminds me of D-Link of old. A simple, intuitive management console, no fuss setup and common sense functionality (especially for it MAC filtering option) and its cheap as well.  Many of the bigger brands have gone well into the S$200 range offering nothing more than what the TP-Link is offering for under S$140. Not only are their routers, switches and wireless devices good (and cheap – every Singaporean’s dream), so are a couple of their other items, like their homeplugs and IP cameras.

If you’re looking for a starter set of devices for home use, I’d recommend using the TP-Link stuff. You might be surprised at the quality and functionality of the product you’re getting for a much reduced price over the bigger branded competition.

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