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X-Micro WLAN 11g Turbo Mode Broadband Router and PCMCIA card
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Date: Dec 03, 2004
Section:IT/Datacenter
Author: Robert Maloney
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Introduction and Specs

More and more homes these days contain multiple PCs, and in this age of increasingly common broadband connections it's a no-brainer to want to connect these machines together over a WLAN, or Wireless LAN.  Doing so will allow you to share files and the broadband connection so that everyone can surf the web smoothly.  For sometime now, users have been trucking along at 11 Mbps and 54 Mbps using 802.11b and 802.11g components such as routers, PCI cards, etc. But, as with everything else built into, installed on, or just connected to a PC, there's always room for improvement, and this usually means doing something faster.  That's what X-Micro intends to do with today's showcase on the X-Micro WLAN 11g Turbo Mode Broadband Router and PCMCIA Card.  Both of these components use a Turbo Mode, that is supposed to bring transfer speeds up as high as 108 Mbps, all the while staying within the standard 2.4GHz frequency band that is commonly being used today.  This isn't exactly a new concept, as other manufacturers such as LinkSYS have their "Speedbooster technology" and the like.  The lack of a true protocol has simply caused companies to give them different names until a standard is settled upon.  For now, let's get acquainted with today's hardware...

     

CLICK ANY IMAGE TO ENLARGE

Specifications of the X-Micro WLAN 11g Turbo Mode Router and PCMCIA cards
We've got the need for speed

WLAN 11g Turbo Mode Broadband Router

WLAN 11g Turbo Mode PCMCIA Card
Standards:
  • Wireless: IEEE 802.11b and 802.11g

Data Rates:

  • Up to 11 Mbps (using 802.11b)
  • Up to 54 Mbps (using 802.11g)
  • Up to 108 Mbps (with SuperG enabled)

Interface:

  • 1x 100BaseTX with automatic MDI/MDX feature (WAN)
  • 4x 100BaseTX with automatic MDI/MDX feature (WAN)

Range:

  • 30~300 Meters Above (Open Space)

Frequency Band:

  • 2,412-2,484 GHz ISM Band

Sensitivity:

  • Rx < -90dBM

 Features:

  • 802.3/u: 10/100 Mbps Fast Ethernet, IP v4, UDP, ICMP, TCP Routing: RIPv1, RIPv2 Secure: PAP, CHAP

Security:

  • 64/128 bit WEP
  • Support for WPA & WPA-PSK
  • SSID Broadcast Disable function
  • Built-in Firewall with MAC and IP filters

Setup and Management:

  • Web-Based Configuration

Visual Indicators:

  • Power: slow rate blink / WLAN: Blink for activity

Power:

  • DC 5Volt / 2.5A; AC Adapter 100V~240V

Dimensions:

  • 201 x 115.8 x 37mm

 

Standards:
  • Wireless: IEEE 802.11b and 802.11g

Data Rates:

  • Up to 11 Mbps (using 802.11b)
  • Up to 54 Mbps (using 802.11g)
  • Up to 108 Mbps (when SuperG is enabled)

Interface:

  • Cardbus

Range:

  • 30~300 Meters Above (Open Space)

Frequency Band:

  • 2,412-2,484 GHz ISM Band

Sensitivity:

  • Rx < -92dBM

Antenna:

  • Chip Antenna

Spread Spectrum:

  • DSSS (Direct Sequence Spread Spectrum)

Modulation Method:

  • OFDM / DBPSK / DQPSK / CCK

 Security:

  • 64-128 bit WEP

Visual Indicators:

  • Power: slow rate blink / WLAN: Blink for activity

 Power:

  • 3.3 Volts (Cardbus supplied)

 Dimensions:

  • 118 x 53.5 x 5mm

 


      

      

The X-Micro WLAN 11g Turbo Mode Broadband Router comes packaged with the essentials: a user's manual in English and German, one CAT5 patch cable and the power supply.  There's nothing to install, so no CD was necessary.  To configure the various capabilities of the router, one simply needs enter an IP address into an Internet browser and type in the correct username and password.  The router itself is a light-weight unit, cast entirely in silver plastic with LEDs on the front and ports on the back.  The LEDs on the front give basic information to the user such as whether or not the unit is powered on, a signal is being detected and data being transferred, and which jacks (1-4) are currently active.  These lights flicker when data is being transferred to display system activity, a quick way to monitor the connection should problems arise.  On the back we can see a gold thread on the left upon which a small grey antenna is attached, perhaps no more than 4 inches long.  A line from a cable modem goes into the solitary port on the right and up to four devices can be hard-wired into the adjacent four jacks.  Finally, there is a jack for the power supply and a reset button to set the router back to its factory default settings.

The PCMCIA card came in a separate package along with the driver CD and a brief installation guide.  Essentially, once the router is setup correctly, all one needs to do on the other end is to install the drivers off of the CD, plug-in the PCMCIA card, and if everything is n working order, you've got a wireless connection.  There's nothing too spectacular about the card itself - the bulk of it resides within the laptop with the outer edge remaining on the outside.  On the edge are two lights which serve the same function as the router's LEDs.  One lights up a solid green to tell the user it's being powered by the PCMCIA slot, while the other lights up when a link has been established, which blinks with network activity.

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Installation and setup

Installation and Setup of the X-Micro WLAN 11g Turbo Mode Broadband Router
A fully configurable router

The physical placement of the router was only one step in properly setting up our network.  Once everything has been correctly connected, the user can access a number of features via a web-client utility from any system currently connected to the router, whether it be hard-wired or wireless.  What we've included below are some screen captures from various sections of the utility, that can be used for most of the setup.


LOGON WINDOW


ENTRANCE SCREEN

 


SETUP WIZARD


WIRELESS SETUP


AUTHENTICATION


ADVANCED


STATUS


SECURITY FILTERS


STATUS LOG

To begin, all we needed to do was open a browser and type in the provided IP address, and then type in a username/password to access the features.  It's standard security fare, and we suggest modifying the password at the first opportunity.  At any rate, a successful login brought us to the entrance screen, which gives some basic information such as starting and ending IP addresses, whether or not DHCP is enabled, and the systems that are attached.  These settings can be left as is for the most part.  To get a network set up really quick and easy, we suggest running the Wizard, which runs through 6 basic steps and then you're done.  It covers basic steps such as changing the password, choosing a time zone, and the reviewing basic connection settings for the LAN, Wireless, and Internet sharing.  Any changes are applied after a restart of the router.

For those of you who want to do things the "hard" way, buttons along the left side access each of the individual sections, with the same basic screens from the Wizard, but offering advanced options at the top of each page.  Focusing in on the point of this review, we went to the Wireless section.  The first page displayed simple information on whether or not wireless connections were to be enabled or not, and if so, what the SSID and channel should be set at.  Clicking on 'Authentication' brought us to security settings for the WLAN, including enabling WPA and setting WEP keys.  It's highly recommended that these security measures be enabled to not only stop Wi-Fi thieves from stealing bandwidth, but to keep lurkers out of your shared documents. On the 'Advanced' page, there were options that could have major effects on the transfer rates.  For example, we could enable or disable 11g mode only, or choose from various turbo settings for Super G Mode.  In effect, we could run our wireless connection from somewhere less than 54Mbps up to the (theoretical) maximum of 108Mbps.

By clicking on Status, we could get a quick glance at the LAN and Wireless settings, including the DHCP Table.  Keeping up with the security measures, there were a variety of choices under Access - Filters that would only allow or block certain MAC or IP addresses, or deny access to certain URLs or domains.  Combining WEP keys while allowing only certain MAC addresses is a great start in protecting your data.  Finally, the status log gives a running account of all system activity, allowing users to detect and identify unknown inquiries.

Installation and Setup of the X-Micro WLAN 11g Turbo Mode PCMCIA Card
Just plug it in and go!

     

Installing the PCMCIA card into our laptop was an even simpler task than setting up the router.  To begin, we put the drivers CD into the drive and clicked on the only available option, which was for PC Card/PCI Card.  As shown in the screenshot above, the drivers were not WHQL certified, but the manual explained that this was to be expected.  Once the installation completed, all we had to do was restart the laptop, plug the card in, and make sure the status lights lit up.  There also was a small utility program that gets installed that gave us helpful details like transmit and receiving data rates and whether or not there was an active connection.  We could also enter in specific information such as the SSID and WEP keys to match the information stored in the router.

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Some formal testing with Sandra

HotHardware Test Systems
Building the perfect network
Test Machine 1 - (Compaq Laptop)
  • Athlon XP 1400+ 1.2GHz
  • 368MB SDRAM
  • Windows XP Professional SP1
  • IBM Travelstar 20GB HD
  • TI PCI-1410 CardBus Controller
  • X-Micro WLAN 11g Turbo Mode PCMCIA Card
  • Integrated Realtek RTL 8139 10/100 LAN Chipset (Wired)
Test Machine 2 - (Epox 4PDA2+)
  • Intel Pentium 4 2.8GHz

  • 1024MB SDRAM

  • Windows XP Professional SP1

  • WD 80GB HD (8MB Cache)

  • Broadcom BCM5705/5788 LAN Chipset

  • Integrated 1GBPs Fast Ethernet Controller (Wired)
Test Machine 3  - (Asus P4P800SE)
  • Intel Pentium 4 3.06GHz
  • 512MB SDRAM
  • Windows XP Professional SP1
  • WD 80GB HD (8MB Cache)
  • ASUS WiFi-b 802.11b LAN card
  • ASUS WiFi Slot (proprietary)

To make our comparisons, we needed systems with varying connectivity rates.  Our first system was a Compaq Evo laptop where we installed the X-Micro WLAN 11g Turbo Mode PCMCIA card.  Using the administrator mode for the X-Micro router, we can change the data rate from 11Mbps up to 108Mbps.  Our other two base systems were an Epox 4PDA2+ rig that was hard-wired, that is, connected directly to the router using CAT5 cabling, and then an Asus P4P800SE board which comes with a built-in WiFi slot and 802.11b WiFi LAN card.

Once we had our network completely up and running, we ran some synthetic tests from the laptop with the X-Micro PCMCIA card to the Epox 4PDA2+ system.  Each test was run using a different data rate setting; first with SuperG disabled, then three more times with SuperG enabled, but varying the way Turbo mode was being used.

Sandra Network Performance Tests
How does it stack up?

     

Our first two sandra benchmarks were done with and without "Super G mode" enabled in the router's control panels.  To keep the testing as close as possible to the database scores, we did not enable WEP or any other security authentication.  In each case, the router restarted after we made our selections and then we ran the Network Performance benchmark.  The first test left us somewhere between an 802.11b connection (11Mbps) and an 802.11g connection (54Mbps).  We're actually reaching transfer speeds of a little faster than half of the typical 802.11g connection.  Re-enabling 802.11g brought us right back to expected levels.  In fact, the score we achieved was only 234 kB/s faster than the stock score, or about 7 percent faster.

 

     

What we really want to see, however, if how the performance increased when enabling "Turbo" mode for the 802.11g connection.  There were two options to chose from: Super G with Dynamic Turbo, and Super G with Static Turbo, which will cause the router to run in 11g mode only thus preventing 802.11b devices from connecting to the router.  It's best to use the Dynamic Turbo setting if you're planning on using a variety of devices.  Unfortunately, when we ran Sandra using the Super G with Dynamic Turbo setting, the transfer rates only went up a slight bit, from 3494 kB/s to 3676 kB/s.  This amounted to barely a 6 percent increase.  Super G with Static Turbo was much, much better, where we topped out at around 7 MB/s.  This was a full 1MB/s better than the 6MB/s that Sandra was expecting.  Obviously, if you can do so, it's best to equip all systems in your network with devices that can support the same standard.

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Real World Timings and our Conclusion

 

File Transfer Time Comparisons
Real-world performance

Although we've taken a peek at the performance of the X-Micro Router and PCMCIA card using SiSoft Sandra, we wanted to give some real-world examples of the kinds of time differences one can expect when moving files across a network.  We set up various kinds of connections, including a completely wired network using integrated LAN chipsets and patch cables, and then again when using the X-Micro PCMCIA card installed in a Compaq laptop in both Super G Mode with or without Turbo mode enabled.

 

To start the testing, we copied a single 803MB file from a folder within a Star Wars Battlefront installation to the desktop of our "server".  Using the completely wired network setup, we saw that in a best case scenario it can take just about a minute and a half to move that file in either direction, from server to client and back. Starting with the standard 802.11g connection, that time ballooned to just over 4 minutes when receiving that file and over 8 minutes when sending it back.  The good news is that by enabling Turbo Mode on the X-Micro router, we were able to cut those times pretty much by half.  Of course, that should be expected for the most part, since the maximum transfer rate with Turbo Mode enabled is exactly double that of standard 802.11g (108Mbps over 54 Mbps).  These tests were performed under somewhat ideal conditions, however, so times will vary with placement and distance.

 

We were impressed by the X-Micro WLAN 11g Turbo Mode Broadband Router and PCMCIA card.  Installation and configuration of both devices was painless, and we were up and running in no time.  The router is a stylish silver box, and is small enough to fit anywhere in the house (along with the broadband source) to maximize coverage area.  While 802.11g may be the norm for wireless connectivity these days, enabling Turbo Mode in the easy to navigate configuration screens allowed us to nearly double the transfer rates, something that we're sure many users will be glad to hear.  Throughout our testing we constantly received excellent, strong signals, whether we were testing 15 feet away from the router on the laptop, or on a desktop PC placed on the other side of a house through a solid wooden wall.  With the plethora of security features placed in the router, and the fast transfer rates that we were able to achieve, we're confident in recommending X-Micro's products to anyone looking into building a home network, or simply wanting to surf the web on their laptop while in the bathtub.

We're giving the combination of the X-Micro WLAN 11g Turbo Mode Broadband Router and PCMCIA card a 9 on the HotHardware Heat Meter...

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