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TRENDnet TEW-631BRP Router and TEW-621PC PC Card
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Date: Jul 25, 2007
Section:IT/Datacenter
Author: Jeff Bouton
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Introduction and Product Specifications

At this point in time, it's probably safe to assume that the majority wireless network users are outfitted with some type of 54Mbps solution.  First introduced in 2003, 802.11g has proven its worth as a solid wireless technology for both home and business users alike.  However, as technology advances and the demands for more bandwidth and improved range increase, a new solution is needed as 802.11g has essentially reached its peak in terms of features and capabilities.

To help address the need for better security, longer range and more bandwidth, the powers that be have come up with 802.11n (draft) technology.  "Draft" indicates the technology is proven but has not completed the standardization process, which is slated to occur within the next year or so.  Nonetheless, the design is in place and the proposed standards are clear, allowing manufacturers to start designing and marketing products that offer many of the benefits of the future 802.11n standard.

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Image Courtesy of TRENDnet-Click to Enlarge

So what makes 802.11n (draft) so much better than the popular 802.11g and older 802.11b technology?  In a nutshell, 802.11n brings significantly higher bandwidth (300Mbps peak vs 802.11g's 54Mbps and 802.11b's 11Mbps).  Additonally, the potential range of 802.11n (draft) is nearly double that of 802.11g, helping to increase coverage and maintain a stronger signal through solid objects.

Today, we are going to take a look at two 802.11n (draft) hardware components.  The main focus of our review will be on the TRENDnet TEW-631BRP Firewall Router which brings future 802.11n features to the table as well as backwards compatibility with 802.11b and g.  Second, we have the TEW-621PC Wireless CardBus which is a PCMCIA add-on that helps laptops enjoy full 300Mbps capabilities when used in conjunction with a router like the TEW-631BRP.  By combining the two in our test environment, we'll be able to demonstrate the advantages of 300Mbps over 54Mbps WiFi as well as spotlight the features each product brings to the table.

TRENDnet TEW-631BRP Firewall Router & TEW-621PC Wireless CardBus
Wireless 300Mbps Capable

TRENDnet TEW-631BRP Firewall Router
Standards Wired:
IEEE 802.3 (10Base-T)
IEEE 802.3u (100Base-TX)
Wireless:
IEEE 802.11b
IEEE 802.11g
IEEE 802.11n (draft) 
 WAN:
1 x 10/100Mbps Auto-MDIX Port (Internet)
LAN:
4 x 10/100Mbps Auto-MDIX Port
Slide Switch:
Turn On/Off Wireless LAN
Config Button:
Reserved for WPS function use
Connection Type:
Dynamic IP, Static (Fixed) IP, PPPoE, PPTP, L2TP
NAT Firewall:
4K ~ 16K Configurable NAT entries; Restricted NAPT
IP Ranges, Port Ranges & Schedule
Pre-Defined Game Hosting Configurations
Port Triggering for 64 Special Applications
ALG Support – RTP/RTSP, AOL, FTP, ICMP, WMP/MMS, NetMeeting, SIP
ALG Enable/Disable
SPI Firewall:
Up to 64 Rules
Cyber Attack Protection – Verified Against Over 2000 Attacks
Multicast Stream:
Enable/Disable control support
UPnP:
UPnP IGD Compliant
DMZ:
DMZ Host, 64 Configurable Virtual Servers & Game Servers
DNS:
Static or WAN assigned DNS Servers8 Verified Services for DDNS
Internet Access Control:
Policy Based Parental Controls
Time Based Internet Access
Port Range/Service Filtering
URL Filtering
Inbound Filter
20 User Defined Schedules
20 MAC Address Filter Entries
LED Indicator Power:
LAN1~LAN4, WAN, WLAN
Power Adapter:
12V DC, 1A External Power Adapter
Power Consumption:
6W @ 12VDC
Dimension:
(L x W x H)
180 x 122 x 30 mm
6.8 x 4.6 x 1.1 inches
Weight:
350g (0.8 lb)
Temperature Operation:
0°~ 40°C (32°F~ 104°F)    
Storage:
-20°~ 60°C (-4°F~140 °F) 
 Humidity:
Max. 90% (Non-Condensing)
Certifications:
CE, FCC
Wireless:
Frequency 2.412 ~ 2.462 GHz (FCC)
2.412 ~ 2.472 GHz (ETSI)
Antenna:
3 x 4dBi Fixed Dipole Antenna
Data Rate:
802.11b: 11Mbps, 5.5Mbps, 2Mbps, and 1Mbps
802.11g: 54Mbps, 48Mbps, 36Mbps, 24Mbps, 18Mbps, 12Mbps, 9Mbps and 6Mbps
802.11n (draft): up to 300Mbps

 Media Access Protocol:
CSMA/CA with ACK
Security Encryption:
Hardware AES/TKIP, 64/128-bit WEP (Hex/Passphrase)
WPA: WPA/WPA2(EAP/802.1x), WPA-PSK/WPA2-PSK
SSID Broadcast Control 
 Output Power:
802.11b: 18dBm (typical)
802.11g: 15dBm (typical)
802.11n (draft): 14dBm (typical) with HT20 & HT40
Receiving Sensitivity:
802.11b: -84dBm (typical) @ 11mpbs
802.11g: -72dBm (typical) @ 54Mbps
802.11n (draft) : -70dBm (typical) with HT40
Channels:
1~ 11 (US), 1~13 (EU)

TEW-621PC Wireless CardBus
Interface:
32-Bit
3.3V
CardBus Type II Card
Standards:
IEEE 802.11b
IEEE 802.11g
IEEE 802.11n (draft) 
LED:
Indicator Power, Link
Power Consumption:
Receive Mode: 600mA(max)
Transmit Mode: 690mA(max)
Supported OS
Windows 2000/XP
Dimensions:
(LxWxH)
114 x  54 x 3mm
 4.3 x 2.1 x 0.13 inches
Weight:
40g (1.3oz)
Temperature Operating:
0° ~ 40° C
32° ~ 104° F
Storage:
-25° ~ 70° C
-13° ~ 158° F
Humidity:
10% ~ 90%max (Non-condensing)
Emissions:
FCC, CE 
 Wireless Module Technique:
802.11b: CCK (11 and 5.5Mbps), DQPSK (2Mbps), DBPSK (1Mbps)
802.11g: OFDM with BPSK, QPSK and 16/64-QAM sub-Carrier modulations
Antenna:
Built-in 3 PCB Antennas
Frequency:
2.412 ~ 2.484 GHz  
Media Access Protocol:
CSMA/CA
Data Rate (auto fallback)
802.11b: 11Mbps, 5.5Mbps, 2Mbps, and 1Mbps
802.11g: 54Mbps, 48Mbps, 36Mbps, 24Mbps, 18Mbps, 12Mbps, 9Mbps and 6Mbps
802.11n (draft) : up to 300Mbps*
Output Power:
802.11b: 18dBm (typical)
802.11g: 15dBm (typical)
802.11n (draft) : 14dBm (typical) with HT20 & HT40
Receiving Sensitivity:
802.11b: -84dBm (typical) @ 11mpbs
802.11g: -72dBm (typical) @ 54Mbps
802.11n (draft) : -70dBm (typical) with HT40 
 Encryption:
64/128-bit WEP (Hex & ASCII), WPA/WPA2, WPA-PSK/WPA2-PSK
Channels:
1~11 (US), 1~13 (EU)


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Up Close: TRENDnet TEW-631BRP & TEW-621PC
The TRENDnet TEW-631BRP Firewall Router & TEW-621PC Wireless CardBus
300Mbps = More bandwidth and more range

Both the TRENDnet TEW-631BRP Firewall Router and TEW-621PC Wireless CardBus came complete with everything needed to quickly set up the devices .  The TEW-621PC had the simpler bundle of the two, comprised of the card, a Quick Installation guide and installation CD.  The guide is brief, relying on a CD based wizard to walk the user through the proper installation of the adapter.  The device itself was simple as well.  The easy to install card sports a small head that includes a power and link light to help indicate that the card is powered on properly and transmitting.  The only thing that we think was missing was a carry case for those who may not intend to leave the card installed on the same computer all the time.

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The TRENDnet TEW-631BRP Firewall Router, which is the main focus of this review, comes with a retail package nearly identical to that of the TEW-621PC Wireless CardBus except that a Cat 5 network cable was thrown in for good measure as well.  There was a Quick Installation Manual that included basic information as well as a troubleshooting section and a CD with a setup wizard that guides users through proper setup of the device.

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The TRENDnet TEW-631BRP Firewall Router is a light blue unit that is low profile and very light.  Compared to a Linksys WRT54G Wireless Router, the TRENDnet TEW-631BRP Firewall Router feels like it's half the weight.  And as a side note, we also noticed that it runs a bit cooler too.  On the front are a number of lights to indicate the device's status.  Starting at the left is a Power light followed by four LAN lights which coincide with the four 100Mbps ports on the rear of the router.  Those are followed by a WAN and WLAN light which indicate an internet connection and that a wireless connection exists, respectively. 

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The rear of the router consists of a DC power port, a Factory Reset button and a WAN port for connecting to your broadband modem.  The system also comes with four 100Mbit Ethernet ports for wired LAN use and includes a switch to manually enable/disable the router's wireless functionality.  One of the more mysterious buttons on this unit is on the left edge.  Here exists a small black button which is referred to in the manual as a "Config Button".  Sadly, the manual vaguely states that the button is reserved for WPS functions and refers the user to the TRENDnet homepage.  After further investigation, we simply kept coming up with the same description on their website with no further clue as to what this "Config button" does nor a definition of what WPS is.  Ultimately, WPS stands for Wireless Provisioning Services and is a simpler way to setup wireless security.  This feature is implemented when you got to a public place that offers WiFi and a PIN is required for access.  This is also commonly the case with Hotels.  Ultimately, this appears to be a future function that is not operational at this time.  Nonetheless, it would be good to see TRENDnet be very clear about what this button does or its future capabilities so user's are not left wondering when they set up the router.

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Software and Setup
 
The TRENDnet TEW-631BRP  Router & TEW-621PC Wireless CardBus
Initial Setup

To help make the setup process go as smoothly as possible, TRENDnet utilizes a simple step by step wizard to walk the user through proper installation of the hardware.  While advanced users may find this too simplistic, for the average consumer it's the perfect no nonesense approach...when it works.  The simplest item to setup was the TEW-621PC Wireless CardBus.  We inserted the disk and a followed the onscreen instructions and the card was installed successfully.  There was really little to it and, ideally, users should download the latest drivers from the website rather than run the CD installer.  The TRENDnet TEW-631BRP Firewall Router was a bit more involved, so we'll focus more attention on this process.

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Upon inserting the setup CD, we began the wizard, following each step to the letter.  First, you must have your computer connected to your Internet connection which the wizard than polls, collecting key information such as the modem's IP and DNS information.  Once the connection has been confirmed, the wizard walks you through configuring your network cables so that the PC connects to the router and the router to your broadband modem.  The final step of the wizard attempts to confirm the process completed, which is when our troubles began.

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At the end of the installation, rather than seeing a prompt indicating that the installation completed successfully, the wizard threw and error message stating that it did not detect a supported TRENDnet router.  After following the suggestions on screen and confirming everything was configured properly, we then tried again and the process ended with the same message.  This was frustrating, as one would expect that if we had an improper router installed, we would get this message in the beginning of the process, not toward the end, after we went through the trouble of connecting the wiring as instructed.  After several failed attempts, we opted to cancel the wizard and access the web client for manual configuration as outlined in the troubleshooting section of the Quick Installation Guide.  But upon loading the page, we found that we could not log in with the default 'admin/admin' credentials outlined in the Quick Installation Guide either.  Feeling a bit frustrated, we determined that this was a good time to test TRENDnet's technical support service.

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Upon connecting to a representative, we clearly explained the issues and provided the specific error message; "error: 112 incorrect router".  At this point we were immediately instructed to open a browser window and to tell the rep if the page had loaded - which it did.  At this point he stated to me that he did not see what the problem was, as the router was working.  Aside from the fact that he did not address the error message I was seeing, and that a 'working router' in its defaul configuration has its wireless security features disable, we advised the support representative that we were unable to access the web configuration page with the information printed in the manual.  It turns out, the default password is <blank>, not "admin" as stated in the Quick Installation Guide.  In the end, the support agent ultimately had the right answers, however, we did feel some degree of condescention in his approach.  In the end, while we were able to move forward with the use of the TRENDnet TEW-631BRP Firewall Router, we hope TRENDnet revisits this and makes certain steps are taken to avoid this type of error and that their product documentation is updated as well to help avoid unnecessary support calls.

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Configuration Options

The TRENDnet TEW-631BRP Firewall Router
Web Configuration Overview

Once we were able to access the web configuration page for the TRENDnet TEW-631BRP Firewall Router, we were able to access a whole host of basic and advanced features.  In fact, we found the pages to be quite substantial with an easy to follow flow, providing access to a plethora of settings and options.  There are simply too many items to list individually, but we'll try to break it down in a concise overview.

The menu is broken up into five distinct sections; Basic, Advanced, Tools, Status and Help.  The Basic section is divided into three sections itself; Internet, Wireless and Network Settings.  The Internet segment provides access to the Internet Connection Wizard or Manual Configure page.  Further into the Setup Wizard, an Internet Connection Setup Wizard walks you through setting the password, Time Zone, Internet Settings and saving changes while a Wireless Security Setup Wizard guides the user through naming the network, setting the security features and setting a security password.  The Wireless section offers options to set basic wireless settings such as On/Off, Network Name, 802.11 mode (mixed or specific combinations of 802.11b, g and n), Channel Width, Transmission Rate and Visibility.  The section ends with the Wireless Security Mode which offers WEP, WPA Personal and WPA Enterprise encryption.  When we moved to the Network Settings page, we found more options pertaining to Router Settings, such as IP address and Subnet Mask, and DHCP Server Settings for setting IP ranges, Lease Times and a status of what machines are connected to the network.  TRENDnet even offers RIP (Router Information Protocol) management, including options for Operating Modes and other settings.

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The Advanced section is the place for further configuration options not covered by basic setup.  This area is broken into 12 subsections covering a wide arrange of settings needed to fine tune the router for the user's specific needs.  The Virtual Server page provides the ability to host a server on your network, directing certain traffic to the internal IP address of your choosing.  The Special Applications page provides control for opening various ports or ranges for port forwarding.  By default, the unit allows several IP phone ports and protocols to pass, but many more options can be set by the user.  The Gaming section is similar to Special Applications, where a port or range of ports and protocols can be set for a particular PC, providing further control pertaining to inbound traffic rules.  The Stream Engine page is interesting.  This section allows you to prioritize network traffic from a specified PC to help improve reaction time with respect to online gaming.

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There are more sections for configuring static routes in the Routing sections while Access Control, Web Filter and Mac Address Filter all provide control over who can access what on the network.  The Firewall page provides detailed control over various areas, such as NAT (Network Address Translation) Endpoint Filtering, DMZ host and Application Level Gateway Configuration which lets you target what the firewall intercepts, for example, PPTP, Windows Messenger, FTP and SIP to name a few.  Under the Advanced Wireless page, Transmit Power, Beacon Period and other setting give further control over the wireless signal.  Lastly, the Advanced Network page provides control over port speeds (10Mbps, 100Mbps or both), the ability to disable WAN ping response and to turn on UPnP capability.

The Tools page provides access to password settings, Firmware updating, Email Notification when an alert condition occurs and other advanced features too long to list.  The Status page provides a one stop look at the unit's status, including Time and Date, WAN, LAN and Wireless LAN settings and what IPs are currently connected to the network.  Finally, we have the Help section which breaks down every option we covered and more in clear detail.  Each item in the Help is followed by a brief definition of the feature and often includes expected behavior if a certain option is enabled, disabled or changed.  As a whole, the Help was useful, which is paramount in a situation like this, where the TEW-631BRP offers so much control and so many options.

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HH Testing Platform and SANDRA XI Network Tests

How we configured our test systems: When configuring our test systems for this article, we set up a dekstop and laptop system on the same network with the TRENDnet TEW-631BRP.  The desktop was connected to one of the 100Mbps ports whereas the laptop was connected using the TRENDnet TEW-621PC Wireless CardBus card bus.  In each test, no security encryption was employed and Windows Firewall was disabled on each system as well. 

HotHardware's Test Systems
AMD & Intel Inside!

 

System 1:
AMD Athlon X2 5200+
(2.6GHz)

Asus M2N32-SLI WS Pro 
(NVIDIA nForce 590 SLI)

2x2GB OCZ PC-6400

GeForce 8800 GTX
GeForce 8600 GT
On-Board Ethernet
On-board Audio

WD1500 "Raptor" HD
10,000 RPM SATA

Windows Vista Ultimate 64-Bit

nForce Drivers v15.00
NVIDIA Forceware v158.24
DirectX 10

System 2:
Core 2 T5500
(1.67GHz)


Lenovo 3000 C200
(Centrino Duo)

1GB  DDR2

Intel Extreme
Intel Pro/Wireless 3945ABG
On-board Audio

Hitachi Travestar 80GB
5,400 RPM SATA

Windows Vista Business 32-Bit
Intel INF 8.0.1.1002
NVIDIA Forceware v94.24
DirectX 9.0c

SiSoftware SANDRA
Network Bandwidth Test

The first half of our evaluation is going to consist of synthetic network bandwidth testing courtesy of SANDRA.  In this test, the program requires at least two machines to be on the network, with SANDRA automatically identifying the second system as the host.

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With Windows reporting that we had a successful 300Mbps connection, the Network Bandwidth testing showed an average bandwidth more along the lines of 100Mbps, which is spot on.  Yes, the laptop connects via a 300Mbps connection, but the router's LAN ports are all 100Mbps, so that is the highest possible result we can hope to record.  Nonetheless, even 100Mbps wirelessly is a serious boost compared to 54Mbps.  We should also note, ratings for bandwidth are absolute peak and are not representative of real world results.  With networking performance, there are a multitude of factors that can affect the actual performance.  In our next test, we'll try to give an idea of more real world results.

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Real World Transfer Tests and Range Testing
Real World Transfer Tests and Range Testing
Tranfer Times and Distance

In our second round of bandwidth testing, we timed the process of copying a large file to demonstrate the performance of the TRENDnet TEW-631BRP.  In this test, a shared folder was created on a workstation with a 297MB ISO in that folder.  Next, we inititiated copying the file from our desktop to the laptop, with all commands initiated at the laptop.  When this test was complete, we copied the file back to the workstation.  Tests were run with the TEW-621PC Wireless CardBus as well as with our laptop's integrated 54Mbps Wireless adapter.

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The most obvious characteristic of this test is the differences between 54Mbps and 300Mbps.  With the Laptop-to-Server test, it took 2:09 to transfer 297MB of data on the 54Mbps connection, compared to less than a minute with the 300Mbps connection.  When we break it down a bit further, knowing 297MB to be a constant, we can convert the performance to Megabytes per second followed by Megabit per second and then calculate the average speed at which the file was transferred.

Laptop-to-Server Test @ 54Mbps:
297MB / 129 sec = 2.30MB/s
2.30MB/s x 8-bits (8 bits to a byte) = an average speed of 18.40MBps.

Then we'll take this formula and apply it to the 300Mbps Laptop-to-Server test:
297MB / 59 sec = 5.03MB/s
5.03MB/s x 8-bits (8 bits to a byte) = an average speed of 40.24MBps.

The improvement in performance with the 802.11n hardware was over double that of 802.11g.  When we apply this formula to the Server-to-Laptop test, we recorded an average speed of 11.88Mbps with the 54Mbps connection and 37.12Mbps with the 300Mbps link.  Naturally, these figures can vary in a number of ways due to hardware used and environmental influences.  However, what this does demonstrate is how much of an improvement the 300Mbps link can offer, even when transferring between a 100Mbps connection.  But what about range?

Testing the range of the device can be difficult to quantify.  Rather than giving a distance measurement, we simply connected with the 54Mbps adapter and walked away from the rounter until the connection was dropped, which turned out to be a respectable distance down the block.  Next, we connected the 300Mbps connection and repeated the process.  In the end, we managed to go roughly two thirds farther than the 54Mbps connection, demonstrating the longer range capabilities of 802.11n (draft).

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Performance Analysis and Conclusion
 

Performance Summary:    We record notable improvements in both range and transfer speeds using the TEW-631BRP in conjunction with the TEW-621PC, versus a standard 802.11g connection.  The synthetic tests recorded a maximum theoretical connection speed to the host machine, peaking at 100Mbps, as it should.  In our real world transfer test, we saw performance more than double that of the 802.11g connection and we are confident there is more headroom available. In terms of range, we recorded significant increases in distance compared to 54Mbps, which will also help maintain faster, stronger signals within closer ranges of operation.

Initial setup and technical support matters aside, the TRENDnet TEW-631BRP Firewall Router and TEW-621PC Wireless CardBus turned out to be a solid wireless combination.  There is little to comment on with the TRENDnet TEW-621PC Wireless CardBus other than that it installed easily, worked quickly and without error.  The meat of this review focused more so on the TRENDnet TEW-631BRP Firewall Router, which was loaded with features and options, making it a versatile solution for a broad range of environments.  The TRENDnet TEW-631BRP Firewall Router sports a sleek look that is backed by a slew of features accessible through a comprehensive web client.  With access to too many features to list, the TRENDnet TEW-631BRP Firewall Router can fit into virtually any environement and provide the options to truly hone the network to your needs.  The only thing that would make this product better is making the four LAN ports Gigabit ready rather than providing stock 100Mbps connections.  Aside from that, this router proved to be quite capable and delivered significant improvements in performance in comparison to more common 54Mbps connections.  With personal users increasing the demands on their networks with Media Center PCs, multiple computers, VOIP and streaming media, the TRENDnet TEW-631BRP Firewall Router and TEW-621PC Wireless Card are a good fit to help ensure a smooth experience.  With improved wireless bandwidth, advanced configuration options and a well organized web interface, both the TRENDnet TEW-631BRP Firewall Router and TEW-621PC Wireless CardBus help deliver the powerful features users need without over complicating the process for less saavy users.

For those who are looking to update their home network with new features and improved wireless speed and range, the TRENDnet TEW-631BRP Firewall Router and TEW-621PC Wireless CardBus won't break the bank.  The TRENDnet TEW-631BRP Firewall Router weighs in at a respectable pricepoint of around $80.  The TEW-621PC Wireless CardBus, on the other hand, can be found for around $60, with both products priced on par with competitive solutions.  While we haven't had the opportunity to compare either product to solutions from Linksys, D-Link or Netgear, we can say, in our experience, that the TRENDnet TEW-631BRP Firewall Router and TEW-621PC Wireless CardBus delivered enough performance ans has plenty of features to allow us to comfortably recommend it.  Anyone looking to upgrade their network should have no hesitation adding the TRENDnet TEW-631BRP Firewall Router and TEW-621PC Wireless CardBus to their short list for consideration.

  • Router is Loaded with Features
  • Router and Card Peak at 300Mbps  
  • Router is Sleek and Light Weight
  • Router Runs cooler than popular Linksys WRT54G
  • Card Bus Simple Installation
  • Significant Range Improvements
  • Router Wizard Failed
  • Not All Quick Installation Guide Information is Accurate
  • Technical Support
  • Wired LAN not Gigabit
  • Mystery Config Setup Button

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