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D-Link DGL-4500 Xtreme N Gaming Router

Date: April 15, 2008
Author(s): Greg King

D-Link’s DGL-4500 wireless router brings a lot to the table, including dual-band operation, 802.11n support, a killer built-in OLED screen, on top of features perfectly suited for online gamers. Of course, such a feature-packed router doesn’t come cheap, so is it worth your hard-earned $180?



Introduction


Here at Techgage, we have a broad range of PC-related hardware that we have looked at over the years. Having just turned three, we decided to celebrate by piecing together a computer that anyone on staff would be proud to call our own. Supported by companies from around the industry, one of the “extras” included in the prize package was the D-Link Xtreme gaming router, or as many like to call it, the DGL-4500. Having included the router in the prize package, the DGL-4500 topped off what we considered to be one hell of a gaming rig.

With our past review of the D-Link DIR-655 Xtreme N router being one of our most popular router reviews to date, it only made sense to get our hands on the DGL-4500 and see how much, if at all, it bested the widely popular single band 655.

Offering dual band (both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz wireless), and sporting an attractive OLED screen on the top, the DGL-4500 certainly looks like a winner on paper but how does it stack up against the other wireless N routers we have looked at in the past?

D-Link, in all their marketing genius, has given the DGL-4500 their GamerLounge logo and dressed the router in the same plastic housing as the DIR-655… only this time around they have included a top mounted OLED screen and an all black exterior. While many consider the inclusion of the screen a bit gimmicky, typical gamers aren’t your average user and have proven time and time again that anything that lights up is square in their wheelhouse.

While the LCD screen and black color are noticeable step away from the DIR-655’s styling, the most important difference between the current best seller and D-Link’s latest gaming router is the addition of the Atheros XSPAN dual band chipset, giving the DGL-4500 the ability to connect wirelessly over the existing 2.4 GHz wireless band as well as in the less crowded 5 GHz band… providing you actually own a dual band wireless adapter. D-Link themselves just recently released their DWA-160 dual band USB wireless adapter giving those owner , or their potential owners, the ability to actually use the 5 GHz wireless band.

Bundled with the router is a set of accessories not uncommon to any router you might purchase from any manufacturer. Included is a small length of Cat5 cable, a power adapter, router manual, setup disk and the router itself. In an attempt to make the DGL-4500 stand apart from the rest of the pack, and to help validate it’s gaming router tagging, D-Link has also included a trial version of World In Conflict, one of the best RTS games available today. If you haven’t given it a go, I highly suggest downloading the demo and doing so.

While different from your standard RTS game (Command and Conquer for example) World in Conflict takes a step back from conventional real time strategy game play and mixes it up a bit. Regardless, the inclusion of a game, demo or not, in a router’s bundle is a nice touch, but for the money D-Link is asking for the DGL-4500, a full version would have been a nice touch. Then again, perhaps the pricing is justified as the OLED screen, I’m sure, adds a bit to what is essentially a dual band DIR-655 (more on that later.)

Also included with the router is a small set of screws to be used by those looking to mount the DGL-4500 onto a wall as well as a stand for those who would like to mount the router vertically to help save space on their desk (or anywhere for that matter!) Notice the power adapter’s shape. This works well when plugged directly into a wall outlet as it permits the use of the lower, or higher, socket by not covering it up. For those of you that will plug your router into a standard power strip or UPS, this might be a problem as the adapter itself might run directly over an adjacent power slot. Not a deal breaker but something that we feel should be pointed out.

When we have the router out of its packaging, we see that D-Link as shipped the 4500 in a protective cover. Given the polish and shine on the router’s plastic housing, this is a welcome sight as any scratch big or small will show up on a surface as glossy as this. Like the DIR-655, there is also a large orange sticker informing us to run the setup disk first. This is a step in the installation process that we will be overlooking but for novices out there, running the included utility is a great idea as it assists in setting up wireless networks, securing them and helping the user get out to the Internet if needed.

With the plastic removed, we see the 4500 in all its glossy goodness. While the plastic cover initially helps keep the router scratch free, like any iPod owner can relate to, once this covering is removed, the surface scratches easily. In this shot we can see the raised OLED screen, a pair of buttons just underneath it and on the right hand side of the router, there is a small WPS button to aid in easily connecting your wireless client to the router with minimal work involved. WPS has been something of a problematic setup for us in the past and sadly, we were unable to get it to work in our testing of the 4500 too. For what it’s worth, the WPS button glows an attractive blue with activated.

Moving around to the back of the router, we can see that the 4500 uses three antennas to broadcast and receive its wireless signals and all three connect using RP-SMA connectors, giving the end user the ability to upgrade their antennas if they see fit to do so.

Moving from left to right, we see four gigabit Ethernet ports, one WAN port appropriately labeled “Internet”, a single USB port, a small reset button and the power connection. One error made in our DIR-655 review was that we commented on the ability to use the USB port on the back of the router as a print server. This was false and in our forums we corrected the mistake.

Like that router, the 4500 includes a USB port for use in the initial wireless setup process using Windows Connect Now (WCN). This is a process that we should see move to the way side as WPS has been showing up more and more in routers everywhere. In future routers from D-Link, I think it would add a great deal of functionality to their products if the USB port found on the back of their routers could be used to add network storage or even something as simple as adding a USB based printer. Like the power adapter shown earlier, this isn’t by any means a deal breaker but something that I think would add a considerable amount of value to their routers down the road.

When powered on, the front of the 4500 has a small power logo that glows a brilliant blue. This is sadly the only feature of the router, besides the OLED screen (that turns off after a set amount of time) that lights up and to be honest, it was difficult not being able to see connection status lights when looking at the front of the router. Using the v1.02 firmware, the latest available from D-Link at time of publication of this review) we are initially greeted with the D-Link logo. This then goes into an initial help screen that gives us the designated functions of the two buttons found in front of the screen.

After the 4500 goes through its startup process, a process that only takes a few seconds; we are given the date and time… in 24 hour format too!

Instead of taking photographs of each screen, we went to D-Link’s site and grabbed a publicly available image containing all six of the screens in one convenient picture.

One area of our router reviews, as well as NAS, that we have worked on is bringing the readers as much detailed information on the internals of the hardware being tested as possible. This makes it easier to do research on the product at hand as well as see what other manufacturers use the same processors, chipsets and memory.

The DGL-4500, as mentioned earlier is a dual band router meaning that it has the ability to operate on the way common 2.4 GHz band or the significantly less crowded 5 GHz band if you happen to have an adapter that can get your client machine to connect to the router at this frequency. Allowing the 4500 to allow both bands is the Atheros XSPAN chipset.

Powering the router itself is the Ubicom IP5160, the same exact processor used in the phenomenal DIR-655. While powered by the same processor, the 4500 differs from the single band 655 with a Realtek RT8356 whereas the 655 is powered by a Vitesse VSC7385.
With a little investigating, these chips can be read up on more thoroughly online. Thanks to our friends at Small Net Builder for some of the information regarding the internals of the 4500.



Web-Based UI, Setup

As with any router available today… come to think of it, any network based product, the true functionality of usefulness of the router can be found in its user interface. Featuring a similar set of features as that of the 655 and TRENDnet TEW-633GR, the D-Link DGL-4500 offers everything the other two mentioned routers provide and adds a little bit more. The most notable of these extra features are oriented to the gaming community with an example being “gamefuel”.

Starting out, the 4500 has a default password of, well, nothing. The username is “admin” and can be selected from a drop down box. Leaving the password field blank will allow you past the login screen and into the main area of the router’s user interface. It is highly recommended that you change your password as soon as possible, especially if you live in a highly populated area such as an apartment complex or a housing addition as a default password is easy to guess and allows unwanted guests into your routers configuration.

The first screen we get to allows us to setup our network with the help of the built in wizard or manual if you prefer that route. This screen is found under the “Basic” tab and also includes wireless and wired network information.

By clicking on wireless in the left hand column, we are given the option to name our SSID, enable wireless, select our wireless band as well as select which protocol we wish to use. One limitation of the DGL-4500 is the lack of interoperability of devices connected on different frequency bands meaning a notebook connected to the router on the 5 GHz band cannot “see” another device connected via the standard 2.4 GHz band. This is clearly a limitation of the 4500 but one that shouldn’t affect many users as dual band adapters aren’t as prevalent as one would like. D-Link addresses this issue with their the DIR-855 which allows devices on both bands to communicate seamlessly.

Under the advanced tab we see a whole slew of options ranging from gaming options, routing paths and firewall settings. This is the section for advanced users who will find that the options available on the 4500 are more than enough for the average user. For those who like to host their own FTP, a virtual server rule can be setup allowing the hosting of such services.

Opening ports has been a huge part of network and online gaming since home routers first took the stage many years ago. While gamers use these features today, there are other applications that could need a port opened that gamers might not use on a daily basis. To address these users, D-Link has included pre-set apps with their respective settings. All that needs to be done to setup the router to allow these programs to move traffic in and out of the network is to select it from the drop down box. You can setup your own if your application isn’t listed in the box as well.

For you gamers out there, there is a similar page that allows the same settings to be applied for games. As with the special applications page, all that is needed by the user is to drop down the box and select their game of choice. Sadly, the list seems a bit dated (very dated) but undoubtedly D-Link can add to this list with future firmware upgrades.

The highly touted gamefuel feature is useful as well. It allows us to setup special rules for our network giving priority to gaming bandwidth over other sources of traffic such as FTP and media streaming. This is helpful for those who share multiple roommates as it allows you to game virtually uninterrupted. Digitally uninterrupted that is. I suppose your roommate can always unplug your PC but that wouldn’t be all that nice now would it?
Think of this feature as QoS geared specifically for gamers.

For those of you concerned with your networks safety, the 4500 offers a great deal of firewall tweaking. Offering NAT endpoint filtering and Anti-Spoof checking, D-Link has provided a considerable amount of features for those who love to micromanage their firewall. There are also options for disabling the SPI part of the firewall as some issues with Vista and stateful packet inspection capable routers.

In the advances wireless section, we can adjust our transmit power of the antennas if needed.

To enable UPnP support, simply navigate to the advanced network section. UPnP is a great technology for those who stream media to different devices in their homes. You can also adjust the port speed of your WAN jack if needed as well.

In the Tools section, we can enable a syslog, providing a great deal of information if a syslog server is setup.

If you’re constantly on the move and want to know when your home network takes a dive, you can setup email notification in the email settings area. This allows you to be updated on the system log files, router alerts and firmware updates.

Should you want to backup your router’s settings, you can save them to any attached storage device be it our PC’s hard drive or a NAS device on your network. You can also reboot and restore your router to its factory settings from the system section as well. If you happen to screw up your network with a setting and can’t get back to where you were, you can also restore your router’s settings from a previously saved setting file.

Dynamic DNS is a rather popular feature that makes connecting you your home network by entering in your host name, regardless of your IP address. This is useful for those that might not own their own domain or those that have an ISP that constantly issues a different IP to their subscribers.

Schedules can be setup as well. You can make a rule and define when it is to be in effect. This is handy if you want to keep your network users, for example your children, from access the Internet either before or after a certain time.

In the status tab, we can view current wireless connections. For those of you what might not setup a secure wireless network, you can at least view who is leaching off of your network by viewing the currently connected wireless clients and by looking at their connection signal strength, get a decent idea of where they might be located.

If you have setup a routing table (most of you won’t) you can view them in the routing section. This is useful for network admins that might be using this router in an environment outside of the home. Up to 32 static routes can be setup with the 4500 and viewed through this page.

Log files have long been a way to view current connections and aid in troubleshooting what caused an error by seeing what was happening around the time of the issue. The 4500 offers a good amount of log functionality and even allows sorting by type of event.

One thing we loved with the DIR-655, and even the TRENDnet routers we have reviewed, is the help page. Offered are files containing information of each and every setting found on the DGL-4500. This is helpful for those that might not know what a certain setting means and for the most part, the information provided is clear and easy to understand. Sometimes the good old Wikipedia needs to be referenced but for most everybody, the help provided by the D-Link firmware should be more than enough to get you where you want to be.

With the look at the admin system finally out of the way, let’s dive into testing.



Testing and Final Thoughts

As with all of our other recent network hardware reviews, we start out with our single 585MB Microsoft Windows XP image and transfer it from one machine to another. In the case of router testing, these tests will be run over wireless N. Sadly, we were not able to secure a dual band wireless adapter so our performance results will only be in the highly populated 2.4 GHz band.

I was however able to order an adapter and will update the review when it arrives later this week and I have thoroughly tested the performance difference between the DGL-4500 operating in the 2.4 GHz band and the 5 GHz band.

Transfers are run a total of three times with the three results averaged out for a final, absolute time. This process is conducted the same way for both upload and download traffic.

The two testbeds for my testing are as follows:

Wrapping up our testing, we found that the DGL-4500 performed exceptionally well but was still bested, ever so slightly, by its older, single band brother the DIR-655. Considering that the 655 and the TRENDnet TEW-633GR share the same internal hardware, it was not surprising to see them so close in the charts. We had the TRENDnet TEW-631BRP budget N router bringing up the rear of the contestants but given its price, it’s still not a bad performer either.

So, the question of the day is whether or not the 4500 is worth the extra cost over the DIR-655. The answer to that question comes down to what you prefer your router look like. Granted, the 4500 is geared towards gamers and with its gamefuel technology and its robust firewall settings, it does have a few more options than the 655. We also can’t forget the OLED screen.

To answer my own question, I say no. I do not think that the DGL-4500 is worth the extra $50 – $70 dollars over the excellent performing 655, or even the TEW-633GR. I would personally keep the extra money and use it to buy a game… or anything that $60 (on average) would buy you. That said, I do think that the DGL-4500 has its place and for those just now building up a new home network, I think you would do yourself well to consider going all 5 GHz. This will be verified when we receive our dual band adapter but from looking around the web, the less populated band does come with its benefits.

When prices start to come down a bit, and dual band adapters start to become more available, the 4500 will become a far easier router to recommend. That said, by the time all that happens, hopefully the D-Link DIR-855 will come down in price, eliminating the need for the 4500 altogether. The DIR-855 uses the same chipset as the 4500 but comes in a white casing and uses an extra radio to allow simultaneous use of both bands.

As it stands, the DGL-4500 is a superb router with more than enough features to keep most all home networks safe and running at maximum speed. With the availability of the DWA-160, we can all now enjoy the 5 GHz band and for those that need it, a D-Link developed adapter is a welcome sight indeed. All that said, the D-Link DGL-4500 earns an 8 out of 10. It’s fast but expensive and with the availability of the cheaper DIR-655, users that don’t need the dual band capabilities should go with the 655. Those that need the 5 GHz band and are partial to D-Link, the DGL-4500 is unquestionably a great choice for gamers and non-gamers alike.

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