Date: February 22, 2008
Author(s): Greg King
Where routers are concerned, TRENDnet may not be the first name to come to mind, but their popularity is quickly growing. On our test-bench is a perfect example as to why that’s the case. If you are looking for a feature-rich N-based router for a reasonable price, the TEW-633GR is worth a look.
Last week, we brought you a review of the TRENDnet TEW-631BRP wireless N router. In the article, we took a quick look at TRENDnet’s budget offering to the wireless N community and found that its performance over the quite common 802.11g protocol more than justified its diminutive price tag of just under $70 for those in the market to either upgrade their existing wireless network or build their first.
One area that we felt the 631BRP lacked in was in its wired Ethernet ports. Offering 4 10/100 base jacks, the 631 falls short of other routers currently available on the market with gigabit connection speeds. To address this issue, TRENDnet has brought the TEW-633GR to market. Half marketed as a gaming router, sometimes simply a gigabit router, the 633GR uses wireless N v2.0 and offers four gigabit LAN ports on its backside.
If you listen to the marketing machines that be, Draft N offers up to 15 times the current speed of wireless G networks and expands on the coverage by a factor of 4. While the coverage is improved, I have not personally experienced anything near a fourfold range increase and the speed performance, while vastly improved, isn’t anywhere near the 15x theoretical speed boost stated by vendors worldwide.
As it stands, Draft N v2.0 is essentially waiting on ratification from the Wi-Fi Alliance, so the choice to upgrade your current wireless network can be made with little doubt that a mistake is being made. Now that’s all fine and good but how does one know if they actually need the added convenience of faster speeds and extended range? It basically comes down to what your needs are, so please, before you run out and spend your money on a new wireless router, ask yourself a few questions.
The first should be usage. What are you currently doing that you need more speed? For those who stream massive amounts of media, particularly high definition video, can safely use the additional bandwidth that N provides. Those that move a large amount of data around their network, a home NAS device for example, could not only use the extra oomph of wireless N, but might consider a router with gigabit LAN speeds as well.
Those that could safely pass on the newer protocol would be those that primarily surf the tubes and check their email. Users such as these will never use the provided bandwidth of N.
One group that we failed to mention was the gamers. Gamers more often than not will game over a wired connection but for those that laugh at the cables that bind might be surprised to know that a wireless G based network is usually more than enough for casual gaming needs and as such, immediate upgrading isn’t entirely necessary.
That said, a router such as the TRENDnet TEW-633GR, or any router for that matter, also provides a first level of security for your home network. Offering built in firewalls; most home routers do an adequate job of limiting the amount of suspect inbound and outbound traffic.
Getting that intro out of the way, let’s take a closer look at our latest router on the bench, TRENDnet’s TEW-633GR.
We are not entirely sure if the GR is an abbreviation for gaming router or gigabit router but it really doesn’t matter. In our evaluation of the 633GR, we are going to run real world tests to give us a better understanding of the performance that an end user can expect to experience.
When the router first arrived, it came to us in all its retail glory. With various statistics and other information about the router adorning the front, TRENDnet has done a decent job of informing the consumer without completely over doing it.
Opening the box reveals a somewhat simplistic bundle consisting of one CAT5 cable, a small plastic stand to allow the router to be stashed somewhere vertically, a start up disk, power brick and the 633GR itself. There is also a quick start manual to help the novices. This manual can be found in .PDF form on the included disk should the hard copy be misplaced.
Removing the router from its packaging quickly reveals a well designed, good looking router. This is a welcome difference from the plain blue design of the TEW-631BRP that we looked at late last week. One interesting design feature of the 633GR is its side mounted antennas.
This is quite different from most other routers on the market as their antennas are located on the back. Placing them on the side of the router however allows them better open air transmission when the 633GR is positioned vertically as we will see shortly. It should also be mentioned that the three antennas cannot be removed.
Taking a closer look at the front of the 633GR, we can see the activity lights indicating power, WAN, LAN 1 – 4, wireless and WPS activity. On the four LAN ports, devices connected at 10/100 speeds will light up green while gigabit connections will register with an orange light. Just above the activity lights is a lone button simply labeled WPS. This stands for Wi-Fi protected setup and allows one touch setup with compatible devices.
Moving around to the side, we can see the three 4dBi fixed antennas sticking out of the side of the router. In between each antenna are slots that allow cooler outside air to move through the router, helping to keep internal temperatures down. As we will see in another picture, having the antennas on the side of the device is something that I absolutely love as it keeps them out of the way of connecting patch cables when each port is populated.
On the D-Link DIR655 that we looked at last year, the antennas were located on the back of the router and when setup vertically in its stand, the cables got in the way of the antennas at times. With them located on the side, this is avoided. It also positions them at the top of the router instead of the back when setup vertically.
Around the back, like the 631BRP, there are color coded Ethernet ports. There is a single WAN port that is to be connected to your DSL or cable modem as well as four 10/100/1000 Mbps gigabit ports that are fittingly colored orange. I suppose gigabit speeds are hot and we know this because the orange color tells us so. To the right of the WAN port there is a small system reset button that is thankfully recessed to prevent any accidental defaulting of the router. On the end is a power ports.
On the other side of the 633GR is a single switch, allowing the user to toggle their wireless network on or off. I absolutely love this feature as it allows the owner to hard power off the wireless capabilities of the 633GR should the user not need this functionality.
This is a small thing but one that helps those who do not need wireless connectivity to lock down their network to those who should not be on it. There are also more ventilation slots on this side as well. The end two slots are a little larger and accommodate the included stand, allowing vertical setup of the router.
With any router you buy, software is included to help aid in setting up your router and customize it to fit your needs. Most walk you through encryption settings and help you get the most out of your router. Obviously all these steps can be achieved without this software but for the novice user, programs like these are quite necessary. Never the one’s to miss a step; TRENDnet has included just such software on the setup disk to help those of us who might not have the experience of others.
To install the software, simply place the CD in your drive tray and when the auto start comes up, click on the “Install Router.” You might notice that there is the option to install bonus software. This includes a McAfee anti-virus program and network magic. While we did not install either of these programs, those that either need them or are curious to try them out, this might help seal the deal when considering a router upgrade.
The best part about software setup aids like the one included with the 633GR is that they are mind numbingly easy. It’s rather difficult to miss a step when they grab your hand and walk you through each step. Below are a few screen grabs of the setup process.
When you first start, the router will ping the TRENDnet servers and see if there are any updates that are available before the setup process begins. After it decides if it needs an update or not, the setup home screen comes up allowing you to select your language of choice and gives you the option of installing the Network Magic trial software. Fortunately, you are not forced to install this software and can simply check a box declining the software setup.
From there, it checks for a connection. This is where the setup process ran amok. Regardless of what we had connected, it continued to detect multiple wired adapters. After exhausting all possibilities and without determining what the cause of the error was, we canceled out the setup process and set at it the old fashioned way, through the web interface. This conveniently brings us to our coverage of the UI. What a convenient segway.
By default, TRENDnet uses the IP address of 192.168.10.1 for its gateway. When you have your router powered on and your PC plugged into it, simply type this IP address in your web browser of choice and it will bring you to the log on page. The log on credentials for the 633GR happen to be the same as they were for the 631BRP: user name is admin and the password is blank. You have the ability to setup users as you see fit but for this review, we are sticking with the tried and true defaults.
Once in, the first screen we see is the “basic” screen. From here we can go through the setup process much like we would have done with the help of the setup disk had it not crapped out on us. You have the choice to setup your Internet connection as well as your wireless network too. If you just want to view your setup, you can view it by navigating to the network settings page.
If you understand how to type an IP address into your browser, and I would certainly hope you could, this is the method that I prefer far more than the setup disk. While the disk is convenient, if you plan on setting anything different than its default setting, you’re going to need to get to this UI anyway so you might as well just set the entire thing up from here while you’re at it. That’s just me though.
Moving onto the advanced tab, we see far more options available to play with. You can see in the following picture all of the different areas that you can change but we will touch on the most relevant. If you plan on running an FTP you can setup a virtual server on your machine.
For you gamers out there, you can open ports if needed or you can select from a long list of pre-programmed games. All that you need to do is select the game that you would like to setup and it will automatically fill in the TCP and UDP ports that need opening and setup the filters too. The only input needed from you is to assign which machine on your network you want to apply the settings for and with the help of a drop down menu; you can select any machine currently connected to your network. Thanks to DNS you are given the names of the PCs instead of the IP address. This helps greatly in avoiding confusion. You can even setup multiple gaming rules as well. How nice is that?
There is also the “StreamEngine” that is basically a QoS service. This sets up priority of service for one application or another. There is also an area that allows you to setup routing tables, you can institute parental controls that limit connection to the Internet for certain PCs on your network and you can even micro manage this by allowing outbound connections in only certain hours of the day, preventing P2P and gaming services and make a list of approved sites that the user is allowed to visit.
This is a great feature for parents looking to protect their children from questionable sites, or controlling parents looking to regulate every aspect of their children’s lives. I suppose that’s a matter of perspective really but the options are there if you want to use them.
There are also firewall options allowing you to enable SPI as well as setup NAT filtering. You can set up a PC as well to operate in the DMZ, allowing that PC to operate unrestricted. If you are looking to control the power of the antennas, you can do that too in the advanced wireless settings. If you’re looking to enable UPnP or set your wired port speeds, you can do that too in the advanced network tab.
In the Tools section, you can setup a password, adjust your routers internal clock, setup the system log files to send log information to another machine and setup the router to email you with log files alert messages and firmware updates. If you are looking to update your firmware because you got an email from your 633GR, you can do that here too. If you want to setup a dynamic DNS address as well. This is perfect if you host games on your own game server. Schedules can be adjusted here too for parental controls and firewall options.
To check the status of your network, you can navigate to the status page. From here you can view your currently connected machines, your IP information and view your log files.
If you have questions about any of these settings and what they do, the help menu is rather helpful and covers each and every option offered by the TRENDnet TEW-633GR.
If any of this looks familiar, you might remember seeing this almost identical option set in the D-Link DIR-655 review. These two companies clearly use the same user interface and as we discovered, these are not the only similarities between the 633GR and one of my personal favorite routers, the DIR-655.
Like in our TRENDnet TEW-631BRP review, we are using the same .iso file that we have used in all of our other transfer speed tests. This file is a Windows XP Pro image of my original install disk. Using the TRENDnet TEW-621PC wireless N PCMCIA adapter, we used our test machines to get to the numbers that we are trying to get.
In our tests, we take the test file and upload it to our desktop machine and then grab it and bring it back to our test notebook. This is done 3 times for each and an average is determined. The machines used in our tests are:
Looking close at the graph, we see that the 631BRP was slightly slower than both of our other work horses but not by much. The D-Link and TRENDnet 633GR both traded off on performance wins with the 633GR winning by a few seconds in all but the wireless N upload speed.
As for the range of the 633GR, I was able to navigate throughout my home without any signal cuts. There were signal drops but I never once lost connection. My office is in the middle of the house on the first floor and even with it surrounded by rooms, I was able to walk around the house and even outside without any problems. Walking down my 200 foot driveway wasn’t much of a task for the 633GR either as I still had connection in the road.
I know these are far more extreme of tests than most will subject this router to but rest easy knowing that it has the power to reach out and connect to your device regardless of location… within reason of course.
As much as we liked the 631BRP from TRENDnet that we looked at last week, it really didn’t do anything for us outside of being a functional router. It was ugly but functional and limited with its 10/100 base Ethernet ports. Taking all of that into consideration, the little blue router that could won us over with its relatively small price tag of under $70 for a wireless N v2.0 router and its wireless N performance.
It seems that TRENDnet knew the limitations of the 631BRP and built the 633GR to address those shortcomings. With its sexy design and LAN ports capable of gigabit speeds, the 633GR is a force to be reckoned with and given the huge popularity of the D-Link DIR-655, performance numbers show that the 633GR is just as good and can found online cheaper than the offering from D-Link.
As it turns out, the D-Link and the 633GR share the same innards as well. Thanks to our friends over at Small Net Builder, they found that the interior of both routers is the same. This would explain our almost dead even performance numbers. Basically what I am getting at is that you can have an established name brand router’s performance from the lesser known company for a little less cash and three times the warranty.
Not a bad showing from TRENDnet and as we finish this up, we are eagerly waiting for our dual band routers from both companies to come in so we can see how the next generation of models from each company stack up. With everything considered, the TRENDnet TEW-633GR earns a 9 out of 10 and an editor’s choice award.
With its longer warranty and slightly lower price tag (depending on where you find it online, sometimes the D-Link can be had for cheaper) the TRENDnet router deserves to be on your list of potential upgrades if a network overhaul is in the cards for you. If you prefer a specific company, I am not going to tell you to switch what you’re comfortable with. What I am saying is that this TRENDnet router stood toe to toe with the home networking giant and came out on top in most of the performance tests. Not a bad showing from the small guy.
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