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TRENDnet TEW-637AP Wireless N Access Point

Date: March 6, 2008
Author(s): Greg King

Glued to your current wireless setup but want to make the leap to 802.11n? With the TEW-637AP, it’s very possible. By adding this to your existing network, you open up all of the “n” benefits, while retaining all of the settings on your current router. Is 802.11n worthy of such a unique upgrade?



Introduction


If you’ve visited Techgage lately you might have read through the pair of reviews covering TRENDnet’s offering to the wireless N crowd. In looking at both the TEW-631BRP and the TEW-633GR, we liked each router for completely different reasons. We were impressed with the pricing and wireless N performance of the 631BRP while the gigabit LAN ports and unmatched wireless performance earned the 633GR an editor’s choice award. While impressed, we walked away from our testing with a sobering thought that not everyone needs this new wireless format, 802.11n.

For those of you out there using your wireless connection to surf the ‘net or check your email, your existing setup of more than likely wireless G is more than likely more than enough to keep your digital experience up to speed. Those that could use the added bandwidth that N brings are those who stream media, high definition media to be precise, from a PC or a media server to a set top player. Even gamers don’t really need the extra performance that wireless N brings to the table.

While the actual need for the additional speed that N brings might not be for everyone, the longer reach of the wireless protocol is something that practically everyone can appreciate. With a significantly larger range of service, wireless N allows us to venture further away from our home router than ever before.

With all of the benefits of wireless N, and the examples of what it can provide clearly listed above, one of the pitfalls of replacing a home router with a shiny new one has nothing at all to do with which wireless protocol it uses. So many of us use our routers as a first line of defense from external threats that mean to do us digital harm.

For those with children, many routers today allow filters to be setup, effectively eliminating the sites that your child can get to that you would rather they stay away from. Regardless of what you use your router for; there are certainly settings that you would rather not have to setup again and for those of you whom this might apply, TRENDnet might have something that can help you out.

Back at CES, we stopped by the TRENDnet booth for many of the same reasons we stop in at any display. Not only did we want to meet with the representatives from each respective company and put faces to names, we also wanted to see what was in the pipes as far as future products are concerned.

When we arrived at the TRENDnet display, they were quick to show off the newest member in their wireless N stable, the TEW-637AP. Having not mastered the creative naming skill that only a handful of companies in this industry have, the 637AP falls directly into line with the other products offered by TRENDnet. Instead of BRP (no idea what that stands for) or GR, TRENDnet has branded this new device with an AP which we will come to find out is rather fitting.



Closer Look

The diminutive box that the TEW-637AP ships in should be a welcome site to many. With packaging getting larger and larger (we are looking square at you ASUS), the small size of the 637AP should be a beautiful site to most. With plenty of information about the advantages of wireless N, the packaging of the 637AP is compact but to the point.

Bundled with the 637AP are the essentials to get you up and running in little to no time at all. Providing an installation disk containing setup software, a manual, a small Cat5 cable, a vertical stand and power cable, TRENDnet gives us just enough to get up and going.

Once out of the box, the 637AP at first glance looks like a small router with its 633GR styling and antennas sticking out of the top. Using the included base, the 637AP can be set up vertically with its pair of rotatable fixed antennas that allow MIMO connections are situated at the top of the device like we saw in the 633GR review.

Taking a closer look at the front of the 637AP, there are LED status lights for power, router connection, WPS connection and wireless connections. WPS can only be used with devices that have this feature available so while a nice idea, actual use of this technology in a real world setting is limited by the lack of hardware to use it.

Turing the 637AP around, we see a single gigabit Ethernet port for quick connection to the host router, a small reset button and a port for a power cable to be inserted. While only useful when used in tandem with a true gigabit router, the addition of a 10/100/1000 Mbps Ethernet port on the back of the 637AP eliminates the bottleneck caused by a standard 10/100 ports given the top theoretical speed of wireless N is 300 Mbps. Granted, no one will ever see speeds that high, but going with a gigabit controller just makes sense.

As stated earlier, the 637AP resembles the TEW-633GR quite a bit. When using said router as a point of reference, the 637AP’s size is seen. This small size should allow most users to hide the unit anywhere they see fit. While TRENDnet includes a small lengths of Cat5 cable, as long as you’re within the 100 meter limit of Cat5 (straight runs only, this can be increased with the inclusion of a repeater) you can place the 637AP access point anywhere you need additional wireless coverage but more on this later.

Shown below is the way that TRENDnet sees most people using the 637AP. While we are using the TEW-633GR in the pictures, TRENDnet is marketing the 637AP towards those that would like to enjoy the benefits of wireless N but don’t want to replace their wired or wireless (speeds of G and below) router. Here you can see the lights in action when connected to a router and powered on.

Next, we will tackle setup and installation.



Setup and Installation

Like with the TEW-631BRP and TEW-633GR, the setup process for the 637AP begins with the installation disk. When auto play brings up the welcome screen, we are presented with only four options. Clearly we want to run the setup wizard but if needed, you can access the user’s manual (in .pdf form) as well as register your 637AP and exit out of the screen altogether.

The first setup screen we come to simply tells us how to connect the “Easy-N-Upgrader” (which is TRENDnet talk for wireless N access point) to your home router. Regardless of the manufacturer or model number, the 637AP is designed to indiscriminately work with any and all router with an open Ethernet port.

Next, the small app will scan your network for all connected devices and as seen below, it found the 637AP without any issue at all. Once found, we selected the device and clicked on the configure button at the bottom of the screen. We were then prompted for the default security password (logon credentials are admin:admin). This allows us to log into the 637AP from this point on but it’s recommended that you change the password to something a little more unique.

You can choose whether or not the 637AP gets its IP address dynamically or if you would prefer it to retain the same address statically forever and ever… or until you change it to something else. Once you choose how the device is going to obtain it’s IP you can then either setup your wireless configuration manually or allow WPS to do the dirty work for you. Basically you press the WPS button on the 637AP and it will auto associate with your wireless adapter. Sadly we do not have such an adapter in our lab but fortunately for us, they are quite uncommon and most people do not have them.

When prompted to create your wireless network SSID, you can use the default TRENDnet637 or you can create your own. While this will communicate with anything on your other device connected to your wireless router, assuming said devices are on the same subnet, you will want to give the 637AP a unique SSID so you know what you are connecting to. For this review, we left the name at its default.

As with any wireless network, encryption is HIGHLY encouraged by us here at Techgage. TRENDnet offers both major encrypting methods on the 637AP which is nice. You can go with the older WEP which is relatively easy to crack for those that have a bit of time and know what they are doing or you can opt for the far more secure WPA or WPA2. The problem with WPA is that there are many older wireless adapters that do not support this method of security and if you’re one of those with such a device, you will have to use WEP.

The ending screen shows us the settings that we just setup and allows us to print these settings for future reference as well as save our configurations. After they are saved, we are given a gigantic thumbs up from TRENDnet letting us know that the 637AP is setup and ready to go. From here, we will get into the 637AP’s web interface and poke around to see what the access point has to offer.

Once we have the 637AP setup to our liking, we can get into the 637AP’s UI by entering in the IP address of the AP itself. We found the IP by logging into our TEW-633GR and viewing the devices that have been given IPs by the router. In our case, the IP was 192.168.1.123 but this will vary from network to network. Once at the setup page, we first see the “network” section of the 637AP’s web interface. In this area we can give the 637AP a static IP address or continue to use the AP as a DHCP client.

In the next section, we have a slew of options that actually control how the 637AP acts. Here we can control at what kind of connections we will allow dependent upon the devices we will be connecting to the network. The 637AP can be setup to work with b, g or n clients or any combination of the three and can even be setup to work on any of 11 frequencies in the 2.4 GHz spectrum. Should you want to setup multiple SSIDs you can do that here as well. You can even monitor associated devices in this section as well letting the administrator keep track of what devices are connected through this AP.

In the final tab, you can monitor uptime, upgrade the system firmware, export your settings to a local machine connected to the network and load the factory default settings. If you so desire, you can also change your administrator password.

With that out of the way, let’s proceed on to our final thoughts.



Testing and Closing Thoughts


To test out the 637AP all that we did was simply install it and set it up. After the TRENDnet easy-N-upgrader was setup, we used it for a week as the only wireless access point in the building. Having shut off the wireless radio in the TEW-633GR, the only wireless signal running through the building was the b/g/n signal and having said that, the range of the 637AP was absolutely impressive. Speeds of the AP were on par with the TEW-631BRP that we evaluated a few weeks ago.

Given the 637AP’s small size, being able to both expand and upgrade a home user’s current wireless network is a great advantage over buying an entirely new router and setting it up the way you want. That said, the entire idea of getting the 637AP to upgrade to an N network is a bit silly for a large majority of users. The reason being is that for the price of this AP ($50 online) plus a Franklin, you are suddenly in the range of TRENDnet’s own TEW-631BRP and while ugly, you’re getting an entire routing package… hardware and a robust web interface with far more options than most will need.

This put the 637AP in strange territory in the sense that unless you are absolutely in love with your existing wireless network, what’s the point of getting this unit when you can get a full blown router for just a bit more? One other disadvantage of anything wireless N is that you need the corresponding adapters to even be able to use the faster wireless protocol.

Once wireless N becomes a standard (eventually… honest) we will see more and more devices with these adapters built into them, making a wireless N routing upgrade that much more alluring. As it stands now though, there are the hidden costs associated with making the jump to wireless N. I know this isn’t TRENDnet’s fault and I know that it doesn’t only affect them but what it does do is place the 637AP about $10 higher than I personally would like to see it at.

From a functionality stand point, the TEW-637AP absolutely owns. Its ease of setup and installation coupled with its performance and range make the device more than capable to live up to any users wireless demands. As marketed, it does exactly what TRENDnet states it will. It takes an existing network and upgrades it to a wireless N network.

While I appreciate the addition of the gigabit Ethernet port on the back of the 637AP and understand why it’s there, most home routers in use today only use 10/100 port speeds and for those of you scratching your heads that the thought of running a 300 Mbps wireless N connection through a 100 Mbps port, almost nobody will find this to be a bottleneck. That said, I think that the inclusion of a gigabit Ethernet connection on the 637AP was a smart move on TRENDnet’s part.

From an actual application standpoint, I have a few suggestions for TRENDnet. Start marketing the 637AP as an actual access point as well as a network upgrader. This is what the product does but nowhere does it mention it on the packaging. Also, if possible, drop the price a bit. Even a $10 price drop would separate it more from the bargain priced TEW-631BRP.

We loved that router in our tests and given the fact that good wireless N performance can be had for under $70, what’s the point? I can’t see too many people so in love with their home network that they won’t even consider an upgrade. Even though the 637AP performed extremely well and as promised, I personally would shell out a bit more for a complete router rather than pick up the 637AP… then again, that’s just me.

All in all, the TRENDnet TEW-637AP is a very good product that needs to come down in price a bit to be a real viable upgrade option. What I would use this product for is a simple access point. In my home I use wireless N. Having reviewed a fair amount of routers, I appreciate the performance and enjoy the benefits of the protocol. About 200 feet behind our house is a large barn that we have built a room in to keep saddles and anything else we want to protect and keep out of harm’s way.

I placed a desk in there and occasionally have taken my notebook out with me and by placing the 637AP in the far corner of my home, signal strength increased dramatically. Uses like this are what I would recommend the 637AP for. For those looking for a quick upgrade, I would ask you to consider this but those who aren’t really partial to their current setup (most of you out there), I would simply recommend picking up a new router and skipping over this device. It works and works very well but as it’s priced now, I would get the 631BRP on the cheap and use it for wireless N.

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