Ottawa PC Users' Group, Inc.
 Product Review 


A Tale of Three Routers
by Chris Taylor

Anyone who uses a broadband connection to the Internet and has more than a single computer should consider using a router to connect to the Internet. In fact there are benefits even if you only have a single computer. Routers provide inbound firewall protection. And if your Internet access requires that you use connection software to connect through PPPoE (Point-to-Point Protocol over Ethernet), you can get rid of the connection software. All modern routers have the capability to automatically connect over PPPoE.

When I started using a Tablet PC last winter, I decided to go with a router that also included a wireless access point. That way, I could use my tablet while sitting in my living room. All the main names in routers now have models with wireless capabilities.

I went with the Linksys BEFW11S4. The biggest deciding factor for me was the price – CompuSmart had it on special for only $30 after a mail-in rebate.

And life was good. I could sit in the living room, browse the web, and read my email without being accused of hiding out in the computer room all the time.

Life was not perfect though. The Linksys had a really annoying habit of dropping the wireless connection every hour or two. The connection would be re-established automatically, but software that is connection sensitive, such as the Nortel’s Contivity VPN client or Sunbelt Software’s Remote Administrator, required manual intervention to re-establish.

To compound the problem, the DHCP server built into the Linksys took 30 seconds to a minute to hand out an IP address to the tablet. I hard coded the IP information to get around that particular annoyance. But while this helped speed up reconnections, it made life more difficult when switching between wireless at home and wireless at the office, which requires the use of DHCP.

I tried updating the firmware on the router. Things were no better.

I Googled and found some others complaining of the same problem with the Linksys BEFW11S4. But there were also some who claimed it gave them rock-solid wireless connections. I started thinking it might be an interaction between the access point in the router and the Intel PRO/Wireless built into the Centrino-based Tablet PC. I decided it might be worth trying a different router.

Staples had a special on the D-Link DI-514 – $40 after rebate, so I asked Google about it and found that there were complaints and kudos similar to those regarding the Linksys router. I decided to give it a shot anyway.

D-Link’s DHCP server worked considerably faster than Linksys’s. I was disappointed that the WPA (WiFi Protected Access) in the D-Link only supports WEP for encryption, rather than TKIP (Temporal Key Integrity Protocol), but I could live with that.

But I was still getting disconnects on the wireless every hour or two. I flashed the firmware with the latest version available on the D-Link site. All of a sudden I was getting disconnects every five or ten minutes! I switched back to the Linksys and brought the D-Link back to Staples for refund.

Back to researching. Another special. Future Shop had the Netgear WGR-614v4 for $40 after rebates. Google reported some users were having problems with wireless, but I decided to give it a shot.

Netgear’s DHCP server hands out addresses quite quickly. Security-wise, it supports TKIP for encryption. I have configured it to change the encryption keys every 60 minutes. It includes a Stateful Packet Inspection firewall, which should provide a higher level of protection than the packet filtering firewall, which is also included.

And – finally – the wireless is quite stable for me. I still get occasional disconnects, but it is only once every 20 or 30 hours of operation. I can live with that.

The only thing I have found that I don’t like about the Netgear WGR-614v4 is that it seems to run a fair amount warmer than either the Linksys BEFW11S4 or the D-Link DI-514. Heat is an enemy of electronics. I guess only time will tell if it is too hot.

Bottom line – every router I tried worked flawlessly for wired connections. It would seem that many routers have some level of difficulty with wireless connections. If buying a wireless router, I recommend looking for one that supports WPA-PSK for authentication and TKIP for encryption. All routers seem to support MAC address filtering to prevent rogue wireless devices from connecting. Use it. And change your SSID from the default and turn off the broadcast of the SSID.

As for what wireless router to get, personally I don’t think there is a single right answer. While the Netgear is working well for me, perhaps a US Robotics, Linksys, or SMC will work better for you. I recommend that you try the router that includes the features you want and has the best price.

If there are mail-in rebates, don’t cut the UPC codes off the box until you are sure you are keeping the router. Otherwise, you won’t get all your money back from the store if you return the router. You will have to wait the 2 months or so the rebate centres take to cut you a cheque.


Bottom Line:

Linksys BEFW11S4
$30 CAD (after mail-in rebate) at CompuSmart

D-Link DI-514
$40 CAD (after rebates) at Staples

Netgear WGR-614v4
$40 CAD (after rebates) at Future Shop

(all prices and rebates as of Fall 2004)


Copyright and Usage
Ottawa Personal Computer Users Group (OPCUG), Inc.
3 Thatcher Street, Ottawa, ON  K2G 1S6

The opinions expressed in these reviews may not necessarily
represent the views of the OPCUG or its members.