Test Drive: D-Link AirPro Multimode 2.4/5Ghz Wireless Router

Monday Oct 21st 2002 by SmallBusinessComputing Staff

Do you want to go wireless but are torn between two Wi-Fi technologies? If you can't decide between the widespread 802.11b or the faster but less prevalent 802.11a, then D-Link's new dual-band wireless router may save you from having to decide.

By Roy Santos

How many times have you read or heard about a newer, faster wireless technology even as a older one becomes more and more widespread? That's what's happening with current wireless technology.

The 2.4GHz 802.11b is the most popular way to create a wireless network. The 11Mbps technology achieves real-word average speeds of around 4.5Mbps. The next-generation wireless networking gear, on the other hand, houses 5GHz 802.11a, a 54Mbps technology, which achieves average transfer speeds of over 22 Mbps. A third technology, sometimes called 802.11b+ that uses a different modulation but is compatible with regular 802.11b, usually tops out at around 6.5Mbps. And yet all of these technologies get labeled as "Wi-Fi." This information is enough to paralyze anyone who wants to set up a wireless network.

Fortunately, the considerate folks at D-Link may have a solution for this dilemma. The D-Link AirPro Multimode 2.4/5Ghz Wireless Router straddles all these current wireless technologies. It may snap you out of a decision funk and into the world of wireless. You may end up shelling out up to four times as much for this router, but it may be worth investigating if you want the best of all wireless worlds.

Basic Features
The multimode router comes in a gray and silver rectangular case about 9-1/4 inches long and 6 inches wide. The front displays several green lights to indicate local network connections, and 802.11a and 11b functions. The back of the device provides four ports for wired connections. Two hinged gray antennas rotate in different directions to give you the best reception. D-Link provides small rubber stands that clip to either end of the router to let it stand on its edge, offering a way to save precious desk space.

Routers are easier than ever to set up. D-Link's multimode router includes a wizard that makes creating a wireless network stress free, for the most part. The configuration is browser based, saving you yet another software installation process. The configuration wizard walks you through five setup screens. There are still technical terms that the setup process leaves unexplained for the layman, such as MAC address or dynamic IP, but it does include default settings that will work for most users. Using those default settings, I was able to connect to the Internet and have one wireless connection in less than 10 minutes. If you have any problems, D-Link promises free technical support and a limited warranty for a year.

I tested the speed of the router's wireless connections and received outstanding results. It yielded well above average speeds on both modes. More importantly, there is only a small drop in performance when you turn on 128-bit encryption, making this a good solution for those who require both security and speed in their wireless networks.

Without WEP, the DI-764 achieved averages speeds of 4.89Mbps using 802.11b when the client PC was less than 10 feet away from the router. On an upper floor, there was slight drop of 15% with that setup. The inevitable drop also occurs when moving out to about 50 feet away, with speeds of almost 3 Mbps. Further out and when walls get in the way, the router slows down to 1.85 - still a very decent showing.

When I turned on 128-bit encryption, I was surprised at how little performance degraded. In fact, it was at times a few Kbps faster than without encryption. At close range, average speeds almost hit 5Mbps. When I moved out further, the client recorded speeds of almost 4 Mbps even with interfering walls.

802.11a throughput was a healthy 21.26 Mbps at close range without encryption. With the client on the upper floor, the average was close to 20 Mbps. Going further out, I still received speeds of anywhere from 11 Mbps to over 13 Mbps.

Again, the router served up a nice surprise when I turned on 128-bit WEP. With the client less than 10 feet away, throughput was still over 21 Mbps; about 20 Mbps on a different floor; over 13 Mbps at about 50 feet; and an average of 8.34 Mbps at over 50 feet and with intervening walls. This should make performance and security-hungry administrators very happy.

I also noted a special Turbo mode in the router that used dedicated channels and promised a 108 Mbps theoretical throughput. However, using a client equipped with a NETGEAR PC Card that has the same turbo capability, I experienced a drop in performance instead. Turbo was noticeably slower than regular 802.11a mode, so I don't recommend going into that setting. The problem may be that, like the turbo mode in the company's enhanced wi-fi access point, you need a d-link adapter to get full turbo speeds.

Security and Access Control
The DI-764 includes a built-in firewall that features content filtering and support for network address translation, or NAT. Content filtering lets you limit access to Internet services or specific sites. The multimode router's firewall allows you to do this by merely entering keywords or IP addresses. It even lets you limit the access of chosen PCs to certain times of the day, letting only the most important tasks be performed during peak Internet usage. It's a very comprehensive access control feature. Though it is located under the Advanced rubric of the router setup, I found it easy to understand and control.

I tested the NAT firewall using Gibson Research's Shields UP!! and LeakTest. Basic probing revealed the major ports to be under "stealth" mode, except for one, which showed as "closed." Port 113, associated with identification and authentication, was closed and could still reject unwarranted queries, but made the computer visible to the outside world. Free firewall software, such as ZoneAlarm, puts the individual PCs under full stealth. Activating a second firewall, however, produced some problems of its own. I couldn't connect to the 802.11a network and I experienced occasional drops in both Wi-Fi and wired connection, especially if I left the PC running for a long time. Unfortunately, the router doesn't present a simple way of putting the port under stealth. Still, it should not pose an immediate problem, but security sites such as Gibson Research do warn that it allows outsiders to detect your computer.

We usually pay a premium for newer technologies and the D-Link Multimode Wireless Router is no exception. At around $400, it could be the deal breaker for those on the fence, though I've seen it for as low as $319 on the Web. An 802.11a access point may be a better option if you already have an existing Wi-Fi network. But the multimode router offers the convenience and space-saving configuration of one box. It is also handy for those creating a brand new network and expecting users of both wireless technologies. One thing that may tip the balance in favor of the D-Link Multimode is its superior performance with WEP encryption. That alone could make the premium worth it.

Model Number: DI-764 ($399.00)

Pros: Works with all current versions of 802.11-based LAN technology; excellent performance with WEP encryption; easy setup.

Cons: Expensive; turbo mode didn't work.

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