Products: TRENDnet 450Mbps Wireless N Gigabit Router (TEW-691GR) & Wireless Gaming Adapter (TEW-687GA)
Pros: very high throughput/speeds
Cons: only basic feature-set; unpolished setup instructions
Online Price: $140 for router; $100+ for gaming adapter
The older 802.11g standard gives us maximum theoretical speeds of 54Mbps, which is typically enough for basic Web browsing and network sharing. One way 802.11n (Wireless N) increases Wi-Fi data speeds is by using Multiple Input Multiple Output (MIMO) antenna technology with up to four spatial streams. Wireless N is great when higher speeds and performance are needed, such as when streaming HD video or Voice-over-IP (VoIP).
Most Wi-Fi N products on the market today only use one or two spatial streams, giving you maximum theoretical speeds of 150 or 300Mbps, respectively. TRENDnet claims to be the first to bring a three-stream Wireless N router (June of 2010) and three-stream Wireless N gaming adapter (January of 2011) to the market.
Used together, these three-stream Wireless N products can potentially give you maximum theoretical speeds of 450Mbps. Keep in mind, like with other Wi-Fi standards and products, the actual throughput will be much less—which we’ll look at later.
In this review, we’ll evaluate these three-stream TRENDnet products: the 450Mbps Wireless N Gigabit Router (TEW-691GR) and 450Mbps Wireless Gaming Adapter (TEW-687GA). Though it says “gaming adapter” on the box, it can also be used with computers, Blu-ray players, TVs, and other devices with a wired Ethernet port. We’ll discuss their setup, features, and see how much the added stream increases the actual data rates.
Installation and setup
First, we unpacked the wireless router. As seen above, it has a black glossy finish, sports three antennas, and measures about 7 inches long by 6 inches deep and 1 inch tall.
On the back you’ll find the usual Internet (WAN) port and a 4-port switch for plugging in computers and devices. This router supports 10/100/1000Mbps connections. You’ll also find two additional things not usually seen that could be useful: a switch to turn the router on and off and a switch to turn the wireless access on and off.
On the left side of the router, you’ll find the small Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS) button, which most new routers have now. This makes configuring the security settings of adapters also with a WPS button as simple as two button pushes.
Like with most routers, the Quick Installation Guide tells you to plug your computer into the router and access the web-based control panel to configure the Internet and wireless settings. However, we were disappointed to see no wizard to help us configure the settings the first time we brought up the control panel. We later found wizards for the Internet and wireless settings; but we weren’t ever prompted on-screen or in the quick install guide to use them. Though you can manually configure all the settings, wizards are helpful. Additionally, they didn’t tell us to change the control panel password.
To sum up the installation and configuration of the router, it wasn’t necessarily difficult but not inviting for basic users.
Next, we unpacked the wireless gaming adapter. As you see below, it has the same black glossy finish and measures about 2.5 inches wide by 4.5 inches deep and 5.5 inches tall.
On the back you’ll find an Ethernet port supporting 10/100/1000Mbps connections for plugging it into a computer, gaming console, Blu-ray player, TV, or other device. This essentially makes the device a wireless bridge rather than a basic wireless adapter. It gives Wi-Fi capability to any device with a wired Ethernet port, bridging it to the wireless network.
On the top is where you’ll find the Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS) button to quickly and easily set it up with the security settings of the router.
The quick installation guide for the gaming adapter also tells you to first hook it up to your computer to configure it. It has a Web-based control panel, similar to the router. Since it’s a wireless bridge you must tell it which wireless router to connect to and define the security settings on the control panel, rather than on the computer or device you’ll be plugging it into. The quick install guide referred us to use the wizard, so the setup was fairly quick and easy.
After we got the router and gaming adapter hooked up and online, we clicked around the Web-based control panels some more to check out all the features.
Along with all the basic features, we found the router supports multiple SSIDs, which not all consumer-level routers support. Unfortunately, these additional SSIDs will all be connected to the main SSID unless you have a managed switch supporting VLANs. In other words, users on an additional SSID can access users on the main SSID, and vice-versa. Most other routers that support multiple SSIDs let you easily separate them onto their own VLAN, which is useful when setting up access for guests.
It would be nice to see some more additional features. For example, some vendors add USB ports on the router to hook up flash or USB drives, thus easily making them available to the whole network. Dual-band functionality would also be nice, letting you use the less crowded 5GHz band.
Performance and speed
We wanted to see if and how much the added stream increases the actual data rates. We ran some throughput tests and found a theoretical link rate of 405Mbps shown on the router’s Station List. The actual maximum speeds were around 170Mbps. This is much less than the advertised 450Mbps but is more than the typical 90 to 110Mbps in two-stream wireless N products. So we indeed found much better performance with the added stream.
Limitations to consider
It is important to understand all the stipulations to getting these high throughput numbers with three-stream products and wireless N in general:
- Both the router and adapter must support 802.11n, preferably from same vendor.
- When using three streams, like with these TRENDnet products, ensure both the router and adapter support three streams. Computers connecting to a three-stream router with a two-stream wireless adapter won’t get the high 170Mbps speeds.
- Ensure the Ethernet port on the device you’re connecting the gaming adapter to supports gigabit ethernet connections up to 1,000Mbps.
- You must use WPA2 (PSK or Enterprise) for Wi-Fi security; you cannot use WEP or WPA.
- You must limit the wireless router to only 802.11n connections. Consider any other wireless computers or devices you might have in the home.
- You must change the default channel width setting on the router from 20MHz to 40MHz (or Auto 20/40MHz)
Overall, the TRENDnet 450Mbps wireless router and gaming adapter did well. Though some improvements could certainly be made to the setup process and feature-set of the router, it is one of the best performing on the current market. It would be great for supporting performance-hogging applications, such as streaming HD video or VoIP.
Both TRENDnet products are competitively priced. The MSRP for the router is $199.99 with online prices around $140. The MSRP for the gaming adapter is $149.99 with online prices around $100.
Eric Geier is the Founder and CEO of NoWiresSecurity, which helps businesses easily protect their Wi-Fi with enterprise-level encryption. He is also the author of many networking and computing books, for brands such as For Dummies and Cisco Press.