Late to the Draft N game, but in the game nonetheless, is Trendnet, with its TEW-631BRP N-Draft Wireless Router. Like the rest of the Draft N routers from vendors such as D-Link and Linksys, the TEW-631BRP is based on Draft N of the yet-to-be-ratified 802.11n spec. While its performance was quite impressive relative to the other Draft N routers', it still falls short of the throughput promised by the 802.11n spec. Our advice so far is for consumers to hold off on buying Draft N networking equipment: it's very expensive next to 802.11g gear, and we'd like to see how the performance numbers shake out once the spec is finalized in mid 2007. If you must have one of these routers now, it's very likely that a simple firmware upgrade will bring these Draft N routers in line with the final spec, but no vendor can make that promise until the final spec is known. Despite the strong showing by the $128 Trendnet router, our favorite Draft N router remains the Belkin N1 for its good performance and superior user friendliness.
The Trendnet TEW-631BRP looks just like a standard router. The body comprises Trendnet's signature blue plastic, and a row of indicator lights resides along the front edge. The lights tell you whether the device is working and let you know when data is being transferred, but this pales in comparison to the user-friendly Belkin N1, which takes transparency to a new level. Along the back edge are three antennas that you can bend and pivot to maximize your signal strength, along with a WAN port, four LAN ports, a reset pinhole, and a switch to turn the wireless capability on and off. The ability to turn off wireless capability is great for security, if you know you'll have only hardwired connections.
Setting up the router is a simple procedure, though interestingly enough, Trendnet has decided to forego the installation-via-CD route. Instead, the installation guide walks you through connecting the hardware, then it instructs you to enter the router's default IP address into an Internet Explorer window to access the configuration utility. While this method is neither better nor worse than a CD installation, newbies may not be as comfortable with it, because it doesn't step you through the process the way a CD installation does. Once you're in the configuration utility, you have a wide range of options. For security, you can choose between None (not recommended), WEP, WPA, and WPA2 password protection. The TEW-631BRP supports MAC address filtering, SPI and NAT firewalls, and a DMZ host. For gaming, the StreamEngine feature prioritizes gaming packets for a smooth gaming experience. If you're concerned about what your family is seeing on the Internet, the Access Control option lets you grant access only to approved sites, curtails Web access by day and time, and helps you block access for certain types of applications, such as P2P programs and games. The Web filter lets you create a list of accepted Web sites; sites not on the list are blocked. Unfortunately, you don't have the option of creating a list of banned sites instead, which may prove easier in some circumstances. As you peruse each configuration option, you'll find a brief explanation of what it is and why you would use it. If you need further explanation, the help link in the configuration utility provides a more in-depth explanation, which is an excellent feature for anyone new to home networking.
In CNET Labs' test, the Trendnet N-Draft router did very well compared to the other Draft N routers we've tested. (Caveat: All of the router vendors regularly issue firmware upgrades that should improve performance. Because we tested many of the routers several months ago, we suspect their current throughput numbers may be better than the numbers we have on record.) The TEW-631BRP bested the competition in the short-range maximum throughput test, posting a score of 83.3Mbps. In the mixed-throughput test, the Trendnet router's score of 57.1Mbps trailed only that of the D-Link DIR-635 and the Buffalo Nfiniti router. The Trendnet also bested the pack in our long-range test (200 feet), with a score of 54.1Mbps. Despite its impressive numbers, we were still underwhelmed by the Trendnet's overall performance. 802.11n networking promises speeds up to 300Mbps, though all of the networking vendors will admit that this is a maximum burst speed and cannot be maintained.