Introduction

External design

Hardware

Firmware update

Web-interface

HDMI

Command line

Testing

Summary

Introduction

It's been about six months since we published a review on a QNAP NAS, TVS-463, which became the pioneering device in our partnership with the vendor. Recently our laboratory received probably the smallest QNAP model, TAS-168 NAS, with one hard disk. This model will come in handy for home users who are not looking for huge disk memory capacities or utmost reliability in data storage. QNAP TAS-168 can also perform functions of a network media player, but first things first!

External design

QNAP TAS-168 NAS comes in a white plastic case with a couple of black elements. The device weighs 560 grams and needs a 36W external power unit (included in the box) to work properly. A remote control is included in the box too, which is a really uncommon thing for NAS packages.

The front panel has LEDs indicating the correct operation of the network interface and HDD together with the infra-red receiver of the remote control located on it. Also, there are a ON/OFF button, button that answers for copying of data from external USB drives, USB 3.0 port, and slot used for connection of SD cards.

The rear side has four USB 2.0 ports, sunken Reset button, HDMI and Gigabit Ethernet ports, and power socket.

The upper panel of QNAP TAS-168 NAS is not remarkable at all and there is only a LED indicating the device status located on it.

Four small rubber legs are located on the bottom panel. Apart from it, there are sticker with brief information about the device as well as a large screw that holds two parts of the case together.

Now let's have a look at the insides of the device. By the way, there is a small fan that cools down the NAS hardware and internal HDD located on one of its side panels.

Hardware

Electronic stuffing of QNAP TAS-168 NAS is one green textolite card which has all essential elements located on both of its sides. The device system is powered by a dual-core Realtek RTD1195DD SoC CPU that runs at a base frequency of 1.1 GHz.

Four 512 Mbyte Mosel Vitelic V73CAG04808RAJJ11 chips act as the device RAM, making the total device RAM size 2 Gbytes. A 4 Gbyte SK Hynix H26M31001HPR chips acts as the flash memory. Asmedia ASM1153E microchip performs functions of a USB-SATA converter. Another chip by the same vendor, ASM1074L, performs USB concentrator functions.

That is where we bring the review of QNAP TAS-168 hardware platform to a conclusion and pass on to examining capabilities of its software component.

Firmware update

Firmware update may be carried out both in manual and semi-automatic mode. The user will need to use tabs in Firmware Update menu, System Settings group in the control panel.

The whole firmware update process takes about 17 minutes and does not require any technical proficiency from the administrator.

Also, we should mention that it's possible to update the firmware using QNAP Qfinder Pro utility.

Apart from updating the system firmware, the user will be able to update third-party add-ons using App Center application. We already gave a detailed description of this procedure in one of our previous reviews, which was dedicated to QNAP TVS-463 NAS, and this is why we would like to finish this section and pass on to examining the capabilities of the device web-interface.

Web-interface

We already told our readers about the possibility to adjust QNAP NASes via web-interface in the review of TVS-463 model. We decided not to repeat the same thing for the second time but tell a few words about certain features of multimedia applications available to the users.

One can view photos located on the NAS using PhotoStation 5 application.

The user can not only view the pictures s/he likes using the browser but also can transfer them to any media player connected to the same local network. Moreover, one can share the best shots with friends.

Manage section in PhotoStation 5 application is used to create albums and sort out photos.

Music Station application is used to listen to audio files stored on TAS-168. The users can sort out their audios by artist, album, genre as well as create customized playlists.

Apart from listening to music, which is stored directly on the NAS, users can also listen to online radio stations.

Video Station application is used to watch videos, which are located on the NAS, and create video collections.

Besides those capabilities we mentioned above, Video Station app lets the user manage video content categories, automatically look for subtitles, and connect to social networks.

Yet another application we would like to talk about is Media Streaming Add-on, which is used to stream multimedia content to different devices in the local network.

The list of multimedia applications for QNAP NASes doesn't end here; apart from the official applications, there is also an array of third-party apps.

That is where we bring a brief review of QNAP TAS-168 NAS web-interface multimedia capabilities to a conclusion and pass on to reviewing connection to the HDMI interface.

HDMI

QNAP TAS-168 NAS possesses a built-in HDMI interface. As a matter of course, we couldn't help but review this port.

We will not talk about all capabilities that the NAS users can enjoy upon using HDMI interface but only turn our attention to the most interesting ones. Image displaying and processing of user commands are carried out by the built-in guest OS powered by Android, which is executed in the virtual machine that operates in the NAS.

One will need to perform easy preliminary set-up after the first connection to the HDMI port. We believe that it's worth pointing out that the time zones are specified incorrectly here. For example, Moscow is in +4 GMT time zone.

Upon completion of the preliminary set-up, the NAS owner may need to install a couple of extra software elements before s/he can start using the HDMI connection. Set-up is carried out in a semi-automatic mode.

As soon as all necessary software programs have been installed, the user will be able to start watching his/her photos and movies as well as listening to music.

Management of the device upon established HDMI connection maybe carried out both using the mouse and keyboard connected to the NAS and the remote control that is included in the box.

Naturally, QNAP TAS-168 NAS owners are not limited by the capabilities we mentioned and they can use all standard applications that can be executed on Android OS.

The guest OS may be configured not only during the preliminary set-up wizard procedure but any moment after this set-up was finished, too.

Since Chrome browser is installed on Android system by default, the users will be able to fully manage the NAS directly through HDMI interface; in other words, they will not need to get connected to the device via network from a PC or laptop.

One can change the key HDMI connection settings using Android Station menu, Applications group in the main menu of the device web-interface.

That is where we bring a brief review of HDMI interface capabilities, which are available to QNAP TAS-168 NAS owners, to a conclusion and pass on to examining capabilities of its command line.

Command line

Managing the access to the command line of the device via Telnet and SSH protocols is performed using Telnet/SSH group, Network Services menu item.

In order to access the device command line one must use the same log-on information as for the connection to the router web-interface. Firmware of the model under review is built on Linux 3.10.20 OS using Busy Box 1.01.

[/] # uname -a
Linux NASF607B5 3.10.20-al-2.5.3 #3 SMP PREEMPT Wed Dec 2 19:15:53 CST 2015 armv7l unknown
[/] # busybox
BusyBox v1.01 (2015.06.15-07:07+0000) multi-call binary
Usage: busybox [function] [arguments]...
 or: [function] [arguments]...
 BusyBox is a multi-call binary that combines many common Unix
 utilities into a single executable.  Most people will create a
 link to busybox for each function they wish to use and BusyBox
 will act like whatever it was invoked as!
Currently defined functions:
 [, addgroup, adduser, ash, awk, basename, bunzip2, busybox, bzcat,
 cat, chgrp, chmod, chown, chroot, chvt, clear, cmp, cp, crond,
 crontab, cut, date, dc, dd, deallocvt, delgroup, deluser, df,
 dirname, dmesg, dos2unix, du, echo, egrep, env, expr, false, fdisk,
 fgrep, find, free, getty, grep, gunzip, gzip, halt, head, hexdump,
 hostname, hwclock, id, ifconfig, init, insmod, install, ip, kill,
 killall, klogd, linuxrc, ln, logger, login, ls, lsmod, md5sum,
 mkdir, mknod, mktemp, modprobe, more, mount, mv, nameif, netstat,
 nslookup, openvt, passwd, pidof, ping, ping6, pivot_root, poweroff,
 ps, pwd, rdate, readlink, reboot, renice, reset, rm, rmdir, rmmod,
 route, sed, sh, sha1sum, sleep, sort, strings, swapoff, swapon,
 switch_root, sync, sysctl, syslogd, tail, tar, tee, telnet, test,
 tftp, time, top, touch, tr, traceroute, true, tty, umount, uname,
 uniq, unix2dos, unzip, uptime, usleep, vi, wc, wget, which, whoami,
 xargs, yes, zcat
[/] #

Let's see what processes are currently running using ps command. By using top utility one can obtain information on the current activity of the launched processes. We decided to present outputs of the utilities in an individual file.

We have placed the contents of /bin, /sbin, /usr/bin, and /usr/sbin catalogues into a separate file, too.

Now let's turn to /proc catalogue to view its contents and find out the system uptime, its average utilisation, information on the CPU installed, and the amount of RAM. Actually, system uptime and average system utilisation can also be learnt using uptime command.

[/] #
[/] # cd /proc/
[/proc] # ls
1/             13945/         28/            5965/          cmdline
10/            14/            2814/          60/            consoles
109/           140/           2836/          6000/          cpu/
11/            14258/         284/           6020/          cpuinfo
110/           14281/         2846/          6064/          crypto
11003/         14404/         285/           61/            device-tree/
11081/         14522/         287/           6119/          devices
111/           14523/         28778/         6140/          diskstats
11792/         14524/         297/           6178/          driver/
12/            14526/         29969/         62/            execdomains
123/           14528/         3/             6224/          fb
124/           14529/         30/            6297/          filesystems
12444/         14530/         31/            63/            flashcache/
12445/         14531/         310/           64/            fs/
12465/         14682/         311/           65/            interrupts
12466/         14746/         3144/          66/            iomem
12480/         14747/         3187/          67/            ioports
12481/         14919/         32/            68/            irq/
12482/         14942/         32292/         6850/          kallsyms
12483/         15010/         33/            69/            key-users
12484/         16/            34/            7/             kmsg
12485/         17/            3490/          71/            kpagecount
12487/         18/            35/            729/           kpageflags
12488/         1824/          36/            757/           loadavg
12489/         1897/          37/            7799/          locks
12490/         1898/          38/            783/           mdstat
12491/         19/            3870/          7931/          meminfo
12492/         1946/          39/            7958/          misc
12493/         1947/          40/            8/             modules
12494/         1973/          41/            8032/          mounts@
12495/         1975/          42/            8118/          mtd
12497/         19785/         4211/          8234/          net@
12521/         19825/         43/            8251/          pagetypeinfo
1297/          19848/         4445/          8258/          partitions
13/            2/             4463/          8261/          sched_debug
13002/         20/            4614/          8269/          scsi/
13043/         2003/          4726/          8313/          self@
13223/         2005/          4730/          8490/          slabinfo
13246/         21/            4748/          8504/          softirqs
13338/         212/           4817/          8747/          stat
13348/         213/           4860/          8758/          swaps
13356/         214/           4933/          8825/          sys/
13371/         22/            5/             8855/          sysrq-trigger
13380/         2207/          5078/          8889/          sysvipc/
13396/         2208/          5337/          8953/          timer_list
13421/         23/            5370/          8954/          tsinfo/
13451/         23002/         5419/          9/             tty/
13463/         23022/         5426/          9110/          uid_stat/
13470/         24/            5427/          9571/          uptime
13530/         2429/          5522/          9623/          version
13558/         25/            5573/          asound/        vmallocinfo
13626/         26/            5616/          buddyinfo      vmstat
13763/         262/           5766/          bus/           watchdog*
13938/         27/            58/            cgroups        zoneinfo
[/proc] # cat uptime
241998.31 468624.43
[/proc] # cat loadavg
1.29 1.28 1.30 1/784 9670
[/proc] # cat cpuinfo
processor       : 0
model name      : ARMv7 Processor rev 5 (v7l)
BogoMIPS        : 74.24
Features        : swp half thumb fastmult vfp edsp neon vfpv3 tls vfpv4 idiva idivt
CPU implementer : 0x41
CPU architecture: 7
CPU variant     : 0x0
CPU part        : 0xc07
CPU revision    : 5
processor       : 1
model name      : ARMv7 Processor rev 5 (v7l)
BogoMIPS        : 54.00
Features        : swp half thumb fastmult vfp edsp neon vfpv3 tls vfpv4 idiva idivt
CPU implementer : 0x41
CPU architecture: 7
CPU variant     : 0x0
CPU part        : 0xc07
CPU revision    : 5
Hardware        : phoenix
Revision        : 20000
Serial          : 0000000000000000
media_type      : emmc
[/proc] # cat meminfo
MemTotal:        1814412 kB
MemFree:          852432 kB
Buffers:           49836 kB
Cached:           522484 kB
SwapCached:            0 kB
Active:           386036 kB
Inactive:         442616 kB
Active(anon):     270464 kB
Inactive(anon):   146268 kB
Active(file):     115572 kB
Inactive(file):   296348 kB
Unevictable:          12 kB
Mlocked:              12 kB
HighTotal:        270336 kB
HighFree:           2372 kB
LowTotal:        1544076 kB
LowFree:          850060 kB
SwapTotal:        530108 kB
SwapFree:         530108 kB
Dirty:                 0 kB
Writeback:             0 kB
AnonPages:        256328 kB
Mapped:           126252 kB
Shmem:            160452 kB
Slab:              63084 kB
SReclaimable:      33872 kB
SUnreclaim:        29212 kB
KernelStack:        6272 kB
PageTables:        10724 kB
NFS_Unstable:          0 kB
Bounce:                0 kB
WritebackTmp:          0 kB
CommitLimit:     1437312 kB
Committed_AS:   19160708 kB
VmallocTotal:     245760 kB
VmallocUsed:       92032 kB
VmallocChunk:      30724 kB
[/proc] # uptime
 14:34:24 up 2 days, 19:13, load average: 1.39, 1.30, 1.31
[/proc] #

That's where we proceed to completion of the brief review of the command line interface capabilities and pass directly on to testing the device.

Testing

Traditionally, we started testing the device with measuring its booting speed, but this time we decided to change our standard measurement procedure. Today we would like to consider the special sound signal that the device makes as the moment of completion of the booting procedure instead of receiving the first echo-reply via ICMP (which took approximately 120 seconds). QNAP TAS-168 NAS boots in 250 seconds (just over four minutes). Also, we decided to measure the time that the device requires to get turned off, which was 150 seconds. Well, both the booting and turning off procedures aren't that quick.

The second test, which is no less traditional, was a security scanning procedure, which has been carried out using Positive Technologies XSpider 7.8 utility. On the whole, there were 25 open ports discovered. The most interesting data are presented below. We believe that the vulnerabilities discovered are not critical.

Before getting straight down to performance tests we would like to mention the key specifications of the test stand we used.

Component PC
Motherboard ASUS Maximus VIII Extreme
CPU Intel Core i7 6700K 4 GHz
RAM DDR4-2133 Samsung 64 Gbytes
NIC Intel PRO/1000 PT
OS Windows 7 x64 SP1 Rus

We decided to begin the throughput tests with measuring user access speeds to the internal HDD. We used a HGST HDN724030ALE640 HDD, meant for operation in NASes, in order to carry out this test. Since currently not all home networks support Gigabit Ethernet standard, we decided to find out what speeds will be available to users in 100 Mbps and 1 Gbps networks and compare them.

As one can see from the diagram presented above, upon operation in Fast Ethernet networks (100 Mbps), the performance of QNAP TAS-168 NAS in most of tests will be limited by the speed of the user's network.

Since TAS-168 model has USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 ports, we decided to carry out NAS performance tests when an external drive is connected to it using the above-mentioned interfaces. The measurements were taken for these four file systems: NTFS, FAT32, EXT3, and EXT; we used our 256 GByte Transcend TS256GESD400K SSD as the external drive. Unfortunately, the NAS could not detect the SSD when it was formatted in NTFS. We notified the vendor about this and are expecting it to fix the bug in the next firmware versions.

It's a pity, but QTS 4.1 firmware for QNAP TAS-168 NAS does not have a capability allowing for connection of Wi-Fi adapters, VLAN adjustment, support of IPv6, and either a VPN server or VPN client; however, an array of VPN applications is available for installation through Android. We decided to measure the highest possible speeds one can achieve using one of the above-mentioned applications. As a matter of course, most of these VPN clients were developed for by-passing various limitations, which were put forward by Roskomnadzor, the anonymous access to the web but the standard OpenVPN client still lets users get connected to their own remote VPN servers. A wireless ASUS RT-AC88U router, which we are currently testing, was performing functions of a VPN server. Data access speeds through OpenVPN connection are presented on the diagram below.

Capabilities that we mentioned above would be barely sought-after by the common users, who are the core market for this model. However, the thing that would be really sought-after is an antivirus module. Fortunately, QNAP TAS-168 has one (ClamAV). As a matter of course, we couldn't help but review performance of the antivirus module which is being executed directly on the NAS. We chose two file packs, created using Intel NASPT utility, which we already used before. The first one is DirectoryCopyFromNAS catalog that features 2833 files, 235 MBytes. The second one is FileCopyFromNAS catalog that has only one file that occupies 1.15 GBytes of space. Naturally, we understand that the real speeds will significantly depend on the scanned files, but one still can get the picture of the AV module performance using the diagram presented below.

That's where we draw the testing chapter to a close and move on to summing it all up.

Summary

Generally, we are glad about QNAP TAS-168 NAS we tested. It has a small case where you can fit one 2.5"/3.5" HDD or SDD. The device multimedia features let us call it not only a NAS but also a multimedia player, which may come in really handy upon mounting a home cinema.

Strength areas of QNAP TAS-168 NAS are presented below.

  • A built-in client Android virtual machine
  • High access speeds to the user data
  • Presence of HDMI and USB 3.0 ports
  • Small-sized and neat design
  • Presence of a remote control
  • Ability to install auxiliary add-ons
  • Availability of an anti-virus module for scanning user data

Unfortunately, we cannot help but mention certain drawbacks of the model.

  • A very long firmware update procedure
  • The fan inside of the case is too small
  • Incorrect time zone for Moscow
  • Lack of NTFS support

As of this writing, the best price for QNAP TAS-168 NAS (without disk) in German-speaking Europoe countries, according to website http://geizhals.at/, was 189.58 euro.

Introduction

External design

Hardware

Firmware upgrade

Web-interface

Command line

Testing

Summary

Introduction

Our test lab already hosted two younger counterparts of ASUS RP-AC56 model, RP-N12 and RP-AC52 repeaters. However, even the most powerful device of the two offered theoretically possible speeds of only up to 750 Mbps. ASUS RP-AC56 two-range repeater and access point raises the limit of supported speeds up to 1200 Mbps. Okay, let's get started!

External design

ASUS RP-AC56 comes in a white plastic case with two external tilting non-detachable antennae. The device case has dimensions of 139х85х34 mm (not including the antennae and power plug).

The largest part of the front panel is ribbed, which is already quite traditional for all network equipment by ASUS. There are three LEDs that indicate the status of the entire device and wireless networks in every frequency range located over here. Also, the front panel has two buttons located on it: WPS and Reset.

The rear part of the case, if you can call it this way, has a ventilation grate, sticker with brief information about the device, and rotatable power plug.

Literally the entire upper panel is a ventilation grate, whilst the bottom panel has an ON/OFF button located on it.

The antennae are fastened to the sides of the case. The device sides also have one Gigabit Ethernet port and audio port.

Now let's have a look at the insides of the device.

Hardware

ASUS RP-AC56 wireless repeater is powered by two green textolite cards. One of them performs functions of a PSU.

Components of the other card are located on one side. MediaTek MT7621ST, which operates in 880 MHz frequency and has 64 Mbytes of RAM, is used as a SoC CPU. MediaTek MT7612EN and MT7603EN chips answer for support of the wireless network. Wolfson Microelectronics WM8960G chip performs functions of sound processing.

Now let's pass on to reviewing of the software capabilities of the device.

Firmware upgrade

Firmware upgrade is carried out in Firmware Upgrade tab, Administration menu item. The firmware upgrade process may be carried out both in the manual and semi-automatic modes and does not require any specific technical skills, taking about three minutes (not considering the time necessary for downloading the firmware file from the web).

In case of a failure during the firmware upgrade process, ASUS- RP-AC56 changes for the rescue mode during which the power indicator on the device starts slowly flashing. Unfortunately, there were no utilities meant for firmware recovery available on the vendor's website at the moment when this article was being written. It's worth mentioning that the device bootloader doesn't have an embedded web-server, which was used in other devices by ASUS for firmware recovery purposes. However, it's not that hopeless. One can restore the firmware of RP-AC56 in the manual mode using TFTP. The device uses 192.168.1.1/24 IP address in the rescue mode and cannot receive TFTP connections from a random address in the mentioned subnet. We used Wireshark network analyser to examine how our TFTP client tried to transfer the firmware.

From the screenshot above one can see that RP-AC56 tried to locate 192.168.1.75 host in the network. We assigned our test PC this IP address and managed to install the firmware successfully.

C:\>tftp -i 192.168.1.1 put c:\RP-AC56_3.0.0.4_378_6655-g3325802.trx
Transfer successful: 10933260 bytes in 7 second(s), 1561894 bytes/s

That is where we bring review of the firmware upgrade and recovery process of ASUS RP-AC56 to a conclusion and pass on to examining capabilities of the device web-interface.

Web-interface

ASUS RP-AC56 repeater web-interface is very common for wireless devices by ASUS and that is why we decided not to review all capabilities of the web-interface in detail but stop only on the most interesting ones. The Internet connection wizard turned out to be the only difference.

Network Map menu item shows information about the device status and all connected clients.

Wireless network is managed using the same-named menu item.

LAN menu item lets the user specify the IP parameters of the device.

The device operation mode can be selected using Operation Mode tab, Administration menu item.

All log information is located in tabs in System Log menu item.

ASUS RP-AC56 repeater and access point can play music. The corresponding settings are located in Audio menu item.

When the device under review is used either in the repeater mode or the media bridge mode, a few menu items and tabs will become available whilst others will change.

Wireless menu item is one of the menu items that underwent these changes.

Also, it's worth mentioning that Manual, Utility, and Feedback links will redirect the user to the Chinese version of the vendor's website irrespective of the RP-AC56 web-interface language.

That is where we bring the review of the device web-interface capabilities to a conclusion and pass on to examining the capabilities of its command line interface.

Command line

Managing the access to the command line is performed using System tab, Administration menu item in the web-interface. One can access the command line using telnet protocol.

In order to access the command line one must use the same log-on information as for the connection to the device web-interface. Firmware of the model under review is built on Linux 2.6.36 OS using Busy Box 1.17.4.

# cat /proc/version
Linux version 2.6.36 (emily_ye@wireless-desktop) (gcc version 4.6.3 (Buildroot 2012.11.1) ) #3 SMP Wed Jun 24 15:17:12 CST 2015
# busybox
BusyBox v1.12.1 (2015-06-24 14:23:17 CST) multi-call binary
Copyright (C) 1998-2008 Erik Andersen, Rob Landley, Denys Vlasenko
and others. Licensed under GPLv2.
See source distribution for full notice.
Usage: busybox [function] [arguments]...
 or: function [arguments]...
 BusyBox is a multi-call binary that combines many common Unix
 utilities into a single executable.  Most people will create a
 link to busybox for each function they wish to use and BusyBox
 will act like whatever it was invoked as!
Currently defined functions:
 [, [[, arping, ash, basename, brctl, cat, chmod, chpasswd, cp, date, dmesg, echo, expr, free, ftpget, ftpput,
 grep, halt, hostname, ifconfig, insmod, kill, killall, klogd, ln, logger, login, logread, ls, lsmod, mdev,
 mkdir, mknod, mount, mv, ping, poweroff, ps, pwd, reboot, renice, rm, rmmod, route, sed, sh, sleep, sysctl,
 syslogd, taskset, telnetd, test, top, touch, traceroute, umount, unzip, uptime, vconfig, vi, watch, wc,
 wget

Let's see what processes are currently running using ps command. By using top utility one can obtain information on the current activity of the launched processes.

# ps
 PID USER       VSZ STAT COMMAND
 1 admin     1480 S    /sbin/init
 2 admin        0 SW   [kthreadd]
 3 admin        0 SW   [ksoftirqd/0]
 4 admin        0 SW   [kworker/0:0]
 5 admin        0 SW   [kworker/u:0]
 6 admin        0 SW   [migration/0]
 7 admin        0 SW   [migration/1]
 8 admin        0 SW   [kworker/1:0]
 9 admin        0 SW   [ksoftirqd/1]
 10 admin        0 SW<  [khelper]
 11 admin        0 SW   [sync_supers]
 12 admin        0 SW   [bdi-default]
 13 admin        0 SW<  [kblockd]
 14 admin        0 SW<  [kmmcd]
 15 admin        0 SW   [kworker/1:1]
 16 admin        0 SW   [kswapd0]
 17 admin        0 SW<  [crypto]
 23 admin        0 SW   [mtdblock0]
 24 admin        0 SW   [mtdblock1]
 25 admin        0 SW   [mtdblock2]
 26 admin        0 SW   [mtdblock3]
 27 admin        0 SW   [mtdblock4]
 28 admin        0 SW   [mtdblock5]
 29 admin        0 SW   [mtdblock6]
 30 admin        0 SW   [kworker/u:1]
 46 admin        0 SW   [kworker/0:1]
 69 admin        0 SW   [RtmpCmdQTask]
 70 admin        0 SW   [RtmpWscTask]
 71 admin        0 SW   [RtmpMlmeTask]
 86 admin        0 SW   [RtmpCmdQTask]
 87 admin        0 SW   [RtmpWscTask]
 88 admin        0 SW   [RtmpMlmeTask]
 98 admin     1480 S    /sbin/wanduck
 100 admin     1376 S    httpd
 101 admin      912 S    dnsmasq
 102 admin      928 S    /usr/sbin/infosvr br0
 103 admin      956 S    /sbin/syslogd -m 0 -t GMT-4 -O /tmp/syslog.log
 113 admin      952 S    /sbin/klogd
 118 admin      896 S    audiod RP-AC56(1C:B7:2C:D7:82:34)
 120 admin     1480 S    watchdog
 121 admin     1480 S    roaming_aid
 122 admin     1472 S    detectWAN_arp
 128 admin      960 S    telnetd
 131 admin     2432 S    avahi-daemon: running [RP-AC56-8234.local]
 142 admin     1472 S    ntp
 147 admin     8360 S    m3player -n RP-AC56(1C:B7:2C:D7:82:34) -i br0
 149 admin      776 S    lld2d br0
 165 admin     3516 S    shairport -a RP-AC56(1C:B7:2C:D7:82:34) -o 5229 -b 45
 169 admin      964 S    /bin/sh
 173 admin     2732 S    mDNSResponder
 174 admin     2732 S    mDNSResponder
 175 admin     2732 S    mDNSResponder
 180 admin     2084 S    mDNSPublish 1CB72CD78234@RP-AC56(1C:B7:2C:D7:82:34 _r
 222 admin      972 S    -sh
 231 admin      844 S    /usr/sbin/ntpclient -h pool.ntp.org time.nist.gov  -i
 232 admin      960 R    ps
# top
Mem: 48636K used, 11820K free, 0K shrd, 4988K buff, 17116K cached
CPU:   0% usr   0% sys   0% nice  99% idle   0% io   0% irq   0% softirq
Load average: 0.00 0.00 0.00
 PID  PPID USER     STAT   VSZ %MEM %CPU COMMAND
 240   238 admin    R      964   2%   0% top
 147   118 admin    S     8360  14%   0% m3player -n RP-AC56(1C:B7:2C:D7:82:34
 165   118 admin    S     3516   6%   0% shairport -a RP-AC56(1C:B7:2C:D7:82:3
 173     1 admin    S     2732   5%   0% mDNSResponder
 174   173 admin    S     2732   5%   0% mDNSResponder
 175   174 admin    S     2732   5%   0% mDNSResponder
 131     1 admin    S     2432   4%   0% avahi-daemon: running [RP-AC56-8234.l
 180   165 admin    S     2084   3%   0% mDNSPublish 1CB72CD78234@RP-AC56(1C:B
 1     0 admin    S     1480   2%   0% /sbin/init
 121     1 admin    S     1480   2%   0% roaming_aid
 98     1 admin    S     1480   2%   0% /sbin/wanduck
 120     1 admin    S     1480   2%   0% watchdog
 142   120 admin    S     1472   2%   0% ntp
 122     1 admin    S     1472   2%   0% detectWAN_arp
 100     1 admin    S     1376   2%   0% httpd
 238   222 admin    S      972   2%   0% -sh
 222   128 admin    S      972   2%   0% -sh
 169     1 admin    S      964   2%   0% /bin/sh
 128     1 admin    S      960   2%   0% telnetd
 103     1 admin    S      956   2%   0% /sbin/syslogd -m 0 -t GMT-4 -O /tmp/s

Contents of /bin, /sbin, /usr/bin, and /usr/sbin catalogs, as well as the output of sysinfo utility, are located in a separate file.

Now let's turn to /proc catalogue to view its contents and find out the system uptime, its average utilisation, information on the CPU installed, and the amount of RAM. Actually, system uptime and average system utilisation can also be learnt using uptime command.

# cd /proc/
# ls
425           131           87            23            5             irq           vmstat        uptime
424           128           86            17            4             misc          zoneinfo      version
243           122           71            16            3             scsi          vmallocinfo   softirqs
222           121           70            15            2             asound        slabinfo      kcore
180           120           69            14            1             mtd           filesystems   kmsg
175           118           46            13            self          execdomains   locks         crypto
174           113           30            12            mounts        ioports       cmdline       diskstats
173           103           29            11            net           iomem         cpuinfo       partitions
169           102           28            10            fs            timer_list    devices       mt7621
165           101           27            9             driver        modules       interrupts    nvram
149           100           26            8             tty           kallsyms      loadavg
147           98            25            7             bus           buddyinfo     meminfo
142           88            24            6             sys           pagetypeinfo  stat
# cat uptime
3862.29 7700.73
# cat loadavg
0.00 0.00 0.00 1/57 428
# cat cpuinfo
system type             : MT7621
processor               : 0
cpu model               : MIPS 1004Kc V2.15
BogoMIPS                : 583.68
wait instruction        : yes
microsecond timers      : yes
tlb_entries             : 32
extra interrupt vector  : yes
hardware watchpoint     : yes, count: 4, address/irw mask: [0x0ff8, 0x0ff8, 0x0ffb, 0x0ffb]
ASEs implemented        : mips16 dsp mt
shadow register sets    : 1
core                    : 0
VCED exceptions         : not available
VCEI exceptions         : not available
processor               : 1
cpu model               : MIPS 1004Kc V2.15
BogoMIPS                : 583.68
wait instruction        : yes
microsecond timers      : yes
tlb_entries             : 32
extra interrupt vector  : yes
hardware watchpoint     : yes, count: 4, address/irw mask: [0x0000, 0x0ff8, 0x0ffb, 0x0000]
ASEs implemented        : mips16 dsp mt
shadow register sets    : 1
core                    : 0
VCED exceptions         : not available
VCEI exceptions         : not available
# cat meminfo
MemTotal:          60456 kB
MemFree:           11616 kB
Buffers:            4988 kB
Cached:            17152 kB
SwapCached:            0 kB
Active:             6716 kB
Inactive:          18500 kB
Active(anon):       3076 kB
Inactive(anon):        0 kB
Active(file):       3640 kB
Inactive(file):    18500 kB
Unevictable:           0 kB
Mlocked:               0 kB
SwapTotal:             0 kB
SwapFree:              0 kB
Dirty:                 0 kB
Writeback:             0 kB
AnonPages:          3084 kB
Mapped:             4964 kB
Shmem:                 0 kB
Slab:              16384 kB
SReclaimable:       3096 kB
SUnreclaim:        13288 kB
KernelStack:         456 kB
PageTables:          336 kB
NFS_Unstable:          0 kB
Bounce:                0 kB
WritebackTmp:          0 kB
CommitLimit:       30228 kB
Committed_AS:       9464 kB
VmallocTotal:    1048372 kB
VmallocUsed:        8428 kB
VmallocChunk:    1034824 kB
# uptime
 21:04:37 up  1:04, load average: 0.00, 0.00, 0.00
#

We can't help but mention nvram utility that allows changing certain important device operation parameters.

# nvram
Usage: nvram [get name] [set name=value] [unset name] [commit] [show] [restore file] [save file]
# nvram show | grep password
size: 9008 bytes (52432 left)
http_passwd=password
acc_password=

That's where we proceed to completion of the brief review of the command line interface capabilities and pass directly on to testing the device.

Testing

The first testing procedure we usually begin our testing section with is estimating the booting time of the device, which is a time interval starting with the moment when the power is on until the first echo reply is received through ICMP. ASUS RP-AC56 repeater boots in 103 seconds.

The second traditional test was a security scanning procedure, which has been carried out using Positive Technologies XSpider 7.7 (Demo build 3100) utility. On the whole, there were seven open ports discovered. The most interesting data are presented below.

Before getting straight down to performance tests we would like to mention the key specifications of the test stand we used.

Component PC Notebook
Motherboard ASUS Maximus VI Extreme ASUS M60J
CPU Intel Core i7 4790K 4 GHz Intel Core i7 720QM 1.6 GHz
RAM DDR3 PC3-10700 SEC 32 Gbytes DDR3 PC3-10700 SEC 16 Gbytes
NIC Intel PRO/1000 PT
ASUS PCE-AC68
ASUS RT-AC66U
Atheros AR8131
ASUS EA-AC87
OS Windows 7 x64 SP1 Rus Windows 7 x64 SP1 Rus

 

The first throughput tests we decided to perform were the device performance tests upon operation in the access point mode in both frequency ranges.

Diagrams of the user data transfer speeds upon operation of ASUS RP-AC56 in the media bridge mode are presented below. In this mode ASUS RP-AC56 virtually performs functions of a wireless client.

One of the most anticipated tests is, we dare say, measurements of the device performance upon operation in the repeater mode. We have tested all four different connection modes; results of the measurements are presented below. As we expected, the lowest throughputs were received when both connections were established in the 2.4 GHz frequency range.

It's worth mentioning that we saw a significant decrease in the data transfer speeds upon enabling of Wi-Fi Proxy feature. One can read more about this feature in one of our previous reviews dedicated to ASUS RP-AC52 model. The extent to which this effect manifests itself varies depending on the used frequency range. On the diagram below one can see the most outstanding example of such changes.

That's where we draw the testing chapter to a close and move on to summing it all up.

Summary

ASUS RP-AC56 wireless repeater turned out to be a well-performing average-level device that can meet the needs of common wireless network users. Its design and small size make it possible to place the device in public areas.

The strength areas of ASUS RP-AC56 repeater and access point are presented below.

  • Small size and smart design
  • Operation in two frequency ranges and support of modern IEEE 802.11ac standard
  • Acceptable performance of the wireless module
  • Built-in player of web-based radio
  • Availability of Wi-Fi Proxy feature
  • Support of several operation modes (Media Bridge, repeater and access point)

Unfortunately, we cannot help but mention certain drawbacks we have discovered.

  • Incorrect time zones for Russia
  • The web-interface is not completely translated
  • No auxiliary utilities available

Obviously, we have notified the vendor about all discovered shortcomings and were told that they will be fixed in the nearest future.

As of when this article was being written, the average price for ASUS RP-AC56 in Moscow online shops was 6264 roubles.

Introduction

External design and hardware

Setting-up procedures and firmware upgrade

Web-interface

Command line

Testing

Summary

Introduction

Recently our testing laboratory hosted an elder brother of the testing model – the repeater RP-AC52, which functionality and performance may be unclaimed by some users. Today we decided to review the youngest model from the product line of ASUS wireless repeaters – RP-N12, supporting 802.11N wireless standard with the maximum theoretical data transmission speed equal to 300 Mbps. Okay, let’s get started.

External design and hardware

ASUS RP-N12 wireless repeater comes in a white plastic case with the dimensions of 81х55х34 mm (not considering the protruding plug and antennae). The plastic on the ribbed front panel is glossy, the name of the vendor’s company and three LEDs indicating operating of the whole device and its wired and wireless modules are located here. As the power supply unit is placed inside the case, no external adapters are required.

The upper panel is not remarkable, there are only small ventilation holes here. On the bottom panel there is a Fast Ethernet interface.

Located on the sides there are two non-detachable 2dBi antennae. The Reset and WPS buttons are also placed on one side. In addition, there is a power switch here, which allows switching off the device without unplugging it.

Connecting to a power line is carried out with the help of the plug placed on the rear panel of the case. Moreover, a sticker with brief information about the repeater is located here.

Now let's have a look at the insides of RP-N12 case.

The hardware platform of ASUS RP-N12 repeater consists of two green textolite plates, one of which serves only as a power supply unit.

The system is based on SoC processor MediaTek MT7628NN with built-in 2T2R wireless Wi-Fi module (IEEE 802.11n). Winbond 25Q32FVS1G microchip with the capacity of 4 Mbytes performs functions of flash memory. Winbond W9412G6KH-5 chip provides the repeater with 16 Mbytes of DDR RAM.

That's where we proceed to completion of the review about the hardware of ASUS RP-N12 repeater and pass directly on to studying its software capabilities.

Setting-up procedures and firmware upgrade

After switching on ASUS RP-N12 repeater one more open wireless network ASUS_RPN12 appears on the list of SSIDs available for connection. It’s worth noting that one can also connect to the device for its initial settings with the help of its Fast Ethernet interface.

Regardless of the way chosen for connecting to the device for its initial settings, one should go to 192.168.1.1 address using any modern browser, where the quick setup wizard asks to choose an existing wireless network for the connection.

If the necessary network is absent on the list, a user can perform manual setting for connection to it.

After choosing a wireless network for the connection, one should enter parameters of the network supported by the repeater itself.

When both wireless networks are chosen and set up, the device needs about two minutes for applying user settings, after that RP-N12 is absolutely ready for work.

Though the firmware upgrade for the repeater is not a necessary action, we strongly recommend installing the latest firmware version during the initial settings procedure and keeping firmware up to date further. Changing of the firmware version is performed in manual or semi-automatic mode with the help of Firmware upgrade tab, Administration menu of the web-interface.

The whole process needs about three minutes and does not require any special knowledge from users.

That’s where we draw the review of the initial settings procedure for ASUS RP-N12 repeater to a close and move on to studying the web-interface capabilities of the device.

Web-interface

The web-interface of RP-N12 repeater is typical for ASUS wireless equipment and is available to users in twelve languages. We will not describe its capabilities in detail, but mention the most interesting of them.

Right after entering correct credentials, the user is navigated to the page of Network Map item, displaying the device operation mode, wireless clients and state of the wireless network which coverage area is extended by RP-N12.

Quick Internet Setup menu item launches the primary setup wizard, which we described in the previous part of the review.

With the help of tabs of Wireless item one can manage his/her own wireless network. Here one can set parameters for MAC addresses filtering, enable the help for wireless roaming, set security parameters and enable Wi-Fi Proxy function, which allows changing MAC addresses visible in the “parent” wireless network. In more detail we described the parameters of this function in one of our previous reviews devoted to ASUS RP-AC52 repeater.

With the help of LAN menu item the administrator can change IP parameters of the repeater and also enable the built-in DHCP-server.

Operation Mode tab of Administration menu allows selecting the device operation mode: Repeater, Access Point or Media Bridge (that is a wireless client itself).

One can change the administrator password, select time zone, enable or disable a capability of the connection via Telnet protocol with the help of System tab of the same menu item. To our surprise, it is one more device where we discovered not quite correct time zone for Moscow.

One can get access to the log information with the help of the tabs of System Log item.

That's where we proceed to completion of the quick review of the web-interface capabilities for ASUS RP-N12 and pass directly on to the command line interface.

Command line

Access to the command line of the device can be enabled/disabled with the help of System tab, Administration menu item of the web-interface of the repeater.

Login and password used for the access to the command line interface are the same as for the web-interface access. ASUS RP-N12 repeater is built on Linux operating system with a kernel of version 2.6.36 using BusyBox of version 1.12.1.

RP-N12 login: admin
Password:
BusyBox v1.12.1 (2015-04-08 15:38:57 CST) built-in shell (ash)
Enter 'help' for a list of built-in commands.
# busybox
BusyBox v1.12.1 (2015-04-08 15:38:57 CST) multi-call binary
Copyright (C) 1998-2008 Erik Andersen, Rob Landley, Denys Vlasenko
and others. Licensed under GPLv2.
See source distribution for full notice.
Usage: busybox [function] [arguments]...
 or: function [arguments]...
 BusyBox is a multi-call binary that combines many common Unix
 utilities into a single executable.  Most people will create a
 link to busybox for each function they wish to use and BusyBox
 will act like whatever it was invoked as!
Currently defined functions:
 [, [[, arping, ash, basename, brctl, cat, chmod, chpasswd, cp, date, dmesg, echo, expr, free, ftpget, ftpput,
 grep, halt, hostname, ifconfig, insmod, kill, killall, klogd, ln, logger, login, logread, ls, lsmod, mdev,
 mkdir, mknod, mount, mv, ping, poweroff, ps, pwd, reboot, rm, rmmod, route, sed, sh, sleep, syslogd, telnetd,
 test, touch, traceroute, umount, unzip, vconfig, vi, wc, wget
# cat /proc/version
Linux version 2.6.36 (root@asus) (gcc version 3.4.2) #1 Wed Apr 8 15:44:07 CST 2015

With the help of ps command, let’s see what processes are currently running on the device. Unfortunately, top utility showing information on the current activity of the launched processes is absent on the device.

# ps
 PID USER       VSZ STAT COMMAND
 1 admin     2468 S    /sbin/init
 2 admin        0 SW   [kthreadd]
 3 admin        0 SW   [ksoftirqd/0]
 4 admin        0 SW   [kworker/0:0]
 5 admin        0 SW   [kworker/u:0]
 6 admin        0 SW<  [khelper]
 7 admin        0 SW   [sync_supers]
 8 admin        0 SW   [bdi-default]
 9 admin        0 SW<  [kblockd]
 10 admin        0 SW   [kswapd0]
 11 admin        0 SW   [kworker/u:1]
 14 admin        0 SW   [mtdblock0]
 15 admin        0 SW   [mtdblock1]
 16 admin        0 SW   [mtdblock2]
 17 admin        0 SW   [mtdblock3]
 18 admin        0 SW   [mtdblock4]
 19 admin        0 SW   [mtdblock5]
 20 admin        0 SW   [mtdblock6]
 21 admin        0 SW   [kworker/0:1]
 39 admin        0 SW   [RtmpCmdQTask]
 40 admin        0 SW   [RtmpWscTask]
 41 admin        0 SW   [RtmpMlmeTask]
 48 admin     2468 S    /sbin/wanduck
 50 admin     2124 S    httpd
 51 admin     1404 S    dnsmasq
 52 admin     1588 S    /usr/sbin/infosvr br0
 56 admin     2468 S    watchdog
 57 admin     2468 S    apcli_monitor
 62 admin     1280 S    lld2d br0
 313 admin     1812 S    /sbin/syslogd -m 0 -t GMT-4 -O /tmp/syslog.log
 317 admin     1812 S    /sbin/klogd
 328 admin     2464 S    ntp
 329 admin     1820 S    /bin/sh
 331 admin     1816 S    telnetd
 418 admin     1820 S    -sh
 443 admin     1816 R    ps

Now let's turn to /proc catalogue to view its contents and find out the system uptime, its average utilization, information on the CPU installed, and the amount of RAM.

# cd /proc/
# ls
455           52            18            6             fs            iomem         locks         softirqs
418           51            17            5             driver        timer_list    cmdline       kcore
331           50            16            4             tty           modules       cpuinfo       kmsg
329           48            15            3             bus           buddyinfo     devices       kpagecount
328           41            14            2             sys           pagetypeinfo  interrupts    kpageflags
317           40            11            1             irq           vmstat        loadavg       crypto
313           39            10            self          misc          zoneinfo      meminfo       diskstats
62            21            9             mounts        mtd           vmallocinfo   stat          partitions
57            20            8             net           execdomains   slabinfo      uptime        mt7628
56            19            7             sysvipc       ioports       filesystems   version       Config
# cat uptime
1769.36 1750.24
# cat loadavg
0.07 0.02 0.00 1/36 459
# cat cpuinfo
system type             : MT7628
processor               : 0
cpu model               : MIPS 24Kc V5.5
BogoMIPS                : 382.97
wait instruction        : yes
microsecond timers      : yes
tlb_entries             : 32
extra interrupt vector  : yes
hardware watchpoint     : yes, count: 4, address/irw mask: [0x0000, 0x0ff8, 0x0ffb, 0x0ff8]
ASEs implemented        : mips16 dsp
shadow register sets    : 1
core                    : 0
VCED exceptions         : not available
VCEI exceptions         : not available
# cat meminfo
MemTotal:          13864 kB
MemFree:            1112 kB
Buffers:            1152 kB
Cached:             2664 kB
SwapCached:            0 kB
Active:             2788 kB
Inactive:           2316 kB
Active(anon):        640 kB
Inactive(anon):      716 kB
Active(file):       2148 kB
Inactive(file):     1600 kB
Unevictable:          68 kB
Mlocked:               0 kB
SwapTotal:             0 kB
SwapFree:              0 kB
Dirty:                 0 kB
Writeback:             0 kB
AnonPages:          1388 kB
Mapped:              992 kB
Shmem:                 0 kB
Slab:               4748 kB
SReclaimable:        560 kB
SUnreclaim:         4188 kB
KernelStack:         288 kB
PageTables:          244 kB
NFS_Unstable:          0 kB
Bounce:                0 kB
WritebackTmp:          0 kB
CommitLimit:        6932 kB
Committed_AS:       4044 kB
VmallocTotal:    1048372 kB
VmallocUsed:        2144 kB
VmallocChunk:    1044516 kB

Contents of /bin, /sbin, /usr/bin and /usr/sbin catalogues are shown below.

# ls /bin
xtables-multi     rt2860apd         mount             lld2d             hostname          cp
vi                rm                mknod             kill              grep              chmod
umount            reg               mkdir             iwpriv            gpio              cat
touch             pwd               mii_mgr_cl45      iwconfig          flash             busybox
sleep             ps                mii_mgr           iptables-restore  echo              ated
sh                ping              ls                iptables          dnsmasq           ash
sed               mv                login             igmpproxy.sh      dmesg
rtinicapd         mtd_write         ln                igmpproxy         date
# ls /sbin
wps_stop               wan-down               restart_dhcpd          logread                init
wps_start              vconfig                reboot                 logmessage             ifconfig
wps_oob                track_set              re_wpsc                link_up                halt
webs_upgrade_radio.sh  syslogd                rc                     link_status            gen_ralink_config
webs_upgrade.sh        start_telnetd          poweroff               link_down              detectWAN_arp
webs_update.sh         run_telnetd            nvram_oob              klogd                  ddns_updated
watchdog               route                  ntp                    ip-up                  apcli_monitor
wanduck                rmmod                  mdev                   ip-down                ATE
wan-up                 restart_dns            lsmod                  insmod
# ls /usr/bin
wget        unzip       test        killall     ftpget      expr        arping      [
wc          traceroute  logger      ftpput      free        basename    [[
# ls /usr/sbin
udhcpc      tcpcheck    ntpclient   infosvr     chpasswd
telnetd     nvram       networkmap  httpd       brctl

We can't help mentioning nvram utility that allows changing certain important device operation parameters.

# nvram
Usage: nvram [get name] [set name=value] [unset name] [commit] [show] [restore file] [save file]
# nvram show | grep admin
http_username=admin
http_passwd=admin
size: 8825 bytes (52615 left)

That is where we bring the brief review of the repeater command line interface capabilities to a close and pass on to testing the device, because, in contrast to its elder brother RP-AC52, the repeater under review does not support any multimedia functions.

Testing

The first measurements we usually start this section with are estimating the booting time of the repeater, which is a time interval starting with the moment when the power is on until the first echo reply is received through ICMP. ASUS RP-N12 repeater boots in 17 seconds. We consider this result normal.

The second traditional test is a security scanning procedure, performing with the help of a security scanner Positive Technologies XSpider 7.7 (Demo build 3100). There were four open ports discovered. The most interesting discovered data are presented below.

Before getting down to performance tests we would like to get our readers familiar with the main parameters of the test stand we used.

 Component PC Notebook
 Motherboard ASUS Maximus VI Extreme ASUS M60J 
 CPU  Intel Core i7 4790K 4 ГГц Intel Core i7 720QM 1.6 ГГц
 RAM  DDR3 PC3-10700 SEC 32 Гбайта DDR3 PC3-10700 SEC 16 Гбайт
 NIC Intel PRO/1000 PT
 ASUS PCE-AC68
Atheros AR8131
ASUS RT-AC66U 
 OS Windows 7 x64 SP1 Rus  Windows 7 x64 SP1 Rus 

 

We decided to find out the performance of RP-N12 for each of three supported operation modes. At first, we measured throughput for one, five and fifteen simultaneous TCP connections during the device operating in Media Bridge mode. This mode is very similar to the wireless client mode, when RP-N12 connects to an existing wireless network.

In addition to Media Bridge mode ASUS RP-N12 can perform functions of an access point. The device throughput in this mode is presented at the diagram below.

Finally, we got to the most interesting part – RP-N12 throughput in the repeater mode. In this mode the device connects to one wireless network and creates the second one.

That's where we draw the testing part to a close and move on to summing it all up.

Summary

ASUS RP-N12 wireless repeater showed itself as a reliable medium-grade device, which can satisfy needs of ordinary users in the coverage area of the wireless network. External design and compact dimensions allow installing the device in sight.

The strength areas of ASUS RP-N12 are listed below.

  • Compact dimensions and accurate external design
  • Support of Wi-Fi Proxy functionality
  • Support of several operation modes (Media Bridge, Repeater, Access Point)
  • Sufficient  performance of the wireless module

Unfortunately, we cannot help but mention discovered drawbacks of the device.

  • The web-interface is not completely translated
  • Incorrect time zones

When this review was being written, the expected retail price of ASUS RP-N12 in Russia was 2290 roubles.

Introduction

External design and hardware

Firmware upgrade

Web-interface

Testing

Summary

Introduction

Our test lab already hosted routers that supported Smart Connect. This feature allows for the automatic redistribution of wireless clients between the supported wireless networks for improved efficiency in bandwidth usage. Read more below about this and a couple of other things that will pleasantly surprise users of D-Link DIR-890L wireless router.

External design and hardware

D-Link DIR-890L wireless router looks like a high-tech flying machine from the future that landed on the table just for a several seconds before taking off again. The device has the dimensions of 387х248х120mm and the weight of one kilo. The device needs an external power source with the following characteristics (included in the box) for functioning: 12V and 5А.

It's hard to understand where the top panel and side panels are because the device has a peculiar shape. It's worth mentioning that DIR-890L has six external non-detachable antennae that are installed on the case edges and rear panel.

The top panel edge has LEDs showing the power and Internet connectivity, wireless module activity, and USB port usage located on it.

The device is meant for both desk and wall mounting and that is why its bottom panel has not only the rubber legs but two tooling holes too. One will also be able to find a sticker with brief information about the device here. The biggest part of the bottom panel is a ventilation grate.

There are a ventilation grate and the brand logo located on the rear panel of the router. Apart from it, there are also four LAN and one WAN Gigabit Ethernet ports, power socket with ON/OFF button, Reset and WPS buttons, and two USB ports, USB 2.0 and USB 3.0.

Now let's have a look at the insides of the case.

All electronic stuffing of D-Link DIR-890L wireless router is one green textolite card which has all the essential elements located on both of its sides. The biggest part of the card surface is covered by detachable heatsinks. Unfortunately, all primary elements are covered with metal screens of smaller size.

Unfortunately, the only module accessible for inspection was the flash memory Macronix MX25L25635FMI-10G module with the size of 32 Mbytes.

Now let's pass on to reviewing of the software capabilities of DIR 890-L.

Firmware upgrade

In order to change the firmware version one needs to use Upgrade item in Management menu. Firmware upgrade may be carried out both in a manual and semi-automatic mode. Obviously, firmware upgrade in the semi-automatic mode is available only if the router is connected to the Internet. Upon manual firmware upgrade the administrator will need to download the firmware upgrade file beforehand and then upload it to the device.

Irrespective of the chosen firmware upgrade method, the process won't require any special skills from the administrator. The whole upgrade procedure takes about three minutes (not considering the firmware download time).

Apart from the original firmware, one can install alternative firmware on DIR-890L model; DD-WRT firmware is one of them. The administrator can change to DD-WRT firmware in two steps: at first upgrade the firmware to an interim release of DD-WRT using factory-to-ddwrt.bin file and then use dir890-webflash.bin file that contains the firmware full version.

After booting the router with the installed firmware interim release, the administrator will need to specify his/her username and password.

After that the administrator will be gained access to the web-interface of the interim firmware where s/he can select the language using Management tab in Administration menu. However, reviewing all other capabilities of the alternative firmware falls far beyond the scope of this article.

One will need to use Upgrade tab in Administration menu in order to change to the full version of DD-WRT firmware. The upgrade procedure is quite common.

The whole firmware upgrade process up to the full DD-WRT version takes less than ten minutes and does not require any technical proficiency from the administrator.

Switching back to the factory defaults is a bit more complicate: one will need to change the router to the recovery mode and use the web-server built-in in the bootloader to upload the right firmware upgrade file to the device. DIR-890L router can be switched to the recovery mode by holding down Reset button while the device is turning on and for 3-5 seconds after it. A router in the recovery mode can be spotted by the slowly flashing power LED on the front panel. At this moment only the bootloader is active. The active bootloader answers the echo requests from ICMP using IP packets with the value of TTL=100. Upon the booting has been finished completely, the packets will contain TTL=64. It's also worth mentioning that the bootloader is always assigned 192.168.0.1/24 address on a LAN interface.

That is where we bring a brief review of issues associated with the firmware upgrade process of the device to a conclusion and pass on to examining capabilities of D-Link DIR-890L wireless router web-interface.

Web-interface

Any modern web-browser may be used in order to access and manage the device web-interface. One will need to specify the administrator password to get access to it. The web-interface is available in ten languages. We believe that the possibility of choosing the web-interface language before actually logging in is very useful. However, the administrator won't be able to select another language after logging in. Apart from it, the fact that the login page contains certain information about the used firmware really surprised us. We think that this kind of information should be accessible only following the successful user authentication due to security reasons.

Upon successful authentication the administrator will find him/herself on the home page of the device. Over here one can check the Internet connectivity, review the list of the connected clients and devices fitted with a USB interface, and overview certain information about the router operation.

We wouldn't call the functionality of DIR-890L, a flagship device by D-Link, really wide. All settings are located in three menus: Settings, Features, and Management. Let's have a closer look at every menu.

One can use a special wizard for performing the initial setup of the router. It's located in Wizard manual item in Settings menu.

Management of access to the WAN is done using tabs in Internet item. The administrator can choose the device operation mode over here too: router or access point. Apart from connection to the web using the current version of IP, IPv4, the router supports connections via IPv6 too.

Wireless item is used for management of the wireless network. Over here the user enable and disable Smart-Connect feature and manage wireless guest networks.

Network item is used for management of local network parameters.

Access to the data stored on an external data carrier with USB interface can be gained using various protocols. These settings are available in SharePort item, Settings menu.

In order to manage the router remotely using a tablet or smartphone one will need to sign up in mydlink service and use their app. The applicable settings are available in the same-named menu item.

One can manage traffic prioritization using QoS Engine item, Features menu.

Firewall Settings item is used for forwarding or blocking certain types of traffic.

Port Forwarding item is used in case if a server located in the local network must be accessed from the Internet.

Website Filter item is used to deny access to certain resources in the Internet to the local network users.

Management of static routes is done using Static Routes item. One can specify routes both for IPv4 and IPv6. However, it's worth mentioning that upon creation of an IPv4 route the user will only be able to use the WAN port as the output interface.

Dynamic DNS item will come in handy in case if the service provider offers its users real but dynamic addresses.

D-Link DIR-890L wireless router can also perform functions of a VPN server; one can manage the corresponding settings in Quick VPN item in Features menu. However, it's worth noticing that only one type of tunnel connections, L2TP over IPSec, is supported.

Time sync parameters are located in Time item in Management menu. One can manage feature scheduling in this item, too.

The log information can be sent to a remote server using Syslog and SMTP protocols, the respective settings are located in System Log item. It's strange but we couldn't review these data locally.

Management of user authentication and equipment configuration parameters is done using Admin and System items.

Statistics item offers the user information about the current utilization of wired and wireless interfaces of the router.

That's where we proceed to completion of the review of D-Link DIR-890L wireless router web-interface capabilities and pass directly on to testing it.

Testing

The first testing procedure we usually begin our testing section with is estimating the booting time of the device, which is a time interval starting with the moment when the power is on until the first echo reply is received through ICMP. D-Link DIR-890L wireless router boots in 53 seconds. We believe that the result is decent.

The second test, which is no less traditional, was a security scanning procedure carried out using Positive Technologies XSpider 7.8 utility. On the whole, there were 13 open ports discovered. The most interesting data are presented below.

 

Before getting straight down to performance tests we would like to mention the key specifications of the test stand we used.

Component PC Notebook
Motherboard ASUS Maximus VI Extreme ASUS M60J
CPU Intel Core i7 4790K 4 GHz Intel Core i7 720QM 1.6 GHz
RAM DDR3 PC3-10700 SEC 32 Gbytes DDR3 PC3-10700 SEC 16 Gbytes
NIC Intel PRO/1000 PT
ASUS PCE-AC68
Atheros AR8131
OS Windows 7 x64 SP1 Rus Windows 7 x64 SP1 Rus

At first we decided to find out how DIR-890L handles performing of NAT/PAT translations. As it was expected, we received decent routing speeds.

For those users who live in the ex-Soviet bloc countries it's still important to have a router that performs well upon operation with various VPN connections that the service providers use to provide access to the Internet. The diagram presented below shows the performance of DIR-890L operating with PPTP.

The model under review also has a built-in VPN server that uses L2TP over IPSec protocol. However, it would be fair to mention that various firmware meant for devices used in Russia and other countries only have support of limited cryptoalgorithm versions. This makes it impossible to get connected to the device of a common VPN client built-in in the modern Microsoft Windows OSes without performing a deep reconfiguration of the OS. Since our test lab website is read not only by the users from Russia, we asked the vendor to provide us with the firmware that has the full support of cryptography. Results of the measurements of D-Link DIR-890L performance with an established L2TP over IPSec connection are presented below. The received speeds cannot be considered high. It also came as a surprise to us that the built-in VPN server doesn't support any other protocols like PPTP or OpenVPN.

Apart from support of the current version of IP, IPv4, the wireless router under review also has support of the newer protocol version, IPv6. The diagram below shows the device performance upon operation with this protocol.

One of the most anticipated tests is, we dare say, measuring the performance of the wireless segment. At first we found out what speeds the users of a 2.4 GHz wireless network should expect to see. These speed values cannot be considered high, which is probably associated with DIR-890L detecting other wireless networks during the tests and decreasing the channel bandwidth from 40 MHz down to 20 MHz. It's not possible to specify the fixed channel bandwidth of 40 MHz using the device web-interface. Currently 2.4 GHz frequency range is heavily loaded in big cities and that's why we believe that clients who prefer quality of service would gradually switch to 5 GHz wireless range.

The diagrams presented below show results of the performance measurements of the wireless network within the frequency range of 5 GHz. We used two wireless clients in order to measure user data transfer speeds in the above-mentioned range: ASUS PCE-AC68 and a NIC that comes together with ASUS Maximum V Extreme motherboard.

Receiving the highest possible performance upon using the second client was not our aim. Actually, we wanted to see the extent of mutual influence between the high-speed client and the low-speed client. At first we connected the wireless clients to different wireless networks operating in 5 GHz frequency range; naturally, we disabled Smart-Connect feature beforehand. After that we made the same measurements when both of the clients were connected to the same wireless network.

As one can see on the diagram with the total of transfer speeds of two clients above, the mutual influence of the clients is extremely high. This is why we would like to recommend the users of D-Link DIR-890L to connect high-speed and low-speed clients to different wireless networks. Smart Connect feature lets dynamically distribute clients between the wireless networks. And though we didn't find any settings associated with this feature in the device web-interface, we decided to measure the user data transfer speeds using two wireless clients with enabled Smart-Connect feature that are getting connected to DIR-890L.

The results turned out not too good, but the speeds were higher than in the case where both clients used the same network. According to our data, one of the clients used 2.4 GHz frequency range and the other one used 5 GHz range. Unfortunately, the router software doesn't provide any tools for monitoring of the connected wireless clients and it's impossible to find out what frequency range is used by what client without special-purpose equipment or software.

Neither did we keep away from the possibility to connect external USB data carriers. Unfortunately, D-Link DIR-890L only supports two file systems: NTFS and FAT32. The diagrams below show results of the measurements of access speeds to the data stored on external data carriers connected to the USB 2.0 and 3.0 ports. In this test we used Intel NASPT 1.7.1 utility and our external 256 GB Transcend TS256GESD400K SSD.

That's where we draw the testing chapter to a close and move on to summing it all up. The last thing we'd like to mention is the results of a quite traditional test for us, measuring the device case temperature. The router case temperature didn't grow higher than 43°С or 109,4° F upon the ambient temperature of 24°С or 75,2° F.

Summary

We were left with mixed feelings after reviewing D-Link DIR-890L wireless router. On one hand, the device is fitted with a powerful hardware platform and supports three wireless frequency ranges, but on the other hand the current firmware version makes it impossible to unleash the device potential fully. We hope that the vendor deals with the issues we discovered in the next firmware version.

Among the strength areas of D-Link DIR-890L wireless router are the following.

  • Support of three independent radios in two frequency ranges (tri-band)
  • Ability to create wireless guest networks
  • Availability of Smart-Connect feature
  • High performance CPU
  • Support of wireless guest networks
  • USB ports
  • Support of IPv6
  • Good access speeds to the data which are stored on an external HDD
  • Availability of a built-in VPN server (L2TP over IPSec)

Unfortunately, we cannot help but mention certain drawbacks we have discovered.

  • Low performance in 2.4 GHz frequency range
  • Absence of certain important features in the web-interface
  • Low performance of the built-in VPN server
  • Absence of support of EXT2/3/4 file systems
  • High price

Our test lab team couldn't come to the shared conclusion about whether the peculiar device case design is a positive or negative quality and that's why we didn't include the efforts of D-Link's designers in either of the lists above.

As of when this article was being written, the average price for a D-Link DIR-890L in Moscow online shops was 19770 roubles.