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X-Micro WLAN router & USB Adapter

Author: Jani 'Japala' Pönkkö
Published: 23.05.2004
Manufacturer: X-Micro
Product group: Networking

WLAN had some rough times when it was introduced to markets. Security was lacking behind with default setting of "Access to all". Most users didn't bothered to check the settings and the aftermath was that there where tons of articles, news and reports about that and that many wide-open networks in certain areas of the countries or towns. Are the manufacturers to blame or the users? I don't think that there are any clear answers to that but I think that both sides have learned something usefull after that mess.

This time we will introduce couple of wireless offerings from X-Micro. While the speeds of WLAN is currently soaring at ~100Mbps these slower IEEE 802.11b devices are still quite usefull. Most appealing aspect of WLAN is the wireless operation and it is usually most usefull and most used with notebooks. If you are planning on hooking every computer in your house together with wireless network, you should then aim for some higher speeds that this 11Mbps that 11b can offer. But for checking emails or browsing WWW the 11b has lot to offer.

Router


Package

Router enables you to connect your existing WLAN devices to the wired network. You can connect your ADSL box to it and share the connection with several WLAN devices and also with some wired devices. Here are the quick specs for this particular broadband router.

StandardIEEE 802.11b
Ports/Buttons - WAN: One 10/100 RJ-45 Port for Cable/DSL Modem
- LAN: Four 10/100 RJ-45 Ports
- One Power Jack
- One Reset Button
PowerExternal, 9V DC, 1A
Dimensions (W x H x D)160mm x 110mm x 35mm
Features - 11Mbps data transfer rate with automatic fallback to 5.5M, 2M and 1Mbps
- Supports bridging, routing functions between wireless and wired Ethernet interfaces
- 64-bit and 128-bit WEP encryption/decryption function
- Firewall security with port filtering, IP filtering, MAC filtering, port forwarding, trigger port and DMZ hosting functions
- Supports IEEE 802.3x full duplex flow control on 10/100M Ethernet interface
- Supports DHCP Client and Server, Clone Mac Adress, static and dynamic IP routing function
- 4 Port 10/100 Mbit Switch with DSL PPPoE routing function
- WEB based management and configuration


Content

Inside the package we can find the following items:

  • X-Micro WLAN BroadBand Router
  • Wall transformer
  • Quick start guide
  • User's manual and quick start guide in CD
  • Not the biggest bundle but what more could you expect? Everything needed is included although some users might have liked the user's manual in printed format also. Lets take a closer look at the router itself.

     


    Front

    From the front of the router we can find a bunch of status leds. ACT-leds are used to indicate the network activity in that particular port. 10/100 indicates the set speed for the port. WAN is used to show the activity and connection status of the out going line. Usually this is a line to an ADSL box but it can be a connection for example to another router. PWR is lit when the unit is powered up and WLAN flashes when there is a wireless connection active.

    Uncluttered and clear panel but perhaps it could have been more informative with different color leds for different things. Currently all the leds are green and can be mixed from the distance. Also the location of the leds could have been higher up; almost in level with the top corner. I'll explain the reason for this in a moment.

     


    Back

    From the back we find (from left to right) a RESET-button, WAN connector for out going line, four RJ45 connectors for wired client machines, power connector and the antenna. What we are missing is the power switch. Usually these units are powered 24/7 but if you don't like to leave your WLAN talking to the air when you go out for a weekend etc. it could be easier to power down the unit with a switch than to take off the power cable. This has more to do with a personal preference but personally I feel that these little things are what makes the unit perfect or not.

    Anyway, a clean and well marked backside with good grouping of connectors. Antenna is not detachable but I don't think that it will matter to most of us. Although it is not removable it is made very adjustable. More of this in the next image.

     


    Wall mounting

    Because the antenna can be rotated to any direction the unit can be installed for example to the wall. Unit is very slim so it will not stand out from the wall that much. This also brings us the point that I made when I showed you the front panel of the unit. When installed to the wall, the leds would be facing either the floor or the ceiling. Having leds on the corner of the unit would make them more visible when the unit is installed to any angle. Perhaps in the next model.

    USB Adapter

     


    Package

    To make some use to the router we are pairing it up with the WLAN USB Adapter, also from X-Micro. This small device should allow us to use the WLAN with every computer that offers USB1.1 compatible connector. Lets view the specs of this product.

    StandardIEEE 802.11b
    Data Rate1Mbps, 2Mbps, 5.5Mbps, 11Mbps
    Transmitter Output Power < 15 dBm
    Operating Range 30 to 300 m
    AntennaChip antenna
    Security64-bit or 128-bit WEP
    I/O Interface USB 1.1
    Operating system supported Windows 98Se, Me, 2000 and XP, Linux

    What surprised me was the 300 m range that was promised. Naturally this kind of range can only be gained in absolute perfect conditions and this makes it highly unlikely that you will get it in urban environment. Adapter supports 64 and 128-bit WEP (Wired Equivalent Privacy) thus making it very secure to use. Supported operating systems also list Linux as one of the supported platforms and I belive that this is only a welcomed addition. Linux desktops are getting more and more popular so it makes sense to start adding support the them also.

     


    Content

    A very Spartan content this time. But once again this is all that is needed to get the adapter working. It would have been nice to have an extension cable for USB but hopefully it will be added to the next revision of the product. Quick start guide is very thin but what can you expect, the adapter is almost too easy to install. Driver&Manual CD contains the basic driver set but like always, you should visit the manufacturer's site to get the very latest drivers for the hardware.

     


    Installed

    Did I mention the easy installation? Install the drivers and pop in the adapter and you are set to start networking wirelessly. With laptop there isn't anything in the way of the installation but things will get bit different when you are trying to push the adater to that last free USB port behind the full case. That extension cable could be quite usable the get the adapter installed when there isn't that much room behind the computer. Also, because the adater is one whole stick with no way to bend it, it will stick straight out from the side of the laptop. You can imagine how unsafe and unsecure feeling you will have when moving the computer/laptop. Also, you have to remove the adapter from the laptop before you pack it away. Not that major concern if you use the adapter only when the computer is flat on the table or installed permanently somewhere but for those who are on the move and need WLAN access on the airports etc. a folding joint or something similar could be very usefull so that the adapter could be situated along the side of the laptop.

    Installation

     


    Build-in WebServer in router

    Setting up the hardware was easy because all you need to do is to hook up the external transformer and plug in the WAN cable. After the unit have booted up can use the build-in webserver to configure the settings.

    Setting up the parameters for the router is quite easy if you have the basic knowledge about networking and the terms used there. Layout of the interface is clean and simple and different categories of settings are easily found. As in most units, the WEP is disabled by default so you should make the unit secure before connecting it to your wired network.

     


    Client side

    Installation of the USB adapter was easy and fast to do. Install the software, plugin the adapter and you are ready to start looking for networks. As you can see from the bottom left, the encryption (WEP) is now enabled on the router side thus the adapter will have to use it also to be able to make the connection. I had trouble with build-in diagnostic software/drivers that were bundled with the unit and they didn't allow me to open up the window that would have showed the connection quality bars etc. They were visible for a brief moment when the machine booted up but after that it wasn't possible to get them appear again.

    Test

     


    Testing

    I tested the speed of the connection by using Xixia's QCheck. After installing the server side tool to the wired workstation the QCheck software can then run series of tests with different protocols and settings. I used TCP protocol and the Throughput test with 1000 kilobyte dataset. Without the WEP enabled the best speed gained was 5.022Mbps. The router and the adapter were placed around one meter apart from each others at that point. With WEP (128 bit) enabled the speed was around 3.800Mbps - 4.080Mbps. I was quite amazed of the adapter's capability to function even through two concrete walls. In many cases the speed were still around that 3.000 - 4.000Mbps but occasionally it dropped to around 1.200Mbps. Nevertheless the adapter showed that it can deliver a strong signal even through some thick obsticles. We were not able to reach the 11Mbps in any situation with the units so the adverticed speeds were more or less halved in reality.

    Conclusion


    PROS
  • Easy installation
  • WEB configuration
  • Wall mountable


  • CONS
  • Slow compared to current standards
  • No power switch





  • PROS
  • Easy installation
  • Small dimensions
  • Range


  • CONS
  • Slow compared to current standards
  • No extension cable


  • Router performed as we expected. The firewall of the unit offered a wide range of filtering possibilities thus making it pretty secure. WEP was disabled by default like in so many other routers so it is very important to remember to enable it as soon as possible.

    It was nice to see that X-Micro made the router wall mountable as it saves a lot of table space. Too bad that the leds are situated bit wrong for that purpose but hopefully they will be moved for the next generation. All in all the unit looks very slim and not noticable. That is a good thing because many people would rather hide or blend these units to the decoration of the room than make them stand out too much.

    USB adapter was bit of a surprise. The range of the adapter was very good and installation was made easy. Too bad that the physical design of the adapter makes it bit hard to use. Having something like that sticking out of the USB port when dropping the laptop to its carrying case will result in an awful cracking sound. There were no extension cable for the adapter in the package so I recommend that you get one.

    With this package it is possible to start enjoying all the possibilities that WLAN offers. No wires to stumble on and having the possibility to move that laptop from room to room as you want, adds freedom to your life. There were few things that I would change in the physical packaging of the products like moving the leds in different location in that router or making the USB Adapter hinged or bundle an extension cable with the product. Products did what they were supposed to do so why not give the X-Micro WLAN family a spin?

    Questions or comments? Visit MetkuMods forum.

    Additional information

    X-Micro
     

     
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