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Wireless Reviews

Introduction

Updated 3/18/2010: Added Max sessions test results

EnGenius ESR9850

At a Glance
Product EnGenius 300Mbps Wireless N Router with Gigabit Switch (ESR9850)
Summary 2.4GHz, Ralink-based 802.11n router with WDS bridging / repeating, very fast routing and up and download bandwidth control. Not Wi-Fi Certified
Pros • > 700 Mbps wired routing speed
• Supports WDS bridging / repeating
• Up and download bandwidth control
• External, upgradeable antennas
Cons • Minimal online support resources
• Wireless range could be better
• No USB print serving or NAS sharing

Judging from the interest in the slideshow, people are pretty interested in this router. Perhaps it's because the problems with D-Link's DIR-655 have make folks look elsewhere for a decent 2.4 GHz 802.11n router. Or maybe it's the 9850's combination of low price and chart-topping routing speed.

The router is housed in an off-white plastic case the size of large paperback book. There are mounting slots on the bottom, but a vertical stand is not included.

Figure 1 shows the 9850's back panel, which contains one WAN and four switched LAN 10/100/1000 Ethernet ports (all auto MDI / MDIX), reset button, power socket and two little upgradeable omni-directional dipoles antennas connected via RP-SMA jacks.

ESR9850 Rear panel

Figure 1: ESR9850 Rear panel

The front (top) panel contains the LEDs described in the Figure 1 table, plus a switch to initiate a Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS) push-button session. All indicators flash to indiate network traffic and are bright enough. But you'll really need to squint to read the tiny icons above each light that denote its function.

Internal Details

Figure 2 shows the FCC ID photo, which is clear enough to identify the key devices as a Ralink RTL3052 SoC, which contains the CPU and 2T/2R 802.11n radio, MAC and baseband processing, Realtek RTL8366RB Gigabit Switch, 32 MB of RAM and 4 MB of flash (on the board bottom). The small devices to the photo left are RF amplifiers.

ESR9850 board
Click to enlarge image

Figure 2: ESR9850 board

I was surprised that neither the Ralink or Realtek devices have heatsinks, given all that's expected of them. But when I opened my review unit to double check, I was happy to see a flat ceramic heatsink on the RTL3052, but disappointed to find nothing on the Realtek switch. But at the 9850's aggressive price point, I suppose it's no surprise that heatsinking is sparse.

EnGenius doesn't say whether the 9850's switch supports jumbo frames. But when I checked by running an IxChariot test with 4k jumbos, it ran just fine. So, I'm guessing that up to 9K jumbo frames will work just fine.

Features

EnGenius doesn't provide an online emulator so that you can explore the 9850's GUI. But I put plenty of screenshots and commentary in the slideshow and tried to cover the key feature pages.

Here's a summary of the 9850's router feature set

  • Static and Dynamic IP, PPPoE, PPTP and L2TP WAN connections
  • DHCP server with IP reservation
  • Logging (system events only, not traffic)
  • Ethernet and WLAN monitor graphs
  • NAT firewall with DMZ, DoS protection, PPTP and IPsec VPN passthrough
  • MAC, IP and URL / Keyword filtering
  • Switchable NAT / Router mode
  • Single, range and triggered port mapping
  • ALG (Application Layer Gateways) for H323, SIP and more
  • UPnP enable / disable
  • Up and download QoS: two level priority or bandwidth

And the wireless features:

  • Up to four SSIDs, each with separate wireless security
  • WDS bridging and repeating
  • WEP and Personal / Enterprise WPA / WPA2 wireless security
  • Wi-Fi Protected setup (PIN and pushbutton methods)
  • Wireless Modes: B only, G only, N only, B+G and B+G+N (default)
  • Wireless MAC address filtering
  • Tranmit power control (100, 90, 75, 50, 25, 10%)
  • Transmit data rate
  • Connection control per SSID: WAN, Wireless-Wireless, Wireless-LAN

This is a pretty decent set of controls with all the basics covered, plus a few niceties. Of particular note is the inclusion of bandwidth control in both upload and download directions. Figure 3 shows an IxChariot plot of a test with upstream (LAN to WAN) bandwidth set to Full and download (WAN to LAN) set to 8 Mbps. The resulting nice-and-steady 7.7 Mbps is pretty sweet.

Bandwidth control example
Click to enlarge image

Figure 3: Bandwidth control example

Note, however, that uplink speed is running around 40 Mbps. So it appears that you must give up the 100s of Mbps of routing bandwidth that the 9850 can supply (more shortly) to benefit from bandwidth control. However, with the speed of most broadband connections, this is probably a decent tradeoff.

Also of note are the per SSID wireless connection controls that enable you to control whether clients in each SSID can talk to other clients, wired LAN clients and the Internet. Basically they're using VLANs to separate the traffic, but with simple, easy-to-use controls.

The 9850's feature set isn't perfect and is missing traffic logging and scheduled radio enable / disable (for security). But the biggest omissions are USB print serving and NAS features. The latter, along with built-in Torrent downloading might be the biggest thing that keeps potential buyers away. Too bad, since EnGenius says the 9850 can handle up to 19,000 simultaneous sessions; more than enough to swamp most any Internet connection.

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