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Wireless Reviews

Introduction

SMCWGBR14-N Barricade N ProMax Draft 11n Wireless 4-port Gigabit Broadband Router

At a Glance
Product SMC Barricade N ProMax Draft 11n Wireless 4-port Gigabit Broadband Router (SMCWGBR14-N)

SMC EZ Connect N Draft 11n Wireless Cardbus Adapter (SMCWCB-N2)
Summary Clone of the Trendnet TEW-633GR with multifunction USB print / scanner server added
Pros • Gigabit WAN and LAN, excellent routing speed & jumbo frame support
• Top-of-chart simultaneous sessions
• WDS Bridging / Repeating
• Multifunction USB printer/scanner server
Cons • Poor range with companion notebook client card
• High throughput variation
• Companion client does not properly support WPS

It has been years since we have reviewed a product from SMC, a company that once had the consumer router market in the palm of its hand with the original Barricade router. But it never seemed to recover from a botched product transition from the original to next-generation Barricade. And when they decided to stop pursuing the consumer market a few years ago in favor of carriers and resellers, I just let them drop from my "must review" list.

A recent change in SMC's PR representation, however, made me decide to take another look. They chose to send their top-of-the-line draft 802.11n router and a companion card, so let's see what they have to offer.

It turns out that SMC has taken the same approach with the SMCWGBR14-N as Trendnet did with its TEW-633GR, which I reviewed back in February. The FCC ID identifies it as a rebadged U-MEDIA WRT-390U, which is essentially a clone of D-Link's market-leading DIR-655 [reviewed].

The one difference between the TEW-633GR and the SMCWGBR14-N is that SMC chose to leave the USB connector on the WRT-390U's board, which provides a USB multifunction printer and scanner sharing server. Other than that, the feature set is the same and closely matches that of the D-Link DIR-655.

Since the SMCWGBR14-N and TEW-633GR both reference the U-MEDIA WRT-390U (the SMC carries the U-MEDIA FCC ID number;the Trendnet has its own FCC ID, whose documents reference the U-MEDIA product), I would expect them to be identical. But that was not what I found when I opened the product.

According to the FCC ID photo, I should have found a Ubicom 5160 processor, an Atheros 5416 baseband/MAC chip and AR2133 3T3R MIMO 2.4 GHz radio (AR5008 series) and Vitesse VSC7385 gigabit switch, as shown in the fuzzy FCC ID doc photo in Figure 1.

Internal board view of the SMCWGBR14-N and TEW-633GR  - FCC photo

Figure 1: Internal board view of the SMCWGBR14-N and TEW-633GR - FCC photo

But when I opened the 14-N to take a clearer picture of its innards, I was surprised to find that it uses a Realtek RTL8366SR gigabit switch instead of the Vitesse. While this is surprising, I don't think it's a violation of FCC rules, which I believe require filing for a permissive change or new FCC ID only when there are circuit or component changes that change RF characteristics. Still, it was a surprise.

Internal board view of the SMCWGBR14-N - reviewed product
Click to enlarge image

Figure 2: Internal board view of the SMCWGBR14-N - reviewed product

More significant, however, is that the 14-N doesn't have heatsinks on either the Ubicom processor or Realtek switch or even a thermal pad like the Trendnet product has on its Ubicom CPU (Figure 3). Given that both these components can generate a good amount of heat, I think this is a poor tradeoff of lower manufacturing cost for reliability and stability.

Internal board view of the TEW-633GR - reviewed product
Click to enlarge image

Figure 3: Internal board view of the TEW-633GR - reviewed product

I always ask vendors to send a "matching" or "recommended" client card along with routers for test. I do this because it gives the manufacturer the best chance of having good test results. SMC sent the SMCWCB-N2 EZ Connect N Draft 11n Wireless Cardbus Adapter, whose board is shown in Figure 4.

I was surprised to see that it used a Ralink RT2800 series chipset, consisting of an RT2860T Baseband/MAC and RT2820 2T3R 2.4 GHz Transceiver. As we'll see when we review Wireless Performance, this card did not show the 14-N in its best light.

Internal board view of the SMCWCB-N2
Click to enlarge image

Figure 4: Internal board view of the SMCWCB-N2

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