Skip Navigation


Thomson SpeedTouch 510 v4 Review

The SpeedTouch 510 v4 is a new version of the older 510 model and reflects the new Thomson name. It is based around both new hardware and firmware, but still carries the family pedigree for reliability. So what is new with this modem/router? The main new features are UPnP compliance, and a 4-port 10/100Mbps in-built switch.

This new and improved model is the base for a larger range of devices such as the cheaper Thomson 530 and the business strength Thomson 610. Hopefully it will have a longer life span than the previous 510, which looks like a stop gap device filling in for the capable but long in the tooth SpeedTouch Pro. The 530 model is identical to the 510 v4 but includes a single Ethernet port and a USB port, allowing you to connect two computers simultaneously or the Ethernet port can be uplinked to a hub/switch to support more machines.

This review will look at the changes compared to the old 510 and how this new model fits into a market place where four port modem/routers appear to be two a penny.

What you get for your money

At £139 (September 2002) the 510 v4 is not the cheapest of the current new wave of routers. Compared to the price of the SpeedTouch Pro at over £200 twelve months ago it looks like a bargain. That said you do still get a fair bit for your money, including:

  1. The modem/router (dimensions 33 x 153 x 180 mm)
  2. Chunky power supply (9V, 1000mA)
  3. Two Excelsus micro-filters
  4. 2m RJ-11 to RJ-11 lead
  5. 2m Ethernet patch cable
  6. Quick start guide
  7. Software setup CD

A setup guide is also available online at http://www.speedtouch.com/pdf/510/st510_guide_en.pdf

Compared to the previous Alcatel/Thomson routers it is almost a style statement, from most pictures you would expect the front of the router to be the silver/grey panel, but in fact this is the rear. The front is almost featureless except for a simple push button on/off switch. The case is fabricated with a stylish  heavy duty plastic and a roughened finish effect. Through the ventilation slots along the sides and underside you can glimpse an interior with metal shielding, so it appears the build quality has not been sacrificed for looks. The top of the case has 3 LEDs, one to show computers are connected to the switch, another to show the router is switched on and an LED labelled "@" which appears to illuminate once you have an ADSL signal connected to the router.

The connector side of the router looks almost cramped due to the small dimensions. Going across left to right you have a DC power input socket, four RJ-45 Ethernet ports and an RJ-11 socket. The RJ-45 ports are all switched 10/100Mbps auto-sensing ports, and happily accommodate patch or cross-over cables. The two LEDs on each Ethernet socket indicate the activity on the port and whether it is running in 10 or 100Mbps mode. The curious reader will be wondering why I have not mentioned the two USB ports - do not be deceived, they are not USB ports but are actually latches that hold the plastic back panel in place, and will also secure the router to a stand that is due to appear on the market soon.

Configuration

Thomson have retained the same automatic configuration software from the previous 510 model. There have been some cosmetic changes, but the concepts and mode of operation remain the same. The blindingly simple configuration for this router involves connecting the router to your network card using the supplied cable, plugging the 9V power supply in, switching the router on and then loading up the CD that is supplied.

For users with a single IP service the standard profiles supplied on CD will work out of the box. For people looking for NON-NAT setups the CD supplied with the router from DSLSource has a couple of NON-NAT setups on it. Once you have selected whether you want a NAT set-up with or without a firewall, just carry on through the wizard, entering security details for access to the router and your ADSL accounts username and password when prompted. If you decide to use the firewall at a later date it can be turned on via the CLI interface. The big boast of the publicity for the 510 is that you are just five clicks away from the speed of ADSL.

The major advantage with the Thomson set-up software over other routers is that it reboots the router and looks after your computers network card properties as well. This makes the set-up ideal for people who do not have the slightest clue what an IP address is. Once the configuration wizard is done then you should be online if your ADSL has previously been activated and you received the username/password from your ISP. This can be confirmed by opening a web browser window and navigating to http://10.0.0.138 (the default IP address of the router).

In the web configuration there is very little that can be fiddled with. This is the one area of the router that has changed little since the original 510 model. The main area that people will want to access is under the Advanced Menu and is the Network Address & Port Translation (NAPT) screen. This allows you to punch holes in the NAT of the router to allow access to services on your LAN from computers outside on the Internet, e.g. so your mail or web server will be visible to the Internet. If you have any XP computers on your LAN and the UPnP support is installed you will probably notice a couple of port mappings already in the list. The screenshot below shows three NAPT mappings, 192.168.0.2:7951 and 192.168.0.2:8160 are UPnP generated maps from a copy of XP Messenger that is running. The 192.168.0.145:25 is a mapping to allow an SMTP server running on the computer 192.168.0.145 to be visible to the outside world.

Adding new NAPT entries is a walk in the park. Click New and the screen above is displayed. Fill in the details and click Apply followed by Save All to permanently store the settings. The web configuration has a cut down set of options with only TCP and UDP protocols available as choices. The Inside IP is the IP address of the computer that is running the service you want visible from the Internet; for users with a single IP address service leave the Outside IP set to 0.0.0.0 and in the Inside Port and Outside Port fields enter the port numbers you want to use. For those worried about how many NAPT entries the router will support, it looks like the router supports somewhere between 35 and 60 entries. When testing this twenty of the entries were added via the web interface, with the remaining entries via the CLI, eventually once I had around sixty entries the router refused to create any more. However, it must be said that the web interface seemed to display a variable number of these, somewhere between 35 and 40 entries would be displayed at any one time. The CLI would list the full set of rules via the nat list addr=0.0.0.0 command.

The 'Default Server' option allows you to forward all the ports that are not previously handled by a NAPT rule to a specific machine. This can be useful if you have an application that is wanting unrealistic numbers of ports opened.

The observant reader will have noticed that the screenshots show the router residing at an IP address of 192.168.0.1, where as its default IP address is 10.0.0.138. The web interface has no way of changing this, so I resorted to editing the configuration file by hand to change the routers default IP address and adjust the DHCP range accordingly. A copy of this profile can be downloaded from here. This shows how to change both the IP address of the router and the DHCP range to suit an existing local LAN. Alternatively you can specify additional IP addresses for the router under the 'Advanced Static Routing' web page, simply click New in the IP address table and select the eth0 interface, specify an IP address and mask 172.17.17.1/8 and set the translation field to none. Clicking Apply and Save All should commit the changes to the router and in this example the router will be visible at http://172.17.17.1 and computers can use 172.17.17.1 as their gateway and DNS settings.

For all the other features of the router you are restricted to configuring these via the telnet interface, which means a good old text based system. Suddenly using the router feels like going back in time to the days when the SpeedTouch Pro was one of the few modem/routers on the market.

DHCP Spoofing - bypassing the NAT configuration

DHCP Spoofing has been a feature of the SpeedTouch router range for some time now. Spoofing is a method that the router uses to pass the PPPoA allocated IP address to the first device to request a DHCP IP address from it. This restricts the Internet access to a single computer but does expose the full IP address and all the attendant ports, this will allow you to run software that refuses to run behind a NAT router usually.

The routers advanced set-up screen in the web configuration allows you to upload configuration files without resorting to the software on the supplied CD. So switching to Spoofing is simply a matter of browsing to the setup folder on the CD and selecting the DHCPSpoof profile, clicking upload and then accepting this new configuration. The acceptance stage takes around 30 seconds and to get the full Internet IP address simply issue an ipconfig /renew command on the computers DOS prompt, or restart the computer. It is worth pointing out that uploading the DHCPSpoof configuration worked best when the router was on its default 10.0.0.138 IP address.

The advanced set-up also allows you to backup the existing configuration, this includes all the NAT port forwarding rules you have created, so by keeping a copy of your set-up on your computers hard disk, switching into and out of DHCP Spoof mode takes just a couple of minutes.

This method of uploading configuration profiles is also the only way that Mac and other non-Windows OS computers have of uploading the basic configuration profiles to the computer.

UPnP

One of the big selling points of this router is its UPnP performance. Certainly it could not be faulted, and appeared to run the UPnP side of things very smoothly. What is UPnP? Universal Plug and Play, to give it its full name, is a router and Operating System communication standard whereby application software can request a router to open specific ports in the NAT/port forwarding section of the router. This allows software that previously used thousands of ports, to now dynamically open or close ports as and when needed. Newcomers to Windows XP, which is the main OS to support UPnP currently, may be surprised to find that UPnP is not installed as standard - you actually need to add it via Add or Remove Programs in the Control Panel and then add UPnP as an optional Networking component.


The router visible as a local network device

What benefit is there to UPnP? At present really the only software that makes use of it is XP Messenger and XP Remote Assistance. It does mean though that people with Messenger are able to enjoy video and audio conversations even with a NAT router in place. For the file send and receive options to work in Messenger you have to upgrade to version 5.0.0515 of MSN Messenger. A lot of column inches have been expended on security problems with UPnP, to this end the 510 v4 actually lets you turn it off from inside the telnet interface. Use the command system config upnp=off to disable UPnP and system config upnp=on to enable it again.

Telnet Command Line Interface (CLI)

Unfortunately the ease of use with the 510 v4 seems to have been forgotten on the more advanced features. Hopefully a lot of the CLI functionality will get added to the web interface with future firmware upgrades. To make life a little simpler a menu system has been added to the CLI, giving you the choice of using full CLI or what feels like a DOS application from ten years ago.

The menu system means that you do not have to remember the CLI manual and all the options for each command, which is useful as at this time there is no official CLI manual for the 510 v4, just those from previous models. The areas of interest to most people are the ADSL, NAT and FIREWALL menus. The adsl info command returns data on the quality of the ADSL line in use, e.g. the downstream attenuation figure and error statistics for the connection.

The NAT menu shows that the 510 v4 has a NAT port forwarding system that is more capable than the web interface would indicate. The nat create command shows that as well as the normal TCP and UDP protocols there is support for ICMP, IGMP, GRE, EGP, RSVP and VINES protocols. This extensive list of protocols should make enabling VPN passthrough relatively easy, though in-line with the older 510 model they are only visible via the CLI.

The list of helpers displayed by nat applist command is very interesting. It shows that the 510 has specific support for PPTP and applications that use the H323 protocol e.g. Microsoft Netmeeting. To use a NAT helper the nat bind command is used to add the helper to the current bindlist.

Using the 510 v4 Firewall

The firewall appears to be the same as the one in the original SpeedTouch 510, and as such online guides like http://www.sdharris.com/speedtouch510 should help with the configuration until such time as a 510 v4 specific CLI guide is available.

Using the online guide I was able to play around with blocking access to all ports and slowly putting holes in the firewall to allow specific applications to have Internet access. Alas, using the CLI for this is cumbersome and whilst the menu system helps it is still not ideal. At one point I managed to lock myself out of the router, and the configuration software required a username and password which was not the one I had previously set. It appears that if the router reverts back to its defaults, the username is set to Alcatel and the password is the number displayed just above the username in the configuration software. This number is apparently the Board Serial Number which can be found on a sticker on the underside of the unit e.g. CP0234M1079.

Performance

The Thomson 510 v4 is yet another modem/router that performs well for day to day use. Given tasks of downloading large files and streaming video clips, it runs perfectly fine. The router was connected to a small LAN of five machines and a Wireless Access Point via another network hub. The only issue that the router experienced was the classic problem with updating the game server list in Counter-Strike. This affects a lot of routers. Once the update had ran for a few minutes, other machines on the LAN failed to gain access to the Internet. Stopping the server list update fixed this after giving the router a couple of minutes to settle down.

To investigate the latency performance of the device, I did a number of ping tests across a collection of what are essentially competing routers that were to hand. The results are shown in the table at the end of this paragraph. The tests were carried out over a 45 minute period and show how very close the ping times are with the current batch of hardware under review. The Alcatel USB modem was the only one that showed a slight increase in ping, and the rest are so close that it is hard to tell them apart.

Comparison of Pings between ADSL modems

  Windows 2000 Windows XP
Modem Min (ms) Max (ms) Avg (ms) Min (ms) Max (ms) Avg (ms)
Netgear DG814 10 41 10 13 36 14
Solwise SAR-110 10 61 11 14 23 16
Solwise SAR-715 10 20 10 12 35 13
EA 900 USB - - - 14 73 21
Alcatel USB 20 70 22 - - -
Thomson 510 v4 10 50 10 11 38 13

Based upon 100 pings to first hop using bt_test@startup_domain username

The routers web interface, what there is of it, proves to be very fast in use. Saving of settings is fast, and disconnects/reconnects are almost instant compared to other routers.

The UPnP aspect of the router seems to run flawlessly, though some users are reporting that like the SAR-715, the Internet Connection icons in Windows XP go missing sometimes. I was able to get XP Messenger working between a dialup and a machine behind the SpeedTouch 510 v4, with the file sending and receiving of Messenger being the only feature that gave a problem. Interestingly upgrading to the latest MSN Messenger (version 5.0.0515) allowed file sends and receives to work, but the UPnP side for video and voice failed to work with that version.

Microsoft Netmeeting is another success story, needing a small amount of configuration to work. The configuration required was done from within the CLI which entailed adding the routers H323 helper to the application support by issuing the nat bind application=H323 port=h323 command, and also forwarding TCP port 1720 to the PC running Netmeeting. Remember to use the Save All option in the web config to store these settings, or else they will be lost the next time you switch off the router. With these changes in place I was able to make calls both into the ADSL network and out to a dialup computer, with the various functions of Netmeeting working, this including video/voice/file transfers/whiteboard and plain old text chat.

Verdict

The 510 v4 is going to annoy people who have bought the old model 510, since this version is considerably better and has the scope with upgrades to become a very powerful but user friendly device. The ease of initial configuration of the router is second to none at this time, and as such is going to appeal to both the pure consumer and those who are techies at heart.

This router appears to be a very stable device mainly due to its pedigree and what looks like a steadily evolving design. If Thomson can expose more of the features in the web configuration via firmware upgrades, then this router will prove to be very popular with both users looking for simple to use kit and those seeking highly configurable options. An enterprising programmer with some spare time could relatively easily wrap the CLI interface in a GUI application and make it simpler to use the advanced functions. As the user base grows people are bound to discover more features hidden away, that currently are missed simply because the interface does not make them obvious.

DSLSource appear to be working hard to make up for the official lack of configuration files from Thomson. Hopefully once more detailed documentation for the 510 v4 is available it will explain the layout of the configuration profiles so people can easily customise them to suit their needs.

Perhaps the biggest bonus for a lot of people is that out of the routers reviewed to date (September 2002), the SpeedTouch 510 v4 appears to be the only router that will successfully run video conferencing in Windows Messenger and Netmeeting applications. Until now users behind NAT based modem/routers have had very limited options with regard to video conferencing.


Prices: £139.00 – Thomson SpeedTouch 510 v4
Prices listed above are excluding postage and VAT.
 
Where to Buy: See our DSL Hardware FAQ

Andrew Ferguson
andrew@thinkbroadband.com

The contents of this review should not be relied upon in making a purchasing decision—You should always discuss your requirements with your service provider and hardware supplier.