The DSLW-906E is a single Ethernet port ADSL modem/router device that will work on ADSL lines provided by both BT Wholesale and Karoo, as do the majority of ADSL modems. The device is aimed at the entry level market as a first router, and for PC users it comes with software that makes the setup very easy to follow. For those people without MS Windows then the device is still useable via its telnet command line interface. The device supports three main modes of operation:
What you get for your money
The router weighs in at 300g and the dimensions are 18cm x 12cm x 4cm. The power supply is a nice lightweight affair with a footprint no larger than a normal mains plug just slightly higher, this means it fits easily into multi-way mains adaptor strips. The casing is a sturdy dark grey plastic with the standard rubber feet on the base and extra rubber pads to allow it to stand vertically if that is your desire. If you are into your flashing LEDs then the front panel may be a little disappointing with just 3 small LEDs (power, DSL and Ethernet) - though this is more than adequate for providing feedback including indication of traffic flow.
Moving around to the rear of the case presents you with the sockets you can see in the picture below:
The ports starting from the left are firstly the 5V / 2Amp power socket ("DC IN") followed by the single Ethernet port (10Mbps) which requires a standard CAT5 patch cable (i.e. a straight cable) to connect to your PC, and also a small reset pin to reload factory default settings. Over to the right side there is a phone socket and the line socket (for you ADSL) which is an RJ-11 connector for which a 1.8m lead is supplied in the box.
The 906E is a little unusual in having a phone socket, this is actually just a pass through socket from the line input, so while a phone with a suitable adaptor will connect, it will be unfiltered and when this was tried the modem refused to sync. By connecting a micro-filter to this socket I was able to then plug a phone in and it worked fine with the ADSL modem syncing as normal.
The box also contains a small basic manual to get you going and the DSL Commander software. For those people like me who are good at losing small pieces of paper, a copy of the setup guide is available on the DSL-Warehouse website at DSLW-90E Quick Setup Guide.
As mentioned earlier the setup software works fine on Win9x/ME/2000/XP but those with other Operating Systems will have to do it by hand via the telnet command line interface (CLI). The setup software is straight forward to use and the Quick setup guide goes through the various steps for you. Once run, the application starts on the general tab and requires you to fill in the relevant fields following through the tabs as shown in the screenshot below, and you are done. The line configuration window lets you setup your username/password, connection mode (RFC 2364 PPPoA for both BT and Karoo lines), the framing mode (VC-Mux for BT Wholesale lines or LLC for a Karoo line), and also the PVC values (VPI 0 and VCI 38 for BT, and VPI 1 and VCI 50 for Karoo).
For NAT mode operation, remember to tick the NAT checkbox. The port forwarding, if you need it, is configured via the 'Inbound' button:
If you are using NAT, then the 'Route Table' tab can be ignored. DHCP allows you to control the assignment of IP addresses on your local LAN which is independent of any static or dynamic IP address that your ISP has given you. The SNMP tab lets you configure access to the SNMP interface which allows you to use various tools to monitor the router and its throughput.
The majority of people should leave the ADSL mode set to multi, although there have been cases of different exchange hardware/software where more reliable connections can be attained by varying this (the two options worth trying if you are having problems are G.DMT and ANSI). Other than that, this window provides you with a myriad of useful information. Line status indicates the current state of the DSL on the line, as can be seen in the screenshot above- a line running in G.DMT mode that connected at an ATM speed of 576Kbps downstream and 288Kbps upstream. The downstream attenuation figure should correspond roughly to the BT 'WOOSH' test that may be done on the line during activation/repair, though rather than the user +/- 1dB I normally see on hardware, this router seems to be around +/- 10dB. Whilst this is not completely accurate, plotting the attenuation over time is useful as it will allow you to determine whether your line is degrading. If it is then the attenuation is likely to rise and the output power may actually increase to compensate. The Reconnect button on this tab drops the connection and forces the router to reconnect without having to reset it fully.
PPTP VPN - Transparent Mode
One big advantage that this router has over other cheap ADSL modem/routers is its PPTP mode. This makes the router transparent so that the PC will get the real IP address that would be set to the WAN side of the router, and hence also receive an unfiltered connection (no NAT involved). When running in PPTP mode, it is just like using a USB modem in that all software like MS Netmeeting and MS Messenger will work happily, although of course this does also mean your PC visible to all and sundry like a USB modem, so ensure a software firewall is installed. The downside to PPTP mode is that only a single computer can go online at any one time. Some other routers notably the AMX series have a PPP Half Bridge mode that achieves similar results but the DHCP spoofing that is used can sometimes be unreliable. The PPTP VPN mode is generally more reliable and you can drop and reconnect the connection at anytime just as with a USB modem.
To use PPTP requires you to enable PPTP within the DSL commander utility and remember the IP address of the router! From within Windows, create a new VPN connection to the routers local IP address. Any Operating System that supports a PPTP VPN connection over a LAN should work.
Creating a VPN connection sounds awfully confusing but this is covered for Windows 98 in the quick setup guide and http://www.farina1.com/dslw-906E shows the Dial Up Networking Wizard steps in Windows 2000, with the specific VPN settings at http://www.farina1.com/dslw-906E-VPN
The router performed well for a single user, however running a local LAN with 4 computers and 2 heavy users seemed to cause problems for the router when in NAT mode. The problem appears not to be the bandwidth in use but rather the number of active connections and the routers ability to cope with the NAT translation work this involves - in the PPTP VPN mode the device was wonderfully stable and gave no cause for concern.
Ping wise the modem is promising, with 10ms minimum, 60ms maximum and 15ms average over 100 pings to the first hop when logged in on the bt_test@startup_domain account.
There was a problem with an earlier version of the DSL Commander software. When adding further NAT port forwarding entries, the wrong values for previously entered ports were shown. A new version of the software available from the DSL-Warehouse website solved this problem, and the correct ports were displayed once again. The port forwarding is fairly limited in that only single UDP/TCP port maps are supported, so any application that is going to need lots of ports opened or large ranges will be a nightmare to configure.
The modem is not industrial strength, but appears to be an ideal first ADSL modem/router for a Windows user. The DSL Commander software is easy to use and for beginners, a software setup is sometimes preferable to a web based setup, simply because it avoids problems with existing dialup modem settings confusing people. The issues of performance with multiple machines is hard to quantify, other users have reported no problems, but it does remain a question mark.
Where this modem really wins is the PPTP VPN mode, making it an ideal step up for users with USB modems who are trying to get away from the various USB issues such as instability and loss of gaming performance. Additionally, the PPTP mode is a transparent connection, all those applications like Microsoft Netmeeting and DirectPlay games that have problems with the current crop of NAT routers should work nice and easily with the DSLW-906E.
After plugging the DSLW-906E in, it will automatically synchronise if an ADSL signal is present, this is in common with most ADSL modems/routers available on the market. For users experiencing problems with PCI or USB modems not working in their computers, and unclear whether it is their fault or a faulty line, the ability to have a modem which synchronises as soon as you plug it in is most beneficial.
£65.23 – DSL-Warehouse DSLW-906E
Prices listed above are excluding postage and VAT.
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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.