Skip Navigation


Solwise SAR-715PVW ADSL Review

The SAR-715PVW is an upgraded version of the popular SAR-715 ADSL router. The main enhancement is the inclusion of a 802.11b wireless network add-on. Additionally the V designation refers to the ability of the router to act as a VPN server. To clarify any misunderstanding of the device's capabilities, it is a combined ADSL modem, router, wireless access point and VPN server all in one. The other main difference is rather than the metal casing, it is supplied in a plastic case, designed to stand upright.

The router supports both NAT (single IP service) and NON-NAT (block of static IP addresses) modes of operation making it suitable for use with BT Wholesale ADSL products and the Karoo (Kingston Communications) range of ADSL services. It will work quite happily with dynamic IP and static IP services. As with the old 715, a built in firewall is included, and the same UPnP support as before.

What you get for your money

Solwise supply the standard bits of hardware and software with the router. Namely, the SAR-715PVW, power supply, RJ11 to RJ11 lead for connecting to a microfilter, RJ45 to RJ45 patch lead for connecting to a computer and a software CD with a comprehensive manual.

The SAR-715PVW is not a small device, with a height of 21cm and depth of 15cm it seems a bit large. Part of the size is down to the inclusion of the wireless antenna internal to the case. The vertical design with ventilation slots at the top of the case appears to work well in controlling the temperature of the device. The only place that feels warm to touch is the top of the case, this is reassuring for a device that is likely to be left stuck on its shelf and ignored for months on end.

Taking a quick journey around the case starting with the rear connector panel, using the screenshot above as a guide and moving from left to right, an ADSL socket which is the standard RJ11 socket, a built-in four port 10/100Mbps switch, RS232 console port (the console port is not needed for standard configuration, but provides a backup connection method to the router). This leaves the power socket and its associated switch, a small but welcome addition, since it avoids any wear and tear on the power plug and its lead when resetting the device.

The only other interesting part of the router, is the LED's on the front panel. With 8 LED's the device will grace most shelves and give the impression of a highly complex device. Flashing lights always manage to look good. Working down from the top you have:

Another new feature not in the original SAR-715 is the small Reset button at the foot of the router, it is nicely recessed to avoid accidental use. The reset button does not restore the router to its default set-up, but simply restarts it. However I have never had the need to use this button other than to check it works for the review.

Configuration

The SAR-715PVW will primarily be configured via its web interface, though you can opt to use the console or a telnet interface if you feel the need for some retro style computing. Solwise have improved on the early manuals they provided, the manual with the SAR-715PVW has been written to guide even novice users through getting the router up and running. The manual runs to 182 pages, which seems massive but it includes many pages on topics like UpnP and getting Microsoft Netmeeting to work.

Wireless ADSL routers are proving popular with people who are upgrading from simple USB modems, and the Solwise manual covers in some detail how to set-up a PCs Ethernet network card so that you can see the router and therefore access its configuration interface. Mac users are not forgotten, they have their own dedicated section. The router is provided in its default state with an IP address of 192.168.1.1 and a subnet mask of 255.255.255.0, so any computer connected to the SAR-715PVW and with DHCP enabled on it should be provided an IP address in the range 192.168.1.2 to 192.168.1.254. You can alter the default IP address and IP range used by the router, and turn off the DHCP server if you wish to. The other important defaults with the router are that both the username and password are admin. You will require a computer with a wired Ethernet connection for the initial configuration, as the wireless network is not bound to the LAN interface in the default setup, which may confuse people as the wireless network itself is active by default. The default wireless parameters are an SSID of act1 using channel 1 and no WEP security enabled.

Assuming you are using a single IP service the configuration of the router is a case of following the manual, although it is worth adding that there is no difference in set-up between users with a single dynamic IP address and those with a single static IP address. The SAR-715PVW is a highly configurable device and when you first use it, it is advisable to closely follow the set-up guide and only try to deviate for custom configurations at a later date when more confident with the interface. The reason for this caution is that many of the options exposed may stop any connection from working and it may not always be obvious what has been changed.

A useful section in the manual described how users can use a block of static IP addresses (NON-NAT) that their ISP may have provided. This covers how to disable the NAT interface which is running by default and run what is normally termed a NON-NAT configuration.

Security and Advanced NAT Configuration

The router upon its initial configuration has the low security configuration set. This is a basic set of firewall rules that are used in addition to any protection afforded by the NAT dropping unsolicited incoming connections. The set of rules used by the low level security settings are pretty basic.

Any port traffic not enabled as TRUE in this list will not be allowed through the router. If a port/protocol is not listed then it is blocked, so if when first getting the router and you find some software is not working pay visit to the Firewall Port Filters: external - internal page. One common mistake in setting up servers that people want visible over the Internet is they configure the firewall to allow the Inbound port, but forget to also configure the port forwarding. In the screen shot above all outbound TCP and UDP is allowed, TCP is listed at transport type 6 and UDP as type 17. The use of the underlying protocol numbers can lead to confusion, it is a shame the web interface does not display these using their names which are more readily understood.

The port filters are only part of the firewall set-up, the other component is the Host Validators. Host Validators allow you to block access to specific IP addresses both in the outbound and inbound directions. This is useful if you want to block access to a web server from people who are still running Nimda infected servers.

The configuration of port forwarding on the router is handled in the Advanced NAT configuration screen, and a port forwarding rule is called a Reserved Mapping. The common protocols of TCP and UDP are supported, but so are ICMP, IGMP, IP, EGP, NVP, GREF, OSPF, IPIP, plus there is the option to forward all protocols. Setting up a reserved mapping is very simple, set the Global IP Address to 0.0.0.0 (using 0.0.0.0 instructs the router to use whatever IP address has been assigned to the WAN interface). The Internal IP is the IP address of the computer running the software you are wanting to forward the port to. The port number is the port number that you wish to forward to, there is no option of specifying a different internal port number, or for specifying a range of ports to forward. For those who need to use a lot of port forwarding rules the router appears to be able to handle a great many, it was possible to add 70 different TCP port forwards and the router was still accepting more entries. I did encounter one anomaly when setting up the port forwarding, when you do it before the router has been allocated its Internet side IP address the rules do not seem to get stored correctly.

The router has an Intrusion detection system (IDS). This works by detecting common attack profiles and then blacklisting the hosts that originated the attack. This system can be turned off, if it causes problems, or alternatively there are options to tune the system to meet your specific needs. One addition that the VPN software adds compared to the basic wireless router is the ability to configure Intrusion Alerts to be received via email. The provision of IDS is something that is fairly new in consumer priced routers and should be welcomed. Whilst they cant protect you from extreme attacks, e.g. a Denial of service attack that uses all your bandwidth, they can help in identifying problems and letting you get on with using the connection.

Wireless Performance

The 802.11b component of this router is really the main reason why people will be buying it over and above the existing SAR-715. The picture below shows some of the options you can fiddle with in the wireless set-up is very comprehensive.

The default settings of the wireless system are SSID act1 and using channel 1 and is enabled out of the box, but not bound to the TCP/IP side. Binding the wireless side to the wired LAN side is detailed in the manual. It is possible to disable the wireless component, which of course will ensure the wireless side is secure from hacking when not in use. 64bit and 128bit WEP encryption is supported, though it is fairly basic, in that no support for 'passphrase' generation of the WEP keys is supported. There are two features missing from the device which would improve its appeal. Firstly, the ability to limit wireless access to specific MAC addresses, i.e. the construction of a list of trusted wireless network cards. Secondly, an external wireless antenna connector. The internals of the router are shown below. As you can see the router is using a Globespan chipset and the case is dominated by the PCMCIA 802.11b wireless card. The wireless card also lacks an external antenna connector. Though the use of a PCMCIA format card, means upgrades to newer wireless standards remain a possibility.

The wireless component of the SAR-715PVW has the usual claims about range made about it. In an effort to relate these figures to real life use, I have adopted a standard walk route to determine at what ranges and through how many walls I can maintain some form of signal. In future reviews I will attempt to add any additional wireless kit to the list. The baseline is a venerable ELSA Lancom wireless access point which works reasonably well in an average 2 bedroom flat, but is heading towards no signal, i.e. 1 to 2Mbps once through 2 internal solid walls.

Hardware Used Score out of 20
ELSA Lancom wireless access point, PCMCIA card antenna 10
Asus 6030VI modem/router 13
Linksys WAP11 access point 15
Linksys WET11 access point 16
Solwise SAR-715PVW, PCMCIA card antenna 12
Netgear DG824M 16

The wireless device used for the roaming was a Sony laptop with an embedded Orinoco 802.11b card. The range that you may achieve within your own premises will vary according to the precise construction of the property.

As you can see, it was apparent the range of the 715PVW was not as good as a number of other devices. It was better than the LANCOM and would just about manage 3 solid walls, but once outside the range dropped off rapidly. This is perhaps partially a reflection on the internal PCMCIA antenna used, the better scoring devices all have external antenna on them. To give an idea of the relative ranges outside, I managed to walk around 75m before losing the SAR-715PW's signal, the Netgear DG824M was still detectable and working at around 150m, exceeding the Linksys WET11 by around 20-30m.
One question often asked about wireless networks is the impact on latency, when within 10-20m of the various access points the latency penalty is perhaps 1-3ms on average. At the extreme edges of reception it tends to switch from all packets dropped to about an extra 9ms on top of the normal ADSL latency, the cliff edge of 802.11b working or not working appears to be very steep. The latency was stable enough to enjoy online gaming, as long as the wireless reception was able to maintin a 2Mbps or higher signal. In terms of file transfers it follows the normal speed limits of 802.11b and gives a speed of around 4 to 5Mbps of actual throughput in use.
Universal Plug and Play (UPnP)

UpnP is often considered to be one of those mysterious things that exist in the computer world. It is becoming a common standard amongst new ADSL routers and other networking devices, which considering about the only software to make use of it is Messenger in XP is a surprise. The SAR-715PVW has UPnP enabled by default, but the port used requires changing. This port change is carried out using the telnet or console interface as shown below:

One thing that can catch new users of UPnP out, is that UPnP is not installed by default in XP, you have to add it as an optional Windows add-on component. The Solwise manual covers this quite extensively and shows precisely what to do, and what you should expect to see when it is working.

To test that UPnP really worked beyond just showing all the pretty GUI additions, a simple dialup Internet connection was used to carry out XP Messenger conversations. Both computers had video cameras and microphones. The video and voice connections seemed to work well, though of course video quality was limited by the use of a 56k dialup Internet connection for one side, I was able to initiate connections from both directions which indicates that the UPnP is functioning correctly. Additional checks included seeing whether XP Remote Assistance would work and it did. The final component of Messenger looked at was file sharing, I was able to send and receive files from the machine behind the SAR-715PVW.

I should add that no additional port forwarding or firewall triggers were needed, all the Messenger functionality appears to work once you have the UPnP working. The same version of MS Messenger was used on both machines, version 4.7. For those who have no idea whether it is working, a simple check is to look in your Network Connections folder, if UPnP is working an Internet Gateway will be listed, which if you look at the properties of this you can actually view what port forwards are under the control of UPnP.

The screenshot above shows 3 PCs with MS Messenger running, or has been run recently and that fact that these ports are forwarded by MS Messenger is denoted by the title msmsgs on each line. The other services are simply port forwards that have no title, you can also add/edit/delete port forwarding rules via this window if you wish, but you are restricted to setting up rules for just TCP and UDP protocols.

Virtual Private Networks and SNMP

The inclusion of a VPN server that can support 8 concurrent sessions makes the router very attractive for small businesses who have a few home workers that require access to the company LAN. Terminating VPN sessions on the router means you do not need to dedicate a PC to running the VPN server, and the problem of getting the VPN traffic through NAT is alleviated.

The router supports the main standards with IPsec, PP2P and L2TP all set-up via the web interface. With the pleothra of standards supported including DES and Triple DES encryption, IDEA and Triple IDEA, the configuration of the VPN isnt exactly press one button and off you go. The manual does cover setting up the VPN side, but could be better documented examples wise. People familiar with VPN's and setting them will probably have no trouble though. One thing that caught this reviewer out, was the need to have the firewall turned on, the screenshot below shows the configuration to get it working.

The production models shipping should have the VPN supporting software installed, but for this review a firmware upgrade was required. This happens in two stages, uploading a new boot.bin file to the router via a RS232 console session, and then uploading the main firmware via the web interface. With the older SAR-715 the firmware upgrades were very hit and miss, since that time Solwise has improved the documentation and the router appears to be much better at handling the upgrades. One major improvement is that now when uploading the firmware via the web interface a simple progress bar is displayed, which is a lot better than the old system of guessing when it was finished or had crashed.

Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP) is another feature lacking from many other routers at this price point. The inclusion of SNMP allows people to monitor the router and trap various events. To make use of SNMP you need to run monitoring software on a client computer. Perhaps the most common use people put SNMP to is monitoring bandwidth useage.

Overall Performance

The SAR-715PVW had a prolonged period of testing, with it having been left running for over two weeks totally unattended and maintaining an ADSL line, while I was out of the country. This protracted period of stability is welcome as the original SAR-715 has drawn some stability concerns, the SAR-715PVW firmware seems to be more stable. It is getting quite common for new ADSL routers to be released perhaps a bit early and for users to see some stability problems. Part of the reason is the pressure of the marketplace seeking more and more features.

The web interface is not a slickly presented multimedia presentation, but very much does what it says it can do, just without bells and whistles. It perhaps could be a bit more responsive, but I would not discount the router purely on this basis.

Another common application that causes problems is MS NetMeeting. To get NetMeeting to work two firewall triggers must be entered into the router's web configuration, this is covered in the manual. Additionally you will need to forward the TCP Port 1720 to the PC running MS Netmeeting. Once these changes are done, then NetMeeting appears to work well, video works in both directions, both incoming and going calls are possible and file sharing features operate without any problems.

Gaming performance is a critical issue to a great many people. My standard test of asking Counter-strike to update its list of servers produced a poor result, the list was around 40,000 servers and would run for several minutes at which point the router effectively crashed. The only way to get back control and Internet access was to reset the router. This behaviour is not that uncommon in routers, what is happening is that the NAT tables in the router are filling up too rapidly and the router basically grinds to a halt. The standard word-around is to use software like 'The All Seeing Eye'. Disappointingly when I ran this with its default ADSL line settings, the router hung once again. In the end, I was able to tweak the settings to slow it down and avoid the flooding problem using the settings in the screenshot below, but people may be able to find better settings.

In respect to outgoing Virtual Private Networks (VPNs), I can confirm that the router is happy with a simple Microsoft based PPTP solution and appears to be stable. With the plethora of protocols supported in the port forwarding section, most VPNs should be possible.

Verdict

The SAR-715PVW will not be winning any beauty contests on its physical appearance, but then I do not think it will appeal to those who are overly concerned about the looks of the device. Like the previous SAR-715 this device is aimed at the 'techie' market, people who are happy to get their hands dirty and play around with things. This is not to say that the router is too complex for novices, certainly the enhanced manual makes setting up the router very straightforward so long as you do actually follow what it says. The availability of web, RS232 and telnet interfaces make the router suitable for practically any personal computing device.

Would I use one? Yes I would. The router appears to be very reliable and I was content to see no problems during the two weeks it was left running whilst I was out of the country. The problems with Counter-strike will hopefully be addressed in future firmware upgrades, since they are likely to occur with other games too. As shown it is often possible to work-around the problem by careful tweaking of the software that causes the hang ups. With regards to the wireless features, it would be great to see an external antenna option as well as allowing only certain MAC addresses to be used. Even with the relatively low range score, it should be adequate for most average homes. So long as I got any signal I found the wireless side performed flawlessly, even allowing Counter-strike to be played over it.

Without the VPN and SNMP components this router is perhaps overshadowed by some of the other devices available, but the overall feature set puts other devices in this price range to shame. The upgrade potential to Wireless-G (54Mbps) is useful, though remember it has not been proven yet.


Prices: £140.00 – Solwise SAR-715PVW ADSL Modem/Router
Prices listed above are excluding postage and VAT.
 
Links: http://www.solwise.co.uk/adsl_sar715pv.htm
 
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.