When is a standard such as IEEE 802.11n fast wireless not actually a standard? In the slightly parallel universe of Wi-Fi, it’s when it meets a “draft” specification which, roughly translated, means it does what it claims to but might not work to its full potential with similarly appointed products from rival companies. But if it doesn’t inter-operate, doesn’t that mean it’s not a standard at all? It all depends how seriously you take the word “might”.

Let’s not harp on about this issue as it’s been well-covered on this site and around the industry before. Suffice to say that it might be worth hanging back from buying wireless routers such as D-Link’s new “draft” 802.11N (note the capital “N”) DSL-2740B router given that the high-throughput standard looks to be reaching the point of formal approval. Alternatively, get some assurance that the product will accept a free firmware upgrade at the point the standard is finally, finally, finally ratified by the IEEE.

The DSL-2740B is a Draft 1.0 box, in fact, with ADSL2+ capability, a built-in 4-port 10/100 switch, the claim of QoS capabilities, and the now mandatory WPA/WPA2 wireless encryption. The three antennas are part of its range-extension “Rangebooster N” system, which works well even with non-D-Link network cards.

We reviewed the last incarnation of this pre-standard router platform in the shape of the Rangebooster N 650, last summer.

Physically, there is nothing striking about the unit other than its neat build quality (a D-Link strength these days), and the remarkably innovation still shunned by most rivals, an on/off switch. If and when the moment comes to give it a hard reboot, the DSL-2740B also manages to get itself back up and running swiftly.

Setup takes only a few minutes though it could have taken seconds – some of D-Link’s rivals can auto-detect the ISP which gets round having to know and enter connection values by hand. All the basic necessities, including encryption, are set up during the initial configuration process, which is a useful evolution from the days when users were left to decide on their own what WPA was and whether they really needed it.

Where the router falls down badly is in the presentation of its more advanced settings, which are comprehensive but would swamp a small business admin lacking specialised knowledge. There are no built-in help files, and some tasks are manual for no obvious reason. For example, filtering clients using MAC addresses has to be entered by hand even though the unit could log the clients itself. The section where quality of service is set up is so convoluted it reads like it was written by Rain Man’s less sociable twin:

“If non-blank value is selected for 'Mark IP Precedence' and/or 'Mark IP Type Of Service', the correcponding [SIC] TOS byte in the IP header of the upstream packet is overwritten by the selected value,” it suggests. Sure.

This is the sort of gibberish that no small business admin or consumer of sound mind should ever be asked to read. The whole phenomenon is strange given that one of the best aspects of the DI 724GU Gigabit Wi-Fi router we looked at last month from D-Link was its well-designed configuration screens.

On a more positive note, we liked the firewall, which is stateful (though not turned on by default) as it allows a lot more control than most products at the lower end of the market, including the ability to protect against specific types of DoS attacks by name. The quality of service – for both ADSL ATM traffic shaping and wireless LAN – is also a tasty plus but at the moment using the former means turning off the 802.11N capabilities of the box.

Conclusion:
This product performs nicely, doing what it claims it will do, namely extend range and performance (Note: we will add full range and throughput data when those tests have been completed). It has plenty of room for tinkering with security settings and, to some extent, quality of service. But it’s not friendly enough to suit the market it’s going into, asking even the experienced admin to head for the manual on too many occasions. The next version needs some thought.