Despite the length of time that MIMO has been a hot topic, the D-Link DSL-G264M was the first "true" MIMO router to arrive in my home. It's also one of the first of a new round of MIMO products, that have a DSL modem built in.
Combining DSL with wireless is no big deal, but if you're running a wireless access point separate to your DSL router, it means one less power adapter, and one less Ethernet cable. In my case, the victims of the possible coup are two Netgear boxes: a venerable DG814 DSL router, and a WPN824 RangeMax, which has been providing wireless cover for six months. The RangeMax is not "true MIMO", as the MIMO chip maker Airgo would have it, but it has put my back bedroom on the net, and given up to 100Mbit/s link speed - and uses Video54 technology to work with seven internal antennas.
The D-Link is also non-Airgo. It uses the Atheros chipset, and only gets faster speeds by bonding Wi-Fi channels, which may cause problems if there are other wireless networks around. The box has the two antennas you expect from a MIMO system. Like the rest of us, it wants power and status, but unlike the rest us it has two LEDs that light up when it has them - other LEDS show if the WLAN is up devices are attached to the four Ethernet ports.
There are only two devices on the Ethernet - my PC, and the Netgear Storage Central box. The D-Link is happy to work with both of them and - though my network drives got re-lettered in the process - my back-up application works fine with the D-Link in place.
The LAN is good, so next up is configuring the WAN. The D-Link's Web user interface has lots to recommend it; anyone familiar with Netgear boxes may stumble, but the difference is no big deal. D-Link gets a plus point for prompting me to change the admin password, in the set-up Wizard, which also sets the time-zone and the ADSL connection.
Any further changes are made in the router's normal Web front-end, which has entries for all the usual variables. It's a minor irritation that it doesn't seem to actually apply changes (even the DSL password) without re-booting the router, but how often do you need to do this?
The basic settings are on a home tab. Others, such as the firewall, filters and virtual servers, are on an "advanced" tab. "Tools" includes such items as VPN pass-through and the ability to block pings from possible hackers on the WAN.
There's a Help tab - and all the help files are on the router, not the Internet, which is useful if your problem is in the Internet connection.
Getting the wireless going
Next stop, the wireless LAN. It's a simple matter to turn it on, hide the SSID and turn on your choice of encryption. The box does 64-, 128- or 152-bit WEP, with ASCII or Hex keys; and WPA-PSK (the pre-shared key version, suitable for small networks, of the higher-security mode, WPA), using TKIP or the military grade AES encryption algorithm.
At this point, we need to bring in a client - D-Link provided a DWL-G650M PC card adapter (which costs £51.95 inc VAT); we tried both this and the Netgear WPN111 USB connector we had been using previously.
Both wireless client adapters worked fine, and so do the built-in wireless adapters now universal in notebooks. We would expect the D-Link card to give a faster speed, as it is designed to use the same go-faster tech as the router. We did not attempt a speed trial, although we noted that the speedometer in the Netgear adapter's software claimed 108 Mbit/s link speed when in the same room as the D-Link router.
Although most laptops now have wireless access built in, the D-Link MIMO adapter has proven itself very useful on trips. At a recent NetEvents gathering, it got a leading wireless journalist online, when his up to the minute Motion Computing laptop was unable to find a signal.
Speed is irrevelevant in our environment, as the network front-ends a 1 Mbit/s DSL connection. However, although the G624M's speed is irrelevant to me, the extra range provided by MIMO is very useful. It proved, like the Netgear RangeMax box, able to deliver a good fast connection to a room two floors overhead - something non-MIMO boxes have never been able to do.
Encryption isn't simple
Setting encryption was more complicated. We found it difficult to compare between the two clients, owing to different user interfaces on the client software provided by Netgear and D-Link. We also had to tune our network - and our security expectations - to the abilities of the slowest client likely to connect.
We found a Thinkpad T22 laptop that is often on our WLAN was unable to handle WPA encryption, so we use a lighter encyption in normal use.
The D-Link software offers more information, such as a view of network traffic, and more options - which you would expect since more security features have been ratified since the Netgear came out. However, we don't recommend the card, at least with older hardware.
We started with high security, but the laptop ground to a halt under WPA. Even TKIP encryption proved too heavy load for our slowest client, a Pentium II Thinkpad with 256 Mbyte of memory; we didn't try AES. We moved to WEP, but still the laptop moved as if in treacle. Fearing this might be a fault with the D-Link card, we tried the Netgear adapter, and found that this worked all right, as long as we kept to WEP encryption.
Combining DSL and wireless simplifies the network, and MIMO delivers wireless to places other access points can't reach. This box does what it's supposed to do, and has a very useable interface.
This is worth getting if you need better coverage in a one-AP network, or want to eliminate boxes for a home or small office.