More router reliability musings

May 15, 2012 Chilling_Silence How-To's / Guides / Tech info

Following on from my earlier post last month on “Router reliability musings“, I recently did some additional “testing”, and figured now was a good time to post a follow-up.

You see, I was a bit concerned about routers, specifically for anything more than a basic one or two PC household. Where are you left when you’re slightly more than that?

What about people who have had “good results” with the Thomson TG585? Those who’ve had a terrible time with the NetComm NB6Plus4Wn? Was I really losing my touch? Could I have really missed the mark so badly?

Thankfully, my recent testing has proved pretty conclusive as far as I’m concerned.

You see I’m not specifically a “light” user. Neither is my wife. We regularly go through around 160-180GB a month. It doesn’t help I’m always doing PC fixup jobs for friends and things, Windows Updates along can be over a gig… Throw in downloading of a browser (Chrome, of course), iTunes, Adobe Reader, updates for MS Office, and very quickly you can start bumping up the downloads.

Same for YouTube and the likes, given the chance I don’t watch anything less than 720p. I’ve got the bandwidth, so why not? That’s my theory at least.

Now I recently switched from VDSL2 to Orcons Genius plan. I’ll go into that first (If you’re here for the router information, jump down to the next header):

The nightmare switch to Orcon

So I rang Orcon telling them I wanted to switch. I was on Naked VDSL2. I rang them on a Thursday afternoon around 2PM and told them I wanted to switch.

I told the lady I had my own router and a setup that far surpassed anything they could offer, and I didn’t want their Genius router. I also didn’t care one bit about their VoIP number, I do VoIP for a living and have my own number with 2talk.

She told me my options were:
1) Don’t sign up for a contract, but you’re *required* to rent the Genius router for $5 a month, even if you don’t use it
2) Sign up for a contract, 18 months for the non-handset Genius version, then I don’t have to pay the additional fee

Why on earth would I want their router when I already have a fully perfectly good working one of my own, and I specifically don’t want their features, but want my own features.

Then, it gets better when they txt me in the morning telling me I’ll be cut over that evening. Awesome stuff!

I get home from work at 4PM. No dice.

I ring Orcon, tell them I can see I’m getting line sync but no authentication. The problem is it’s not taking my credentials so I’m not getting an IP Address, so I can’t get online. I’m told the “automation will go through and do it at midnight tonight”. I wait up until 2AM and still am not online. Unfortunately Orcon don’t take calls at that time.

So I ring first thing in the morning and complain, I’m still not online at 8AM. Call back from a supervisor at 10am, my details weren’t put in to the automation system so I won’t get online until Monday. WHAT?!

By now I’m about ready to pull a Steve Jobs and go nuclear on Orcon. I’m without a connection the whole damn weekend?! Are you guys retarded or something? Did you seriously think it was a good idea to migrate a customer over last thing on a Friday and not have everything ready for them to go? I work from home, I like to game on the weekend, I have a VoIP line … All down! The idiots!

Luckily I had a friend who worked at Orcon who had a feeling that this sort of thing might happen (He’s a bloody legend, I tell you), and he’d created an alternative Username that I was able to use on the Thursday when I signed up. I’m figuring this must be happening a little bit at the moment. Either way,  he was a lifesaver, so first thing on Saturday AM I throw his username and password in, and it was enough to keep me going until Monday evening when I got home from work and was able to use my correct username and password.

Word to the wise: If you’re getting connected, don’t put in the request on a Wednesday / Thursday, as Chorus have been pretty damn quick lately with getting people connected and it seems Orcon are a little behind the ball at the moment with their provisioning.

But on to the good stuff:

Trialling the different routers

So I had some time on my hands on Saturday, I figured I’d give all the routers that I had a whirl:
Thomson TG585v78 and a TG585v8
NetComm NB6Plus4Wn
Orcon Genius Router Lite (The one without the handset)
Draytek DV120 and an Asus WL-520GU running Tomato

That’s a decent little assortment I thought. Once I’d confirmed I was online with the Genius router, I quickly ditched that and thought I’d give the TG585 a try for a day or two.

How wrong I was…

The Thomson TG585v7 & TG585v8 & TG582n

The router would get online for roughly 6-8 seconds before dying. Completely dying. I’m not talking about “Can still get in to the WebUI and see that it’s just not syncing” or anything, no I’m talking about “Won’t even respond to pings”. I have two of them too, a v7 and a v8. Both exhibited the same results, so it wasn’t just a single faulty one.

I figured that couldn’t be right, so I unplugged it from the network and plugged just my PC straight in to it.

Fascinating, it would now get online and stay online! Awesome! So it’s just that I’ve got so many devices!

Well by “so many” I mean 2 laptops, 3 desktops, two cellphones, a tablet, an ATA, a VoIP phone (SPA942), a network printer, a Tivo, a WDTV, an AC!Ryan PlayOn media player, and also a file server. Not too much really? Granted it’s potentially 3x the number of devices a normal “small house” would have, but I look at my parents, they’ve probably got the same number of devices. I look at my inlaws, they’ve probably got the same. Maybe I extend my technological influence a little too far on my family, who knows.

But anyways, back to the TG585’s. The TG585 was online with just my PC! I was stoaked. I tried plugging in the SPA942 as well to make a phone call, and it wouldn’t connect. Unhappy, coz it was working fine just before. It’s not that calls wouldn’t go through, it’s just that it wouldn’t connect at all. Restart the router, just in case that was the issue, still no dice. So I unplug the SPA942 and then go back to my PC. I wanted to get in a game. Time for some DotA2.

Most games of DotA2 last for around 45 minutes. They can sometimes take 5-10 minutes to “get setup”, so all in all you allow around an hour for a match.

I’d been in a game of DotA2, with JUST my PC plugged in, no torrents, no nothing, for around 40 minutes when things quickly started to go pear-shaped. Latency increased significantly, then after about 30 seconds the internet connection dropped.

I was furious! Disconnected in the middle of a game!

It took about 3-4 minutes to come up again, just in time to prevent me from being labelled as having “abandoned” the game and getting my account flagged for a week.

I was able to finish the game just fine.

My wife comes home and wants to hook up her laptop, we’re now up to two devices on the TG585v8.

I decide I want to have another game of DotA2, so I restart the router right before I jump in and start, in order to give it a “clean slate” (While ignoring the cries from the living room about the wifi disappearing).

I’m about 20 minutes in to the game this time, when the same thing happens, disconnected. I was not a happy chappy by now! Luckily it came back within 4 minutes, so I had less than a minute to spare before being flagged as abandoning the game. Because I was gone for 4 minutes, it was enough for the game to swing in favor of the enemy team and we were being ripped apart. 10 minutes later and the connection drops again. The router doesn’t come back up at all after waiting for 15 minutes (I was so furious I had to go cool off and make a drink). Account is flagged for the next week. Thanks Telecom and your absolutely terrible Thomson / Technicolor routers you recommend. I officially hate you.

That was with two devices, it wasn’t able to stay online for more than 10 minutes. Needless to say I found those results conclusive enough that the TG585 may be able to cope with one, maybe even two very light users, but certainly not me.

It’s also nice to know there are other well respected community members who agree, such as Ragnor from Geekzone:

The Thomson/Technicolour units Telecom ships seem to be “fine for grandma” but they have a history of annoying issues that affect more savvy/demanding users (gamers, geeks etc)

I’m not saying the new model suffers from all these but the previous models have had issues like:

– Connection drops in games that use high port numbers 27xxx eg: TF2, Left 4 Dead on Steam etc.
– Incompatibility with Macbook wireless chipset to the point where Telecom CSR’s were advising people to turn off WPA and use WEP.
– High failure rate of the physical hardware with threads about people having to replace the unit multiple times.
– Config options not sticking.
– Having to use command line/telnet to set some settings.

Ouch, right! Yep, it’s not just me, those things suck…. REALLY suck!

Righto, on to the next device:

The NetComm NB6Plus4Wn

These previously were my absolute fav device for recommending to people, because they were simple to get up and running and yet were cheap enough and very reliable. I’ve also got it on good accord that the NB6Plus4Wn costs at least $10 less per-device to the ISP’s than the Thomson routers do. They go for around 1/3 what you’re likely to pay retail for them.

I plugged this sucker in to my PC and it worked perfectly!

Gave it a good run-down, threw my whole network at it, still didn’t miss a beat! Grabbed the latest firmware too, turns out nothings actually changed aside from “Changed default Bandwidth mode from 20 MHz to 40 MHz to optimize the 11n Wi-Fi Performance.”! Excellent.

I dug deeper and did some more research, it’s not the NB6Plus4Wn that has issues, it’s the NB6Plus4W that doesn’t play ball!

Specifically, if you’ve been having issues, have a read here:

This also mirrors some of my earlier sentiments about the RTA1320 preferring not to use them (Going back to something like 2009 now I think).

I was able to make SIP calls with mine, it took a beating of me doing gaming while my wife was on the phone, and a whole host of other things. Didn’t miss a beat!

The NB6Plus4Wn still seems to be the reliable router of choice for the small office / home user. The NB6Plus4W however, I would actively avoid.

Apparently the NB6Plus4Wn differs from the NB6Plus4W in a few crucial ways: Case ventilation, and less RAM.

So far I’m 2/2 on accuracy, which is pretty good, the results were just what I’ve said all along. Lets see how the Genius router pans out though, having never used it before:

The Orcon Genius Lite

It wasn’t a bad router, all things considered. For the better part, it “just worked”. It also had the nice ability to be provisioned by Orcon, so for a home user who just gets the router, plugs it in, number gets ported, it ought to “just work”. That is, of course, provided they don’t get connected last thing on a Friday evening.

Reliability was pretty damn good, to be frank it far surpasses anything else that I’ve seen Telecom push for example.

I didn’t use the SIP line that they provisioned, I don’t really care about it coz I’ve got both an ATA Adapter and my own SPA942 that I use with 2talk and a remote asterisk server. However, it worked fine with both of those, so I give it a bit of a thumbs up there.

The router was good, wasn’t quite as fast as it could have been. Throughput nationally it didn’t seem to like doing too much when I was hammering it doing a whole lot of other things, but overall for a bundled router, it works pretty damn well. I’m not entirely sure I’d run a small business from one, I’d have to give it a bit more of a rundown first, however the Genius Lite seemed to do overall pretty well.

Which leaves the best of the best:

The Draytek DV120 and a Tomato / Gargoyle Router

This is my absolute fav setup of all!

Take a Draytek DV120 and turn on PPPoA -> PPPoE Passthru mode. Setup something like the WRT54GL or with Tomato or Gargoyle and you should be good to go! They’re great, they take a beating, and they just keep on going.

However, a word of caution. The later models of firmware such as Gargoyle play nicest with devices that have 32MB of RAM. The Linksys WRT54GL and the Asus WL-520GU that I use have only 16MB. You may need to run a 1.3 version of Gargoyle in order to get the best results, as newer versions are more memory hungry. Just keep that in mind when you’re looking to buy a router.

Also keep in mind that although Gargoyle sell the TP-Link WR741ND themselves, they use version 1.9 of the hardware. Many places in NZ sell v4 of the hardware which uses a different SOC which is *not* compatible at this stage and should be avoided if you’re wanting to run it. You can check the sticker that’s on the underside of the router and it’ll tell you the hardware version. Do this before you buy it. If you’re shopping at PBTech or the likes, ask one of the store salespeople to help you open the box (They get incredibly pissy if you do it yourself) and get them to check for you.

However, if you pickup the slightly more expensive ($10 more?) you get 300mbps N-Wireless with the TP-Link WR1043ND, and it’s a superb all around router!! (With Gargoyle / Tomato of course)

Anyways with this setup, it’s reliable as anything, I’ve had uptimes of a couple of hundred days (With the occasional minor blip from the Exchange which was the fault of Chorus or the ISP, the actual Gargoyle / Tomato device stayed up the whole time though), a host of useful features like per-device bandwidth limits, graphs, logging, and much much more!

It’s the ideal scenario if you know a little bit about networking and are happy to get your hands dirty.


So, I still stand by my prior recommendations of the NB6Plus4Wn.

I’ve also got in touch with PBTech to let them know that it appears to JUST be the NB6Pluw4W that has issues, and that the N-Version is fine.

Specifically, this appears to be because the NB6Plus4W has only 16MB RAM vs the NB6Plus4Wn which has 32MB. That seems to make a massive difference, as well as the overheating seems to add to the fact it’s just not as reliable overall. I’ve also had some firmware issues with DHCP doing some funky things, so just stay away from the G-wireless version altogether.


June 2012 — So it’s become pretty clear to me lately that there’s still a lust for a solid router. If I’m not asked on a daily basis at the moment, it’s a surprise. It’s also a real shame, imagine having a Cellphone and every time you had used more than a few apps, it lost it’s 3G connection? How furious would you be? Yet this seems to be the acceptable standard across DSL routers?

Anyway, it turns out DotA2 can *really* give some routers a beating. Here’s some others that I’ve tried in the last few weeks that haven’t even been able to stand up to a whole game:

Dynalink RTA1320 (Dynalink is now owned by NetComm as of a few years ago, this has become some of the cheaper one-port routers Telstra are giving out)

Dynalink RTA1025W or RTA1025We is basically the same as the previous model, but marginally beefed up, still with the same issues

Netgear DGN1000 I got my hands on briefly. It’s not bad, the WebUI was *OK*, but the reliability still not the greatest. Better than the TG585, but not as good as the next model below:

The Vodafone HG556a also suffers. It’s leagues in front of the Thomson TG585 that Telecom give out, and it’ll even manage to stand up to a bit of a beating from VoIP (A small beating though), but it can’t hold a candle to the NB6Plus4Wn or a good Draytek! Should be fine for most “average” non-gaming households of one or two people who just wanna use Facebook / Email. I’d personally not use it though.

DGN1000, Gargoyle Router, Genius Lite, HG556a, Nb6Plus4W,

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