Large, bright LEDs may need to be covered depending on install location.
Hardware design and setup
The router operates on the 2.4GHz frequency and sends out three spatial streams from each of its three antennas sprouting out of the back of it. That rear panel is shared with four Gigabit Ethernet ports, the WAN connection, a power switch and recessed reset button. The 12V power connection is also back there, as is a toggle to turn off the Wi-Fi capability. This can come in handy if, for some reason, users don't set up the security of their Wi-Fi network or don't want their network broadcasting. It's akin to the old adage: the only foolproof form of birth control is celibacy.
The only control not at the back is the Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS) button, which opens up a time-limited window that lets owners connect compatible devices to the wireless network quickly but also securely and without getting into the browser setup to muck about with the settings. The front of the router gets relatively large, bright status lights that include WPS, WLAN (wireless), LAN1 through LAN4 for the local Ethernet ports, WAN (the Internet link) and power.
Conspicuous by their absence are any USB ports, so printer support or sharing data on external or thumb drives is not possible. This won't end the deal, but when many routers at this price have external expansion, it's a potential liability.
Included in the box with the router itself is a short, 3.3-foot long Ethernet cable, a power adapter, and a CD that contains a PDF version of the also included paper quick-start guide. There is no software to install, making for a fairly straightforward setup, though users need to come prepared with basics like their IP address if it's not obtained automatically. Users simply need to type in the default 192.168.10.1 gateway into a browser and configure settings to their liking.
TrendNET also sent along its $63 TEW-664UB USB Wireless-N adapter, which let us pair it with the TEW-691GR quickly thanks to its support of WPS. It otherwise automatically connects to unsecured 2.4GHz or 5GHz wireless networks. It's only rated to support 300Mbps speeds, which is two thirds of the TEW-691GR's theoretical maximum. Paradoxically, TrendNET doesn't offer a matching adapter; what's the purpose of a speed boosted router if you can't get that added speed?
The customization options are comprehensive. Security options are generous, and include five variations of the WPA2 encryption, along with WPA, and three kinds of WEP standards. There is a plethora of other options as well, including Access Control that lets users restrict some connected computers from certain functions, including receiving e-mails, accessing chat programs, browsing the web and more, though specific sites or ISPs cannot be blocked. A Virtual Server is an option as well, confining connected PCs to FTP or HTTP hosting duty, marking them as dedicated gaming rigs or forwarding ports.
Extras are fairly fine-grained; it's possible to tune the quality of service to prioritize certain app types or content formats (streaming video, for example), and the security can be set to lock down at certain points of the day.
Subjectively, the router was a welcome replacement for the existing 802.11g/2.4GHz router in use, so we were prepared for a speed leap -- though it was a surprise at how even 802.11g was improved. YouTube videos on a nearby iPhone connected via Wi-Fi loaded much more quickly, without the need to pause them while the load bar catches up to progress. Its reach was also usefully enhanced, though the signal was artificially restricted in an older apartment with concrete walls.
Compared back-to-back with an 802.11g router, the TrendNET router streamed HDTV from a tuner at 117Mbps -- much faster than the 90-100Mbps we're used to from 802.11n routers. The slower router managed its peak of 54Mbps but with visible choppiness in the stream. A transfer of an 11GB, 1080p HD video was estimated to take 55 minutes by Windows at about 5MB per second with the TEW-691GR, and 4.5 hours at 734KB per second for the G router. Transfer of a 4.03GB file, estimated to take 13 minutes at 5.3MB per second, in fact took nearly 16 minutes with the TrendNET router.
Using the iPerf bandwidth test, we noticed quicker speeds when connected to the router with the adapter plugged in, even though the notebook has an 802.11n link of its own. Apart from the sheer size of the USB adapter and its more capable internals, the fact it was physically outside of the notebook probably helped its performance.
In its default N only mode, with a notebook's built-in Wi-Fi connection providing the wireless link, the router managed a transfer rate of 34.2MB per second in a short-range test. With the adapter, the quickest transfer speed we saw was 53.8MB per second. Unusually, the fastest performance came with the USB adapter plugged in and the router set to B/G/N mixed mode, which on other routers is usually the cause of a slowdown. Transfer rates peaked at 65.5MB per second. Without the adapter, speeds dropped to a peak of 34.4MB per second.
In the third and last B/G mixed wireless mode, the highest near-field with the dongle was 28.6MB each second. Without the USB adapter, it was only slightly slower, at 26MB per second. For reference, we even plugged a cable into the Gigabit port and ran the test, returning numbers of 399 megabits per second.
At $226, the TEW-691GR is fairly expensive and lacking in the value department, thanks to its lack of features. You don't get dual-band support, networked storage or printer sharing. It's tangibly faster than a number of routers, but is it worth the premium? We're not so sure: without a 450Mbps adapter, you won't see the best the router can manage even if you're just a few feet away. As such, we'd be cautious about jumping on TrendNET's entry unless the practical speed edge trumps everything.