ZyXEL has traditionally offered one of the largest ranges of wireless broadband routers but its latest P-336M signals a sea change in its product line as out go the dull blue boxes of the Prestige range and in come a raft of sleek silver slabs. Not only that but it also represents ZyXEL’s first MIMO wireless product. So far, ZyXEL has resisted the temptation to join in the draft 802.11n bun fight but we were advised that it expects to deliver compliant product at the end of this year. To that end this currently makes the P-336M the fastest wireless product in ZyXEL’s stable.
The router certainly cuts a more dashing figure than its old Prestige buddies. Gone are the blocky chassis and ribbed cooling vents to be replaced by a smooth curved silver top panel. Interestingly, older ZyXEL routers have always run quite hot but the P-336M kept a much cooler head even after running continuously for a week. It comes with a quad of switched Fast Ethernet ports and the single RJ-45 WAN port indicates that you’ll need to source a suitable ADSL or cable modem. The router brings in a couple of unusual features as it’s the first we’ve seen that has a switch on the rear for enabling and disabling the wireless access point.
The USB port is purely for loading USB flash drives with wireless configuration files created using the Windows Connect Now configuration wizard. It was disappointing that the documentation provides no guidance but Microsoft comes to the rescue as you run the wireless configuration wizard on an XP SP2 system. It asks for an SSID, offers to automatically create a WEP or WPA encryption key and then copies a file to a USB flash drive. Following the wizard’s prompts you stick the flash drive into the router where we watched it automatically search for the file and use it to configure its wireless access point. Keep an eye on the router’s USB status light as it’ll blink three times to let you know the transfer has been successful. Sure enough, when we checked the management interface all our wireless settings had been added.
For testing we used an intelligent ActionTec ADSL modem and had Internet access up and running in less than a minute. If you’re not so lucky the web interface does offer a wizard to help get you going. Not only has ZyXEL redesigned its router chassis but the web management interface gets a make over as well and we found it even easier to use than its predecessor. The SPI firewall is switched on by default and will block all unsolicited inbound traffic but you can customise it with your own rules. A DMZ (demilitarised zone) allows one system to sidestep the firewall for external access. ZyXEL’s StreamEngine feature provides some useful bandwidth controls and allows rules to be created that prioritise specific traffic types based on protocol, port and IP address ranges.