SpeedTouch ST585 v6 router/modem
I’ve been having occasional issues with my broadband connection since switching to an IPMax service (8mb). I thought that I might be experiencing the problem identified by Zen Internet and The Register with the Texas AR7 chipset as I have a Netgear DG834G router/modem. So, I ordered a Speedtouch ST585v6 router/modem as this uses a different chipset and it arrived on Friday morning.
I resisted the temptation to ‘quickly’ configure it on Friday and left it until I had plenty of time on Saturday morning. My requirements are fairly simple:
- Use a private LAN addressing scheme of 192.168.0.0/255.255.255.0
- Assign router (and LAN/internet gateway) to 192.168.0.1
- Use DHCP for the address range 192.168.0.2 – 192.168.0.254
- Set address reservations for about half a dozen devices (servers, NAS boxes, printer servers, net cams) in the 192.168.0.230 – 192.168.0.254 part of the subnet.
- Setup WAN port forwarding for HTTPS to one of my servers at 192.168.0.254.
- Setup WLAN with a specific SSID, channel, and mode, and with WPA-PSK (TKIP) and a 64 bit key.
- Set a password on the router’s admin user.
The Netgear DG834G handles all of this easily and is very straightforward to configure. Out of the box, the ST585 is setup as:
- LAN – 192.168.1.0/255.255.255.0
- Router address: 192.168.1.254
- DHCP pool: 192.168.1.64 – 192.168.1.100
- WLAN – default SSID, no security
- Two admin users defined
By default, when the ST585 is not connected to the internet it automatically intercepts all non-LAN address HTTP requests and directs them to its management UI. This is helpful but soon gets annoying. Fortunately, it can be switched off.
The first problem was logging in – there’s a single A3 sized sheet of paper that’s supposed to explain how to setup the ST585 but most of it is pictures explaining how to plug the power supply in, connect your computer to it, etc. There’s no mention of an admin password anywhere. I guessed a few likely candidates for the password but didn’t manage to get it. So, I went on the internet using the DG834G and googled the answer – the password is blank. Doh!
I checked the firmware version installed on the ST585 and confirmed that it was the latest version. This was released about six months ago.
Next problem – you can reconfigure the LAN addressing but the gateway address remains unchanged. So, I had this configuration:
- Router address: 192.168.0.1
- DHCP pool: 192.168.0.2 – 192.168.0.254
- Gateway: 192.168.1.254 <— Remains unchanged and cannot be explicitly set!
Using the command line interface (CLI) via Telnet, I could see that the web UI had correctly configured the router address but left the gateway address as it was previously. The CLI allows you to change these settings manually but seemed to get very upset about the current configuration (i.e. invalid gateway address because it wasn’t in the same subnet as the DHCP pool address range) and wouldn’t let me correct it. After a lot of playing around I eventually gave up and deleted the DHCP pool configuration (which also required flushing all current DHCP leases) and recreated it with the correct settings. Everything now seemed to be correct – I just needed to setup the DHCP reservations and WLAN. I did the WLAN configuration first – easy, and no problems.
The DHCP reservations was another matter altogether. I could explain in detail the pain I went through but it’d take way too long. The bottom line is that despite being extremely sophisticated and flexible, the ST585 doesn’t do DHCP address reservations very well or easily. The web UI allows you to reserve an address once it’s been acquired but doesn’t allow you to reserve a specific address. The result is that my first server got a lease of 192.168.0.2 and although I could reserve that address for it, it wouldn’t let me reserve the address that I actually wanted. Basically, the web UI allows you to convert a lease into a reservation but not to define a reservation.
The CLI is more flexible and allows you to preconfigure a lease with an IP address and a MAC address. The only problem is that it doesn’t seem to work that well. Some devices were correctly identified by their MAC address and were assigned the address reservation but others weren’t. Bizarrely, the web UI showed the reservations but with randomly assigned device names rather than the ones I used when creating the reservations. At this point, I was nearly finished and was both unimpressed by the web UI and very impressed with the CLI. There were still some lingering doubts – for example the ST585 has its own syslog but no way to broadcast messages or to send messages to a syslog server. There is a command to send all the messages in its buffer to a syslog server but no way to make it do this as messages are issued.
My doubts about the router were quickly resolved by what happened next… As I was adding the last of the DHCP reservations, the CLI locked up. At first I assumed it was a telnet or a network issue and just waited for the connection to timeout so that I could log back in. After 20 minutes I realised that wasn’t going to happen. I tried to kill the telnet session using CTRL-C, etc, but nothing would kill it. I opened a second telnet session and got a login prompt but, after entering a username and password and getting the welcome screen, this prompt died too. I killed the first session and tried the second one again. No luck. I went back to web UI and found that it was still responding. I viewed some of the configuration settings and then made the mistake of trying to change a value – the web UI locked up as well. After I’d tried everything I could think of I powered off the ST585, left it for a few minutes, and powered it up again. I couldn’t connect to it and it took me about 10 minutes to realise that it’d lost all the configuration settings that I’d spent the past two hours setting up – it was right back to how it was when it came out of the box!
I went through the entire process again and this time frequently saved the configuration to a backup file saved on my PC. The documentation isn’t very clear about this but after a lot of reading and poking around I realised that the ST585 uses a fairly crude mechanism to save its configuration. By default, it doesn’t save anything that you’ve configured – as soon as you power off, it’s gone! There is a CLI command to save the current configuration to a file in a user area of its file system. If you save it as ‘user.ini’ in the ‘/dl’ (download) folder then it will use this as its default settings when it’s powered on. The web UI does this for you when you use the ‘Backup configuration’ function but doesn’t actually tell you that this is what it’s doing. There is nothing in the UI that indicates that you need to save the configuration or it will be lost when the power is cycled, and there is nothing that tells you that using the ‘Backup configuration’ function (which is to save a backup copy of the current config on your PC, not to save the current config so that it’s not lost on a power cycle) will, as a side effect, do this.
Over the course of the next few hours, the CLI locked up on me about 4 or 5 times. There was no pattern to it – sometimes I was in the middle of a entering a command, sometimes I was just navigating its menu system, other times it was idle and then then simply stopped responding. Each time I cycled the power, all the configuration data was lost and I had to restore it by uploading the last saved configuration from my PC. As this indicated that the ‘/dl/user.ini’ file wasn’t being loaded, I cycled the power while the ST585 was functioning OK and found that the configuration was correctly loaded on power up. So, the lockup problem also seemed to be causing a corruption of the ST585’s file system as weel as it was failing to load the configuration after a lockup.
By midnight (having started at just after 9am) I was nearly there… There was another issue however. The ST585 was supposed to provide a more stable connection and probably a faster one too. Connection stability was hard to judge because it had locked up so many times during the day. The connection speed was easier to check on and, worryingly, the speed had been dropping all day. The IPMAX service is adaptive and changes the line speed according to its assessment of the line quality. With the Netgear DG834G, I get a speed of between 2.5 and 3 mbps. The Speedtouch ST585 had started off at 2.5mbps but by midday it was connecting at 2mbps and by early evening this had dropped to 1860 kbps. By now, midnight, the speed was down to 1640kbps. I know that a reliable 1640kbps connection is a better proposition that an unreliable 3mbps connection but I wasn’t yet convinced of the ST585’s stability.
Just after midnight I decided that I’d done as much as I could. I still had some problems with DHCP reservations but they could wait until the next day. Time to backup the configuration and go to bed. You know what’s coming next don’t you ? I tried using the web UI to save the config and it locked up. So, I cycled the power and found that it had gone back to its factory defaults. At least I had a config backup from about an hour earlier that I could load but at this point I lost my patience and simply unplugged it and plugged my Netgear DG834G back in. Without any intervention, the DG834G powered up with the correct configuration and connected to the internet at 3mbps. I put the ST585 is back in its box and went online at 00:40 to order a DG834G v4 (the new one that doesn’t use the AR7 chipset). £35 ex VAT.
I didn’t seriously try to use the ST585 again but I did continue to play with it to see if it was as bad as my experience on Saturday indicated. I realised that the issue with the incorrectly set gateway address doesn’t arise if you use the Web UI’s initial configuration wizard to define the network setup that you want. Other than this small discovery, the ST585 continued to behave as described above.
The SpeedTouch ST585 is a very powerful and flexible device. It can be used in routing and bridging configurations that most of its competition couldn’t begin to handle. The CLI manual runs to over 700 pages. It’s been designed by geniuses. And then they let a bunch of… well, let’s just say people of lesser calibre, maintain the firmware and write the installation instructions. It doesn’t matter how good it is if it regularly locks up when you try to use it and resets itself back to its factory settings.