* Prices may differ from that shown
A recent problem with my WiFi router caused me to have to seek a replacement. With so many different models on the market each with supposedly superior claims to the previous it seemed like it was going to be a long and arduous search. To a point it did prove a bit off-putting so I decided that I would set criteria and reduce my choices that way.
The first criteria I set was a price limit of £50 since the only thing really wireless is my son's Xbox, and although he does use it frequently for online gaming I felt that any greater outlay should be covered by a token gesture from him, this gesture was needless to say not forthcoming................so £50 it was. After making this small decision the rest seem to fall into place pretty quickly, and very soon I had ordered my Linksys WRT54GC from those very nice people at Amazon.
2 days later it arrived, and unaccustomed as I am to reading instructions I thought just this once I might just have a bit of a browse. This was mainly because I figured that the last router packed up prematurely because of something I did, which of course it didn't since being a man I'm flawless.
I had previously as part of my research checked out some reviews on various sites and they had greatly influenced my decision, being with Virgin Media can cause certain irritating side affects and things don't always work as sweetly as they should.
I unplugged the old faulty router after first switching of my PC. I then proceeded to fit up the new router. I them did the obvious and switched on the PC, it took considerably longer to boot up than normal and my first instinct was **** I've done it again and then I remembered............I'm flawless be patient. True enough the PC booted up and too my amazement, absolutely everything was fine including the router connection to my son's Xbox. I hadn't done anything, I hadn't followed any instructions, used any supplied CD,s, or changed any settings, it simply worked straight out of the box.
The router transmits and receives at 54mbs and has 3 levels of security, which can be set to one's preferences by changing the settings on the routers home page. The address for this is on the supplied information and set up CD. All the router settings are set from this page where a password can be set-up to avoid unwanted hands changing things. It is a very robust feeling unit by that I mean it's really quite heavy compared to other router I've tried which gives it a feeling of being solid and reliable. The router has a built in firewall which can also be setup using the home page.
The home page is nothing spectacular but then there is no need for it to since it is probably only going to be accessed a few times to get the settings they way the user prefers. There are options to change:-
General Security ( i.e access to homepage )
Applications and Gaming
Each of these sections has a sub menu section underneath whereby you can finely tune your router, although apart from the Wireless Security part there really isn't much need o change anything in normal circumstances. There are to many options of which I haven't a clue and just leave well alone.
Once you have changed your settings and passworded the homepage you can save them into the router memory and that's it all done. Just sit back and enjoy effortless wireless connection which is fast and secure. I have had absolutely NO problems with this unit, which does have a reset feature which will reset to factory status should any problem prove unsolvable. This probably is mainly a handy thing for those who might forget their password and find themselves unable to change a setting.
All in all a superb piece of equipment which works and looks really well, I eventually decided to give my son it a part of his Christmas, since in normal circumstances he would have had to cough up the £39.99. I'm well pleased with this unit and I believe more to the point that my son's Xbox gaming has never had a single disconnect and he therefore is rising in the ranks of Pro Evo Online. Good for him and even better from Linksys.
As of yet I have had no need to use the customer support and can only report second hand that when required they provide the same excellent service as their very excellent product.
I purchased this router a couple of years ago now when we first got broadband in our home. As our ISP provided us with an ethernet capable modem already, we needed this router mainly for all the computers in the house to be able to access the internet without depending on one computer being switched on all the time. Now, I don't know an amazing lot about computers and all this techie stuff, so i'm going to try and keep this review as simple as possible.
In the box came the router itself, a power adaptor, CD for drivers and a cat5e ethernet cable. It was simply a case of connecting the ethernet cable which came with the modem to the router, connecting the other ethernet cable to a computer and switching it on! After this setup was relatively easy, just a case of following some simple instructions.
To set it up, you need to type in an i.p. address into your web browser, and a box will appear. Then the username and password must be entered. Once this is done you can change all sorts of settings, a lot more settings than I can understand! I did however setup a password and security on the wireless network using WPA as I heard that this has stronger encryption than the WEP standard. To be honest, I don't really know what all this means, but it sure was very easy to understand and follow. Once this is done, all sorts of things can also b changed, such as the built in firewall, the wireless network's name, access restrcitions etc.
Once all setup with the desktop connected by ethernet, it was time to try the woreless connection. My laptop already had a built in wireless networking card, so didn't need and extra hardware. I clicked on the Windows XP network connections, and searched for wireless networks. The network that I had just setup appeared. I then clicked on connect, and was prompted for the password. After a few seconds, I was connected, and was able to use the web on both my laptop and desktop!
Other things can also be done with this router, sharing of an internet connection is just one of them. Others such as networking and sharing files and printers can also be done, but somehow I can't seem to configure my firewall to allow me to do this! iTunes music sharing seems to work fine though!
I have not really had problems as such, but on a few occasions i've had to reset the router or turn it off and on again. For some reason it does seem to hang sometimes and this must be done or there seems to be no internet connection. The speed is quite good however - the wireless networking on this router runs at 11 mbps if on the b standard or 54 mbps on the g standard. It does however seem much slower than this when exchanging files etc with my desktop computer on my laptop, but I suppose there must be some speed decrease in a wireless standard.
Overall, an excellent router which was relatively cheap and gets the job done. I'm sure there is so much more you can do with it, but I just don't know! But very easy to setup and easy to use. Highly recommended.
WHAT DO YOU GET?
You'll get 200Mhz processing power (integrated broadcom solution) which should be of a great use since this box can be programmed to do almost anything if you are familiar with linux and crosstool compiler. 4MB Flash memory can be used for a new upgrades/option since this box gets upgraded almost all the time with new security and functionality.
This device is actually a small linux box. You can telnet to it and process linux commands. Since it's GPL'ed you can also download a full source and compile it for yourself. You wil need a mips cross-compiler for linux.
WHAT ABOUT VERSIONS?
As far as i know there's 1.0, 1.1 and 2.0 versions. There's also "Afterburner" version (it should have GS in the name) that can allow 108Mbps. This Version have 54Mbps (theoretically), but you will get about 25Mbits in best case. You will want 2.0 version since it's having faster processor (200Mhz).
YOU CAN USE IT AS A CLIENT
Yes, you can, altrough this box is not meant to be the client (it's the router). You can, hovewer, use it as a client with 3rd part firmware like alchemy (http://www.sveasoft.com/).
WHY YOU SHOULD USE A ROUTER?
This router uses wired connection (WAN) to the network, so you can attach your Cable modem, for example, to the WAN port and other (63) wireless clients can use this for internet connection. If you have some wired clients you can connect up to 4 wired clients from this box directly. Other non-official firmwares allows packet routing between wired and wireless clients so you'll get wired switch, wireless access point and router in the same box.
WHAT ABOUT SIMPLE ROUTER?
This device is so cheap that you can use it as a wired router instead of buying (unnecessary) complicated wired router and have to buy different device once you decided to use wireless connections. You don't have much of a configuration for the security (like you have in MikroTik or Cisco's) but you will certanly get enough for the average user.
You should keep it cool. In my case i used a big heatsink on the top of the box. This should prevent heat problems which manifest in a slow bandwidth or box lockups. In the case of lockups you need to restart the box by unplug the power. This happens from time to time.
If you "kill" the box by using different (non-working firmware) you should use TFTP (Trivial FTP client) to restore original firmware or (if you didn't set BOOT_WAIT) to use internal com ports (they are on the board but you'll need to provide connector) to access it.
I upgraded the existing Linksys BEF-SR41 wired router to a Linksys WRT-54G to provide a "one-box" solution for a wireless Internet access for a laptop. I was after a highly capable router that can be a broadband login agent for most service login types, as well as providing wireless networking to current standards.
This unit supported both goals and worked to expected standards for wireless routers. As well, I noticed that there was an interest by Linksys and others to keep the device to current expectations. This meant that the router hand newer firmware with newer functionality like quality-of-service setup, which I then upgraded it. It still works better under the new firmware.
Also, as far as the radio aspect goes, it can work with aftermarket aerials and works on an aerial diversity mode with its twi aerials similar to what happens with car radios installed in luxury cars. This certainly works as a way to improve network performance for hte wireless segment.
For the tweakers out there, the firmware source is dounloadable from the Linksys website and there are sites out there with aftermarket firmware for this unit.
I would certainly recommend this unit to anyone who uses any broadband service, whether they are a beginner or a "Demon Tweeker". I often regard this router as the network "edge' equivalent of a Volkswagen Golf.
It's quite difficult to write an opinion on something as technical as a PC network router, as on one hand, you'll have some readers who don't yet know what a router is (stick around) and on the other hand, there'll be the reader who just wants to know what I think of this bit of kit before buying one themselves. So here is a quick and dirty description of what a router can do for you. Those in the know might like to skip about three paragraphs.
WHAT USE IS A ROUTER AND TO WHOM?
Like most things relating to computing, a router is just a box full of electronics, and if you're lucky, some pretty flashing lights to show it's working. As with modems, 'the more lights the merrier' seems to be the maxim to go by if all else fails. The most common use for a router is to enable more than one PC to share a broadband Internet connection. It also allows for those PCs to be networked amongst themselves, sharing files and peripherals like printers.
A WIRELESS (wi-fi) Router enables some or all of those PCs to be linked without the use of wires, and all that that implies for your designer décor.
Therefore, if you've got broadband and more than one PC, a router could be useful to you. If you don't want to drill through walls and ruin your wallpaper, a wireless router could be VERY useful to you!
MY OWN WORKING EXAMPLE
Unlike 'Two Sheds Jackson', who was only thinking of getting two sheds, I've actually got four PCs, all of which are networked, two by being hard-wired to a broadband router and the others including one laptop on the far end of a 'wi-fi' link down in the stygian depths of my house, or the dining room as it's sometimes known.
My previous networking kit, also supplied by Linksys took care of all the shared access to the Telewest broadband internet service and any file and printer sharing that I may have set up between my PC.
WHY I UPGRADED - AS IF I NEEDED A REASON!
The only reason that I'm writing about a new one, is, not because the old system broke, but because the latest versions of this wi-fi equipment not only work faster (up to 54mbits/sec compared to 11) but offer far greater security for your wireless link, which is particularly important if you want to use it for on-line banking and/or stop some other freeloading cheeky bast.....illegitimate person from using your broadband for nothing.
The old Linksys kit only provided for the earlier wi-fi encryption standard called WEP (Wired-Equivalent Privacy), which it now seems can be hacked if you give the hacker long enough before switching your PC off. Quite apart from that, the old kit cost around £120 including provision for the 'distant' PC, whereas this lot cost around £80, and my brother has 'offered' to take the old kit off my hands for 30 quid, so at £50 it's a cheap upgrade.
LINKSYS WIRELESS-G BROADBAND ROUTER (WRT54G)
Thank goodness they don't call these DSL Router/Switch/Wireless Access Points any more! This is a typical Linksys job to look at, being of a common corporate stackable design in black with a lurid blue facia, about the size that modems used to be, with what look like a couple of 1st generation rubber cell-phone antennae sticking out of the back. This one doesn't quite have the full array of convincing pretty lights that its predecessor had, but this has enabled then to make it a lower profile than my old one.
Its power comes from the usual outboard mains adapter, enabling Cisco, the parent company to supply more or less the same equipment worldwide. The only other accessory supplied, apart from the installation disk is the extra bit of networking cable you'lll need - I'll explain.
A single PC using broadband (ADSL or cable TV) will have a modem connected to the PC. Once you start wanting to add more PC s to your network, the best way is to insert a router like this one midway into the sequence, hence the extra length of cable. The principle is rather like that of adding a VCR into your TV aerial cable
In some cases*,(particularly when cable TV is the ISP) this cable is the only hardware youll need to install and even then the quick-start broadsheet of instructions covers this. You simply unplug your PC from the modem, and reconnect it to one of the 4 PC connectors on the back of the router - you can add another three if you fancy yourself as a home version of a school's IT suite. You then use the new cable to plug the router into the modem.
*(These days, ADSL ISPs tend to send out DIY kits including a USB modem. In these cases, you either have to change the modem to one which interfaces with a normal network card in the PC, or buy an alternative router which contains a replacement modem.)
Software and driver installation is a walkover (provided all goes well, that is!). You merely follow the prompts from the Install CD answering the odd question or two, like 'is this connection ADSL or cable?', and before you know it, your PC can go back to surfing as if the router isn't there.
Adding extra hard-wired PCs is similarly easy, and in my experience only requires them to be plugged in - a clever automated system of allocating them their own IP address within your infant network takes care of the rest. As well as the 3 more hard-wired PCs, you can add literally dozens of wif-fi ones, although if they all decided to surf at the same time, your broadband speed would take a noticeable hit. You could probably set up your own wi-fi 'hotspot' if you'd a mind to, although there's the added expense of an expresso machine to think about!
SOME NOTES ON WI-FI IN GENERAL
Having got the router working, it's when you come to the wi-fi links that the fun starts, although as long as you don't rush at it like a bull in a china-shop (my normal modus operandi) it's no big deal either.
I won't go into too much detail, as this involves the installation of another piece of kit at the far end, and since this can be either a desktop PC expansion card, a PCMCIA card for a laptop or a USB adapter (useful for either, and my own favourite), it's difficult to be specific, but it will need installing before you go any further. It doesn't have to be supplied by Linksys either.
However, there are several aspects to getting a wi-fi link up and running, and it's best to take them one at a time to avoid getting hopelessly lost, and not knowing what you've done wrong.
Firstly, I'd configure the router itself, choosing its radio channel and its SSID (that's like its radio station ID, which you type in) - don't make it anything obvious, like 25acaciadrive, since these signals carry up to 1500 feet advertising to all, that here lies a house with lots of gadgets (probably).
At this stage your network traffic is open to eavesdropping so the quicker you get to the next step the better, especially if you live in a built-up area.
At the far end, follow whatever installation wizard you have to trace the SSID and confirm that this is your network. In my own case, Windows XP only needed the drivers supplied by the install disk, and it's own Configuration Wizard took over, finding available networks and so on. Your distant PC should now confirm that it can see the link, and you can always test it quickly by trying a bit of surfing. At this stage, you can't share printers and files between PCs.
ENHANCED SECURITY IN THE NEW LINKSYS KIT
A lot of what I'm going to write about is probably true of the latest routers from other makers, but the newer Linksys does indeed represent a huge uplift in security compared to the old one, not only for the wi-fi link, but also for the whole network now cowering behind the router.
In the old router, you got one kind of fire-walling (NAT, for the technical) and one kind of wi-fi encryption, WEP as I mentioned before.
The newer SPI hardware firewall provided by the new router is probably worth the £43 I paid for it, in peace of mind alone. The more stringent settings make my whole system 'stealthed' to the outside world without any of the PCs getting bogged down with Zone Alarm or the Windows XP firewall - if you want to check if you are 'stealthed' (is that a verb? ? it is now!), go to www.grc.com and run their free ShieldsUp! utility.
The biggest uplift in security comes from the fact that this router's wi-fi link is WPA (Wi-Fi Protected Access) compatible. This is a newer encryption standard than WEP and considerably harder to crack as it alters the password key at regular intervals anywhere between 10 minutes and two hours - you chose, thereby not leaving eavesdroppers time to crack it. You may need to make sure that your Windows version is bang up to date so it knows what WPA is.
It is actually quite easy to set up the encryption from the router end first.
In my case, I used the Linksys Configuration Utility, which is a kind of web-site within the router accessed by typing 188.8.131.52 into the URL address box of your Internet browser. The Linksys machine is then password protected by the default 'admin' which you can change if you wish.
From here, you can choose the precise sort of encryption required, in my case 'WPA- Pre-Selected Key', and type a new password, the longer the better and preferably not a discernible word. After all there's no point in going to the trouble of a long password if it starts with 'supercalifragi'..
This detail then merely has to be transferred to the distant PC, using its wireless networking dialog box, making sure that you've got the password word- and case-perfect. If in doubt, why not transfer the original as text using Notepad, save to a floppy* (or a pen-drive) and then you can take it to the other PC where copying and pasting will ensure that you get the password correct.
*See, I knew they'd come in handy one day.
There are one or two other handy features with the WRT54G that its predecessor didn't have. One is the ability to hide the SSID, the 'station name' of your wireless link. You can only do this after you've got your own connections made, otherwise you won?t be able to find it from the distant end either! This is quite an effective way for stopping freeloaders stealing your Internet time since they can?t log onto something they can?t see the name of very easily.
Another valuable security issue concerns what is known as the MAC number, which is effectively the unique hardware serial number of your networking equipment. The Linksys box has a facility for limiting wi-fi access to only the PC s with registered MAC numbers, i.e. your own.
This is another effective way of making sure that access is kept in- house. You can also make sure that wi-fi-linked PCs can ONLY access the Internet, which is useful if you do actually run some kind of 'hotspot' or just want to let your neighbour use your broadband too (for a fee, if it was me!). This prevents them from taking part in any file or printer sharing that you may have set up for your own machines.
Not happy to let it stand there, I did some digging around on the web and found that there is a whole sub-culture of people writing unofficial firmware enhancements for the WRT54G, the latest of which I downloaded and thence uploaded to the Linksys router. (Don't try this at home without a nerd handy!)
One of the many additional features is the ability to alter the strength of the radio transmitter built in, intended primarily to improve transmission and therefore speed in cases where the signal is weak.
However, you could also use it to reduce the signal strength until it's only just enough for acceptable wi-fi transmission speeds, thereby reducing the radius over which you transmit; after all, any encryption is crack-able eventually (look at Enigma machines for example), and the less you reveal yourself to people, the better.
Like all good bits of networking equipment, you are not aware of it, apart from the occasional twinkle of an LED and this is the same for all the hardwired PCs. The distant wi-fi PC is slightly different as you get an indicator tracking signal strength and a warning when it gets low, as this slows down the data rate. I live in a brick-built shi....err..... semi and this has a dire effect on radio links. I will never achieve the full 54 mbps that wireless-g is capable of, although it is markedly faster than its 11 mbps predecessor, frequently peaking at around 48 mbps.
I haven't described the process for printer and file sharing, as this is a feature of Windows, not this hardware.
If you've got more than one PC and broadband, it makes sense to capitalise and let the whole household use it - after all, the likelihood of two people hitting the 'download button' at precisely the same time is very small, so you're not likely to see too much speed degradation.
Routers like the Linksys have the added benefit of being hardware firewalls, protecting everything downstream of them, and given all the extra precautions built into the wi-fi link, now is a good time for the nervous to take the plunge.
This kit's never been cheaper, and in fact, a wi-fi installation can claw back its initial expense in lack of damage to the house'?s décor compared to a wired LAN.
My previous experience with Linksys kit leads me to believe that this one is equally well-made and reliable. Their web-site is a good source of firmware upgrades to keep your kit as compliant as possible.
I bought the WRT54G for £43 from www.dabs.com - this is a slight reduction allowing for the fact that it was 'opened returned stock', but it still enjoys Dabs' usual warranty and a 3-year one from Cisco.
Don't buy one of these if:-
a) Your Windows version is older than Windows 98 Second Edition
b) Your PC does not have a normal Network Interface or LAN card - it is quite common these days for ISPs to take the cheapskate approach, especially with DIY ADSL kits, and supply modems with only USB connections, which rules their use out with the router, although you can buy a combined router and modem, and just throw the old modem away or keep it for a rainy day. Alternatively, Linksys do actually make a USB/LAN converter, but by the time you?ve gone to this expense, a combined modem/router starts to look good.
c) Your PC has less than a 200mhz CPU and 64 meg of RAM
d) Your ISP uses a log-on protocol called PPPoA. You need to check with them, as this router (and many others) does not support it, although, confusingly, a protocol called PPPoE is supported.
e) You don't like 'IBM' blue. This kit is seriously blue at the front.
I have a cable modem and my eldest has been nagging me to setup a networked connection in their bedroom so they could surf & study, surf and play music more like but I can't resist a new gadget. I could have used the "Internet Connection Sharing" feature in Windows but this would have meant getting a second ethernet adapter on my main machine in the study and leaving it switched on all the time. Instead I decided to get a dedicated Wireless gateway router. These boxes attach to a cable or DSL modem and the rest of the house network sits behind it, connected directly to the small internal hub (usually 4 ports) and via Wireless LAN. The gateway typically supports NAT (Network Address Translation) which makes the network think there is only one device, a Firewall to prevent unwanted intrusion from hackers etc and a DHCP (Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol) which assigns IP addresses to PC's dynamically so you don't have to configure each PC for host, proxy and DNS addresses. Looking at the main manufacturers (Netgear, D-Link, Linksys and Belkin) there is not much to choose on features, it comes down to price and quality. I decided to get a 54G gateway as these can handle both 802.11G and 802.11B devices, the difference is that G operates at 54Mbps while B operates at 11Mbps. This does not mean your internet downloads will go at 54Mbps since most DSL/cable connections only support 10Mbps, however since WLAN throughput decreases with distance a G connection will have a higher speed (eg 3Mbps vs 1Mbps) a couple of rooms from the gateway. On the basis of price I got the Linksys WRT54G unit from Dabs, it looks better to me than the others as well. Installation With this sort of unit you plug in the mains and the cable/DSL modem then switch on and that's it - well no it isn't, you still have to configure it and the client devices but you use your web browser instead of installing specific software on the PC. This
is a good thing as there is less to go wrong. The first thing I did was to connect a PC which had an active firewall (I use ZoneAlarm) using one of the wired ports so I could adjust the configuration until the wireless device worked properly. You configure the WRT54G via a browser specifying the gateway's address, eg http://192.168.1.1 and enter the default password. You are then presented with a wide array of admin options via a tabbed view. The key thing to do were; 1. change the admin user and password 2. Specify the SSID (the gateway's name) 3. Set the gateway up as an access point (infrasturcture network) on one of the channels (1-13) 4. Specify DHCP both for ISP connection and internal PCs, limiting the number (eg to 3) to limit unwelcome visitors 5. Enable the firewall I checked I could access the internet via the gateway then tried out a PC with a WLAN adapter. Basically this meant installing the adapter and software on trhe other then scanning for the gateway. Once this connection worked I then secured the network as follows; 6. Disabled the SSID broadcast (this prevents other people seeing that you have an active WLAN) 7. Enabled encryption to prevent others "tapping" my network. Since I had a Windows 95 PC I was limited to WEP which I set to use a 128 bit key. You enter a word and the gateway generates a keycode which you then enter on the client PC's so they all use the same key. 8. The gateway enables you to specify the MAC addresses of wireless connected PC's permitted to use the gateway. The MAC address is the unique hardware address of the PC's adaptor and is usually printed on the adapter itself, although there are other ways to find it out (see the manufacturer's documentation). This is a belt & braces measure and makes sure only the listed devices can access the network. Usage Generally, the gateway works OK and the admin interface
is good. It took a lot of time trying out various settings though before wireless PC and gateway would talk (hard to know where the problem was), but once they did the connection speed was very good considering the signal had to go through an outside wall and a floor. I had no utilities to hand to check what speed the PC was getting but subjectively it ws much faster than a dial up connection. Sometimes the PC and gateway take some time to sync or not sync at all, sometime this is resolved by switching the gateway off then on again but not always. One thing I have found which increases the chance of things working is to switch the gateway on only after the cable/DL modem has finihed initialising. It would have helped if a troubleshooting guide was included as although the Linksys web-site (www.linksys.com/international) has some info there is no step by step guide to problem solving. Summary For what it does this is a good product however more help on solving problems would have been useful.