Linksys Wireless LAN Reviews
Linksys Compact Wireless-G Broadband Router WRT54GC
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.
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Linksys Compact Wireless-G Broadband Router WRT54GC
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 126.96.36.199 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.
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Linksys Compact Wireless-G Broadband Router WRT54GC
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.
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.
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.
For what it does this is a good product however more help on solving problems would have been useful.
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Linksys Wireless LAN
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