Linksys Wireless-G Broadband Router

Model: WRT54G
Price: $149 MSRP
Rating:
3 out of 5
Features
Performance

At $149, the Linksys Wireless-G Broadband
Router WRT54G
is probably one of the least expensive 802.11g-based routers
around. Indeed, the router sells for the same price as the related WAP54G Wireless-G
Access Point.

The WRT54G can function as a DHCP server– no news there. However, one interesting
thing that I’ve not seen before in comparable products is the opportunity to
specify a WINS server. This feature is likely to be of little interest in a
home or home office environment, but it could be useful in larger networks where
NetBIOS name recognition is needed, making the use of the DHCP function of the
WRT54G a credible alternative to using Windows NT or 2000’s DHCP server.

From a security perspective, the WRT54G is more concerned with monitoring and
controlling outgoing traffic than incoming. The unit is of course a NAT device,
but it lacks a user-configurable firewall or any kind of e-mail alert or notification
in the event of questionable goings-on from the WAN. The documentation refers
to the ability to block ActiveX, Java, and browser cookies at the WAN port,
but the unit itself lacked this capability. Linksys says it’s coming in a future
firmware update.

To its credit, the WRT54G remains one of the relatively few products that offer
time-based filtering, so you can limit the Internet access of your internal
clients to specific days and times. Unfortunately, there’s no content filtering
to prevent access to certain sites.

You can, on the other hand, block traffic on particular ports from reaching
the LAN clients (say, to prevent them from accessing Usenet newsgroups) but
you can’t apply a time schedule to this, nor can you apply this to specific
clients–either everyone gets access, or no one does.

The WRT54G has logging capability with separate logs for incoming and outgoing
traffic. Lamentably, you can’t view the logs outside of the router interface,
and you can’t even manually download them to a file to read offline. This limitation
is unexpected, given that the WAP54G access point has the ability to push the
log files to a specified IP address (albeit in a proprietary format).

Perhaps to compensate for the absence of inherent firewall capabilities, the
WRT54G includes a bundled version of Norton Internet Security 2003, which in
addition to anti-virus protection, provides a configurable personal firewall
along with other features missing from the hardware, like the aforementioned
content controls and even banner ad and pop-up suppression.

Of course, this approach isn’t really a panacea — the software is a trial
version for one machine, not the entire network, and although the application
itself does not time out, if you want to get anti-virus and firewall updates
beyond 60 days, you’ll need to pony up for the upgrade.

The WRT54G supports remote administration and lets you specify the port number
for a modicum of security. On the wireless side, you can activate wireless MAC
filtering to specify authorized clients (up to 40) that can associate with the
access point.

Strangely, you can’t dial back the WRT54G’s transmitting power, but you can
choose to shut it off completely–a less useful feature, but welcome nevertheless.
Most surprisingly though, the WRT54G lacks the ability to back up its configuration
to a file.

When it comes to performance, I expected the WRT54G’s results to be more or
less commensurate with those of the WAP54G access
point
, which of course shares many of the same internals, and the results
were generally comparable. Throughput exceeded 20 Mbps at 10 feet, and tracked
the WAP54Gs until 75 feet where it fell slightly behind. At 125 feet, however,
the WRT54 was unable to consistently communicate with the client running the
Linksys WPC54G card.

More noteworthy than the WRT54G’s throughput, however, was the fact that it
exhibited often erratic behavior and signal strength fluctuated a great deal.
The unit would alternate between strong, weak, and no signal, causing performance
to vary quite a bit.

It’s difficult to say definitively whether this was the result of a substandard
example of the product, or if the unit was particularly susceptible to interference.
Since the access point didn’t suffer from this malady, the former seems more
likely.

The Linksys WRT54G is a good product, but it suffers from several underdeveloped
and missing features, and it would be a lot easier to like if its firewall didn’t
ship on a CD. If things like a configurable firewall and robust logging and
alerting are priorities, then the WRT54G isn’t the product for you.

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