Linksys Wireless-G Game Adapter

Model: WGA54G
Price: $129

Pros: 802.11g compatible, easy to setup for head-to-head play
Cons: No WPA yet

Several months after the finalization of the 802.11g specification, we’re starting to see the first 802.11g-based wireless Ethernet adapters — external units that plug into a product’s integrated Ethernet port to make it wireless (sometimes called an Ethernet-to-wireless bridge). Linksys’s offering is the $129 Wireless-G Game Adapter (model WGA54G). Unlike previous similar products, this one is meant to target the game console market specifically.

This happens to be the first Linksys product to arrive at Wi-Fi Planet conspicuously adorned with the logo of parent company Cisco. The Linksys name is still featured prominently, however.

The physical design of the Intersil Prism GT-based WGA54G is different from earlier Linksys wireless Ethernet adapters. The default orientation of the unit is vertical, with a wide plastic and rubber base to keep it from tipping over. The base can be removed for horizontal placement, which might be necessary in entertainment centers where shelf height is limited, especially since the WGA54G also has a six-inch-long antenna, much longer than is typical.

Fortunately, the antenna can swivel a 360-degrees to optimize signal strength, and you’ll probably want to keep it out in the open, since the rear (or bottom, depending on placement) of the unit gets extremely hot. By the way, don’t confuse this device with the Linksys WGA11b, the company’s new stubby 802.11b-based game adapter that resembles a CB radio or police scanner. The WGA54G lacks both the channel selector button and digital channel display of that product, though Linksys said that future products may incorporate similar features.

Configuring the WGA54G isn’t any easier than previous products, but it’s not any harder either. Initial setup of the WGA54G is performed via a Windows-based application. It had no trouble finding the connected device, and lets you set the most basic parameters–ad-hoc or infrastructure, WEP, IP address–before referring you to the browser configuration for fine tuning. Configuring a dynamic address using DHCP is only permitted in the Web browser, for example, presumably to ensure that the device is easily locatable after its first set up.

Once you’re at the Web-based interface, you put the unit in either mixed or 802.11g-only mode (necessary only for ad-hoc operation) as well as to adjust the wireless transmission rate. At the moment, you can’t configure the unit to use WPA, because it isn’t yet supported. Linksys says it’s coming, though a precise release date isn’t available.

It bears mentioning that the product packaging and documentation claim compatibility with the draft 802.11g standard, but the product firmware is in fact compliant with the final spec, and Wi-Fi certification is pending.

The rear of the WGA54G has a switch to change from infrastructure to ad-hoc mode. This is handy for when you happen to have two game consoles and want to play head-to-head games, which is increasingly common in many households. Flipping the switch saves you from having to reconfigure the device via the Web interface or setup utility. For head-to-head scenarios, the WGA54G also provides a MAC cloning feature, which may be necessary in order to fool consoles into thinking they’re directly connected to each other.

After correctly configuring the WGA54G, it worked without incident while connected to both PlayStation 2 and Xbox consoles. Using it, the consoles communicated properly with a WLAN over a D-Link DWL-614+ 22Mbps 802.11b router.

As it happens, the WGA54G is significantly more expensive (nearly double) than a similar adapter using 802.11b. So then why should you use a 11g-based adapter for your video game given that in most cases playing a console game over the Internet won’t require the added bandwidth of an 802.11g adapter? For the answer, remember that if you’re running your WLAN with 802.11g and using (or planning to use) even just one 802.11b device, then by definition you’re running in mixed mode and limiting your network’s overall performance. That’s likely to be reason enough to make sure your game console is talking “G”.

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