Linksys Wireless-G Broadband Router
March 26, 2003
One of the cheapest 802.11g routers out now, it also happens to be the fastest we've seen. Sadly, it's lacking in enough areas to be far from perfect.
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.