Wistron NeWeb AirWolf

By Joseph Moran

August 19, 2003

Great performance and a bargain-basement price make this 802.11g wireless router look attractive, but it's not a product for those looking to upgrade later and performance of the router was iffy, at best.

Model: AP-300G
Price: $80

Pros: Good WLAN range and performance, low price
Cons: Inconsistent operation on router, no WPA upgrade planned

My first impressions of the $80, Intersil Prism GT-based AirWolf AP-300G from Wistron NeWeb (a division of Acer headquartered in Taiwan) were decidedly positive. It displayed an excellent mix of capability, performance, and price, particularly for a product from a vendor that is virtually unknown (at least in the United States).

However, working more closely with the AP-300G exposed a number of troubling issues which prevent me from recommending the product.

The low-profile chassis can be operated in either a horizontal or vertical (with an included stand) orientation. The unit has a single dipole external antenna, along with an embedded internal antenna to provide diversity. The AP-300G can function in two distinct modes; as a gateway router, or solely as an access point. Unfortunately, there is no repeater or bridging capability available.

The configuration interface was excellent; usually with lesser known products at lower price points UI design and ease of use tend to go out the window. The interface was simple and intuitive and configuration settings are easy to find. A status page clearly displays DHCP, association, and bridge tables. Even the online documentation was for the most part thorough.

The AP-300G gives you a great deal of control over the routing characteristics of the unit. Both dynamic and static routing is supported, and the IP filtering was excellent as well giving you the option to grant or deny access to specific addresses or entire subnets both in and outbound.

One truly interesting feature is the AP-300G ability to support multiple DMZs, assuming you have a unique global IP address to accommodate each desired DMZ system. The Wistron is the first product I've seen to provide this capability. It's hard for me to envision too many office environments where multiple DMZs would be useful, but it could come in handy in a residential environment where multiple Internet gamers wanted to share the same broadband connection. The AP-300G also has a dedicated DMZ switch port on the back of the router, so you could optionally connect one or more DMZ systems directly without any configuration necessary.

The remote administration features are strong. You can do so via HTTP or Telnet (if you like that sort of thing), and the AP-300G lets you specify two individual IP addresses with permission to do so, which is a nice convenience feature. Logging is also present, and while the log displayed a setting of Level 3 (or log errors only), you can't change that level to control which events are logged. You also can't save the log to a file, but thankfully output to Syslog is supported.

One issue that somewhat marred the innovation of the AP-300G was the inconsistent behavior of the router. For example, I found myself able to ping the WAN addresses from the Ethernet, even though Internet Control Message Protocol, (ICMP) response had been disabled on the router. The fact that ICMP response wasn't working correctly obviously leads one to wonder whether some of the other features might exhibit similar behavior over time.

Moreover, not long after my testing was completed, the router lost its ability to communicate with my cable modem gateway. Despite numerous restarts of both the router and the gateway, returning of the gateway to factory default settings, and verification by my ISP that the gateway was in fact working properly and aware of the router (as evidenced by the continued presence of the router's in the gateway's ARP table after the restarts), the router remained unable to ping the cable modem or anything beyond it.

Although the unit still functioned correctly as an access point, these issues do sow some doubts as to the ongoing reliability of the unit.

Speaking of the wireless side, you can choose between 802.11g-only and mixed modes, as well as select one of five regional domains. Unfortunately, there is no provision to adjust the transmitter power for optimal coverage.

The AP-300G has support for 802.1X and RADIUS (and permits primary and backup servers, in fact). However, there's only one encryption method supported, and it's Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP) . Wistron NeWeb says a Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) upgrade is not currently planned. If you've been longing to be able to stop using WEP (and I can't imagine many cases where one wouldn't be) this alone may be a deal killer.

And if you're not yet ready for 802.1X, the old stand by of MAC address filtering is available.

The wireless performance of the AP-300G was quite good. It posted some of the best throughput numbers of any of the final-802.11g spec products I've looked at to date. Tested with a Wistron NeWeb CB-500AG a/b/g CardBus adapter, throughput was a healthy 20.45 Megabits per second (Mbps) at 10 feet, and at 125 feet was still going relatively strong at 11.89 Mbps with fairly steady degradation in between. Only the Belkin F5D7230-4 performed comparably through all the distance ranges in my office testing environment.

The mixed-mode performance of the AP-300G was 12.34 Mbps with an 802.11b client associated with the access point. With that same 11b client transmitting data during the test, aggregate throughput dropped to 9.33, with 7.73 for the g client and 1.65 for the b.

The presence of frame bursting would have yielded better results, in the neighborhood of between 13-15 Mbps alone and closer to about 12 Mbps aggregate throughput with both devices transmitting. At the present time however, the AP-300G doesn't implement the "Nitro" frame bursting feature of the Intersil chipset, and there wasn't any word from Wistron regarding when or if this feature will be added.

In the final analysis, the Wistron AP-300G is something of a paradox. On one hand, its wireless performance, clean configuration interface, and bare-bones price are clear selling points. Conversely, the lack of a WPA upgrade and the reliability issues of the router component (which could possibly be due to problems with my specific unit) are definite downsides that keep the product from being a no-brainer.

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