Linksys Wireless-G Access Point

By Joseph Moran

March 12, 2003

The Linksys entry into 802.11g is helped along to be the best we've seen due to its external antennas, ease of configuration, and speed, speed, speed (at least at close range).

Model: WAP54G
Price: $149
Rating: 5 out of 5
Features
Performance

The $149 Linksys Wireless-G Access Point is the market leader's offering in the burgeoning market for products based on the still-draft 802.11g specification.

Like the Buffalo AirStation and Apple AirPort Extreme Base Station routers I recently looked at, the Linksys Wireless-G Access Point uses the Broadcom wireless chipset.

Unlike those two products, however, the Linksys eschews an internal antenna in favor of a more conventional dual external antenna arrangement. The presence of external antennae obviates the need for the connector that the Buffalo and Apple product offer, though the Linksys antennae can be both rotated and removed. The use of external antennas also seemed to help performance somewhat compared to the other products, which we'll see in a moment.

As the wall is often the best place to mount WLAN access point, Linksys includes a wall bracket that also can be used to facilitate stacking of other Linksys products (which of course use the same chassis).

Linksys offers a Windows-based utility to perform initial configuration of the access point which works quite well, but its use is not mandatory, since you can go directly to the Web-based interface if you so prefer.

The Web-based configuration screens use Linksys' familiar and well-designed tabbed interface and offer a typical compliment of features. After the initial setup, you can choose to do things like disable the SSID broadcast, enable MAC filtering, backup the access point's configuration settings, or restore the unit to factory default settings (much more convenient than dealing with the recessed rear button or looking up the vendor's specific reset procedure.)

One characteristic of the WAP54G that I particularly like is the fact that some of configuration changes do not require a reboot of the access point to take effect. This includes things like changing the unit's IP address or enabling MAC filtering. It's a refreshing change from some units that require restarts after even minor configuration tweaks.

One configuration tweak that I'd like to see in the WAP54G but that is absent--at least for the moment--is the ability to turn off or reduce the power of the unit's transmitter.

Another (albeit minor) convenience item--the Web-based configuration provides a link to the PDF product manual located on the Linksys Website. This is of course handy when you don't have (that is, you can't find) the CD, though I admit you may never actually need to consult the manual.

The WAP54G does have logging capability. You can view the logs online or send them to a specific PC (by IP address), but the data is not in Syslog format so you'll need to download a proprietary Linksys utility to do so. The WAP54G also supports SNMP for network monitoring.

Like other Broadcom chipset-based products, the WAP54G supports two performance modes--'G only' and 'mixed', the latter of which is designed to accommodate 802.11b clients. The preponderance of the WAP54G performance testing took place in the 'G only mode' (with the related WPC54G Wireless-G Notebook Adapter, reviewed separately).

In this mode, the throughput of the WAP54G was indeed impressive, particularly at close range. At 10 feet, for example, the throughput yield was 21.51 Mbps. This is significantly higher than any of the three previous 802.11g devices I looked at, which were all in the 14 Mbps neighborhood at this distance.

As distance increased the WAP54G's advantage began to diminish, and by the time I was 75 feet from the unit I was observing throughput numbers equivalent to or less than comparable products. Indeed, at 100 feet and greater, the Linksys posted numbers well below the D-Link DI-624, though still significantly better than the Apple AirPort Extreme Base Station with its internal antenna.

When I inquired with Linksys about their apparent performance advantage and requested an explanation, they demurred citing the proprietary nature of the product. That didn't sit too well with me, but given that the WAP54G is only an access point and the other 802.11g products I've tested were routers as well, this is not an entirely apples-to-apples comparison.

Of course, a big concern with any 802.11g product at this point is compatibility and interoperability due to the still-evolving nature of the specification and the sometimes divergent implementations of this specification by the vendors.

Despite the performance differences, compatibility did not seem to suffer. I was able to successfully associate and communicate with the WAP54G using both 802.11b- and 802.11g-based NICs from D-Link and Buffalo.

Linksys remains one of the more ubiquitous WLAN vendors for the home and SOHO markets, and with products like the WAP54G, it's not difficult to understand why. It delivers convenient setup and administration and very good performance (especially at close range). Though finalization of the 802.11g specification remains a ways off, the Linksys WAP54G represents an excellent choice for those who need performance now.



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