Editors' note: U.S. Robotics has updated its user documentation for the USR8054 to address weaknesses that CNET identified in this review. The updated user guide now includes clearer setup instructions as well as more detailed information on configuring the router to perform PPPoE. You can view the updated manual online through the U.S. Robotics Web site. (October 22, 2003)
The U.S. Robotics USR8054 wireless turbo router takes the fastest wireless networking standard--802.11g--and speeds it up with Accelerator Technology. While the actual speed boost is less than what U.S. Robotics (USR) claims, the USR8054's throughput still exceeds that of any other router we've tested. It also has great security features, including a firewall, 256-bit WEP, and 802.1x support. With so much going for it, it's too bad this router is burdened with poor documentation and technical support, plus a clunky configuration tool. Advanced users should still be able to enjoy its many great features, but novices should look for a friendlier product, such as Dell's .
Installing and configuring the USR8054 should be easy for experienced users, but the weak documentation may confuse newbies. The quick-installation guide shows you only how to physically connect the unit and directs you to the user guide for more info. There you'll find several disparate Web pages that are difficult to search and scan quickly.
The user guide's configuration section shows you how to adjust the router via its Web-based configuration tool. To access the tool, you type the router's default IP address (listed in the user guide) into the address bar of any standard Web browser.
If you have a broadband connection that requires a PPPoE logon, you'll need to enter the username and password for your ISP into the router's WAN configuration page to establish an Internet connection. A built-in DHCP server, enabled by default on the LAN side of the router, allows automatic configuration of your computers and PDAs to use the Internet connection.
The configuration tool is capable, but it's awkward to use. For instance, adding, applying, or updating settings takes you to a terse, text-only acknowledgement page. You have to back out of it to continue with the setup, a confusing and time-consuming extra step.
The router's impressive set of features includes a highly configurable, easy-to-use firewall and some of the strongest wireless-security options available. It comes with the standard 64- and 128-bit flavors of WEP, plus it supports 256-bit keys. The unit also supports 802.1x for controlling wireless access using a Radius server. The router does not yet support the WPA encryption scheme, but USR expects to add that via a free firmware upgrade within the next few weeks.
A few security features await fixes. A bug in the router's implementation of WEP limits you to the characters 0-9, A-F, and a-f to build encryption keys in ASCII mode. USR expects to resolve the problem in an upcoming firmware upgrade. We also had trouble connecting with an Actiontec 802.11g and a Linksys 802.11b PC Card adapter with WEP enabled--an issue that USR said it hadn't seen.
The router's firewall lets you block or open and redirect specific TCP or UDP ports for Web, e-mail, and FTP services. You can also trigger ports to allow specific applications, such as games or instant-messaging services, and forward them to specific systems on your LAN. If an application still won't function properly through the router, you can use the firewall's DMZ to assign a computer unrestricted access to and from the Internet.
The USR8054 is the fastest 802.11g device we've tested to date. It also has great range. The router's top-notch performance is due to the speed enhancements that USR has added to the 802.11g specification via the company's Accelerator Technology. You won't see the 100Mbps that USR claims, but you will see a decided speed boost over other popular 802.11g routers, such as the Linksys WRT54G. If it's speed you're after, this router is a clear winner.
CNET Labs throughput tests (Longer bars indicate better performance)
For practical throughput tests, CNET Labs uses NetIQ's Chariot 4.3 software with Chariot 4.4 Endpoints as its benchmark. For more information on how we test routers, see the CNET Labs site.
The USR8054 comes with a weak support package. You get a standard two-year limited warranty, but phone support is available only Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. CT--worse yet, it's a toll call. You can send technical questions to the USR support team via the company's Web site, but don't hold your breath; we tried this feature and never received a response. Firmware updates and comprehensive documentation for the router are available online through the USR Web site.