Asus WL-500W 802.11n Multi-Functional Wireless Router
Of our recent sweep of Draft N wireless routers, the $130 Asus WL-500W offers some unconventional yet useful features not found on the others. Aside of the regularly goodies including a firewall, encryption, QoS, and a print server, the WL-500W also has a built-in FTP server, a file server, and a Webcam server, as well as the ability to download files by itself. On top of being a Draft N wireless router, the WL-500W can also do much that a basic server can do. It's not without its drawbacks, however. For one, we're not thrilled with the design, and its Web interface could be more intuitive. And like the Edimax BR-6504n, it doesn't support Gigabit Ethernet. In labs testing, the WL-500W didn't do exceptionally well at close distance, but it turned in impressive results at longer ranges. For general home use, the SMC SMCWGBR14-N Barricade N is a better overall router with higher throughput and a superior design. Only those looking to take advantage of the Asus WL-500W's advanced features should consider this unique device.
The Asus WL-500W is the same shape and size as the Asus WL-700gE, but it features three antennas and doesn't include a hard drive. The antennas sit along the back of the router, where they crowd the LAN ports, which is an annoyance we see more than we'd like. In addition to the usual four LAN ports and one WAN port, you'll also find two USB ports, a reset button, an EZSetup button, and the power connector. Despite the bulky size of the router, it's impossible to access the EZSetup button if you have a USB device connected, making it actually not so "EZ" to use.
On the front, we like the way the status LEDs are organized. They take the shape of the word indicating the function, such as "WAN," "AIR," or "LAN." However, the color of the LEDs is rather unconventional and monotonous: Orange means the cable is plugged or the service is connected; flashing orange means activities. What? They were out of green LEDs when Asus built this router?
Setting up the WL-500W is easy, thanks to the well-illustrated, step-by-step Quick Start Guide, and the Web interface is also well organized and relatively self explanatory. Some grammatical errors and inconsistencies in the translation (presumably from Chinese) of the interface's text, however, might lead to some confusion. For example at one place the NAT function is called "IP Sharing" while at other, it's simple called "NAT." The programming of the interface is also buggy. It would randomly prompt us to save changes before moving to another section though we didn't make any changes at all. Nonetheless, we didn't need much time to get the router up and running.
The special features--dubbed USB Applications--of the router, unfortunately, are much more difficult to figure out. Because the features are new, we found that there's not enough help within both the Web interface and the manual. For example, it's fairly clear how to connect a USB device to the router and how to enable a function--say the Media server--but you are then left on your own to figure out how to use that function with a computer. An experienced network user will be about to navigate through eventually, but a novice is likely to get frustrated quickly. After quite a bit of time fiddling with the Web interface, we were able to hook a USB-powered external hard drive to one of the USB ports and get it running with networked PCs in the labs. In the end, it worked really well; we were able to transfer files and stream video and audio via Windows Explorer and Windows Media Player.
Apart from VPN, the router supports a standard set of networking features including wireless encryption (WEP, WPA1, and WPA2), Firewall, Virtual Server, and Bandwidth management. It also supports Windows Connect Now (WCN), which allows for transferring the wireless encryption from the router to other WCN-enabled devices via a USB drive. While it doesn't support Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS), it does have an EZSetup button at the back that works with the EZSetup application to quickly and securely add a PC computer to the wireless network. This process is rather cumbersome, however, simply because it's very hard to reach to the little EZSetup button on the back of the router.
In labs testing, the Asus WL-500W disappointed us initially on our maximum throughput test, scoring only 62.87Mbps when sending a signal over 15 feet, which was roughly 20 percent slower than that of the D-Link DGL-4500 and the Netgear WNR854T RangeMax. Things started looking up for the WL-500W on our mixed mode test, where it scored an above-average 55.07Mbps when communicating with both .11n and older .11g devices. Most impressively, it topped the chart at almost 30Mbps on our long-range test at 200 feet.
The Asus WL-500W ships with a two-year limited warranty and a mixed bag of technical support. On weekdays, phone support is available from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.; on weekends you'll need to call before 2 p.m. PT. It's not toll-free, so you might not want to try that very often due to the extended hold time, which we experienced during our test call. (We gave up after 20 minutes.) Asus's site offers product-specific FAQs, driver and manual downloads, a troubleshooting guide, and a user forum. All in all, the site is very well thought out and has lots of trouble-shooting information.
|Throughput 200 feet|
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