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Linksys WAP review: Linksys WAP

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The Good High throughput; easy setup wizard; includes high-end features; nice price.

The Bad Incompatible with some older 802.11b radios; one-year warranty.

The Bottom Line The WAP54G offers a significant speed improvement, making it a good buy for offices looking to upgrade existing 802.11b networks.

6.9 Overall
  • Setup 8
  • Features 7
  • Performance 6
  • Support 6

With its potential for high bandwidth and its backward compatibility with existing 802.11b networks, the Linksys WAP54G Wireless-G access point represents the next step in wireless networking. However, this next step may not be as big as the vendors lead you to believe. First of all, like all upcoming 802.11g products, the WAP54G is 802.11g-draft-compliant, but the IEEE still must ratify the new wireless-networking standard. And while the WAP54G promises speeds of 54Mbps and backward compatibility with 802.11b radios, we found these claims somewhat misleading. In CNET Labs' tests, the access point delivered a significant speed improvement over 802.11b networks but fell far short of its overly hyped speed. If you want to set up a mixed network, the WAP54G works with most 802.11b cards, although we had trouble with radios from two vendors. Plus, even if you can connect with an 802.11b card, the entire speed of your network will slow down to 11Mbps. In other words, like all emerging technologies, the WAP54G has its rough spots. Still, its easy setup, good range, and high-end features will appeal to novices and network administrators alike. Although based solely on a draft of the 802.11g protocol, the WAP54G Wireless-G access point is fully functional and surprisingly easy to set up. We had it zipping data back and forth in about five minutes. Linksys will release updated firmware when the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) ratifies the protocol in the coming months, but in the meantime, the WAP54G works with both 802.11b and 802.11g devices, and it gives us a sneak peek at the next generation of wireless networking. In addition to the $140 access point, Linksys offers a $70 WPC54G Wireless-G notebook adapter and a $70 WMP54G Wireless-G PCI adapter.

The WAP54G package comes with everything you need to get started, including the access point, an AC adapter, a 6-foot Cat-5 Ethernet cable, registration material, and a setup wizard CD with a 30-page electronic user guide. The included black plastic plate lets you stack several Linksys devices or mount them on a wall or a shelf. On the back of the access point, you'll find an RJ-45 LAN connector, a recessed Reset button, and a pair of detachable antennae that can swivel 360 degrees to fine-tune wireless reception.

Linksys setup wizard.

You can configure the WAP54G with the included CD or the access point's built-in Web server. Beginners will want to run the wizard, which lets you change the basic factory-default settings, including those for the SSID, the channel, Wireless Equivalent Protection (WEP) encryption, the MAC address, and the IP address. After you complete the setup wizard, a concise review screen gives you a side-by-side comparison of your old and new settings.

Web-based configuration tool.

Experienced users, however, will prefer the Web-based configuration tool for its speed and efficiency. Enter the IP address of the access point into your Web browser, and the Setup screen puts the necessary configuration details front and center, including the IP address, the subnet mask, the gateway, the MAC address, the SSID, the channel, and the WEP status. You can also choose between two different wireless modes; Mixed mode lets you communicate with both 802.11b and 802.11g computers at 11Mbps, while G-Only mode offers maximum speed. In a coup for ease of use, Linksys fits the most important settings all on one page, which streamlines the setup procedure immensely.

As often happens with first-generation devices, we encountered a few problems during setup. Try as we might, we had trouble communicating with the WAP54G over an Ethernet connection. Adding to the frustration, the setup Web pages sometimes popped up instantly and took several minutes to load in other instances. Linksys plans to address the problem in the next firmware update.

In addition to the basic array of features, the Linksys WAP54G Wireless-G access point offers network administrators advanced settings via the Web-based configuration tool. For example, the Status page shows current settings and basic statistics, such as dropped packets (not packet collisions), while the Log page keeps track of users connected to your wireless network. Deep inside the interface, you'll find controls for the transmission rate, the beacon interval, the RTS threshold, the fragmentation threshold, and the DTIM interval. And because the WAP54G complies with the Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP) specification, you can monitor and maintain the access point from afar. The access point can also operate as a wireless bridge to extend a network or to connect two wireless LANs, making it an ideal choice for corporate offices.

The WAP54G offers adequate--but not airtight--security. It supports 64- and 128-bit WEP encryption but not the stronger 152- and 256-bit encryption found on the Netgear WAB102 dual-band wireless access point and the D-Link AirPro DI-764 multimode wireless router, respectively. We strongly recommend that you immediately change both the SSID and the WEP settings from the default values to lessen the chance of a hacker breaking into your network. For those who like the belt-and-suspender approach, you can filter clients based on MAC address to allow or deny access to your network.

CNET Labs put the Linksys WAP54G Wireless-G access point through a tough series of tests using both 802.11g and 802.11b clients. In 802.11g mode, the access point moved data at 13.7Mbps on average, providing more than twice the throughput of an 802.11b network. However, 802.11a networks still handily beat the WAP54G, especially when operating in Turbo mode. If you want to connect with 802.11b clients, you must switch the access point to Mixed mode via the Web-based configuration tool, which limits the speed of your network to 11Mbps. In actual tests, the access point averaged 4.9Mbps of bandwidth when connecting with 802.11b cards, on a par with the Netgear WAB102 dual-band wireless access point.

The WAP54G's ability to connect with 802.11b cards varied. It worked with five 802.11b radios currently on the market, but to our dismay, it ignored the Actiontec Prism and Lucent Orinoco mini-PCI modules. The company expects to receive its Wi-Fi certification soon and adapt the firmware to include these radios.

In range tests, we meandered about 85 feet in 802.11b mode and 77 feet in 802.11g mode, about average for this class of device. The WAP54G really was able to dole out large chunks of data; we watched video on one system, listened to Internet radio on another, and moved data on a third, all without a single hiccup.

Throughput tests
Measured in Mbps (longer bars indicate better performance)
*Indicates product meets the 802.11g draft specification

802.11a Turbo mode   
Netgear WAB102 dual-band wireless access point
Linksys WAP51AB dual-band wireless access point
Intel Pro/Wireless 5000 LAN dual access point
Linksys WAP54G Wireless-G access point
Response time
Measured in milliseconds (shorter bars indicate better performance)
*Indicates product meets the 802.11g draft specification

Linksys WAP54G Wireless-G access point
Linksys WAP51AB dual-band wireless access point
Netgear WAB102 dual-band wireless access point
Intel Pro/Wireless 5000 LAN dual-access point
CNET Labs' indoor range test
Relative performance in typical office setting; distance in feet (longer bars indicate better performance)
*Indicates product meets the 802.11g draft specification

SmartBridges AirPointPro
Netgear MR814 802.11b cable/DSL wireless router
3Com OfficeConnect wireless cable/DSL gateway
Linksys WAP54G Wireless-G access point

For practical throughput tests, CNET Labs uses NetIQ's Chariot 4.3 software as its benchmark. For wireless testing, the clients and routers are set up to transmit at short ranges and at maximum signal strength. CNET Labs' response-time tests are also run with Chariot software using the TCP protocol. Response time measures how long it takes to send a request and receive a response over a network connection. Throughput and response time are probably the two most important indicators of user experience over a network. For more details on how we test networking devices, see the CNET Labs site.

The Linksys WAP54G Wireless-G access point comes with a short one-year warranty. By comparison, both Netgear and Intel offer three-year plans on their networking products. As a new product based on a draft specification, the WAP54G should come with a longer warranty.

WAP54G support page.

Luckily, the company helps first-time users and corporate users with a wide variety of online goodies. In addition to the usual FAQs and software downloads, Linksys offers a network configurator, which help you choose the right products to match your needs. However, the Web site lacks the anxiety-reducing videos that Netgear provides. If all else fails, you can always call the company's toll-free, 24/7 support line.

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