Linksys' WRT54G wireless router comes in a mostly black plastic casing with a blue front facing that combines all of the unit's indicator lights, as well as the router's main selling point -- a single button that will automatically configure wireless security for you with no need to particularly comprehend wireless security settings. Initially obscured by a sticker warning you to run the setup CD first are four ethernet ports, as like most wireless routers it's also a four port wired router.
Like its close sibling, the WRT54GX, that sticker's only partially accurate. If you're connecting up the router to a cable modem, then indeed the setup CD will walk you through installation with a minimum of fuss and a lot of friendly and well-laid out diagrams. If, like the majority of the Australian broadband population, you're on ADSL, however, the setup CD is a quick course to frustration, as it won't detect your connection properly; you'll have to resort to ripping off the warning stickers, setting up the router and configuring it via a browser to the router's default IP address. While you're there, you should also fix up a problem that the similar WRT54GX had with regards to ADSL. By default, the "Auto" MTU setting of the router is set to 1500, a figure that'll send most ADSL connections into fits -- if they work at all. Changing it to "Manual" and "1496" should fix most problems.
The WRT54G supports 802.11b and 802.11g connections, and uses Linksys SpeedBooster technology to theoretically boost wireless performance by up to 35%. It's also a four port 10/100 ethernet router for any tethered connections, and comes with two antennae, making it a little less alien-looking than the WRT54GX.
Where the WRT54G differentiates itself from its siblings is with the inclusion of SecureEasySetup(SES), which is Linksys-speak for a single button - well, it's the Cisco logo on the router -- that can automatically configure WPA security across compatible devices. At the end-user level, it's the same approach used by Buffalo in devices such as the Buffalo AirStation WZR-RS-G54. It's worth noting that despite the similar approach, Buffalo's AOSS and Linksys' SES aren't compatible technologies in a one-touch sense. Both being wireless standard devices, you could always manually integrate them -- but where's the fun in that?
Wireless performance with the WRT54G was solid across our testing period. As always, it's difficult within any testing environment to accurately assess the claims of additional wireless performance, although it's worth noting that the range of the device was clearly less than with the MIMO-equipped WRT54GX. We're used to the idea that a consumer-level router will need a kicking every once in a while simply because it's a consumer-level router, and were pleasantly surprised that the WRT54G stayed up with solid signal throughout our testing period.
The SES feature is an interesting one, especially as so many wireless networks run with little or no security, even in the corporate world. Our tests found it very easy to use, once we worked out that the button mentioned in the manual was actually the logo next to where the button logically appeared to be. There's one major catch with SES, however, and it's the same thing that makes Buffalo's competing AOSS technology less appealing than it could be. To use SES, you not only need the WRT54G, but also compatible Linksys wireless cards in every other device on your network. Setting up SES then becomes a matter of pressing the logo on the router and selecting a button on the card's software properties page. The WRT54G is reasonably priced, but the AU$99 asking price for compatible PC cards is a little on the high side. It's a case of getting what you pay for in one sense; network boffins could probably do all of this in thier sleep, but network novices should appreciate the ease of use approach of the WRT54G, even if they don't like the price.