If you're going to give a product a prefix of "Compact", you want it to be one of two things. Either it's got to contain makeup, or it's got to be small. If you're selling to the Dolly-reading crowd, probably both. The severe lack of beauty products within the Linksys Compact Wireless-G WRT54GC Router will no doubt make it a poor seller amongst teenage girls everywhere, but those looking for a router that's remarkably small will no doubt be entranced by the Linksys Compact Wireless-G WRT54GC Router's small size.
And small it indeed is -- all in, it measures in at a tiddly 98mm by 25mm by 98mm, slightly larger than a standard wallet. As such, external decoration is kept to an absolute minimum, with a simple Linksys/Cisco badge on the top the only adornment. The front panel contains all of the WRT54GC's display lights, while the rear houses four 10/100 router ports and a single ethernet port for incoming net access. Each side of the router hides a pop-out or fold-up panel, housing the antenna socket and reset button respectively. The fold-up panel that hides the reset button can also be used as a stand for the router if you'd prefer to house it in a vertical orientation.
Setting up the WRT54GC follows a familiar pattern for anyone who's used a Linksys router product before. The supplied CD install software may be OK for cable users -- we were unable to test -- but those with an ADSL connection will need to duck into the Web-based interface to configure their connections. As with other Linksys routers we've tested, the annoying bug with the automatic MTU setting being too high rears its ugly head, and it's neccessary to drop it a touch -- typically to 1496 for many services -- in order to maintain a quality connection. The internal interface for the WRT54GC isn't the absolute friendliest we've ever used, but it's not terribly difficult either, and at least it's moderately pleasant to look at.
Once you've connected up the WRT54GC, it's otherwise plain sailing. It's is an 802.11b/g router with four 10/100 Ethernet ports that just fit along the rear of the unit. On the security side, it supports WEP, WPA and WPA2, as well as the usual filtering and network access options you'd expect from a full-sized router.
The Linksys Compact Wireless-G WRT54GC Router may have an external antenna socket but we were extremely curious to see how well it could manage on its own, as there's also an internal built-in antenna. We were pleasantly surprised in our testing to find that the router throws out quite a strong signal. Comparing it side by side with other routers, we still found those with external antenna to have greater range and signal clarity -- as you'd expect -- but it would be perfectly feasible to use the Linksys Compact Wireless-G WRT54GC Router in a small flat without any signal problems whatsoever. Attaching an external antenna isn't any harder than with any other router, although you will be sacrificing some of the unit's aesthetic appeal -- as well as some of its true portability.
One minor quirk that the small design size of the WRT54GC invites is that it can be hard to read the front indicator lights sometimes. Because they're so physically close and so tiny, there's a significant amount of illumination that bleeds from one indicator to another, making it a touch harder to get a quick visual appraisal of the router's performance.
Not everyone needs a tiny router, but there's definitely something appealing about the Linksys Compact Wireless-G WRT54GC Router, at least from an aesthetic sense. Those who either hate the look of large bulky PC gear -- and there's still no such thing as a "pretty" router -- may find the Linksys Compact Wireless-G WRT54GC Router a good option, at least from the perspective of it being so particularly minute.