Want A Decent 802.11g Access Point? Try The WRT54G!
December 1st, 2003

Wireless-G Broadband Router WRT54G ($99.99 Retail, US$79.94 at Amazon.com (add to cart to see the discounted price)
Linksys (a Cisco Company)

The last Gadget that covered AirPort technology was written way back in September 2000, and at that point, a $299 wireless access point wasn't a bad deal. Of course, since then, just about everyone is making WiFi hardware. After getting a PowerBook G4 12" with an AirPort Extreme card, we wanted to upgrade our (non-Extreme) AirPort base. We've used other Linksys components in The Mac Observer Labs, so decided to check out the company's WiFi offerings, and selected the WRT54G.

The WRT54G is really three devices. The first is naturally a 802.11g access point which can handle data rates up to 54 Mbps, quite a bit faster than the 11 Mbps that the older 802.11b standard supported. The nice thing is that you can choose to mix both 802.11b and 802.11g clients, though you'll take a speed hit with both type of clients on the same access point. The two antennas, which can be rotated, are a nice touch. Since this is wireless, for goodness sake change the admin password once you are done so others can't configure your device!

The second device in the WRT54G is a 4-port 10/100 Mbps switch. Just plug the cable from your DSL or Cable modem into the WRT54G, and other devices in 1 of 4 ports. You can allow the router to obtain a single IP address from your provider, and then share the connection among the other devices plugged into the switch. These devices can be assigned non-routable IP addresses (like the 10.X or 192.X blocks) so that nosy people on the Internet can't directly access you.

The third device is router functionality that bring everything together. Unlike some other products, you can have the WRT54G limit access time for specific IP or MAC addresses. You can limit access by day or week or time of day, by specific URLs, or specific keywords. This is good if you have a mixed household and would like to maintain some level of control over the kiddies before they figure out how to change the settings themselves.

Handy Web-Based Configuration and Administration

The interesting thing about the WRT54G is that the documentation states there is only Windows support, yet it works just fine on the Mac. Part of this is probably due to the fact that all you need to configure the WRT54G is a wireless card and web browser, no platform-specific software is required. Windows software for configuration is included, but Mac and UNIX users can get along just fine with the web-based utility. The WRT54G defaults to getting an IP address via DHCP, which is the default for many broadband providers. Some DSL providers use PPPoE, but the WRT54G supports this too.

The WRT54G is a pretty good deal if all you need is wireless and switch abilities. The WRT54G doesn't have all of the options as Apple's AirPort Extreme base, but at $100 less, you may be able to get over it.

Have any other devices that help you get connected? Send John an e-mail, and he'll connect to it.