The WRT55AG Setup Wizard guides you through a foolproof installation routine.
You can also configure the WRT55AG by pointing a browser on the PC in question to the router's default IP address, which you can find in the quick-start guide. After plugging in the correct password, a compact, tabbed interface presents the Setup screen, which lets you set the basics (time zone, IP address, and type of connection) as well as details such as SSID, channel, and other settings for 802.11a and 802.11b/g networks. A handy summary screen lets you check over the settings before accepting them. Updating the WRT55AG's firmware is a simple one-click operation. That's a good thing because you will probably want to upgrade the router this summer to bring it in line with the 802.11g spec once it is finalized and also to add WPA security. WPA will give the router a far more powerful encryption scheme than that offered by WEP.
The WRT55AG also includes an Ethernet cable, a printed setup guide, a small AC adapter and a convenient plastic plate, used to stack the WRT55AG on top of other Linksys gear or mount it onto a wall or a ceiling. The router comes with two CDs: one contains an electronic version of the unit's manual and setup software; the other has a full version of Norton Internet Security 2003 suite. In spite of its next-generation abilities, the WRT55AG looks like most other blue-and-black Linksys gear. The front LEDs show activity on the wireless and wired connections, and a separate LED allows you to monitor the frequency of collisions on your network, allowing you to better troubleshoot degradations in performance. The back panel includes five Ethernet jacks--one for your broadband connection and four for your LAN--a pair of adjustable antennae, and a reset button that returns to the WRT55AG to its default settings. The WRT55AG can theoretically support up to 253 concurrent connections, even in mixed Windows, Linux, and Macintosh networks, but Linksys provides support only for systems running Windows 98 or newer.
You can adjust a slew of technical settings on the WRT55AG via its well-organized Advanced tab, where you find controls for transmission power, DTIM Interval, RTS Threshold, and Fragmentation Threshold. The WRT55AG lacks a wireless bridge mode, however, such as the kind found in Apple's AirPort Extreme, which allows you to connect separate networks wirelessly, without the need for an Ethernet connection.
This router's three wireless networking interfaces provide three possible hacking routes into your LAN. Luckily, the WRT55AG compensates for the compromised security by providing you with a variety of tools for locking things down, including WEP encryption for the wireless interfaces, MAC address filtering for all connected adapters, and a stateful packet-inspection firewall that examines individual packets coming into your network to make sure they have a legitimate reason to enter. The WRT55AG also provides VPN pass-through support, and if you have a gaming machine that needs full exposure to the Internet, you can configure the WRT55AG's DMZ setting to leave that system outside your firewall.
The WRT55AG is bundled with Symantec's Norton Internet Security 2003, which generally sells for $50 and is a valuable addition. The software includes a two-month subscription to updates. After that you can subscribe to Symantec's LiveUpdate service for $40 per year. CNET Labs put the Linksys WRT55AG through its paces with a series of tests using 802.11a, b, and g clients, and the tests found it to be slightly slower than the fastest device in each category, but as the range increased, so did its relative performance.
The WRT55AG hit a peak throughput of 20.6Mbps over its 802.11a interface, slightly slower than that of Netgear's HE102 and D-Link's AirPro DI-764. While working with a single 802.11g client, it reached 17.9Mbps, just slower than the 19.1Mbps of Belkin's 802.11g router. When we added an 802.11b client, the aggregate throughput dropped to 7.6Mbps, 100Kbps short of the Belkin's top-dog status, but far ahead of that of the Apple AirPort Extreme base station and the SMC 2804WBR Barricade 54Mbps wireless router.
CNET Labs maximum throughput tests
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
CNET Labs mixed-mode throughput tests
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
The WRT55AG also performed noticeably better than Linksys's first stab at an 802.11g product, the Linksys WRT54G Wireless-G broadband router. The WRT55AG is the wireless world's long-distance runner by maintaining a solid connection up to 150 away. And despite the WRT55AG's reliance on an unfinished standard, it passed our compatibility tests with flying colors, connecting with radios of varying age and protocol, including several older 802.11b clients and a Toshiba 740e Pocket PC. We were able to support a full-screen video stream on one system, while listening to Internet radio on another and downloading data on a third.
For practical throughput tests, CNET Labs uses NetIQ's Chariot 4.3 software as its benchmark. For wireless testing, the clients and the routers are set up to transmit at varying distances and at dynamically chosen fall-back rates. For more details on how we test networking devices, see the CNET Labs site. With a three-year warranty for the WRT55AG, Linksys matches Netgear's warranty coverage but falls short of Belkin's lifetime warranty. Nor does Linksys include a printed manual with the WRT55AG, but it does bundle the so-called Quick Installation guide, and the 116-page electronic manual provides more thorough setup tips and detailed information, including instructions on how to configure the router to work with complex online games such as Half-Life. Should something go wrong, Linksys is there to help with a good collection of online resources. The Linksys Web site offers downloadable FAQs, drivers, and manuals. The support site also gives you access to a knowledge base that answers questions you probably never thought to ask, along with 24-hour telephone and e-mail support. Unfortunately, Linksys's Web site lacks a chat room where service technicians and fellow customers help each other.