The PCWA-AR300 router has three parts: an Ethernet router, an 802.11g access point that plugs into the router; and a power supply for both components that plugs into the router. Connecting these three pieces is easy, but poor documentation could make the process difficult for novices. The router's foldout booklets are vague and redundant, and they include screenshots with minuscule onscreen print. We often had both the quick-start guide and the troubleshooting guide spread out in front of us, wishing for a real manual.
Changing settings on the router is easy via its browser-based configuration tool, but again, the documentation will throw novices for a loop. The tool lets you do typical things, such as changing the SSID and entering WEP encryption keys. You can also enter PPPoE info if you plan to share a DSL connection.
The PCWA-AR300's unique two-part design lets you hide the router and show off the small, sleek, and stylish wireless access point (AP). Both the router and the AP have built-in brackets for wall-mounting. Unfortunately, the AP uses one of the router's Ethernet ports, leaving only three open--one fewer than on most wireless routers we've seen, though that number should be enough for most home-networking scenarios.
The PCWA-AR300 router possesses some interesting features. Foremost is its ability to automatically configure other Sony networking devices, such as the PCWA-DE30 wireless Ethernet converter. The router also supports either straight-through MDI or crossover MDI-X cabling automatically.
Other features are underwhelming. Pulsating status LEDs are eye-catching; the AP pulses blue for an established connection and red when it is starting up, while the router shows data flow at each port with a flashing green light. Unfortunately, the router lacks dedicated lights for network type and packet collisions. Nor can you use this router as a wireless bridge; you can with the Dell TM2300 and the Buffalo AirStation.
The PCWA-AR300 falls short on security. Novices will be stymied from the beginning; there's no guidance on setting up security features. The router lacks useful items such as a built-in SPI firewall or parental Web-screening software, which are included with Microsoft's MN-700. The router does offer MAC address filtering, but you have to use ASCII WEP encryption keys for its 64- or 128-bit encryption; the device won't accept hexadecimal ones. The PCWA-AR300 currently lacks WPA encryption, but Sony plans to release a firmware update later this year.
In an 802.11g-only environment, The PCWA-AR300's 24.2Mbps throughput is on a par with that of the fastest wireless routers we've tested. In mixed environments, the router's speed drops to 13.9Mbps, noticeably slower than that of the Dell TM2300 but adequate for a small wireless network. At 175 feet, the PCWA-AR300's range is comparable to that of other wireless home routers, but it falls short of the 200-foot range demonstrated by the Microsoft MN-700.
We tested the router with a mix of seven different 802.11b and 802.11g devices, including the built-in radios of several notebooks and PC Cards from Linksys, Netgear, and Sony. At one point, we were streaming video and Internet radio to five clients at once while moving data between two other systems, all without interruption.
CNET Labs maximum throughput tests (Longer bars indicate better performance)
|Note: Throughput in Mbps|
CNET Labs throughput tests with mixed b/g clients (Longer bars indicate better performance)
|Note: Throughput in Mbps|
For more details on how we test networking devices, see the CNET Labs site.
Sony's service and support is often disappointing. The PCWA-AR300 has a scant one-year warranty, shorter than the three-year warranties that Netgear and D-Link provide, and nothing near Belkin's lifetime coverage. Online, Sony offers FAQs, router upgrades, and a natural-language search feature, though the latter didn't work well and tended to bring up info on products other than the router, probably because there is little available on the router. The only downloads are electronic copies of the foldout booklets that ship with the PCWA-AR300. Sony operates an automated troubleshooting and fax-back system, as well as 24/7 phone support; both calls are toll-free.