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ASUS WL-500W SuperSpeed N Router

Date: February 6, 2007
Author(s): Rob Williams

We took a look at the ASUS’ WL-500g router a few months ago and were quite impressed with its performance. The router we are evaluating today is similar, but can also handle new draft N wireless devices.



Introduction


ASUS has long been known as a company to deliver high-quality products. Up to now, I haven’t had a personal bad experience with anything I’ve had from them, so I’ve been quite lucky. It wasn’t until last November that I was even aware that they produced routers though. At that time, I reviewed the WL-500g wireless b/g router that proved to have some superb performance. Coupled with that fact though, it had plenty of extras that helped warrant the $100+ pricetag.

Today we are taking a look at the WL-500g’s bigger brother, the WL-500W. This review will have a lot of copy and pasting from our review of the 500g in November, because both routers are incredibly similar. Everything from the installation, software install, feature set… is identical. As mentioned, the immediate benefit of the 500W is the fact that it can handle a slew of wireless formats, including B, G and the new fangled N.

It includes many extra other features that help it stand out in the crowd. First off, it’s one of the first Draft N routers on the market. What this means to the consumer is a faster, more reliable connection between the router and the computer. Second, this is a router designed for multi-media living, ASUS calls it “Multi-Function” and it really is. If you wanted, you could plug any USB device into it including a printer, thumb drive, hard drive and even a webcam.

Besides direct connectivity, you are able to connect any wireless device through it, whether it be your laptop, PDA, desktop computer or even a wireless capable game console. To lay the facts out, ASUS has this diagram on their website.

To give consumers an idea of how beneficial draft N routers and NICs are, ASUS also gives this diagram to show the coverage gains. In addition to extra coverage area, N promises to be faster than even a wired connection.

Closer Look

The WL-500w’s packaging is very similar to what we saw with the WL-500g. There is plenty of info plastered around the box.

Besides the router itself, there is a manual, CD-Rom, LAN cable and also the power adapter.

The fad nowadays is to make a product completely white, since it represents a clean and modern look. I admit, it looks great. There are plenty of airholes on the top and bottom for good airflow.

Here it is with all three antennas raised. Why three? Great question. I assume it has to do with better performance and stability. After a quick Google search, I couldn’t find another router with three, so ASUS may start a trend here.

There are a slew of status LEDs on the front which represent the connection status for the LAN and WAN, and of course the power.

On the opposite end, you can see the model name.

On the back you will find four LAN connectors, one WAN, power adapter and also the “EZ-Setup” button. There are also two USB connectors here. We will get into the use of those shortly.

Finally, here is the underside of the router, complete with many airholes as well as wall mounts.

There you have it. I really do have to say I love the look of the WL-500W… its one of the best available on the market as far as I’m concerned. Maybe it’s just refreshing to see a lighter color for a change, after dealing with D-Link gray and Linksys black for years on end.



Installation

I won’t provide a huge quantity of images of the admin, because it’s not much to look at. However, upon first entry, you will be asked, “Thanks for purchasing the ASUS Wireless Router, do you like to start Quick Setup directly?”, to which I promptly said yes. Well, the computer didn’t understand me when I talked to it, so I instead clicked on the OK button.

Here in order, are the questions you are prompted with:

My configuration is this: 2 PC’s wired into the router, 1 Xbox wired, 2 PC’s wireless into the router. At first, the wired connections worked no problem, but the Wireless was completely non-functional. This is not something that surprised me though, as I’ve always run into problems in the past.

I tested out WPA/WPA2 and the PSK variants, but got absolutely nowhere. So at this point, I figured I’d throw in the CD-Rom to see if it would help me along any. At this time, I ran the “EZSetup Wizard”.

This begins you out at a screen showing you a diagram of how your setup should be. Then, you must reset the router and hold the EZ Setup button for three seconds. After, you can push the respective button in the program to continue.

If all is setup properly, the program will scan for the router and then if successful, connect to it. You are required to input an SSID, and it will automatically supply a WEP key for you. If you prefer WPA, the option is there for that also. I stuck with WEP for the sake of simpleness. It then finalizes the configuration. Lo and behold, the internet worked like a dream!

Performance

Prior to hooking up the WL-500w, I had been using the D-Link DI-624 wireless router, which sucks. Regardless, I tested the D-Link router before moving over to the new one, to see what type of performance gain is seen. When pinging the router wirelessly, I received ping times of 43ms/42ms/46ms/46ms… nothing too brag-worthy. I’m happy to report though, pinging the ASUS router proved to be a far better experience.

The only draft N card I have is a PCMCIA based one that ASUS provided, so obviously I tested it out in my laptop. Here are the results below. The first screenshot represents the laptop about 4ft from the router, while the second is around 24ft from the router. I repinged twice, just to verify that the first run was accurate.

As you can see, the power of N really shows here. Even 24ft away, the pings all remained well under 10ms and in the corner you can see that I had a solid 135MBps connection, compared to wired which is 100MBps.

Sadly I did not have an N card for the desktop to test out, but I received -superb- performance there even with a cheap D-Link G card. The desktop was about 3ft from the router, and ping times were always 1ms or lower. The connection status was stuck at 54MBps, but it goes to show that even an older card with an N router shows that you can still acquire low latencies.

I also don’t have the luxury of living in a huge house, so I was unable to test further than 24ft without going outside. Even still, this router has some amazing performance. But, that aside lets take a look at what else the router offers.



Media Sharing

Probably the biggest feature of the router is also a niche one. You will either think it’s a cool feature and use it, or think it’s a cool feature but never actually pay an ounce of attention. Ever want to download a huge file when you want to leave the house, but hate leaving your power sucking desktop on? You can do that with the WL-500w. As simple as it sounds, it can actually get more advanced than this, because it can not only handle HTTP and FTP connections, but also BitTorrent! That, is impressive.

How it works, is simple. If you have a large density thumb drive, such as 4GB or 8GB, it would be perfectly suited for this application. Simply plug it in, and start a download. Or, if you have larger storage needs and use an external hard drive, you can plug it into the back of the router instead of your PC. This allows the entire network to access it, rather than just yourself. This would be particularly good if you have a media center PC and want to wirelessly stream music throughout your house.

One thing to note, is that if you choose to use a thumb drive, you will want to use it for the sole purpose of being plugged into the router. Once you copy something over, the router will automatically create various files on the drive, making a complete mess of your file structure. If you no longer want to use the drive in the router, it’s a simple matter of formatting it in Windows.

The process to download a file through the router is simple. First you need to open up the “Download Master” program, and then find the URL of the program you want to download. To give a test, I went to the Fedora Core website, and found a URL for the CD 1 from the “Zod” version. If the FTP you are on requires authentication, you can input the values here. Since I am downloading from a public server, I went ahead with the download.

To track the download process, you can look under the Transfers tab, and see how it’s doing. If it’s going incredibly slow, you could go fish for another URL to use that may give you better luck. Another idea is to test out the URL manually prior to doing it through here, to save time.

With this manager though, you can cancel the download, or delete it if you want. To give another test, I tried a smaller file. After I started the download, I turned the PC off for a few minutes while it did it’s thing. Why? Just because I could… that’s why. After booting back up, I loaded up the download manager and, and seen that the file was completed.

Whenever a file is completed, you can click on the “Folder” tab and open up the Completed folder. From here, you can do whatever you want… move/delete/copy, just as though you are grabbing the file from a normal thumb drive. The transfer speed I encountered was nothing amazing. The 25MB file that was there, took 13 seconds to copy to the desktop, for 1.92MB/s. Still, for a wireless connection, no complaints.

As for BitTorrent, I wanted to quickly test that out also. So, I went to a popular torrent site and grabbed an Ubuntu Edgy Eft torrent file. I quickly found out, that the ASUS download master will automatically take over your torrent files. So, you may want to reassociate file extensions after you install this with your regular torrent program.

For a BitTorrent app, this one is very lackluster. It has a specific purpose, and that’s to download the file. Since larger torrents can take far more than a few minutes to download, your best bet is to start the router to do it’s thing, and then shut the PC down.

After it’s said and done though, I did not have any luck with torrents. They would be added, but constantly be “Queued”. I tried torrents from different sites, but didn’t get very far. While a few did “error” out due to normal torrent issues, none went anywhere. Again, your experience may prove different. As for the HTTP and FTP downloads, they worked like an absolute dream.



Final Thoughts


So far, I haven’t really touched on any downsides of the router, because there are not that many, fortunately. There are a few though, which I will touch on now. First off, the admin panel to the router is far from being intuitive. It’s ugly, clunky and sometimes makes simple tasks difficult. One area in particular is setting up the wireless network from within this admin. If you choose to not bother with security, it’s not really a problem at all. But, once I tried to set up WPA or WEP, I could -never- connect to the router, after hours of playing around with different configurations.

However, when you install the Windows software, setting up security is not a problem at all. It worked like a dream. I don’t quite understand what the difference is, but that’s how things played out both with this router and also the WL-500g from last November. This could be an isolated problem with my setup specifically, but if I did not have a Windows PC handy, I wouldn’t have been able to set up wireless properly.

Wireless specifics aside, the admin is not that friendly when setting up the extra features that are available, such as external storage, FTP, et cetera. If you are a networking guru, it may not be so evident, but for the regular consumer, a better, more intuitive admin would have been appreciated. In all fairness though, ASUS has realized everything I just mentioned and proved it at CES with their WL-700gE router. Clicking on that link will show you an example of how much better the newer GUIs are. Hopefully they will be widespread into their entire upcoming lineup and not just the WL-700gE specifically.

I do like the fact that you can plug in a thumb drive or external hard drive and access the files throughout your house, on any computer. As long as you are running the Download Master software and are connected to the router, you should have no problem accessing what’s on the drive. However, if you are an alternative OS user like myself, you will not be able to access the router the same way you can with Windows.

Instead, you can set up an FTP server. You then just need to connect to ftp://192.168.1.1/ or jump into an FTP client and access it that way. You can adjust various settings to allow yourself to write to the drive, instead of only being able to read from it. That can vary on a per user basis, also.

The router is also compatible with an Xbox 360. Not only to get Live working, but to grab photos and music from the drive that’s plugged into the router. In the above photo, you can see I transferred an MP3 to the drive, and below, you can see it being accessed off the 360. This wasn’t completely easy, but after tweaking around for about 15 minutes it was working smooth.

In the end, I am impressed with the WL-500w. Its performance is superb, which somewhat makes up for the incredibly clunky admin. Add to the fact that you can download to the router while your PC is off, plug in numerous USB devices for use on the network and have a lot of admin ability, this is a great router. Currently, the router retails for around $140USD, which is pretty well in line with other Draft N competitors, except this one includes a few extras the others don’t. When taking everything into consideration, I am awarding the WL-500w an 8 out of 10.

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