Date: April 3, 2008
Author(s): Greg King
Need a new router but not ready to take the 802.11n plunge? We’re taking a look at a brand-new ASUS model that boasts tried and true 802.11g and offers it at a great price. It lacks in certain ways, but makes up for it in others, such as with the inclusion of a real print server.
When taking the first steps in building a home network, the logical starting point is with the router. After all, it’s the router that will enable us to take the incoming signal from our ISPs and deliver that signal to any device connected to it, either wired or wireless. It’s the device that will offer the first line of defense against those that intend to do us digital harm and it’s the little piece of hardware that will keep us all riding the tubes in ease.
When we go to pick one out though, it’s the same old faces we see at almost every brick and mortar store across the nation… names like Linksys, Belkin, D-Link and Netgear for a long time. While there isn’t anything wrong with the offerings from any of those companies, it’s easy to overlook the lesser known makers of networking gear like Buffalo, TRENDnet and of course, ASUS.
Did I just type out ASUS? As it turns out, if you can plug it in and connect it to your PC in any way imaginable, there is a very good chance that ASUS has either made it in the past or has a current offering of that device in a handful of different models. Such is life when you’re as large, and as popular, as ASUS.
Long known for their “rock solid” and “heart touching” motherboards, ASUS has been offering networking gear for quite some time now and while not as well known in the home networking crowd, ASUS has made some solid hardware over the years.
If further proof of said networking hardware is needed, look no further than our favorite Canadian (and Techgage’s owner) Rob and his reviews of previous models of routers… and in typical ASUS ingenuity, one even had a hard drive installed inside it. In each review, Rob was left impressed with the hardware he was evaluating so when ASUS asked us to take a look at their WL-520gU , we were more than happy to put it through its paces.
While not capable of transmitting on the speedy Draft N protocol, the WL-520gU is more than happy to work over wireless G – easily the most prolific wireless protocol on the planet. In fact, while 802.11n is superior in most all respects, one thing that the 11g crowd has over its quicker brother is that it’s installed in almost every notebook on the planet.
With n starting to make its move, it’s still in its draft phase (one of awkwardness and rebellion) which might turn off those not looking to take a chance on the unratified protocol. Offering more than enough bandwidth for almost every casual user, wireless g is still a perfect choice and like any aging technology, it can be had on the cheap as well. Weighing in at just under $50, the WL-520gU might be a solid choice for those looking to start their own network, or veterans looking for a reliable home for the vastly popular DD-WRT firmware.
The WL-520gU is a value product from ASUS, so both the packaging and accessories reflect that. Inside you will find the router itself, a warranty notice and a small box that includes a Cat5 cable, the power brick and also the antenna. ASUS also indicates that the router is designed for Vista, so we hope to avoid any problems in our tests with that and also XP.
Taking a look at the router itself, we see a rather nondescript, white unit that’s about eighty percent the size of a DVD jacket. There are vent slots that run lengthwise along the top to let warm air escape, preventing possible overheating when router starts sending all of our test bits to their intended destinations.
Along the front and both sides there is a silver streak that sits behind a clear piece of trim. On the front of the router are seven LED indicator lights that glow a soft green when active. From left to right, these lights represent power air (wireless activity), WAN and LAN 1-4. Taking a page out of their notebook division’s playbook, the WL-520gU includes an ASUS logo on the top of the device centered for all to see.
From a different angle, we can see that each row of venting slots is actually sets of six, which should provide adequate cooling for the router. Here, we can also can see everything the router has to offer externally. Starting from the left and moving to the right, we see where the antenna is to be installed and also a red button which ASUS calls the EZ Setup. This is similar to WPS found on other routers but as usual, ASUS has chosen to go their own way. The little black button is actually a recessed reset button, defaulting the router should a change in settings not go as planned.
The first Ethernet port is the WAN port. This is where any uplink cable, usually from your DSL or cable modem will be placed. As the name implies, it is through this port that you will connect to a wider network (for simplicities sake we’ll call it the Internet). The next four Ethernet ports are 10/100 base jacks. As much as we would like to have seen gigabit speeds on this router, we will have to make do with the ones available.
If print serving is your bag, you’re in luck. I erroneously reported in our D-Link DIR-655 wireless n router review that the USB port on that router was to connect a printer to, but the WL-520gU actually does add this functionality and can also be used as a full-fledged print server. Finally, the last port is for the power cable.
On the underbelly of the router, we see more venting as well as spots for four rubber feet. These will help the router not slide all over your desk when the tension of four or five connected cables comes into play. Notice that the upper left and lower right pads are missing. This was not a flaw on ASUS’ part but rather my own curiosity. More on this in a bit.
Near the bottom is a sticker with the only information given concerning the default IP address of the router, the default user name and password (admin : admin) and a friendly reminder to “change your password asap.” In all of the documentation included, virtually none, this is the only mention that we see of this administrator information so those that don’t know to look on the bottom of the router might very well start out on the wrong foot with their WL-520gU.
Up next, I’ll take this thing apart, then put it back together again! I’ll also take a look at the setup process, which doesn’t actually differ from the other ASUS routers we’ve taken a look at.
A member of our forums made the comment not to long ago that they would like to see more information about what is found underneath the hood of the devices we review. Although the comment was made in an outdated thread from our D-Link DIR-655 review, the suggestion was taken to heart none the less.
I have included chipset, memory and other relevant information about NAS boxes, so why not provide the same in our router reviews? Let’s take the WL-520gU apart and do a bit of investigation!
Please know that taking these steps on your own router will more than likely void your warranty. If said warranty is violated in repeating our steps, Techgage accepts no responsibility for any action misuse of the information provided in the review. Basically, don’t do this at home if you’re not secure in your hax0ring skills, or you can’t operate a simple Phillips screwdriver.
I have taken the time to professionally mark the four screws that need to be removed in order to get into the inside the router . Also marked is the area providing the default admin information. Notice that ASUS decided to play “hide the screws under the pads” game as so many other companies do. Then again, most companies don’t expect you to dismantle their devices, either.
With the four screws removed, the top of the WL-520gU comes right off, giving us access to the mainboard of the router. On that board is the router’s chipset, a 266MHz Broadcom 5354, 16MB of RAM memory and 4MB of flash. The chipset not only controls the four LAN ports but also the single WAN and USB ports as well.
We can see that the onboard memory is provided by Samsung and the board itself is manufactured by ASUS… makes good sense. There is a small heatsink on top of the Broadcom processor with a chunk of foam sitting on top of it (no doubt there to keep the top of the router from being pushed in and crushing the internals as there isn’t any plastic posts in the middle of the board to perform this function.
There is also a small chip just below the Broadcom CPU with Delta labeling. I was unable to find any information regarding this chip but for those who are interested, a picture is included.
When plugged in and operational, the front lights of the WL-520gU glow a pleasant green. The picture doesn’t indicate this but even from a good distance away, they can still be seen flickering as data moves through.
Setup of the WL-520gU is as straight-forward as it comes. Without a setup disk full of wizards, we are at the mercy of the user interface of the router itself. I for one am perfectly fine with this but there are others that might appreciate a utility disk.
Entering in the default IP address, 192.168.1.1, the router prompts us to choose whether or not we want to start a quick setup guide (so much for wizards.) Clicking yes lets us proceed while a no answer will take us to the routers home page.
Let first take a swift look at the quick setup. Starting out, we are asked to fill in our ISP information provided by said ISP.
Once that information is completed, we can now setup the router to either get its WAN IP automatically or assign a static one if needed. Check your ISP documentation if you are unsure of the values needed here.
The next step in the process is creating a wireless security profile. By creating a unique SSID and setting its security level (more on the available security options shortly) we are done with the quick setup and continue our look at the rest of the available options.
The home page gives us a few hotlinks to important functions or areas of the routers options. Allowing us to quickly jump back into a quick setup, wireless settings, IP and firewall settings and even view the router’s log files, as these might be the most commonly used functions on the router. Sadly we were not able to change these around to reflect what we use most. Also stated is the claim that the interface is best viewed with Internet Explorer 5.5 or greater. It should be noted that the setup of this router, as well as every screen grab were done in Firefox but IE 7 was tested as well without any complications at all.
In the wireless category, we find exactly what one expects, wireless settings. The most important wireless settings of all is the authentication (security) settings. This restricts anyone lacking your passphrase from accessing your network wirelessly. Available encryption methods include WEP and WPA. While WPA and WPA2 are far more secure than WEP, if you’re more comfortable using WEP, for whatever reason you might have, you are still quite safe in using it.
In the IP Config section, you can setup your WAN and LAN ports, create routes and enable DHCP serving. Pretty straight-forward here.
For gamers and file sharers, port forwarding is nothing out of the ordinary. Here you can select from a set list of popular applications or you can create your own. ASUS calls this port triggering but it’s no different than port forwarding.
If filtering is your thing, you can do that under the firewall tab. For those that want to stiffen your networks security at the firewall level (never a bad idea) this is where you want to start. This allows you to setup time and dates for the filters to be active and define what you want them to do.
The bandwidth management area is something that ASUS really stresses as a selling point for their routers and because of this, has marketed their “Bandwidth on Demand” heavily. This is QoS on any other router but as usual, ASUS as decided to call it something unique. A rose by any other name is still a rose, right?
In the system setup – operation mode tab, we can decide how we want to use our router. Given are options to setup the WL-520gU as a home gateway (what 95% of home users will want), as a router (internal routing to other local networks, businesses) and as an access point (the other 5% of home users will use this feature.) While this can be confusing to many, ASUS has given a decent enough explanation of each setting and what you want to use it for.
The final area in the WL-520gU ‘s user interface allows you to view your configurations as well as the system log.
With the nitty gritty taken care of, I’ll give the router a good test and then conclude with my final thoughts.
Oh, the testing. Our testing method currently for anything network related is a pretty simple process. Take a file, move it to and from the original source and repeat three times. Each upload and download is timed and the three are averaged out with the average time being the recorded figure in our comparison graphs.
The file we use is our trusty old XP Pro SP2 install image. Comparing the performance of the WL-520gU to the Linksys WRT54G, a router everyone, your brother and his neighbor owns should give us an idea of what to expect from this ASUS offering.
We’ve also included the D-Link DGL-4500 as a wireless n comparison at to keep things fair; we set our wired network connection on the desktop side to operate at 100/Full Duplex, the same as the ASUS WL-520gU .
As stated earlier, we included the 802.11n performance for no other reason than to show how much faster the newer protocol is than wireless g. It’s important to keep in mind that n will always beat g, hands down in every conceivable way. However, the real numbers to look at are the comparison between the ASUS and Linksys wireless g routers.
Both were incredibly close but the ASUS WL-520gU bests the everyman’s favorite, the WRT54G in our transfer times. For those playing at home, the WRT54G was a version 4 using the standard Linksys firmware.
It’s hard to find faults in the ASUS WL-520gU router when looking through the eyes of someone that either doesn’t care about wireless n or doesn’t know about it. Those buyers that don’t simply pick up whatever is the most expensive will still tend to collect the lower priced wireless g routers.
Don’t believe me? Go to your local Best Buy and watch. Most homes looking to network that aren’t keeping current with the latest technology will nine times out of ten go for something reasonably priced. This is where the WL-520gU shines.
Available online for under $40 ($39.99 after MIR at Newegg) and a little over that at brick and mortar stores, the price alone might convince someone into picking up a router like this one and that’s perfectly fine. A large majority of homes do not need n at this time. The bandwidth that g provides is more than enough to check email, browse eBay and kill time on YouTube. This is why routers like the WRT54G are still selling as if their very lives depended on it.
The ASUS WL-520gU turned out to be a solid wireless G router with a decent amount of features available to the user, albeit through its horrendously ugly user interface. While I personally use wireless n at home, this would be a great choice for a handful of users. Users that are looking to bring wireless into their homes on the cheap or even users looking for a very good base for their DD-WRT firmware experiences.
But regardless of the reason, if your looking for a wireless g router and can look past the full shelves of the full-featured Linksys WRT54Gs, then the ASUS WL-520gU deserves your consideration. Heck, even those looking to extend their reach with an access point could benefit from the WL-520gU.
All in all, it’s a nice router. It’s not great, nor will it wow you with features but it’s certainly not the worst g router that you could pick. For these very reasons, the ASUS WL-520gU earns a 7 out of 10 for being perfectly normal with an ASUS quality twist… and I am just fine with that.
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