The Linksys WAG320N is an ADSL2+ modem, with gigabit ethernet and dual-band wireless router in one compact body. It's easy to configure and it has some very nifty features, such as a USB storage port and keyword filters - UPDATED 15 DEC 2010
We’ve had wireless-n connections for almost five years now, promising wirefree data transfers even faster than trusted 100Mbps ethernet.
But while the speed of real-life wireless-n connections does exceed the previous 11g standard, it falls well below what it says on the tin.
Just as older 802.11b and 802.11g equipment seriously underachieved when compared to their labelling.
Still, we’ve found a theoretical speed of '150Mbps' for 11n can translate into around 80Mbps, with a good router and over short to medium ranges (up to around 10m).
So with wireless devices whizzing data around at close to the speed of 100BaseT ethernet, it makes sense to ensure that the wired connection won’t now be the bottleneck. That’s where gigabit ethernet is a godsend - a hard-wire link that’s a magnitude faster than 100Mbps ethernet.
It’s only recently though that we’re seeing wireless routers and modems that tick boxes for both ‘11n wireless’ and ‘gigabit ethernet’.
The Cisco Linksys WAG320N is just such a product, an ADSL/ADSL2+ modem combined with a four-port gigabit ethernet switch and 802.11a/b/g/n wireless access point.
And that extra ‘a’ that slipped into the list of wireless protocols is very telling. Not only does the WAG320N support 2.4GHz comms – it also treads the path less travelled: the 5GHz radio spectrum.
That’s the frequency band where 802.11a operates, an older standard promising 11g speeds back in the 11b day, but which was never fully developed commercially.
One reason was wireless range – the higher frequency/longer wavelength system had shorter effective range than popular 2.4GHz WiFi.
And while 802.11n is most recognised for its 2.4GHz operation, it also has the capability to stretch its wings to 5GHz. One good reason why you might like to switch to the higher band is to escape the congestion caused by so many routers, PCs and gadgets fighting for air at 2.4GHz.
Another is to try to extract the performance that wireless-n product makers always promise but never deliver: 300Mbps data connections. With 11n wireless at 5GHz, it’s easier to use channel bonding to get something like this mythical ‘300Mbps’ speed.
Cisco Linksys WAG320N
The Linksys WAG320N is a compact modem router that lies flat on a table, with no external antennae to spoil its clean lines. On the rear are four ethernet ports and an ADSL line input. Green-lit icons on the front of the unit flicker to show which ports are active, as well as whenever there's any wireless activity.
A USB 2.0 port is included for attaching flash or hard-disk storage. Little information is provided in the printed manual about this facility, other than to consult the online help. After some trial and error, we could connect to an attached 32GB flash stick, using the open-source and cross-platform Cyberduck ftp client.
Initial setup of the Cisco Linksys WAG320N is easy, using either the included CD to configure in Windows or Mac OS, or manually by access through a web browser at the router’s default address of 192.168.1.1.
The former CD method strangely required admin privileges on our PC, and you must click through a license agreement to allow Cisco to monitor your use of the router.
You must also give consent for Cisco to change your browser settings and your default search engine. We find this intrusion into personal privacy unacceptable for any device, let alone a router, but clicked through for the sake of testing Cisco's recommended setup routine..
Our first sample of the Cisco Linksys WAG320N exhibited inconsistent performance, over both wired and wireless connections. Performance was fine initially, but became slow and erratic after the unit had been switched on for a few hours.
A replacement unit was sent over, which exhibited the exact same problems. Web pages would load fine, then a few minutes later would stop loading, then resume. A Mac on the wired network using the Elgato Netstream network tuner could only receive unwatchable, stuttering video.
We checked firmware of the Cisco Linksys WAG320N, and found we were using the latest Ver.1.00.12 , dated 25 March 2010. Cisco's PR team told us that this is not a known problem with the firmware.
The measurements and comments that follow apply to the moments when the router was operational.
We saw good connection sync-speeds to our ISP (Be There) of 16.75MBps down and 1.1Mbps up. Further ping tests confirmed no added latency from our usual 20ms figure, with zero packet loss and 5ms jitter.
While the Cisco Linksys WAG320N can use 2.4GHz or 5GHz bands, it only works at one frequency at a time, so you’re required to choose which mode for all your wireless devices. Given the relative paucity of 5GHz radios in wireless consumer electronics – such as laptops, smartphones, media streamers and tablets – chances are you would need to leave this router set to the regular 2.4GHz band anyway.
For our wireless speed tests of the Cisco Linksys WAG320N, we stopwatched the transfer of an 872MB ISO file between a PC connected to the Linksys over ethernet, and a laptop at one of two distances.
We first tried using the 2.4GHz band. In the short range 1m test, the best average speed we measured was 61Mbps; even setting the router to wide 40MHz channels, our laptop could only handshake at ‘130Mbps’ speed.
In the 10m medium-range test, this figure dropped to between 19 and 37Mbps.
Switching the Cisco Linksys WAG320N over to 5GHz, our laptop indicated a ‘270Mbps’ connection to the WAG320N at 1m range, although the link could only average 86Mbps in real-life measured throughput. This speed fell to between 27 and 52Mbps at 10m.
Subjectively, we found 5GHz operation of the Cisco Linksys WAG320N to give a very slow feel to internet connections at 10m distance.
Cisco’s specifications for the Cisco Linksys WAG320N suggest that at ‘270Mbps’ the Linksys WAG320N has half the reception sensitivity than at ‘130Mbps’; which itself is only one-quarter its sensitivity at ‘54Mbps’ operation.
Making use of the Cisco Linksys WAG320N's wired gigabit ethernet, we measured an average transfer rate of 872Mbps – a very good result.
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