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Firmware and Web-Interface

From the hardware section of the router we are now proceeding to discuss its firmware. The quality and functionality of firmware is often the decisive factor when choosing a particular router. The requirements to the firmware of such a feature-rich device as the WL-600g are even tougher since it is through the firmware that the potential of the router’s hardware can be revealed. We wrote in our review of the WL-500g Premium that it had problems working with its own firmware but could show its best by means of alternative firmware versions, mainly from the website www.wl500g.info . As for the WL-600g, it is announced on the website forum that alternative firmware won’t be developed for it, and the support of the router by the OpenWRT project is not yet confirmed (you can check out the support status at http://wiki.openwrt.org/TableOfHardware). We don’t know of any other projects for developing firmware for ASUS routers, so we only tried the official firmware. Besides its first version (1.0.2.4), there is a newer version that comes in two variations, for AnnexA (1.0.2.8.A) and for AnnexB (1.0.2.8.B). It differs from the older version mainly with its support for VLAN. We’ll be talking about firmware 1.0.2.8.A from now on.

As a matter of fact, ADSL routers have problems of their own, related to their specific WAN interface, besides typical network problems. One such problem is the forwarding of data streams from an external port to specified LAN ports (we mean the router’s physical ports here). This is called Port Mapping. It is implemented by means of VLANs. The router supports this feature and it works normally. You can create up to 16 connections. Another problem, which was present in the AM604g router we reviewed in an earlier article, concerns the option of changing the MTU parameter (Maximum Transmission Unit). If it is set wrongly, you may experience conflicts when exchanging data with your ISP. This parameter cannot be changed in the WL-600g, but its value is selected properly for most users. One more problem, discussed widely on the ASUS tech support forum and reported to persist in the new firmware, is that the router hangs up when the connection to the provider is broken. We checked this out by attaching the router to our DSLAM and breaking the connection up with the DSLAM as well as physically. After the “software” disconnect the WL-600g reestablished connection, even though after a long pause. When the connection was broken physically, the router hung up a couple of times so that we had to disable its power. This is an emergency situation, of course, but some other ADSL devices handle it easily (e.g. the AM604g or the DSL-300T from D-Link). We didn’t find any other serious problems at that step of our examination. So, let’s now examine the firmware setup options.

The firmware setup interface is typical for a SOHO-class network device although it is not the most popular type of the interface. The left frame shows a tree-like menu structure with subgroups and settings pages while the central frame shows the active settings page. Pages can have multiple layers meaning that a page can contain buttons that lead to other pages which are unavailable from the main menu. Some settings become visible on a page only after you’ve checked a checkbox or clicked a button. For example, if you uncheck the Enable Automatic Assigned DNS checkbox, you’ll see a previously hidden window you can enter DNS server addresses into. This is not the user-friendliest of interfaces to start with (and it may feel just inconvenient at first) and it is made worse by a couple of programmer’s flaws. The first flaw can be seen in the pages catalogue that lacks visual clues. For example, the WL-500g Premium’s web-interface has page icons next to pages with settings and folder icons next to groups of settings. But there are no icons here and different headings are not even colored differently.

Moreover, you cannot open more than one subgroup at a time because the previous open subgroup is closed automatically on your opening a new one. This is inconvenient as you sometimes want to have a few subgroups open at the same time. A second flaw is about the pages themselves which are too fragmented. Related settings that would live happily on one page are spread along multiple pages. The developer must have tried to make it simpler to find necessary options, but only made things worse.

The router’s settings can be changed not only through the web-interface but also via telnet, SSH, and SNMP. All settings pertaining to these protocols are not available from the browser, however. We only found them in a settings file the router can save to your hard disk at your request. Rather ironic, don’t you think?

That’s enough about the interface. Let’s see what settings you can change using your web-browser. We’ll be going down the options menu, describing in brief each page or groups of similar pages. We will show you fragments of open menus wherever necessary.

 
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