Firmware and Web-Interface
As we have found out, the hardware section of the router is implemented in a rather non-standard way. Now let’s see what effect this has on the router’s firmware and setup options. The amount of flash memory determines the size of the firmware file which is about 1MB for this router. The TL-WR542G is not a popular device, and there is no alternative firmware for it. As for official firmware, there is a special revision for each version of the router. The latest firmware for the fourth version of the TL-WR542G was version 3.5.2 at the time of my tests so I replaced the router’s native firmware with it. The firmware update process is quite unusual for a home device. The new firmware file is downloaded via an FTP server, as in professional network equipment, rather than via the Web. The server program is in the same archive with the firmware. The update process is different in the new firmware version, however, and you can now download firmware updates via the Web.
When talking about the capabilities provided by the firmware of a particular router, I always tell you how the router supports different VPN tunnels. The TL-WR542G supports all the three most popular types of VPN connections: PPPoE, PPTP and L2TP. The PPTP connection is the most capricious one as concerns its support on the router side. To check it out, I tried to connect to a PPTP server residing on a different network (this is the most difficult case). This did not work if the server name was specified in characters, but all was well when I typed in the IP address. I was only disappointed when I tried to work with the network the VPN server was located on while the tunnel was active. The router just did not let the traffic bypass the tunnel. This is a disappointment, yet it’s good anyway that the VPN connection is established in the most difficult case. Not all routers, even expensive ones, allow doing that.
The interface for setting up router’s parameters looks just like on any other SOHO-class router:
The interface window you see in your browser is divided into four parts. The top part shows a header reminding you what router you are setting up right now. The left frame shows a tree-like list of all the settings pages. There are three levels in this list, including the root level. All settings are classified into four groups and marked with white text separators. Each group contains a few subgroups which in their turn contain a few pages with settings or are indivdual pages themselves. Subgroups are marked with the + or – sign, depending on whether the subgroup is open or closed, and the individual pages are marked with dots. The pages are classified and divided into the groups logically. All the names are succinct but informative. To cut it short, this is an example of an intuitive interface. The only disadvantage of this implementation is that you cannot open more than one subgroup of settings at a time, which may be inconvenient.
If the meaning of a page or option is unclear, the left part of the interface window shows a description of it. This help system is very detailed and helpful indeed.
The current page with settings can be seen in the middle of the interface window. Its options are shown as a simple list with fields for entering data, checkboxes, and buttons. Pages aren’t overcrowded and contain only related setup options. There is only one problem in this interface that I can criticize a little: some pages (e.g. Status) are being constantly updated, so if you are scrolling through such a page, you are being constantly brought back to its beginning.
Below follows a short description of the available setup option. I’ll discuss them in their menu order as shown in the next picture: