ASUS WL500g Premium Wireless Internet Router Review

Today we would like to introduce to you a new wireless router from ASUS that contains almost every feature you may require to deploy a small computer network. It is an excellent piece of hardware and definitely worth your consideration. Read more in our review!

by Platon Scheblykin
10/13/2006 | 03:34 PM

The ASUS brand is generally associated with such PC components as graphics cards and mainboards, yet the company is active in other market sectors, too. Today we’ll have a look at what ASUS offers in the rapidly developing area of network technologies: we will test the WL500g Premium wireless router.

 

Even though a relatively new name on the market of networking devices, ASUS offers a broad model range, so each user can find a model that would meet his/her specific needs. The WL500g Premium is a new device ASUS puts many hopes into. This box contains almost every feature you may require to deploy a small computer network. You can even set up a network download center, a printer server or a public ftp-server with it. This router has come to replace the previous model, WL500g Deluxe, which was indeed a successful and popular product in itself. And it means the new model must meet at least the same requirements the old model did. There are not too many improvements in comparison with the Deluxe model at first sight: a faster processor, a larger amount of flash memory, and new features called Download Master and EZSetup.

We won’t focus on the differences from the previous model, though, because it is already out of production. Our goal is to check out the functionality of the router, to test the bandwidth of its ports in different directions and to measure the coverage area of its wireless unit.

Specification

The following table lists a brief specification of the ASUS WL-500g Premium model:

Parameter

Characteristics

Wireless standard

IEEE 802.11b/g

Encoding standard

WEP, WPA, WPA2

Antenna

  • Internal IF (Inverted -F)- antenna
  • External dipole antenna

Signal modulation

OFDM, CCK, DQPSK, DBPSK

Operating frequency

2.4 - 2.5 GHz

Nominal data transfer rate

  • 802.11g: 6, 9, 12, 18, 24, 36, 48, 54Mbps
  • 802.11b: 1, 2, 5.5, 11Mbps

Output power

  • 802.11g: 14~16dBm (at normal temp. range)
  • 802.11b: 16~18dBm (at normal temp. range)

Sensitivity

-74~-75dBm@54Mbps
-87~-88dBm@11Mbps
-95~-97dBm@1Mbps
(at normal temp. range)

Operating channels

11 for N.America, 14 Japan, 13 Europe (ETSI),
3 (non-overlapping)

WAN

1 RJ-45 (10/100 BaseT) Fast Ethernet 10/100 Mb/s port
with auto-crossover function

LAN

4 RJ-45 (10/100 BaseT) Fast Ethernet 10/100 Mb/s ports
with auto-crossover function

Other interfaces

2 USB2.0 ports

Power

External power supply

Dimensions

215 x 160 x 42 mm

Additional features

  • Built-in FTP server
  • Download Master
  • Built-in UPnP server
  • EZ Setup
  • BroadRange
  • Afterburner

The package contains:

Design

The router doesn’t have an eccentric design, as opposed to the previous models in the WL500g series. This can be illustrated with the following photos that we took from ASUS’ official website (the WL500g Deluxe is on the left; the WL500g Premium is on the right):

On the other hand, people say that all ingenious things are indeed simple. The Premium model is up to its name. It has straight, laconic lines, a light but robust case, well-fitted details, a few indicators. The WL500g Premium is cooled passively through vent holes in the top and bottom panels of the case and slits in the sides. The router doesn’t suffer from the lack of a fan, though. The temperature inside the case is rather low, even lower than that of the external power adapter.

We can find only two drawbacks in the exterior of this device. First, the top panel of the case begins to shine though the vent holes like an electric fire. You can see that under dim external lighting.

This starts getting on your nerves if the router stands within your area of view, making you think about a piece of scotch tape. The problem is the router’s indicators are designed as SMD LEDs. To make them visible on the front panel, the manufacturer connected them to it with light pipes made of transparent plastic.

It’s these light pipes that are the source of such an annoying illumination. It’s indeed strange ASUS’ engineers didn’t correct that defect. They should have covered the light pipes with a layer of reflective material on the outside.

The second drawback comes from the manufacturer’s desire to use as few indicators as possible. They have become less informative as the result. This problem could have been solved by implementing the functionality of each indicator in a different way than it was done in the WL500g Premium. Besides the rather hard-to-remember combination of blinking/non-blinking/shining/non-shining, there are more descriptive ways of indication, for example multi-colored LEDs. We don’t want to complain at the indicators much, though. After all, ASUS’ engineers put some creative thought into them. The indicators are shaped like signs and symbols of the functions they indicate. This is especially convenient in darkness when you can’t read the labels on the front panel. Here’s a full list of the indicators you can find on the router’s front panel.

These are (from left to right):

There are elements worthy of our attention at the rear panel (from left to right):

If you don’t want to put the router on your desk, you can use the two mounting holes in its bottom panel to mount the device somewhere on a wall.

Now it’s time to take a screwdriver and a look at the innards of our WL500g Premium. To open it up, we had to unglue the rubber feet that should keep the device steady on a tilted and slippery surface. Hidden under the feet are four screws that hold the top and bottom parts of the case together. There’s a warranty sticker on one of the screws, we just tore it off.

The router has a thought-through case design, and it was very easy to dismantle it and put it back together again.

We found a defect of manufacture when we removed the top part of the case. Even when we took the device out of its package, we heard some rattle inside it. It proved to be worse than industrial garbage as we first thought it to be. The photo shows that the cause of the noise was a wire that connects the antenna connector on the case with the connector on the router’s Wi-Fi card.

There’s no talking about establishing a good wireless connection here. When the antenna cable is detached, the level of the router’s signal was -90dB even in its immediate vicinity. We think it is a serious defect considering that you can’t solve the problem without getting inside the device and thus losing the warranty. The antenna may fall off during transportation, and we guess our case is not a rare exception.

There are two cards inside the router, a main card and a Wi-Fi module. The latter is a small card plugged into the main card’s miniPCI slot.

There are two main chips on the card. One is manufactured by Broadcom and is called BCM4318E.

This chip is a highly integrated wireless controller with support for Afterburner and BroadRange technologies intended to increase the efficiency of a wireless connection and to enlarge the coverage area, respectively. These technologies will only work if they are supported on the client device. We found the chip specification on the website of its manufacturer:

Interface

PCI, SDIO/SPI

System Bus Support

PCI, CardBus, CompactFlash, EBI

Standard

IEEE 802.11g

Data Rate

802.11g:54, 48, 36, 24, 18, 12, 9, 6Mb/s; 802.11b;
11, 5.5, 2, 1Mb/s

Modulation

OFDM, CCK, DQPSK, DBPSK

Network Architectures

Infrastructure, Ad Hoc

Operating Frequencies

2.4-2.497GHz

Operating Channels

11-North America, 13-Europe, 14-Japan

RF Output Power

20dB max

Antenna Connectors

Hardware diversity support – Transmit and Receive

Power Requirements

1.8V (3.3V for ref design)

Power Consumption

Average Standby <20 mW

Security

WEP; WEP2; WPA, WPA2; TKIP; Weak-key avoidance;
CCX, CCX2.0; 128-bit OCB mode AES,802.11i

Dimensions

12x12mm 196-pin, 10x10mm 144-pin

Software Support

Microsoft WHQL certified for Windows XP/2000/Me/WindowsSE.
Embedded drivers for Linux and VxWorks.

Certifications

IEEE 802.11 compliant; Wi-Fi CERTIFIED;
ACPI power management

The second chip is SiGe 2521A60. It is an RF module for 802.11b and 802.11g standards.

You can attach two antennas to it and they will work alternately. This is indeed implemented in the router: the first, dipolar antenna is external and the second antenna (inverted F) is wired on the PCB.

To tell you the truth, the PCB of the ASUS WL500g Premium (right) looks much alike to the reference PCB from Broadcom (left):

 

The main difference is that the right PCB is longer to wire the second antenna, has a modified power circuit and its RF module is rotated by 90 degrees. There are no great changes in the components; the two main chips are the same on both the PCBs.

The router’s main components, processor and memory, are located on the main PCB under the metal casing. They are screened with a tin box from above and with thick aluminum foil with a layer of insulation on the reverse side of the PCB.

The ASUS WL500g Premium uses a BCM4704 processor from Broadcom. It is a 32-bit MIPS processor with a specified frequency of 300MHz (but it works at 264MHz in this router).

The firmware is stored in the flash memory chip manufactured by Spansion (8MB capacity, an access time of 90ns at initialization and 25ns at memory access).

The router has 32MB of memory (in two DDR SDRAM chips from Hynix) to run its software.

Two more controllers can be found outside the screened area: a VT6212L chip from VIA and a BCM5325E chip from Broadcom. The latter is a Fast Ethernet switch with an integrated 128MB frame buffer and an ability to identify the wire type (ordinary or crossover).

The former chip is a four-port USB 2.0 host controller.

Only two ports are implemented in the router, though.

For troubleshooting purposes a console can be connected to the WL500g Premium via a UART bus.

The appropriate connector is located near the right edge of the main PCB.

Web Interface

Before we start to discuss the options offered by the web-interface of the control software, we have to talk about the firmware, about that block of data which is written into the router’s flash memory. The firmware is perhaps the biggest problem of the WL500g Premium. Well, it’s not hopelessly bad. If the user is quite satisfied with the options available in the official firmware (we’ll discuss them later on), he/she won’t see any limitations, but there is quite a lot of users who want more than the standard options. Fortunately, the router allows to replace (rewrite) the standard firmware with alternative versions developed by third-party enthusiasts. This is the way to enhance the router’s functionality.

There are a number of reasons why you may want to search for alternative firmware versions for your WL500g Premium, but a majority of them come down to a problem with a PPTP (VPN) connection with simultaneous routing of the traffic into the local network. The standard firmware doesn’t provide the necessary options when the user is connected to the provider’s local network with a static (or dynamic) IP address and has access to the Internet from the same provider via a VPN (PPTP) connection and is assigned an additional external dynamic IP address. This is not the only reason to use an unofficial firmware version. Some versions provide an opportunity to communicate with the router via Telnet or SSH in which case your options are virtually infinite (they are limited by the capabilities of the router’s hardware only) – you can change any parameters of the firmware, install new applications on the router, write your own scripts, etc.

At the time of our writing this review we could only find three different unofficial firmware versions for the WL500g Premium. The first version is issued by ASUS itself but has a beta status. It is numbered 9.9.7.1 and differs from the previous versions in its correct support for the PPTP+DHCP variant. The second version is called OpenWRT. The developer’s website is located at http://openwrt.org and the latest version is RC5. This firmware implements Telnet-based access to the router and solves the VPN related problems, too. The third alternative version is written by an enthusiast who goes under the name of Oleg. He writes firmware of his own for some network devices from ASUS, including the WL500g Premium. Shortly before the writing this review he put his own firmware for the WL500g router on his forum http://wl500g.info. Here is the link to the file: http://oleg.wl500g.info/gp/WL500gp-1.9.2.7-7f-pre7.trx. This is not a release, but a beta version, yet it should perform its main functions well enough.

So, how do the alternatives work? Our router refused to accept the OpenWRT firmware, saying the file image was corrupt. ASUS’ firmware worked, but we couldn’t normally set up a VPN connection under the above-described conditions. Oleg’s firmware worked the best of all. It is not free from minor drawbacks, yet it does its job, as its author promises. The most important thing is that it helped us solve the problem of VPN connections in the best way: after we specified necessary settings, the provider network began to work simultaneously with a VPN tunnel (although ASUS’ unofficial firmware is declared to support only one connection variant at a time). The only considerable drawback of Oleg’s firmware is that is lacks support for the Download Manager. Perhaps the author will implement it in the final release of his firmware.

Having made it clear with the available firmware, we can now proceed to investigate the options offered in the official version. You can learn about the additional features added by the alternative firmware on the websites of the authors (see the links above). What we are going to say below refers to the official version 1.9.6.9 firmware since it was the last official version available at the time of our writing this.

To enter the options menu, you should type the router’s IP address into your browser’s address bar (by default, it is http://192.168.1.1). The page that appears shows the status of the Internet connection and a small Login button. Click the button and type in your login and password (by default, “admin” and “admin”) to enter the menu. Here’s the home page of the settings menu:

On the left you can see a list of option groups denoted with folder icons. The groups are divided into subgroups denoted with document icons. The first two folders aren’t interesting (the first folder is in fact the home page). Let’s discuss the rest of them.

So, the Wireless group is all about the settings of the wireless interface. The basic wireless connection options can be found in the Interface subgroup.

Here you can specify the SSID the router can be recognized by. Then you select the radio channel. Depending on the region the router is meant for, it can allow to use 11, 13 or 14 channels. Our sample allows 11 channels (North America). The Wireless Mode option specifies the wireless standards the router can work with. By default, it is set to support 802.11b and 802.11g standards simultaneously, but you can change it to support only one of the standards. You can choose 802.11g to increase the connection efficiency but lose the compatibility with the previous standard. The other settings of this subgroup concern data encryption. Three encryption standards are supported: WEP, WPA and WPA2. Both variants of the WPA standards can be selected: either with a preshared key or with a RADIUS server.

The Bridge subgroup helps set the router up in the WDS mode (Wireless Distribution System).

In this mode all the access points can work via the wireless interface not only with client devices but also with each other. This becomes possible by using a special type of packets and a table of MAC addresses.

The Access Control subgroup contains settings that control the connections basing on tables with MAC addresses, each of which is linked to a specific router action.

On the RADIUS Settings page you can set up the parameters of the RADIUS server.

On the last page of the Wireless group, called Advanced , you can find some wireless connection settings that should only be changed in case of emergency. For example, you can disable the wireless interface, enable Broadcom’s Afterburner technology, enable prioritization of multimedia traffic (WMM), change the level of packet fragmentation, change the data transfer speed threshold, etc.

The IP Config group opens with the WAN&LAN page. On this page you can set up the parameters of the router’s WAN port: the type of connection via the WAN port, the IP-address the router will be available by from the external network, the address of the external gateway and external DNS servers. Here you can also adjust the parameters of PPPoE and PPTP connections and specify the router’s IP address for the internal network.

The router’s integrated DHCP server can be set up on the DHCP page.

The Route page contains an editable routing table.

The Miscellaneous page contains parameters that don’t fit into the other subgroups like everything related to time, the option to permit/prohibit the UPnP protocol, and settings to access the router’s local DNS server from the Internet.

The NAT Setting group contains NAT-related settings, as you may guess. On the Port Trigger page you can specify a port visible from the internal network that packets from certain applications in the external network (specified by the numbers of the incoming ports) will be redirected to.

The Virtual Server subgroup is for setting up virtual servers on the internal network which will be accessible from the external network.

The Virtual DMZ page is where you can specify the address of a machine on the intranet that all the packets from the external network will be directed to.

Like a majority of modern routers, the ASUS WL500g Premium has an integrated firewall. It can be set up in the Internet Firewall group. The Basic Config subgroup contains parameters that concern the firewall in general.

Then, you can set up the parameters of filtering of packets from different applications in both directions on the WAN&LAN Filter page.

The filtering parameters for alphabetical addresses are specified on the URL Filter page.

The filtering parameters for MAC addresses are specified on the MAC Filter page.

Next goes the USB Application group whose settings refer to the router’s two USB 2.0 ports. On the Basic Config page you can specify startup parameters for different applications that involve external data storage media.

On the Share Nodes page the parameters of the attached USB hard drive (or flash drive) are specified. You can also assign network names to folders on the disk.

Users that will have access to the ftp-server running on the router are specified on the User List page.

The Web Camera page is for setting up a web-camera attached to the router. Device-related settings come first: image quality, refresh rate, how the image will be displayed on the client, etc. Then, there are settings controlling how to use the camera as a surveillance tool. On this page you can also set up the parameters for monitoring six web-cameras attached to the router via the network.

There is only one page, Basic Config, in the Bandwidth Management group. You can limit the traffic for certain IP addresses here.

On the Global Settings page of the System Setup group the interface language and a new password for the router’s web interface are specified.

On the Operation Mode page you can choose among three modes: the router works as a gateway from a home network into the provider network, a router for a home network, or an intranet access point.

The Firmware Update page allows updating the router’s firmware from the Web.

The current settings can be saved to a file so that it could be used later to restore the settings. This is done on the Setting Management page. The Factory Default option resets the settings to their default values.

The last group of settings we’d want to dwell upon is Status&Log. It’s not even settings, but a set of data fields. The Status page shows the status and current parameters of the connection to the external network, the status of the printer attached to the router’s USB port, and the main parameters of the LAN interface.

The purpose of the other pages from the Status&Log group is clear from their names: USB, Wireless, DHCP Leases, Port Forwarding, Routing Table and System Log.

ASUS Utility Software

The CD enclosed with the router contains several programs that are required to enable some of the router’s functions. They are installed on the hard drive all at once, which is not good as the user may not need some of them.

The EZSetup program is in fact a graphical interface for the same-name function of the router. EZSetup technology is intended to help the user quickly and easily set up a network connection. The setup procedure takes four steps each of which is thoroughly explained by the program. First, you are asked to switch the router into the easy setup mode:

To do that, press and hold the appropriate button on the router for a few seconds. Next, the user is offered to set up the wireless section: specify the router’s SSID and the data encryption method.

Note that the key can only be entered in a hex form whereas the web interface allows to enter it in a symbolic form. Then, you enter the provider settings for Internet access.

And finally you receive a message that the configuration has been completed successfully. You can also send the results to your printer.

Device Discovery is yet another program that helps to set the router up. Its single purpose is to find ASUS’ network equipment on the network.

When all the equipment has been found, you can try to evoke its web-interface. A request from this program is the same as typing the address of the necessary device in your web browser. But the most important programs from the ASUS Utility suite for the WL500g Premium are Download Master and Firmware Restoration. The latter is required to restore the router after an unsuccessful attempt to update the firmware, i.e. when you can’t connect to the router from your browser.

It is very simple to use: just launch the program and specify the firmware to be restored. And wait until the restoration is over.

The Download Master implements the main (in the manufacturer’s opinion) feature of this router: file downloads without a computer. It is a download manager with the server part is located on the router and the client part runs on the PC. Before you can use the client part, you must enable the server part in the router’s settings to launch an appropriate daemon.

When this is done, you can launch the utility. It allows to download files using three protocols: http, ftp and BitTorrent. For http you only have to provide a link to the necessary file; for BT you should download an appropriate torrent-file; for ftp you specify a link to the file as well as the port number and the server authorization information.

The Transfers tab shows the current status of the download queue.

You can also perform certain actions over the queue here: cancel/restart downloads, clear the queue from complete tasks, etc. You can view everything saved on the disk on the Folder tab.

So, the Download Master can only work with a network drive attached to the router via USB.

Generally speaking, all the programs, except the Download Manager, meet the requirements to them, but the Download Manager might be better. This program copes with its main functions, but we guess it would be better if it had more functionality like multi-threaded download options, batch tasks, a simple ftp-browser, a schedule, downloads through a proxy server, etc.

Performance

The basic criterion to determine a router’s performance is surely the effective bandwidth of its network ports. In our case, such parameters as the speed of the integrated ftp-server and the speed and coverage area of the wireless interface are important, too. Since this is the first router of this class to be tested in our labs, we have nothing to compare it with and will comment its results subjectively. We used the popular IxChariot program to test the speed of the network connections, creating a few point-to-point connections that would illustrate different setups.

We used the following equipment for all the tests:

Below are the graphs from IxChariot after running the High_Performance_Throughput scenario.

Data pumping within the local network:

Data pumping from the external network into the local network:

Data pumping within the local network using the Wi-Fi interface (in the immediate vicinity of the router). We measured the speed of data transfer between a system attached via cable and a system that connected via a wireless connection with WPA encryption:

The results are impressive, especially for the wired connection. They almost equal the maximum theoretical throughput of the 100Mbps channel. The wireless interface bandwidth is high enough, too, considering that the result largely depends on the Wi-Fi module and the client’s antenna.

It’s rather hard to measure the coverage area of the router’s transceiver. If you measure the distance the signal can travel across an open space, the results won’t be indicative of the real-life performance and won’t have much practical worth. So, we have to test the connection in a building instead. There are things to be aware of in this case, too. The coverage area in a building greatly depends on the quality and position of the walls and even on the people moving inside the building. After all, we decided to test the router in a living apartment. This seems to be more true-to-life since the ASUS WL500g Premium is positioned as a router for home and small office environments which don’t differ much from the construction of an apartment. Our measurement method was very simple: we were just walking around the apartment with the notebook and were watching for the signal level. The results for three reference points are listed in the table:

Distance to router with obstacles

Signal level

6 meters
two walls (brick, plasterboard)

51% (good)

6 meters
1 wall (brick)

54% (good)

12 meters
2 walls (brick)

15% (poor)

We’ll be able to compare these numbers with those we’ll have with other routers. So far we can only say that the Wi-Fi interface of the ASUS router (with the standard antenna) doesn’t perform too well with the notebook.

And finally, here are the results of our measuring the speed of data transfers with the router’s integrated ftp-server. We attached a hard drive with test files to the router’s USB port and then downloaded those files through the LAN port with the FlashFXP program. This program reports the time (with a precision up to one second) it took to perform a download. There were two steps in this test. First, we downloaded one 688MB file (a DivX movie) and then 182 files with a total size of 834MB (the staticmeshes folder for the Lineage 2 client). Here are the results:

This is far from the maximum bandwidth of USB 2.0 or Fast Ethernet interfaces. It means that the speed is limited by the router’s hardware.

Conclusion

The ASUS WL500g Premium router is going to be a good buy for everyone who wants to deploy a small home or office network. Even though you have to use the alternative firmware to get the maximum out of this device. This is indeed sad because the WL500g Premium is superb hardware and must come with superb software, too. Perhaps ASUS programmers are already working on that?

Highs:

Lows: