by Platon Scheblykin
06/25/2007 | 05:45 PM
With this article we continue our reviews of the relatively new class of network devices called ADSL routers. Today, it is the WL-600g model from ASUS. We have already tested routers from ASUS on our site and we’ll take the earlier tested WL-500g Premium as a point of reference for today’s performance analysis. Why? The fact is many users are asking the question if they should buy a WL-600g or pay some more and buy a WL-500g Premium plus an inexpensive ADSL modem. This is a well-grounded question.
The two routers are indeed very similar, except that the WL-600g offers an ADSL modem as a WAN interface. Both are devices of the All-in-one Home Gateway type. It means that besides being a router with an integrated Ethernet switch each of them offers a Wi-Fi access point (802.11.b/g) and extra features (namely, two USB 2.0 ports) on board. The WL-500g Premium has already earned a reputation of a router with extensive hardware resources, flexible settings (especially with alternative firmware), and high performance.
We’ll check out the WL-600g in this review and try to answer the question above.
So, let's get started.
WEP, WPA, WPA2
External dipole antenna
DFDM with BPSK, QPSK, 16QAM, 64QAM, DBPSK
2.4 - 2.5 GHz
Nominal data transfer rate
-802.11g: 6, 9, 12, 18, 24, 36, 48, 54Mbps
-802.11g: 14~16dBm (at normal temp. range)
-74 ~ -75dBm@54Mbps
11 for North America, 14 for Japan,
1 RJ-11 ADSL 2/2+ port
Supported types of
4 RJ-45 (10/100 BaseT) Fast Ethernet
2 USB 2.0 ports
External 12V power supply
215 x 160 x 42 mm
The box with WL600g contains:
A problem occurred with that power adapter during our tests. It burned out, actually. After a couple of days of operation, we found the router showing no signs of life. It turned out that its power adapter had failed. One chip in the adapter’s regulation circuit was completely burned out. We suppose it is a factory defect because there were an ADSL modem and another router plugged into the same power-line filter and they hadn’t even hung up. So, there was no voltage surge or something.
ASUS’ designers went a well-trodden path when they were working on the WL-600g. The router looks like most other WL-xxx series devices, including the WL-500g Premium, differing with the number of antennas, indicators, and the rear panel. It is still the same rectangular straight-lined case with rounded-off angles, made from white plastic. The router is girdled with a gray band that goes along its sides and front and serves as a background for the indicators. The device can be placed horizontally on a desk or hung on the wall using the special grooves. The WL-600g is an elegant device overall, following the latest fashion of the computer world, but still they might have created something original keeping within the same design style – there are just too many same-looking routers in ASUS’ product range nowadays. You expect some creativity from such a renowned firm as ASUS, you know. There are vent holes in the top and bottom panels. The side panel is perforated near the corners for the purpose of ventilation, too. This is enough to keep the router moderately warm at work. The WL-600g’s indicators are based on two-color SMD LEDs soldered near the edge of the router’s main PCB. Their light is transferred to the front panel by means of light pipes made of translucent plastic.
Like the WL-500g Premium, this model has a “shining” top vent grid. You can see a rather bright light (it is green this time) shining through the router’s top panel in semidarkness because the light from the LEDs not only goes through the light pipes but also penetrates them. A modder may be delighted at this illumination, yet it can hardly please an ordinary user. With all this excessive luminescence, the indicators on the front panel lack brightness as well as contrast. Their light merges into the color of the front panel quickly as you are moving further away from them. And if you are looking at the panel at an angle, active indicators can hardly be told from inactive ones.
Now that we are talking about the front panel, we’d like to tell you which exactly indicators are located on it. We’ll take a look at the router’s rear panel, too. So, the front panel of the WL-600g offers the following (from left to right):
The WL-600g’s connectors and buttons are placed on its rear panel. Here they are (from left to right):
Now we can dismantle the router and take a look at its internal design. It is easy to take the WL-600g apart – you only have to unfasten four screws in the router’s case to access its PCB. The screws can be found under the rubber feet at the bottom of the case, so you have to unglue the feet first. The screws unfastened, you just take the top panel off the case to access the PCB. The router’s PCB is fixed within the case by means of two upright guides and two screws. We removed the screws and took the PCB out of the case to examine.
The PCB is far smaller than the router’s bottom but all the elements are placed at a big enough distance from each other. It carries a WLAN module besides traditional chips. The components are installed neatly and properly, which is just what you can expect from a top-class device from a renowned brand.
Now let’s check out the hardware components of the WL-600g. Its processor is made by Broadcom and is marked as BCM6348.
This MIPS32 processor works at a clock rate of 250MHz. The core has separate caches for instructions and data. Besides an ADSL interface, the processor offers two Fast Ethernet ports, two USB hosts, PCI/PCImini/CardBus, UART, etc. The processor’s ADSL interface supports all modern ADSL standards with all their extensions. There is a seat for a console connector next to the processor, but the connector itself is missing.
The router is equipped with flash and SDRAM memory.
The 4MB 9ns flash memory chip from Macronix (MX29LV320CTTC-90G) contains the router’s firmware.
Samsung’s K4S621632K SDRAM chips have a capacity of 8MB each and work at a frequency of 166MHz.
The router’s LAN ports are based on a BCM5325 Fast Ethernet switch from Broadcom. This switch supports VLAN and AutoMDI/MDIX features.
The manufacturer of the router didn’t use the processor’s integrated USB interface but installed a separate onboard controller instead.
It is a VIA VT6212 chip.
As I mentioned above, the WLAN module is wired right on the router’s main PCB. It is based on two chips. One is a BCM4318 802.11b/g transceiver from Broadcom.
Here is its specification:
System Bus Support
PCI, CardBus, CompactFlash, EBI
802.11g:54, 48, 36,24, 18, 12, 9, 6 Mb/s;
Infrastructure, Ad Hoc
11-North America,13-Europe, 14-Japan
RF Output Power
Hardware diversity support – Transmit and Receive
1.8V(3.3V for ref design)
Average Standby <20 mW
WEP; WEP2; WPA, WPA2; TKIP; Weak-key avoidance;
12x12mm 196-pin, 10x10mm 144-pin
Microsoft WHQL certified for Windows XP/2000/Me/WindowsSE.
IEEE 802.11 compliant; Wi-Fi CERTIFIED;
The controller supports Afterburner, but it is largely a pretty marketing name. There is little use from this technology in practice.
And finally, the router’s got a 12LP14A signal amplifier from Silicon Storage Technology.
Its characteristics are as follows:
The external antenna connector is linked to the wireless module with a special route on the PCB rather than with a cable as usual. The connector itself looks imposingly:
Besides the external antenna, the router has an internal planar IF antenna. It is located near the edge of the PCB.
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 (18.104.22.168), there is a newer version that comes in two variations, for AnnexA (22.214.171.124.A) and for AnnexB (126.96.36.199.B). It differs from the older version mainly with its support for VLAN. We’ll be talking about firmware 188.8.131.52.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.
The Device Info group is the first one in the menu. It contains pages with information and statistics (do not confuse them with log files) for the different protocols and interfaces of the router.
The second line in the main menu is Quick Setup. It is a step-by-step guide to setting up the initial parameters of the router.
The second group of settings is called Advanced Setup. These are main router and Ethernet switch setup options.
The WAN page of this group is where you set up your WAN connections. Each parameter is specified on its own page and the whole setup process is carried out sequentially, in steps.
After the changes have been saved, the new connection appears in the list on the first page.
On the LAN page you can change the router’s local IP address, specify the parameters of the integrated DHCP server, and enable/disable IGMP and UPnP protocols.
The NAT subgroup of the Advanced Setup group contains as many as four pages: Virtual Servers, Port Triggering, DMZ Host, and ALG.
On the first page from this list you can make a certain type of traffic go right to a definite server on the router’s internal network. On the second page you can specify ports that certain applications, located on both sides of the router, will be communicating through. On the third page you can specify the address of a machine on the local network that all incoming traffic will be directed to. And on the fourth page you can enable/disable the use of the Session Initiation Protocol. All lists of this subgroup can contain up to 32 fields.
The next subgroup, Security, includes only two pages: IP Filtering and Parental Control.
On the former page you can prohibit certain outwards-bound network transactions.
On the latter page you can schedule the access to the external network for certain MAC addresses. The Routing subgroup is where you set up your traffic routing options. Static and dynamic routes are written in the Default Gateway, Static Route and RIP pages.
The addresses of external DNS servers and DDNS servers can be specified on the DNS Server and Dynamic DNS pages of the DNS subgroup.
The last one in the Advanced Settings group is the Port Mapping page on which you can bind a WAN connection to a specified local port.
Next down the list goes the Wireless group. Here you can find everything related to the router’s wireless interface.
This group’s Basic page allows to specify the router’s SSID or disable the WLAN interface altogether.
The WLAN authentication method, encryption algorithm and keys are specified on the Security page.
The list of MAC addresses that are allowed/prohibited the access to the router’s internal network is filled in on the MAC Filter page.
To transform the WL-600g into a link of a Wireless Distribution System, go to the Wireless Bridge page.
Specific parameters of the wireless interface are contained on the Advanced page, although it’s not quite clear why such parameters as frequency range and channel are here, too.
The final page of the group, Station Info, shows brief information about the connected clients.
Settings of the router’s extra features can be found in the USB Application group. We’ll discuss them later on in the next section oft his review together with the Bandwidth Management group.
The Diagnostics page of the root menu shows the results of a complex test that mainly concerns the ADSL connection. You can rerun this test here, too.
The Management group is about the router itself.
The Settings subgroup allows to save all of the router’s settings into a file, restore them from such a file, or reset them to their factory defaults.
On the System Log page you can view the router’s log and specify its parameters.
On the Internet Time page the router’s system time is specified.
The Access Control subgroup is responsible for ensuring router access security and includes such parameters as access password, IP-addresses from which the router can be accessed, etc.
The router’s firmware can be updated on the Update Software page.
The Save/Reboot page offers a button to save all the changes and reboot the device.
Besides its main functionality like routing, ADSL and Wi-Fi, the WL600g offers some extra features you can make use of if you install additional utilities from the disc included with the WL600g. We’ll describe them in this section.
Easy to guess, the router’s main bonus is its two USB 2.0 ports. What can you do with them? The first thing that comes to mind is to connect a hard disk or a flash-card with a USB interface to the router. The router supports this. The connection is established in a few seconds. You just plug the necessary device into any of the two ports. We used a 2.5” Toshiba drive in a USB enclosure. The router maintains a standard maximum current on its USB ports (500mA) – the USB HDD could be powered from the one port it was connected to. There was no single failure in its operation for the few days of our tests during which we were turning the HDD on and off repeatedly.
However, there was one disappointment here. The standard firmware of the WL-500g Premium offers one interesting and useful (even though functionally limited) feature called Download Master. This feature can be used to create a queue of downloads to the USB disk and perform such downloads using the router’s tools only. Alas, the developer must have thought this feature unnecessary for the WL-600g and did not implement it. Individual programmers have tried to address the issue, though. For example, a certain BEK provided a link to a WGet download manager he built especially for the WL-600g at the Russian-language ASUS tech support forum.
Thus, the official firmware only allows setting up a FTP server on the router. You don’t have to change anything to download a file from the disk via the network. The default settings are selected properly. But if you want to set up a permanent FTP server, you should better use the advanced settings you will find on the USB Application → FTP Server → FTP Settings page.
These settings include the server port number, max number of users on the server, reconnect delay time, user time-out, etc. On the two remaining pages of the FTP Server submenu you can see who is connected to the server currently and specify IPs that are prohibited to access the server. This can be done on the User List and Banned IP list tabs, respectively.
Setting up a print-server is another frequently used application for integrated USB ports and the WL-600g is not an exception. The setup mechanism is simpler than with FTP. You just plug the printer’s cable into the appropriate port and make sure it is auto-detected by the router by looking up in the Printer Model field on the Printer Status page.
Other settings should be specified on the machines the network printer is to be connected to. This is the theory whereas some users have reported their printer does not work with this router model. And sadly enough, ASUS hasn’t yet provided a list of printers the WL-600g officially supports. We tried to set up a print-server, too, using a monochrome laser printer HP 1018. We took the latest printer driver and the latest router firmware, yet we couldn’t make the printer work whatever we did. The printer model was identified correctly in the mentioned field, however, and the printer’s queue was an indication of the WL-600g’s fault. When a document was sent to the printer, the queue got empty after a while, with a message that the document had been printed, although the HP 1018 didn’t even warm up. So, our experience agrees with users’ reports that the WL-600g has an unreliable print-server.
As for connecting a web-camera, we found no mention of it in the router’s web-interface settings, although there were a few camera-related settings in the saved file with settings. Anyway, we didn’t have a web-camera at hand to check out this feature.
EZSetup technology, widely employed in ASUS’ network devices, is an intermediary between the router’s capabilities and additional utilities. There’s nothing extraordinary about it. It serves to quickly and easily set up main parameters of the router for inexperienced or lazy users. You should launch the EZSetup software client for that.
Then you press a special button on the router so that it entered the setup mode. And finally you launch the setup procedure on the client and the program will ask you a few questions to set the router up.
The procedure takes three steps: specifying the router’s parameters, setting up the Wi-Fi interface and setting up the Internet connection.
The disc included with the WL-600g contains two small but helpful programs. One is called Device Discovery.
It can find ASUS’ network devices in the communication environment near the machine it is launched on. When it finds any, it reports their basic parameters and invites you to connect to them. That’s all it can do.
The second program is called Firmware Restoration.
It is a vitally important utility that can bring the router back to life after an unsuccessful firmware update. The only prerequisite for its operation is that the router’s loader be functional. Firmware Restoration is very helpful if you are experimenting with alternative firmware or if you are beginner who doesn’t know how to update the firmware.
The mentioned programs are not exclusive to the WL-600g. They are supplied with many ASUS products.
The last of the WL600g’s features we’d want to cover here is called Game Blaster. This is in fact QoS technology but under a different name and with a visual interface. Its parameters can be set up on the web interface page called “Bandwidth Management”/“Bandwidth on Demand”.
Here, you can specify your priorities for four types of traffic: games, Web surfing, data exchange with the integrated FTP server, and streamed media.
We tried to use this feature in the following way: we were playing Lineage 2 in five windows and were actively surfing in a web-browser at the same time. The situation was even more complicated due to the fact that we had an ADSL channel with a speed limit of 256Kbps. When there were no traffic priorities set, Lineage 2 would slow down, sometimes very hard, let alone the browser. When we had set a high priority for games, the browser remained sluggish, but the game ran without slowdowns. Thus, this simplified QoS may not be very useful (it’s better to set everything up manually), but it works. To set everything up manually, go to the “User Specify Service” page.
Now it’s time to test the router in action. We tested the router’s ADSL and Ethernet interfaces, the data-transfer speed of the integrated FTP server, the data-transfer speed via WLAN, and the WLAN coverage area.
Here is a list of equipment and software we used in our tests:
Besides the WL-600g results, we’ll publish the results of the WL-500g Premium where appropriate for the sake of comparison. First, we tested the bandwidth of a LAN segment.
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LAN-LAN (WL-500g Premium):
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We used WPA-PSK encryption with the TKIP algorithm when we tested the WLAN interface. For each router the traffic was driven in two directions: from the notebook with a Wi-Fi card to the desktop PC connected to the router with a wire (WLAN-LAN) and then vice versa (LAN-WLAN).
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WLAN-LAN (WL500g Premium):
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LAN-WLAN (WL500g Premium):
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We tested the throughput of the ADSL interface using a DAS-3224 IP DSLAM from D-Link. To find the peak bandwidth of the ADSL channel the appropriate port of the DSLAM was configured for EoA encapsulation, Fast channel type and AnnexA support. EoA encapsulation corresponds to a bridge connection on the client device (WL600g). The DSLAM’s settings pertaining to the physical parameters of the connection were left at their defaults. The connection quality was high, according to the DSLAM’s internal tests. You may wonder why we used AnnexA instead of AnnexM that would have helped reveal the full potential of the ADSL2+ interface. The answer is not good for the WL-600g. If the DSLAM was configured for AnnexM, the router could only connect to it at a speed of 8Mbps and never higher. This only changed when we switched to AnnexA: the router’s statistics page reported a speed of 24Mbps. This is the peak speed, of course. The effective speed is lower. The following diagrams show the effective speed.
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The speed of a connection to the integrated FTP server was measured with the FlashFXP program. We put a series of files (about 380MB each) into the download queue and then read the log when the download was finished. The average download speed was about 1.2MB/s, which was far from the limit even of a USB disk. For example, the WL-500g Premium had a speed of 1.7MB/s in this test.
And finally we tested the router’s Wi-Fi interface bandwidth at different distances and with difference obstacles. We measured the signal level in five points:
Point 1: Near the WRT300N
Point 2: At a distance of 4 meters without obstacles
Point 3: At a distance of 5 meters + two thin gypsum wallboards
Point 4: At a distance of 6 meters + one brick wall, about 30cm thick
Point 5: At a distance of 17 meters + one thin gypsum wallboard and one 50cm brick wall
The diagram shows clearly who’s the winner. The WL-600g didn’t think much even of such a strong obstacle as a brick wall. Both routers behave well at a close distance and with weak obstacles.
The test results are impressive indeed. Each interface is very fast (except for the FTP server), faster than the WL-500g Premium’s interfaces in some tests. The router’s wireless interface is not only fast, but maintains a high speed at long distances. The low speed of the FTP server is the only drawback, yet it doesn’t look like a critical defect considering the high performance of the network interfaces. So, the WL-600g shows its best qualities here.
ASUS has only done half the job once again. The WL-600g would be a spotless device if it were not for a few annoying flaws. The router’s firmware doesn’t reveal the potential of its hardware section. The burned-out power adapter added more negative emotions, even though it was a defect of the particular sample. On the other hand, the drawbacks of the WL-600g may seem insignificant to some users while its high speed characteristics and the USB ports are strong arguments in its favor. Anyway, the WL-600g is better used at home as you can hardly do without a print-server at work.
What about the question we asked in the Introduction? What is better, a WL-500g Premium plus an ADSL modem or a WL-600g? We guess the WL-500g Premium is better. Yes, its official firmware isn’t far better than the WL-600g’s and its capabilities are roughly similar to the latter’s, but it seems preferable right now. It offers excellent alternative firmware, it offers the opportunity to organize two WAN connections, and it provides rich hardware resources that allow to enhance its functionality using Linux-based software. The WL-600g cannot do anything of this, unfortunately. And even if you don’t use the alternative firmware, the official firmware of the WL-500g Premium offers an interesting bonus called Download Master. Downloading files without your PC is worth the couple of dozen dollars which you have to pay for a cheap ADSL modem. The small advantage of the WL-600g in the wireless connection tests does not mean much as the difference is negligible at normal use. Comparing the routers with runners, we can say that they went off from the same starting line, but the WL-500g Premium has gone far ahead of the WL-600g and the latter still cannot catch up with the leader.