Linksys 54g Access Point and 54g Notebook Adapter – Review




Submission by Mike Buckhurst – So you've been thinking about a wireless networking for a while, but 11Mbps was just too slow to be worth considering, you can't wait any longer so is now the time to jump the gun and buy into 54g and worry about compatibility later.

Opinion seems divided on the compatibility of various manufacturers' 54Mbps products and how well they work when combined with 802.11b products. However, for the home user, buying entirely 54g from a single supplier, none of this need worry you. But perhaps more interesting to prospective purchasers, my house is full of Dect phones, home automation equipment and a video transmitter sharing the 2.4GHz frequency with 802.11b and 802.11g. 

This review looks at Linksys' entry into the world of 54g, with the WAP54G access point and the WPC54G notebook adapter. There is also a PCI card, but that isn't reviewed here.

I purchased my equipment from Insight, at the time this was the best price I could get.

WAP54G (£106.91 inc. VAT)


In the box you get the access point, power supply, network patch cable (I hope other manufacturers are listening it's jolly nice to receive everything you need in the box – well done Linksys), mounting bracket and CD rom containing installation software and manual.

As you would expect the access point is built in the same materials as most other Linksys products, in their standard blue and black colour. This unit is designed to stack with other Linksys products and comes with an adapter to allow it to stack with smaller devices; this also doubles as a wall mount. Despite being made of plastic the unit feels sturdy enough and for the price you can't really expect more.



On the back you get a standard RJ45 network point and socket for the supplied power adaptor. There is also a small reset button hidden inside a hole, which can be used to reset the unit back to factory defaults.



On the front you get lights for:

Power, to show you've got power to the unit.
Diag, indicates self-diagnosis mode.
WLAN Act, flashing when sending or reciving on the wireless network, in practice flickers all the time.
WLAN Link, supposed to indicate a successful wireless connection, in practice illuminated all the time.
LAN Act/Link flickers when there's activity on the network otherwise glows when connected.
LAN Full/Col indicates full duplex connection, flickering when collisions detected.
LAN 100 illuminated when connected at 100Mbps.

So now you've got all the bits you need to install it, so first you could read the manual, or you could do it the way I did (and every other programmer since the dawning of time) and just plug everything in. Note the RJ45 socket is an auto-crossover so you can plug into a standard or uplink port on your hub.

At this point you'll need a computer connected to the network. Insert the CD and it auto starts the setup wizard. The access point should be automatically detected (if there are more they can be configured individually), the MAC address, SSID, Channel and WEP state are displayed with the default configuration. You do need to know the password, which has a default of Admin.

Then you can page through the various settings and that's it, possibly the most painless installation you'll ever see, thank you Linksys.

The access point has a built in web server, if you point your browser at, type in the password (blank username) when prompted, you'll get the full configuration pages, which allow you to do everything that the configuration utility did, plus more.



If you're sensible you'll go to the configuration straight away (the manual covers these settings in reasonable detail), some of the more useful things you can do are:

Change the default password, absolutely essential. Enable or disable the SSID broadcast. Backup/restore configuration on the local PC.

You can also enable filtered IP address, where you can ensure only the MAC addresses for your own 54g cards are allowed. Not as secure as WEP but probably enough for a home network.

So now we have a wireless network, we'd better set up the Notebook Adapter.

WPC54G (£57.56 inc. VAT)



This is pretty much the same as any other wireless notebook adapter you're likely to see for 54Mbps.

In the box you get the adapter, in a rather sturdy plastic case (see the photo) and a CDROM containing as usual the configuration tools and manual, which you'll promptly ignore, we got the access point installed without using a manual, surely the adapter can't be much harder.

The aerial is built into a plastic lump that protrudes from the side of the card, this can get in the way and you need to be careful when using the laptop in bed (believe me once you're wireless, using the laptop in the bedroom is a must and it's easy to catch the card on the duvet, that said I've done it several times with no damage to card or laptop yet).

My test machine is a Dell 700MHz laptop with a clean installation of Windows XP fully up-to-date with all the service packs and critical updates (more than 150MB of downloads!!).

On plugging in the card, you get the usual found new hardware (network controller), insert the supplied CDROM into the machine, allow windows to search for a driver, found it and installed it (it's not a certified driver, but then so many are not certified I didn't worry). If you use another OS then you'll need to install the Linksys utilities which allow a bit more control over the configuration, these will work under XP but really there is no point.

Once installed the Network Connection will automatically detect the wireless network:



As I didn't use WEP I had to tick the allow connection without use of WEP checkbox, then my network was up and running. Network connected and running fine.

Now for the juicy bit, the tests. I've included layouts for my house with the access point and video sender marked – just might help someone decide if 54g wireless is suitable for them.

Upstairs, where the access point lives:



Downstairs, where the video sender, is used to get the tv signal from the NTL set-top box to the TV set (Karen, SWMBO, insisted on reversing my dining room and lounge, nice, you'll notice she's got the bigger office as well – I just can't win).



The tests consisted of walking round the house with the laptop on batteries, playing MP3s across the network (ok they won't use the maximum bandwidth but you'll certainly hear any problems with connectivity), no sophisticated measuring equipment for me.

Whilst in my office (no more than 2m from the access point) configured the access point to use channel 1, XP detected the wireless network and connected at 54MBps, nice.

Started playing some MP3s everything seemed fine, then suddenly performance plummeted to 1Mbps and MP3 playback stopped.



Wireless networking was beginning to look like a joke. I then realised where the problem might exist, my video sender is using the same 2.4GHz frequency, I wonder if the band it was using was the same as the access point. Ever helpful, the Gigavideo uses channels A, B, C & D, so assumed A was roughly equivalent to channel 1, reconfigured the access point to use channel 11 (hoping this is far away from channel A). Network now back up and running ok, looks like the review will need to look at what happens with the sender on and off.

Anyway, this table demonstrates the claimed network speeds, reported by network properties, when in the various rooms in the house, with the video sender channel configured on A and wireless network on 11 (D and 1 worked as well). The laptop was positioned in the centre of each room and allowed to sit there for a couple of minutes – it does appear that wireless speeds need to settle down a bit, before becoming more or less constant.

In brackets I've put the signal strength based on the number of bars indicated by the network properties.

Video Sender switched off
Video Sender switched on
Bedroom 1
54Mbps (4-5)
54Mbps (4-5)
Bedroom 2
54Mbps (4-5)
54Mbps (3-4)
Bedroom 3
54Mbps (4-5)
11-18Mbps (3-4)
54Mbps (5)
54Mbps (5)
Karen's Office
54Mbps (4-5)
54Mbps (4-5)
Mike's Office
54Mbps (5)
54Mbps (5)
36Mbps (3-4)
1-11Mbps (2-3)
Dining Room
36Mbps (3-4)
11-36Mbps (3-4)
54Mbps (3-4)
36-54Mbps (3-4)
54Mbps (4-5)
36-54Mbps (4-5)
36-54Mbps (3-5)
11-36Mbps (3-4)
Garden 60ft away
2-11Mbps (3-4)
2-11Mbps (2-4)

The results from this indicates that the video sender does have an impact on the performance and strength of the wireless network signal, but it appears to be random (perhaps more to do with the programme currently being sent, than anything else), there are anomalies in the results, bedroom 3 is closer to the access point, yet the figures show quite a poor performance. Proximity to the sender seemed to have little effect, note the dining room where the sender is sited got better results than the garage and bedroom 3.

The next I tried, is the microwave test. Those of you who've used a video sender at the same time as the microwave, will no the usual impact, total break-up of the picture and loads of noise. I was not hopeful for the wireless network:

Our microwave is an old Sharp (you may remember them circa 1985, stainless steel – still works fine but probably the worst for RF interference). I left the laptop in the lounge playing MP3s away, and started to cook my dinner, shock horror, music continued throughout!! Checking the network performance, it had dropped, but not by much, 36 down to 18 Mbps, still pretty acceptable considering I'd feared and expected, total failure.

We now know we can roam the house and the wireless network works well, but that's only half the story, in the real world you won't be roaming that much with a laptop, no you're far more likely to boot the machine in the room where it is to be used. My next experiment was to reboot the laptop and see how good it was at finding the network.

This time without exception, all the furthest rooms from the access point had difficult acquiring the network when the video sender was switched on, only Karen's office and the bathroom were sufficiently close to work all the time. In most cases the machine would sit there telling me there was a network, but each time I asked it to connect it would fail. Sometimes a second reboot would work but this is hardly acceptable.

With the wireless sender switched off I had no problems connecting to the network, although in the garden it was necessary to re-orientate the network card to point at the access point's general direction.

Finally what happens to the video sender signal when the wireless network is active. For this experiment I sat in the lounge opposite the TV and began to surf the net whilst listening. What you notice is interference bars appearing in time to network activity (see photo) similar but not as severe as the impact of the microwave.




Would I recommend 54g? Yes, but providing you don't require the use of a video sender, in practice the network was too unreliable with the sender switched on. I was surprised at the far reaching impact of the video sender, the directional aerial seems largely redundant – the signal seems to reach everywhere, thank goodness the neighbours don't use one (though they could certainly save on the cost of NTL cable if they had a receiver).

However, without a video sender the network proved more or less flawless, most rooms achieving the maximum performance, I even managed to watch a 2hr Divx video film stored on my fileserver across the wireless network, with not one glitch. I think most people would have difficult telling the difference between wireless (at this speed) and a wired network.

I would have liked to be able to try running with an 802.11b card on the network to see if the reports of poor performance working in dual mode are true, but couldn't get hold of one.

Linksys claim that this unit will be upgradeable to the ratified standard via bios updates, we'll see if it is possible through software when eventually the standard becomes available, until then if you plan to use a single supplier at home where interoperability is not an issue, I'd have no qualms in recommending 54g. For commercial use I think I'd wait a bit to see what pans out.

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