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Monday, 10 May 2004

The Ultimate Router or is it? [lurks]

Few weeks back this uninteresting box landed on my desk, another WiFi router - yawn. Actually it's an Asus, who aren't particularly well known in this area. I had an Asus ADSL router in the past and it was sort of competent but it nothing special and it got ditched for one of the many units I've used since.
As a result of that prior experience, I wasn't expecting much. The device is the Asus WL-500G. Asus' web site is in its typical broken English and they describe it as the 'The Most Smart WLAN router in the world'. Yeah right. So I plug it in and check it out. Err, the web config is nothing short of sex - this isn't the Asus crap I've seen before, thinks I. Interest piqued, I make a grab for the manual and check out some feature. Bugger me, this thing has features. Rather than rambling through them all, I'll just the impressive ones;
  • 802.11G 54mb networking
  • NAT, static routed or WAP modes
  • Proper WPA security
  • Printer server
  • USB port for mass storage and webcam
  • Two firewalls, for LAN and WAN

Some of those are pretty standard, some of them are seriously damn cool. First off, the web interface. I think some pics are in order here. Here's the front end of the web interface. Now take a look at the virtual server stuff for port forwarding. It's perfect. Scrolly list of mapped ports which supports ranges (thank Christ!), just what you need.
Before you get too bored of that, just take a look at this page which shows you the built-in FTP server. Take special note of the little box, quite a lot of the settings in the router have little pop up explanations. That is very cool for beginners. And in fact, as you can see from the nav on the left side of those shots, there's some easy set up wizards. These make getting the WL-500G and running seriously easy for people without too much of a clue. Simple defaults for cable or ADSL modems etc.
It should also be mentioned that it comes with two printed manuals, one of which is a full guide and is surprisingly in depth while the other is a quick start guide. Again, perfect. You starting to spot a pattern here?
Let's just back track again to when I said USB and that features list. This router has a USB socket on the back. If you plug a mass storage device into it, you can set up a WAN accessible FTP server on it and it's pretty comprehensive too. You could just slap in a little 64MB pen drive in the back of it, for example, and FTP some documents home.
That's cool right, but the webcam shit is *really* cool. It supports a load of different webcams and, get this, if it detects movement - the WL-500G will e-mail you with the image file attached to the mail. I don't have a supported webcam (a lot of the ones it supports are easy to get hold of and very cheap like the Trust SP@CECAM 150, but I've got some Creative NX Pro thing which isn't supported) but I'll get hold of one and try it out later.
Let's talk about the wireless. It has a detachable aerial as you'd expect. The signal to my lair from it is 'Good' as opposed to the 'Poor' I got a D-Link 614+ in exactly the same position, according to my Sony TR1MP notebook. I got WEP sorted very easily. The WPA stuff is far better than WEP of course, and I got that working on the notebook with an 802.11g card in it too. The icing on the cake is the fact that you can disable the radio entirely and it has a separate wireless firewall, oh and a schedule too.
So, you could run your own hotspot with this and just allow people mail and web access and only during the day times. Jeez, it even supports RADIUS authorisation too and given that it'll also work in a distributed Wifi environment, it sure looks to me like it'd be sweet for more commercial heavy duty use too.
All the rest of the stuff you'd want is there. Port triggering, proper firewall, UPnP support, configurable DHCP, DNS relay etc, you name it. All, as near as I can tell, work flawlessly. DHCP hands out a different IP address submask when the wireless firewall is running. I changed the IP address of it and it actually prompted me in a pop up that I ought to change the DHCP server IP ranges and sent me onto that page before setting changes and rebooting. Perfect.
Physically, it's very nice too. Here it is next to my Motorolla cable modem. It will also lay down and the vertical stand folds away into it to retain the lines. The LEDs are quite bright. There's a proper 4 port fast ethernet switch of course. If you mong a firmware upgrade then it will go into emergency mode so you can restore the firmware, which is a damn sight better than Netgear which will just eat itself and you 're left fancy doorstop.
I've had it running for a few days and it hasn't crashed but then no other router I've looked at is quite *that* bad but after a month, we should know if it's more stable than Netgear's (yes I know most of their ADSL routers are OK but their broadband routers just aren't stable). Game server scans didn't phase it, which is a good acid test. There's no DoS protection mentioned but then I can't quite see how useful that's supposed to be when you have filters for types of ICMP traffic anyway. Gaming on it is as good as a D-Link, which is as good as it gets.
Now to quantify and summarise my view of the WL-500G, first it might be worth mentioning that I have used and tested, at length, a very great many broadband and ADSL routers so I think I'm in a pretty good position to comment on this. The WL-500G does not strike me like the work of some tech monkeys belting out another commoditised router. This router strikes me as a labour of love. Whoever designed this router has seen the competition and they've spoken to people who use them and who place above normal demands on consumer routers and they have delivered the finest router I have seen, Wifi or otherwise.
Asus does actually have a UK office for support, I know because I've spoken to them. Availability of this unit is the tricky one though, a google turned up nada and none of the usual suspects seem to carry it. This is a recent Asus push into the UK though and I gave Dabs a call, filled them in on my findings and they said they would stock it so look out for it there in the next couple of days.
Want to know the RRP on this? Try £60. Yes, the RETAIL price and that is inclusive of VAT.
Now, here's where the 'or is it?' bit comes into this blog. This is actually a redo of the original blog due to my findings after putting the router into a pretty tough working environment - my house. The wireless was flawless and net connectivity all well and good, as mentioned above - but after awhile, the net connection would die. At first I thought it was the ISP, then perhaps the router had crashed but it looked like it was OK, web config worked. I even chased my tail for awhile suspecting some sort of DHCP renewal problem and I discussed that on the end of the original version of this blog.
To simplify the issue I killed that blog and resubmitted with my real findings. The WL-500G is a kit-reviewers nightmare. Under all but the most thorough of examination, it is absolutely exemplary but when tested in a manner which is only befitting an unfeasible amount of testing, it turns out to have a flaw which is not just a nuisance or a drawback but a complete showstopper.
One taxing thing for a router to end up having to work with is Bittorrent. This results in many incoming requests on a single port, requesting a port back and a pretty complex exchange of data. Each one of the requests requires mapping through NAT and each one uses a bit of memory every time. Some routers have been known to crash under these circumstances. Belkin is famous for it, some Netgears will die after a few days of this punishment.
Sadly the WL-500G is somewhere in between. It will randomly self destruct on the WAN routing side anywhere from minutes to 24 hours after a Bittorrent is fired up. There is no evidence of a flaw other than WAN routing dying. One flaw of the router is a pretty basic level of diagnostics logging and absolutely no real-time diagnostics such as throughput and so on. So I was left in the dark isolating it.
Yet on two occasions now, I have seized up the router just by firing up a Bittorrent client on a particular busy torrent with a generous tracker (which hands out lots of IPs), and it has seized within minutes and no hours. It doesn't come good of it's own accord, it needs to be rebooted manually.
So there you have it, a complete showstopper. The router is useless. So while the engineers at Asus did an amazing job of looking at all the things incorporated in a router and excelling in their implementation on the WL-500G, in the final analysis they failed to test the router adequately under demanding conditions.
Bugger. Back goes the D-Link.


  1. It does sound like some kind of software error/memory leak kind of shit possibly, it's a new router, so there might be hope for a patch?

  2. You git! I was looking forward to your old one :-)

  3. Hmm, I'm in the market for a wifi router, I'm helping out a friend setup a simple-to-use solution at home and was loving the idea of this router until I got to the end :(
    Better look at what D-Link have then.

  4. Me & Hou have got the Netgear DG834G. V pleased. No knobbing up of bittorrent & no deciding server scans are DOS attacks.

  5. That's an ADSL router...Update 10/5/04: This old blog needs updating. Asus went quiet on me when I attempted to resolve the showstopping stability problems of the WL-500G router. Not so long ago, a pretty major revision of the firmware was released along with the GPL source. Naturally, the list of changes mentions purely new features and didn't say a thing about fixing stability. But then software developers never do that, do they?I flashed up the Asus and chucked it on all weekend on a load of torrents, I mean an ass load of torrents. It's been rock solid. It would have died in mere hours before so they've certainly fixed something.Quite a nifty feature they've added too. Naughty but nifty. There's a box where you can key in the transmit power in milliwatts. It defaults to 19. You can set it up to 84. I fired up netstumbler and upped it and sure enough, signal strength bumped up appreciably. That's pretty damn cool.