The Linksys WAG320N is an ADSL2+ modem, with gigabit ethernet and dual-band wireless router in one compact body. It's easy to configure and it has some very nifty features, such as a USB storage port and keyword filters - UPDATED 15 DEC 2010

We’ve had wireless-n connections for almost five years now, promising wirefree data transfers even faster than trusted 100Mbps ethernet.

But while the speed of real-life wireless-n connections does exceed the previous 11g standard, it falls well below what it says on the tin.

Just as older 802.11b and 802.11g equipment seriously underachieved when compared to their labelling.

Still, we’ve found a theoretical speed of '150Mbps' for 11n can translate into around 80Mbps, with a good router and over short to medium ranges (up to around 10m).

So with wireless devices whizzing data around at close to the speed of 100BaseT ethernet, it makes sense to ensure that the wired connection won’t now be the bottleneck. That’s where gigabit ethernet is a godsend - a hard-wire link that’s a magnitude faster than 100Mbps ethernet.

It’s only recently though that we’re seeing wireless routers and modems that tick boxes for both ‘11n wireless’ and ‘gigabit ethernet’.

The Cisco Linksys WAG320N is just such a product, an ADSL/ADSL2+ modem combined with a four-port gigabit ethernet switch and 802.11a/b/g/n wireless access point.

And that extra ‘a’ that slipped into the list of wireless protocols is very telling. Not only does the WAG320N support 2.4GHz comms – it also treads the path less travelled: the 5GHz radio spectrum.

That’s the frequency band where 802.11a operates, an older standard promising 11g speeds back in the 11b day, but which was never fully developed commercially.

One reason was wireless range – the higher frequency/longer wavelength system had shorter effective range than popular 2.4GHz WiFi.

And while 802.11n is most recognised for its 2.4GHz operation, it also has the capability to stretch its wings to 5GHz. One good reason why you might like to switch to the higher band is to escape the congestion caused by so many routers, PCs and gadgets fighting for air at 2.4GHz.

Another is to try to extract the performance that wireless-n product makers always promise but never deliver: 300Mbps data connections. With 11n wireless at 5GHz, it’s easier to use channel bonding to get something like this mythical ‘300Mbps’ speed.

Cisco Linksys WAG320N

The Linksys WAG320N is a compact modem router that lies flat on a table, with no external antennae to spoil its clean lines. On the rear are four ethernet ports and an ADSL line input. Green-lit icons on the front of the unit flicker to show which ports are active, as well as whenever there's any wireless activity.

A USB 2.0 port is included for attaching flash or hard-disk storage. Little information is provided in the printed manual about this facility, other than to consult the online help. After some trial and error, we could connect to an attached 32GB flash stick, using the open-source and cross-platform Cyberduck ftp client.

Initial setup of the Cisco Linksys WAG320N is easy, using either the included CD to configure in Windows or Mac OS, or manually by access through a web browser at the router’s default address of 192.168.1.1.

The former CD method strangely required admin privileges on our PC, and you must click through a license agreement to allow Cisco to monitor your use of the router.

You must also give consent for Cisco to change your browser settings and your default search engine. We find this intrusion into personal privacy unacceptable for any device, let alone a router, but clicked through for the sake of testing Cisco's recommended setup routine..

Our first sample of the Cisco Linksys WAG320N exhibited inconsistent performance, over both wired and wireless connections. Performance was fine initially, but became slow and erratic after the unit had been switched on for a few hours.

A replacement unit was sent over, which exhibited the exact same problems. Web pages would load fine, then a few minutes later would stop loading, then resume. A Mac on the wired network using the Elgato Netstream network tuner could only receive unwatchable, stuttering video.

We checked firmware of the Cisco Linksys WAG320N, and found we were using the latest Ver.1.00.12 , dated 25 March 2010. Cisco's PR team told us that this is not a known problem with the firmware.

The measurements and comments that follow apply to the moments when the router was operational.

We saw good connection sync-speeds to our ISP (Be There) of 16.75MBps down and 1.1Mbps up. Further ping tests confirmed no added latency from our usual 20ms figure, with zero packet loss and 5ms jitter.

While the Cisco Linksys WAG320N can use 2.4GHz or 5GHz bands, it only works at one frequency at a time, so you’re required to choose which mode for all your wireless devices. Given the relative paucity of 5GHz radios in wireless consumer electronics – such as laptops, smartphones, media streamers and tablets – chances are you would need to leave this router set to the regular 2.4GHz band anyway.

Wireless performance

For our wireless speed tests of the Cisco Linksys WAG320N, we stopwatched the transfer of an 872MB ISO file between a PC connected to the Linksys over ethernet, and a laptop at one of two distances.

We first tried using the 2.4GHz band. In the short range 1m test, the best average speed we measured was 61Mbps; even setting the router to wide 40MHz channels, our laptop could only handshake at ‘130Mbps’ speed.

In the 10m medium-range test, this figure dropped to between 19 and 37Mbps.

Switching the Cisco Linksys WAG320N over to 5GHz, our laptop indicated a ‘270Mbps’ connection to the WAG320N at 1m range, although the link could only average 86Mbps in real-life measured throughput. This speed fell to between 27 and 52Mbps at 10m.

Subjectively, we found 5GHz operation of the Cisco Linksys WAG320N to give a very slow feel to internet connections at 10m distance.

Cisco’s specifications for the Cisco Linksys WAG320N suggest that at ‘270Mbps’ the Linksys WAG320N has half the reception sensitivity than at ‘130Mbps’; which itself is only one-quarter its sensitivity at ‘54Mbps’ operation.

Making use of the Cisco Linksys WAG320N's wired gigabit ethernet, we measured an average transfer rate of 872Mbps – a very good result.

NEXT PAGE: The review from PC World Australia >>

Group test: what's the best wireless router?

However, it can't run both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz wireless networks simultaneously, which is an inconvenience for those of us who need to run a mixture of those types of devices. If you want a strictly 5GHz router though, the Linksys WAG320N is very fast over a long distance, so it's still worth considering.

The Linksys WAG320N is a dual-band wireless ADSL2+ router with slick styling, good ease of use and four Gigabit ports. However, it's not a good dual-band Wi-Fi router — you can't run 2.4GHz and 5GHz networks simultaneously.

Linksys WAG320N: wireless performance

Because you can't run both 2.4GHz and 5GHz frequency bands simultaneously, the Linksys WAG320N is of limited use in a mixed environment: if you have 2.4GHz and 5GHz devices that you want to use at the same time, you're out of luck.

It's even more limiting than the Netgear RangeMax DGND3300v2, which is a dual-band router that allows 2.4GHz devices to run at a maximum of 54 megabits per second (Mbps) when the 5GHz network is on. With the Linksys WAG320N, you'll have to manually switch the router from 2.4GHz to 5GHz whenever you want to use 5GHz devices, and this isn't a very efficient way to run a Wi-Fi network.

In our wireless tests, in which we copy a 1.5GB Xvid-encoded file from our file server to a notebook equipped with a dual-band Intel wireless adaptor, the Linksys WAG320N's 5GHz short- and long-range performance was excellent. From two metres, the 5GHz network averaged a transfer speed of 10.5 megabytes per second (MBps), which is a very fast time compared to other 5GHz routers we've seen, such as the Netgear RangeMax DGND3300v2 (6.41MBps) and the Belkin Double N+ wireless router (7.47MBps). From 15m away, it achieved an average transfer speed of 7.32MBps, which is 0.73MBps faster than the Netgear and 1.71MBps faster than the Belkin.

Using the 2.4GHz band, the Linksys WAG320N's close-range performance was also excellent — it averaged a transfer rate of 10.06MBps — but it was dismal in the long range test. From 15m away, the 2.4GHz network averaged just 1.56MBps. The Belkin Double N+ recorded 3.37MBps in the same test.

If you're considering implementing a 5GHz network in order to give you more speed over longer distances, the Linksys WAG320N will be perfect. However, you'll have to make sure all your devices support 5GHz. If you plan to use the WAG320N's 2.4GHz wireless network for anything other than close-range transfers, you may suffer slow and unreliable performance.

Linksys WAG320N: ADSL2+ performance

The built-in modem supports ADSL2+ connections and it performed solidly during our tests. We experienced a couple of overnight drop-outs during our test period using our iiNet ADSL2+ connections, and these could only be fixed by restarting the modem. Using the PC Advisor broadband speed checker, the modem averaged a download speed of 15.4 megabits per second (Mbps), which is 1.3Mbps slower than the fastest modem we've tested to date, Billion's BiPAC 5200S RD ADSL2+ modem/router. This is still a very good speed, and above the 14Mbps average we expected. Upload speeds were solid at 846 kilobits per second (Kbps), but a little slower than expected.

Linksys WAG320N: file sharing and media streaming

The Linksys WAG320N has a USB 2.0 port on its spine that can be used to connect an external hard drive. It will support either a powered 3.5in external drive or an un-powered 2.5in external drive. We tested it with a 500GB Samsung S2 Portable hard drive and it worked like a charm. By default, a connected hard drive will have its root folder shared across the network and this can't be removed, but its access can be made read only.

A connected drive can be set up to stream content to a DLNA-certified device or to your PCs through Windows Media Player — it will show up as a media device in Windows 7's Network browser. You can add user credentials to the drive so that not everyone can access it and you can change each user's read and write permissions, too. The Linksys WAG320N can also be set up as an FTP server for remote access over the internet.

Linksys WAG320N: URL and keyword filtering

For safe web browsing at home, the Linksys WAG320N has a built-in firewall, but it also supports keyword and URL filtering. These can only be implemented by specifying which computers on your network will be affected by those filters. This means that you can add terms or URLs only to the computers used by your kids, and your own computer can remain unaffected. You can add computers by using their MAC or IP address, but unfortunately the router doesn't give you a list of connected devices so that you can easily add them — you must add them manually.

We like the Linksys WAG320N's ease of use, and its interface is one of the swiftest we've seen — the router doesn't need to restart anytime you make a change to its settings. The USB storage port works well, the router supports DynDNS and forwarding ports is easy. The modem was fast in our long-range tests and the 5GHz wireless performance is the best we've seen so far. However, it's not a simultaneous dual-band router: you can run either at 2.4GHz or at 5GHz. This is a limitation that's unfortunate as most of us still need to run a mixture of devices. As such, we only recommend this dual-band router if you're going to solely run 5GHz devices with it.

Elias Plastiras, PCWorld.idg.com.au

NEXT: our expert verdict >>

Group test: what's the best wireless router?

Linksys WAG320N: Specs

  • External wireless router
  • 202x160x34mm
  • 362g
  • 4-port switch
  • Line Coding Format: CCK, 64 QAM, BPSK, QPSK, 16 QAM, OFDM
  • Framing Format: ANSI T1.413
  • Ethernet, Fast Ethernet, IEEE 802.11b, IEEE 802.11g, IEEE 802.11n (draft 2.0)
  • Port status, link activity, power
  • Stateful Packet Inspection (SPI), MAC address filtering, wall mountable
  • ADSL, ADSL2, ADSL2+
  • ITU G.992.1 (G.DMT), ITU G.992.2 (G.Lite), ITU G.992.3 Annex A, ITU G.992.5 Annex A
  • network cable
  • 128-bit WEP, 64-bit WEP, WPA, WPA2
  • CE, FCC, A-Tick
  • Power adaptor - external
  • External wireless router
  • 202x160x34mm
  • 362g
  • 4-port switch
  • Line Coding Format: CCK, 64 QAM, BPSK, QPSK, 16 QAM, OFDM
  • Framing Format: ANSI T1.413
  • Ethernet, Fast Ethernet, IEEE 802.11b, IEEE 802.11g, IEEE 802.11n (draft 2.0)
  • Port status, link activity, power
  • Stateful Packet Inspection (SPI), MAC address filtering, wall mountable
  • ADSL, ADSL2, ADSL2+
  • ITU G.992.1 (G.DMT), ITU G.992.2 (G.Lite), ITU G.992.3 Annex A, ITU G.992.5 Annex A
  • network cable
  • 128-bit WEP, 64-bit WEP, WPA, WPA2
  • CE, FCC, A-Tick
  • Power adaptor - external

OUR VERDICT

While this modem-router’s gigabit ethernet could improve on 100Mbps wired connection speed, there’s less reason to get excited about wireless performance. On neither band did we see wireless range that we’d consider appropriate for a modern premium-priced router. The 5GHz band could work slightly faster than 2.4GHz at very close range – within a footstep in the same room – but was highly inconsistent any further away. Generally, wireless performance at anything more than a few metres from the Linksys was found to be rather poor. More worrying was the erratic network performance that saw webpage and other data transfers slow to a crawl, only resolved by a router restart. Based on our experiences with two samples, we can only recommend you avoid this model.

Find the best price