- compact and lightweight.
- Poorly localised management software
- average performance.
The SpaceLink WL-300 from Asus is a compact 802.11b access point offering no-frills, low-cost wireless networking. Its throughput isn't outstanding, and there are some quirks to the management software, but if you're on a tight budget but would like to try wireless networking, this is probably the cheapest way of doing it.
This 11Mbps access point connects to the wired network via a single 10Mbps Ethernet port. This port has an automatic crossover facility, so that it can be plugged into a hub or adapter card without needing a special cable. In addition to working as a standard access point, the WL-300 can also act as one side of a point-to-point wireless bridge, allowing you to connect two LANs in separate but adjacent buildings without running a wire between them. A third mode allows it to function as an access point client, which supports bridging between LANs while still allowing mobile clients to access one AP.
The WL-300 is a small, light unit, measuring 13.8cm high by 4cm by 15cm and weighing 405g. Remove the desktop mounting foot from the unit and it gets even smaller and lighter. When wall-mounting the WL-300, one of the side covers is removed, providing a flush fit against the wall. The other cover slides to one side to reveal the external antenna socket.
The WL-300 uses an external power supply, and there's no option to power the access point using active Ethernet. This means you'll have to situate the WL-300 near a power point, which won't necessarily be the best place to get good reception. You can attach an external antenna to the unit, but this is more use when you're using it in point-to-point mode than as a standard access point.
The AP-300 is managed using the supplied software, which allows you to look after all your Asus access points from a single interface. There's no option for browser-based management, although the WL-300 supports SNMP v1. Although this means that you can integrate the access point's management with the rest of your network, we'd have liked to see SNMP v3 -- the newer, more secure version of the protocol -- supported.
The AP Manager software hasn't been localised very well, with some error messages and comment being in quite broken English -- 'Succeed to apply changes' is just one example. This can be a little confusing until you get used to the messages or learn to ignore them. Other than this, the tabbed interface used is compact and uncluttered, and you can find most options very quickly.
You can enable WEP encryption in the access point, and we suggest you do so in spite of the known issues with WEP. You can also set a MAC address authorisation table, which is aimed at preventing unauthorised clients connecting to the WL-300. This isn't 100 percent effective, since MAC addresses can be spoofed, but it's another step that any potential attacker has to overcome, and will prevent casual snoopers from gaining access. To make configuring sets of access points easier, you can load the MAC address list from a file.
Our tests show that in conjunction with the WL-100 PC Card adapter, the performance of the AP-300 isn't outstanding. We measured 4.54Mbps throughput at 1m separation, typical for lower-cost access points. If you have very few wireless networking clients, or a few more but a low usage level, you can configure the access point and clients to use a short preamble, which in our tests increased the throughput slightly to 4.75Mbps. However, this may produce worse results in conditions of heavy use.
Despite its quirks, the WL-300 represents excellent value, being possibly the most affordable wireless access point available at the time of publication. Although businesses looking for high performance and extended management facilities may not find what they're looking for here, the WL-300 will suit home and small business users down to the ground.