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Linksys WGA11B-UK 11Mbps Wireless Bridge Game Adapter Review

Introduction

The Linksys WGA11B-UK is unashamedly aimed at the console gaming market, in particular the PlayStation2, XBox and Gamecube. It is intended to work as a wireless bridge linking a games console to an existing wireless network, or allow two consoles to play in head to head mode. It does have other tricks up its sleeve, you can use the device as a basic wireless access point, or for linking any device with an Ethernet network connection to an existing wireless network.

One major attraction is the lack of configuration required to get it to work with the gaming consoles. The unit has no drivers, and for simple console gaming there is nothing to configure, other than a single push button. The unit does have three user customisable configurations, thus allowing you to use it as a basic wireless access point or configure the wireless security.

What do you get for your money

The picture above gives away the size of the unit, the styling is also a big departure from the traditional Linksys format. Its actual dimensions are 7cm(W)x10.2cm(H)x2.5cm(D), and weighs just 110g, the stub antenna adds 3.7cm to the height. From its size one almost expects it to take batteries, but it is supplied with a mobile phone style power adaptor. Included in the box as well as the WGA-11B are, the power supply just mentioned, a CD holding the custom configuration software and manual, a short RJ45 Ethernet patch cable, and two feet that can be attached to the base of the unit to improve its stability.

The rear of the unit holds (moving from left to right), the blue channel selector button, a reset button, manual crossover switch, the Ethernet socket and finally the power socket. The front of the unit has the LED channel display, and two LEDS, one to show a network cable is attached and working, then a wireless signal LED to show when the unit is picking up a wireless signal.

Simple Configuration

The WGA-11B is very flexible in what you can do with it, first we will cover the most common set-ups.

The key to using the WGA-11B in either of the above modes is to figure out how to use the blue channel selector. This is nice and simple, press the button and let go, the channel selector will flash a few times, once this stops you can then press the channel selector button to select the channel you want. Once you have found the channel you want simply leave the unit on that channel and after two to three seconds the display will flash again and the channel is now set.

The WGA-11B offers the thirteen basic 802.11b channels as options, then a channel called IN which stands for Internet gaming, and finally P1, P2 and P3 which are the custom configuration channels, and are used if you need to set-up WEP wireless encryption.

Internet Gaming Configuration

This configuration is for people who have a console and a pre-existing wireless network, and want to use the gaming console without any cables. The set-up couldn’t be simpler:

  1. Plug the supplied lead into the WGA-11B's network socket
  2. Plug the other end of the lead into the games console Ethernet port
  3. If the network LED is not lit up, change the X-II crossover switch
  4. Plug the WGA-11B's power adapter in
  5. Change the channel display to show IN which is the Internet Gaming setting
  6. Start the game console and it should be able to see the Internet

There is one assumption with this set-up, and that is that the existing wireless network does not have WEP encryption enabled, and that the SSID is not hidden by the existing wireless router. The P1 - P3 configurations can be used to over come this.

To connect a computer instead of a games console to an an exisiting wireless network, you would also use the Internet gaming configuration. It is even possible to connect several computers using the WGA-11B. Simply connect the device to an Ethernet hub or switch rather than a single computer and viola you have created a wireless bridge.

Head to Head Gaming Configuration

This is ideal for situations where you want to play a game between two consoles, one advantage of playing games in this way is that the latency will be very low (around 1-2ms) which is much better than you could expect over the Internet.

The configuration is the same as for Internet Gaming, except for step 5 where you need to set the two WGA-11B units to use the same numbered channel, picking from the channels 1 to 13.

Custom Channel Configuration

The WGA-11B while very simple to get going, is not crippled by its basic one button interface. It can also be configured using a small Windows program. This software is just a simple interface to the device that will allow you to configure its three custom channels P1, P2 and P3, whilst the other channels remain fixed in their set-up. It is fairly obvious from the documentation included that Linksys are not expecting many people to use these custom channels, because the documentation is very thin. Hopefully this review will redress the balance a little.

The WGA-11B software should automatically run when the software CD is inserted. Once the screen above is displayed click the Setup link. The device will then search for any WGA-11B's that are on your network.

When the search is completed, if any WGA-11B's are deteced, step one below of the set-up is displayed. If no WGA-11B was detected, then ensure that the network cables or wireless network are working. The most reliable way to get an initial connection if you are having problems with the device is to give your PC a static IP in the 192.168.1.x range (the WGA-11B ships with a default IP address of 192.168.1.225), and then to connect an Ethernet cable between the PC and the WGA-11B.

The current settings page shows the global settings, these are easily changed as shown in step 2. Changing the basic settings allows you to change the IP address used by the device, thus allowing you to integrate it easily into an existing network, or to change the default admin password to something else. If at any time you mess up the set-up of the WGA-11B, pressing the reset button until the LED display flickers will reset back to the factory defaults.

Step three takes you into the configuration of the first custom profile i.e. P1, this is where you can define whether the mode is Internet or Head to Head. Internet mode is used when you want to use the device to provide Internet access to a computing device that has no wireless network card, and you have an existing wireless network you want to connect to. The configuration shown in this screenshot will allow the WGA-11B to connect to an access point with the SSID of Linksys and it has WEP security disabled.

The other way of configuring the WGA-11B which is Head to Head mode, allows you to pick a wireless channel as well. Head to Head mode allows you to plug the device into an existing broadband router that currently has no wireless capability, then any computer with a wireless network card would be able to see the WGA-11B and access the Internet via it. The set-up for a computers wireless network card in this case can be a bit confusing, you actually need to set it up in a peer to peer mode, which will also require you to manually specify the SSID.

Configuration of WEP Wireless Security

The WGA-11B does have support for 64-bit and 128-bit WEP encryption. Most routers and our reviews do not cover it during the initial set-up, this is because it is a lot simpler to get a set-up working with WEP turned off initially, and enable the security once everything is working.

You can either enter the key manually or let the WGA-11B generate one automatically. One small bug when using the 128-bit WEP keys is that the box for displaying the key is not long enough, so not all characters are immediately visible. The keys are entered in Hex format, which means that 0 - 9 and A - F are valid characters.

Performance

The WGA-11B was tested in both head-to-head and Internet gaming modes, and was found to perform in line with other 802.11b devices. As with most 802.11b devices you will see an increase in latency of 1-2ms over existing wired Ethernet products, which is negligible.

File transfers were reasonable in head to head mode, managing 3.8Mbps and in Internet mode the same 229MB file was transferred at a speed of 5.1Mbps. Both tests were carried out with WEP turned off. The general performance in terms of range has been scored as usual, the WGA-11B scores only 14. The reason it is relatively low is the performance indoors is relatively poor compared to other units. Interestingly once outside the range is comparable with other devices.

Hardware Used Score out of 20
ELSA Lancom wireless access point, PCMCIA card 10
Asus 6030VI modem/router 13
Linksys WAP11 access point 15
Linksys WET11 access point 16
Solwise SAR-715PVW, PCMCIA card antenna 12
Netgear DG824M 16
BT Home Network 1200 17
BT Voyager 2000 13
Vigor 2600We 18
D-Link 604+ 16
Buffalo AirStation G54 Router 17
Linksys WGA-11B wireless gaming adapter 14

A second more extensive test was completed showing a true comparison of speeds with the wireless devices placed in the same position for each test. This should over time provide a better indication of performance rather than a simple score.

Hardware Used 1m 5m + 2walls 8m+4walls 8m+4walls and floor 75m outside 100m outside 150m outside
D-Link 604+ (802.11b) 11 11 11 1-2 6 11 1
Buffalo AirStation with 54G 54 54 36 11 36 48 1-5.5
Buffalo AirStation in 802.11b mode 11 11 4 1 2-11 11 1
Linksys WGA-11B in head to head mode (802.11b) 11 2-11 2 intermittent 1 11 11 1

The common drop at 75m outside for all devices is likely due to the angle at that location since its not possible to keep the laptop at a level height throughout all distances.

When using the Internet gaming mode it is possible to connect a hub or switch to the WGA-11B and run one or more computers. This type of set-up did not work very well, and when two or more devices were attached to the hub Internet access generally would be intermittent. Therefore while the WGA-11B is very versatile it is not the ideal device to use for bridging networks of computers.

Conclusions

The WGA-11B sets out to do what its box says very well, and will with a little work do a lot more. Therefore it is an ideal device for someone who perhaps wants to add wireless Internet access for a Wi-Fi enabled PDA, but also wants to be able to quickly change to using it with an X-Box or PlayStation2 for example. The ability to store three custom set-ups makes it very versatile. Remeber it is not an ADSL modem so you cannot use this as a sole device to connect to ADSL broadband.

The wireless range could be better indoors, though outside it seems to perform as well as most other units. This suggests the unit is best for people wanting to link from room to room, rather than from one side of a mansion to the the other.

As with its older cousin the Linksys WET11, the ability to hang the wireless network card off an Ethernet cable makes it ideal for people with Windows 95 or NT where most other wireless network cards do not have suitable drivers. With the way that the units Internet gaming mode works, so long as the wireless network you are trying to use has no WEP encryption enabled getting a unit online is as simple as plugging the box in, and selecting IN on the channel selector.

What the wireless hardware community now needs is a simple way of setting the WEP encryption easily. Perhaps the future will bring hardware that lets you use an electronic key in the form of a memory card that you plug into each wireless device to inform it of the access points security set-up.


Prices: £65.00 - Linksys WGA-11B
Prices listed above are excluding postage and VAT.
Links: Linksys partners
Where to Buy: See our DSL Hardware FAQ

Andrew Ferguson
andrew@thinkbroadband.com

The contents of this review should not be relied upon in making a purchasing decision - You should always discuss your requirements with your service provider and hardware supplier.