In the first of our Tech on the Go Series we take a look at a handy little product from Asus. It is named the WL-330gE. However its name does not give you much of a clue about what it really is. Simply put the WL-330gE is a pocket wireless router. By itself that is great but there is more to it. It is a wireless router that can connect to other wireless routers; you do not need to plug in an Ethernet cable to use the WL-330gE. This makes is perfect for protecting your computer [or a group of systems] at a public hot spot.
Read on as we take this intriguing device for a spin.
The WL-330gE comes in a very busy box with a nice little window on the front to show off the device.
Due to the small size of the packaging it really is not loaded down with information. On the front of the box you get a basic description and a few highlights but the impact of these are somewhat reduced due to the display of the actual product. The artwork on the packaging also does not look in sync with a technology product. The decision to use a window to show off the product makes sense as you can actually see just how small this is, but I think a picture with something for reference would have been a better idea.
The back of the box does somewhat better and provides you with a diagram of where the WL-330gE fits into a network and a visual for all of its uses.
Asus packs quite a bit into this box, basically everything you would need to use the WL-330gE on the road, they also give you a nice padded pouch to put it all in.
On the Green side there is far too much plastic used in the packaging and internally (ties and bags etc). Asus did not go for recycled paper for the internal tray but used regular cardboard.
Construction and Features:
The WL-330gE is tiny, I mean it is tiny. I cannot say that enough, it is very small and compact. It also does not weigh much at all. In this sense it is perfect to carry around on a permanent basis. You could throw this in your laptop bag and not notice the extra weight from the device and all of its accessories.
The front of the WL-330gE has the usual indicator lights to let you know if you have power and Ethernet or wireless connectivity.
The business end has an RJ-45 port, power port and the usual reset button.
The back is pretty plain with the exception of the mounting hole meaning you could permanently mount this on a wall somewhere. And my favorite feature of the back is the tiny print saying “Factory Default Settins[SIC]” I cannot look at the back without chuckling over that one.
Overall the Wl-330gE feels cheap due to its light weight and small size after using it I can honestly say it is anything but cheap.
Setup and Options:
The WL-330gE is very easy to setup. Asus has designed the device to run off of wall power or from a USB port. They also provide you will both cables. A short [6-inch] Ethernet cable connects you to the WL-330gE for your initial setup and configuration. Once completed though you can run un-tethered with the exception of the need for power.
To get started you open your favorite browser and head over to the default IP address listed on the bottom of the WL-330gE. You can also use the provided WLAN AP utility to find the WL-330gE if you do not want to change your IP Address scheme to match the one used by default. It will give you the option to open the configuration page right from the discovery screen.
Once there you are greeted with a login screen, for now use the default login.
As you can see there are tabs for each of the four major modes as well as an advanced link at the bottom left. We will cover the advanced mode configuration after we cover the major modes of operation. The default mode is gateway mode with the Hot Spot mode off.
Setup this way you can plug your WL-330gE into a cable or DSL modem and be off and running pretty quickly all you need to do is setup the wireless encryption type [Open, WEP-64, WEP-128, and WPA-Personal].
If you enable Hot Spot Mode you create a new method for connection. At this point all wireless access points within range will show up for you to connect to. Once you have the external connection you can either remain connected Via the Ethernet cable or connect to the wireless on the WL-330gE. Once done you are behind your own private firewall with an encrypted private connection for your data and system. This makes using the local coffee shop Hot Spot less risky to be sure. Plus you can have multiple connections so you can allow your friends to connect into the WL-330gE and share the single connection to the public AP.
The next mode is AP this sets the WL-330gE to operate as a simple wireless access point. You can choose your wireless security level just as with the gateway mode.
The next mode is adapter mode. This mode requires you to remain tethered via the Ethernet cable but in all other ways acts like a simple wireless adapter.
Repeater mode allows you to extend the range of any wireless device by re-broadcasting the signal. This gives you additional range and can be useful for extending your wireless coverage.
The advanced mode gives you greater control over your settings. Here you can configure options for your firewall settings, NAT settings [such as port triggers, virtual servers, and even a DMZ], IP configuration including DHCP setup, and even view logs of different aspects of the WL-330gE.
Under the wireless interface page you have some pretty advanced features for wireless connectivity including SSID hidden mode, 54g protection, and even a list of preferred networks.
IP Config gives you the options to set your time zone and NTP [network time protocol] server information as well as DDNS [Dynamic Domain Name Service] , routing and WAN and LAN IP information.
Under NAT [Network Address Translation] you can setup Virtual Servers; this allows you to route traffic from outside the firewall in to a specific server name or IP address. You can lock this down by Port and traffic type. You also have options for port triggers; this will listen for specific packet types on specific ports and open them dynamically as that type of data arrives.
Firewall settings allow you to enable or disable the firewall as well as setup packet logging and WAN/LAN filtering and even URL filtering. In all not bad for a device that can literally fit into your pocket.
The System Setup section has pretty much the same things you would find in a standard sized router with the notable exception of an operation mode section. This allows you to select the mode you want to use. You can choose from Home Gateway or Access Point mode. The modes are explained in the configuration page.
The Status and Logs section is exactly what it says you have your options for viewing the status or anyone of the log pages, pretty straight forward there.
As you can see Asus packed quite a bit into this tiny little device, it has many of the same features of a full sized wireless router/access point yet is small enough to carry anywhere you need it.
For performance testing I used an Asus G2S-X1 and headed off to the local Starbucks to use their wireless AP. After connecting to the Hot Spot with the WL-330gE I ran a speed test from speedtest.net to see if there were any slowdowns in internet connectivity. I was surprised that having the WL-330gE in place did not affect my internet speed or performance at all. There was no lag and with the hidden SSID on I was in stealth mode inside the open and unprotected hot spot. All I needed was Tor and a Tin Foil hat and I would have felt completely safe.
WL-330gE Ethernet and Wireless
The WL-330gE will run you about $60.00 now this may sound like a lot but when you consider the compact size, the portability and the functionality that Asus has packed into this it is not really too bad of a deal. Nothing like having your own firewall you can carry with you and throw into place when you need it. I know I have had to use open hot spots and wireless provided by hotels and have felt very unprotected. Having something like this would have been more than worth the money.
Asus offers a one year warranty on the WL-330gE, which is your basic warranty. RMA , if needed can be setup online or over their support line. Asus support has taken a beating as far as their competence and speed, but lately they have been trying to improve. I can fault them for having poor support but I have to give them credit for recognizing the issues and attempting to resolve them.
The Asus WL-330gE is a pretty cool little device. Asus put some thought into it and came up with a device that is very flexible and functional. Often with products like this you get products that in the end are of little use except in a single area. By adding in four operating modes Asus has ensured that this device can be put to use almost anywhere. The one complaint I have is that I could not get it to work with PDA-Net or share the PDA-Net connection with it. Maybe Asus can work an Ad-Hoc mode into it at some point so you could share PDA-Net over this. Adding 802.11n would also add value to the WL-330gE. When you think about what you get and the security it offers you on the go it becomes a must have piece of equipment.
Would you buy it? Based on the evaluation above, would you buy this product at this price? Let us know your thought and what ideas you have for improving the Asus WL-330gE