Priced at just $39.95, TP-Link's TL-WR340G 54M Wireless Router is hard to pass up. It has a four-port 10/100 Ethernet switch and an 802.11g wireless access point, and it will do a respectable job of distributing your Internet connection to all the computers and other networked devices in your home.
It's a small router with a white case, and it has a huge 5db antenna fixed to its rear. Status lights on the front panel show you which ports are active and if your Internet connection is up; they are dim green lights, so they won't be a distraction in a dark room. You can set up and manage the router through its Web interface, but if you're a novice you don't have to venture into it at all. This is what should make this inexpensive router appeal to users who have not yet delved into the world of networking.
TP-Link has improved the set-up procedure for its routers. The TL-WR340G 54M Wireless Router ships with a mini-CD that shows you how to install and configure the router. Like many Linksys and Belkin routers, the TL-WR340G even has a sticker on its four-port Ethernet switch telling you to run the CD first!
The set-up procedure on the CD basically tells you the order in which you have to plug in the cables, and then it moves on to the configuration phase. It checks that the computer can communicate with the router, and then takes you through the steps required to connect to the Internet (such as your connection method, which is usually PPPoE, your username and password) and then it lets you configure your wireless network (including the network’s name and security level). It lets you enable either WEP 128-bit or WPA-PSK/WPA2-PSK security. You can then save your settings to a text file on the desktop, should you ever need to refer to them. After unwrapping the box, it took us about 5min to be up and running; it was a smooth set-up experience.
If you're an experienced user then you can head straight for the TP-Link TL-WR340G's Web interface, where you can also play with more of its settings. However, there aren’t a lot of wireless settings you can play with; you can change the wireless channel, as well as the encryption type. We had trouble using the 'auto' wireless encryption settings on some of our non-Centrino laptops (HP's Mini 2140 with 802.11g networking, as well as a laptop with a Linksys WNR300 wireless adapter), but Centrino 2-based laptops worked without any hassles.
To get all of our laptops to connect we had to manually change the encryption to WPA-PSK and select the TKIP or AES algorithm, instead of just using 'auto'.
For security, you can enable the built-in firewall and MAC address filtering, and you can also adjust port forwarding for your BitTorrent and gaming applications. Keyword filtering of URLs can be implemented, but it's a two-step process: first of all you have to enable this and the firewall from the Firewall page, and then you have to add your filters on the Domain Filtering page. Having all these settings on one page would make things much easier. Domain name filtering will only filter out sites that contain the flagged keyword in the actual domain (users will be met with a 'page not found' error).
In our wireless transfer tests the TP-Link TL-WR340G performed slowly but reliably. It transferred data at an average rate of 2.12 megabytes per second (MBps) from 10m away through drywall, while from 2m away it was only slightly faster at 2.25MBps. When we used a notebook 20m from the router with drywall and glass in between, we achieved a transfer rate of 1.91MBps. These results aren't too bad for an 802.11g-based router and make it suitable for distributing an ADSL2+ connection (unless you get over 17Mbps from your connection, at which point you will benefit from an 802.11n-based router). It's okay even for streaming video. It's best suited to apartment usage and small houses, as performance will deteriorate noticeably beyond 20m, but this will also depend on your environment.
The TL-WR340 54M Wireless Router has a DHCP server, Dynamic DNS, DMZ and virtual server features, but it leaves out bandwidth management features such as quality of service (QoS). It can also be used as a wireless bridge. One annoyance was that the unit had to be restarted every time a change was made to the wireless settings, be it a channel change or a network name change, but it was swift at performing restarts. Just don't change wireless settings in the middle of a download.
If you want a simple and cheap wireless router to distribute your Internet connection, the TP-Link TL-WR340G is ideal. It's relatively easy to set up, and it was reliable during our test period. It was a little slow in our wireless transfer tests, but for $39.95, we can't complain.