AirLink 101 AR325W

Report on an ultracheap wireless router, AirLink 101 AR325W.

Recently my Linksys BEFSR41 wired router died for the 3rd time. Previous failures were remedied by flashing the firmware, and also demonstrated the diagnostic feature of a flashing diagnostic light. The

3rd time the diagnostic light didn't flash, and the router couldn't be seen at its address. This could not be remedied by any maneuvers such as holding in the reset button while powering up.

There was only one cheap router on sale at Fry's that weekend, an AirLink AR325W 4 port wired/wireless 802.11g for $20, so I bought it even tho' I would have preferred a good price on a wired router, as my configuration is almost entirely wired, and I already have a wireless g access point which can be better positioned at the end of an ethernet cable which is a better distribution location than where I need to put my wired router for my LAN.

Altho' the AirLink worked just fine for NAT for my LAN, I soon discovered that its syslogs were different from those of the Linksys, and that my WallWatcher software didn't accomodate that AirLink's logs. I told Dan Tseng the WW developer about the problem and he said he would soon be providing a WW upgrade and would accomodate the AirLink AR325W based on the diagnostic log capture which I had provided with his capture tool.

I soon found some other things that were a problem with the AirLink. I couldn't configure to use different DNS servers than the DHCP server by the cable modem provider, which is EarthLink DHCP via TimeWarner/RR cable connectivity infrastructure. The primary and secondary DNS I wanted were 'configurable' and saved, but they didn't show up as being used in the survey screen. I sent screenshots to AirLink to tell them about the configuration 'deficiency', but they didn't respond.

In an effort to try to improve on the AL's configurability, I downloaded a newer firmware and flashed it. It had some useful features not present in the older firmware, such as the ability to disable the wireless aspect, which was an advantage to me.

Not long afterward, Dan Tseng provided me with an upgraded version of WallWatcher, which I installed and which didn't work at all. In my efforts to troubleshoot, I also discovered that nothing I could do, including using the previous log capture utility, would give me any logs. It was as if I had lost my syslog functions after the firmware upgrade. I also noticed some funky behavior with the system clock falling back 2 days after it had been set.

No matter what I did with resetting or rebooting or powering down, I couldn't get the previous syslog function, so I took the AirLink back to Fry's and exchanged it for another identical model. That model worked and was compatible with the newer version of WW log manager. That is, I had syslogs I could use and which were now compatible with the newer v. WW.

The things I don't like so far about the AL are that there is no logging of outbound traffic, and there is no ability to configure to use selected DNS servers as mentioned, but instead when you are configured to get your IP from the provider, you get the DHCP DNS as well. I don't think you can effectively separate the functions. I also don't like the fact that the AirLink people don't acknowledge input about their router's feature/bug.

The guidelines for how to flash an AirLink are also different from Linksys, who wants you to slow down your NIC link speed configuration during the firmware flashing. Maybe AL should recommend that too, to prevent a problem with a 'bad flash'. I have no idea whether the new firmware is faulty or if the flash was faulty, or if the cheap brains of the router are faulty.

Oh well, what can you expect for a $20 wireless router. The Fry's policy of easy exchange made up for the weakness of the router to firmware upgrade deterioration.

I saw a favorable review of the AirLink AR504 wired router recently in a cheap router roundup. I don't think the AR325W is rigged the same way as that.

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Mike Easter
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