The WAG54GX2 is the all-in-one wireless-broadband box that Linksys has come up with to replace the distinctive purplish WAG54G/GS models that are still doing sterling service in a million homes and small offices around the WiFi globe.

It has everything you’d expect from such a device, including an ADSL 2+ broadband modem, coupled to a router, firewall, and 4-port 10/100 switch. It is the Linksys equivalent of the mass-market Netgear and D-Link boxes we looked at recently.

In the last year or so, Linksys has gone WiFi mad, and now appears to have one for every conceivable occasion. In addition to the three already mentioned, there’s the WRT54GX, the WRV54G (that’s got VPNing), the WRT55AG, the WRT54GS, and…still with us? Thought not.

The version we looked at has what the company calls “SRX200” – the brand name for the Multiple In, Multiple Out (MIMO) aerial technology used by Linksys - which has since been joined by the WAG54GX4/SRX400, which has three antennae to the former’s two. They’ll be doing them in paisley pattern next just to confuse us.

The succession of the generations has wrought a few changes, the most obvious of which is that the case has shrunk and changed colour. No problem there on either score, but it does mean you can’t neatly stack it with any older Linksys products you happen to have lying around. The unit can be stuck on its side with a supplied stand, or left on its belly once its two aerials have been attached.

Nowadays, these devices have long since become a commodity, and there are only really two points of difference to look out for. The first is the range extension and throughput technology being used, and the second is security (which most people pay scant attention to at this end of the market but we’ll assume that anyone reading this isn’t a mug and is genuinely interested).

Every company has its equivalent of MIMO overlay, and without going into detail as to the small (but politically significant) differences, they all set out to extend the once woeful range of the WiFi connection, improve its robustness for fussy applications such as video, and increase data throughput, in the case of the WAG54GX2, up to a claimed 300 mbps. We’d expect to divide that figure by at least three for most real-world uses but that’s still a huge performance step up from where WiFi started not so long ago.

The SRX200 version has only two antennae, apparently one less than chipset MIMO chipset vendor Airgo specifies as optimal, so presumably this saves on cost. We didn’t put its throughput to the test (we plan to do a meaningful test when the next generation of pre-n 802.11n devices arrives a few months from now), but once it had settled down offered 55 mbps at a good distance using an older generation of Linksys data card.

Security is the next area of improvement over older models, with WPA now supported in WPA Personal and WPA Enterprise (both with WPA2 AES encryption forms as well). Further down the wish list, there is filtering of Java, ActiveX and cookies, basic web blocking by keyword and site address, and old-fashioned MAC address filtering. Usefully, the router configuration can be backed up into a file in case the device ever needs to be reset to factory defaults.

This is a nice device, albeit that it is less enticing without buying an accompanying card, but most users will probably want to do that anyway. There’s more performance on offer, decent security, and it costs next to nothing to buy. If patience is a virtue, we’d suggest waiting until the latest “pre-n” wireless products appear in the months ahead because prices will inevitably fall and this product might look a bit stranded.

That said, there’s still plenty to savour now about these cheap broadband boxes. As long as you don’t have a network larger than a handful of people, they are amazingly good value for money. It’s eye-watering what companies once charged for this level of performance, features, and throughput, and now it can be had for next to nothing.

OUR VERDICT

A street price of £80 makes this good value for money. Wait a few months and buy a pre-n product. Wait even longer and you might catch the real thing - 802.11N.