Linksys WRT-350N – thumbs down.

Like any good geek I like to keep my networking equipment current and speedy. So recently I went out and bought a Linksys WRT-350N router. It has great specs — wireless-N support, a gigabit-ethernet wired switch for your desktops, USB storage support — but frankly, you’re better off not giving this one a second thought. It’s like when I try to cook: the ingredients are there, but the end product sucks.

Before this latest purchase I used a Linksys WRT-54G for several years. The WRT-54G is a great router, very solid, very reliable, the only problem I’ve had with it was insufficient range (easily solved with booster antennas), and it is in fact one of the reasons I decided to go with Linksys again for an N router.

However, something terrible must have happened at Linksys when they came up with the 350N. In the real world, it has all the ingredients but just doesn’t do anything good with it. It’s just completely unreliable! Just about every night since it’s been in my home it’s stopped working. I’ll be sitting in front of my PC listening to internet radio, and the signal will just drop. No access to the internet, no access to my home network, nothing. The “power” light on the front of the router blinks while this is happening, and as far as I know the only way to fix it is to unplug the power cord and plug it back in. I have never needed to do that with the old router.

That is the biggest problem, but it is by no means the only one. Network traffic on the wired network is also curiously slow and choppy between my two PCs that have gigabit-ethernet cards. One of the big selling points of this router was the gigabit switch. It correctly recognizes the gigabit cards, and my computer thinks it’s connected at 1000Base-T, but in reality this switch has much worse performance than the old router which had only 100Base-T, especially when playing video files over a network.

I haven’t used the wireless that much so my opinion of that is a little less well-formed than for the other technologies, although I can report that the wireless network is often undetectable even by the computers that are set up to recognize it. Again in that case the only thing to do is to unplug and replug the AC adapter; after that is done the network shows up correctly.

Linksys makes much of the fact that this router has a USB port you can plug an external hard drive or pen drive into, which makes the contents of the drive available for sharing over the network. Sounds great in theory, but in practice any file transfers you do to or from the USB drive has maybe a 60% chance of succeeding — the other 40% of the time the shared drive will simply become invisible, and the router may hang (although by now I’m no longer sure whether it’s USB-related, or if it just happens to need its almost-daily reboot while I’m using the USB drive).

It’s not like the firmware is out of date either; I check regularly on the Linksys site for updates, but my buggy and slow 350N is fully up-to-date. It’s puzzling that a company like Cisco (who own Linksys) would put such an unfinished, low-quality out there with their logo on it, but I suspect that we’re increasingly moving towards a world where things have great specs, but are bug-ridden. And I say this as someone who’s been working in the software industry for over 10 years, so it’s not like I’m basing this opinion on just one thing. Quality has given way to stakeholder-mandated delivery deadlines, with the expected results. No matter what you buy in terms of electronic gizmos these days, expect bugs. That being said, the WRT-350N is far too buggy for me to recommend it.

So, if you’re thinking about buying this, don’t. It’s unreliable, slow, and the special features don’t really work. If you want a good deal on a router get the WRT-54G — it’s old, established, and rock-solid technology that’ll keep working for years. Something that just can’t be said about the WRT-350N.

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