Well, I surely hadn’t planned this and really, didn’t want this. But I spent a few days doing an unplanned comparison of wifi bridges. Now, these devices are reaching legacy status since many devices now have wireless networking built-in. But for those devices that only have wired Ethernet, they need a bridge to change from wired to wireless networking.
Initially, I had been using the NetGear WNCE2001-100NAS without issue. Okay, there was that one time I needed to reflash one unit, but after that, it’s been dependable. Setup is easy if not too basic. But once set, these worked (and continue to work). I can’t complain about wifi speed and range. Would like to have the power adapter use some kind of USB connection (to the device) rather than that tiny connector. But, but, but NetGear no longer makes these, and old stock online is super duper expensive.
So I went looking for a replacement…
First up was IOGear’s GWU627. Easy to setup but too unreliable. Sometimes I can’t ping the device, sometimes, I can’t connect to its web interface. Speaking of its web management interface, it’s horrible. It’s overly simplified, geared for a single purpose bridge configuration without any options unless you find its secret menu at:
From this link with a minimal UI, you can change some settings including the hardcoded IP address of 192.168.1.252. I’ll give the GWU627 credit though, once configured it booted up quickly and got to work. But then it didn’t work so good. Ping tests were all over the place – less than 10 ms, greater than 100 ms, timeouts. Wow. When actually used in its use case, this bridge just couldn’t handle the network demands and stalled out, never allowing the bridged wired device to finish its updates. Not good.
Next up, a coworker had a TP-Link Nanorouter, the TL-WR802N. This inexpensive, tiny white box is very flexible can can function in many networking scenarios like a traditional wireless router, a hotspot router, a range extender, and as a client (client mode is essentially a wifi bridge). The web interface of the WR802N is very thorough with all the options exposed. It took me an extra try to set up Client mode with a static IP, not the default DHCP setting. But then the WR802N didn’t bridge. I could ping the static IP given to the bridge but could not ping or connect to the bridged device. I tried and tried. I even saw posts online describing similar issues but with a fix in the form of beta firmware. After contacting technical support, I was sent an updated beta firmware the next day. Sadly, this didn’t fix my problem. I’m pretty sure I’m configuring the WR802N correctly also testing DHCP settings and connecting to different wifi networks, but no matter what, I couldn’t connect through the device’s wired Ethernet.
Apple AirPort Express
Lastly, I brought in my second generation Apple AirPort Express. To cut this short, it worked. The wired device connected wirelessly. The wifi connection was reliable and performance was consistent and stable. Unfortunately, the AirPort Express is the most expensive device out of the three.
So where does that leave me? I probably need a few of these wireless bridges and while the NetGear WNCE2001-100NAS fits my needs perfectly with respect to cost, performance, and setup, this device is simply too hard to get at a good price. So barring any other discoveries, the Apple AirPort Express is it.