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I fixed the weak signal problem with a combination of a WSB24 wireless signal booster together with a pair of 7dBi LinkSys antennas. Now I can sit out on the back porch (one floor down from the LinkSys) with 80% signal strength. The periodic slow-downs have no fix other than a power-cycle since LinkSys stopped making new firmware for this router years ago.
Since my laptop comes with a cisco wireless 802.11a+b+g card, and since WPA is a better security solution than WEP, and since 802.11g is faster than b, I thought I would try a newer router. The prices have come down by about half since I bought the BEFW11S4 so I thought it was worth it.
To my great shock, however, the WRT54Gs appears to have a **much** weaker and less reliable wireless signal than the BEFW11S4, even if I transfer the 7dBi antennas on to it. My cisco card has a harder time maintaining the signal, and if I close my laptop's lid (the wireless card's antenna appears to be hidden in the lid somewhere), I lose the connection altogether and have to reconnect to the access point from scratch.
Worse, I get absolutely no signal whatsoever from my back porch now. Even in my early days with the BEFW11S4 before I got the signal booster and new antennas, I would usually be able to get about 10-20% signal on the back porch (I just would have to position myself properly -- it would keep losing the signal if I moved; a problem that was fixed with the signal booster/antennas). If I'm on the back porch, I get no signal with the WRT54Gs no matter where I stand or sit, and the laptop cannot find the router at all from there.
What's worse, the wireless speed with the 54Gs seems actually SLOWER than with the BEFW11s4, even going over 802.11g. At least, that is judging by www.bandwidthplace.com, which gave me 1.2mbps with the 54Gs, as compared with 2.1mbps with the BEFW11s4.
When I first tested, I ran with WPA security, so I figured maybe WPA added more overhead than WEP so I switched back to my old WEP key and tried that: same result.
I'm really surprised that the 54Gs would have such poor range compared with the BEFW11s4. I'm equally surprised that I saw no improvement whatsoever in wireless speed. Given these results, I decided to return my 54Gs and stick with the BEFW11s4, warts and all ...