Pretty tiny and discrete device, the smallest wall-plug range extender I have come across so far. The price vs quality is great as well deal extreme sells them for only $19,85 at this point in time of writing this article. I have seen them cheaper then this as well also under different model and brand names.
Interestingly enough if you order one from dx.com the device is called WS-WN523N2 from a company called win-star, if you look at the label of the device it says WL-1369 Rev.A from a company called Willink and finally if you look trough web GUI pages on the device itself it mentions a company called wavlink and I suspect that this company is the actual manufacturer. After testing I found that it works well as a access-point or a device to enable WiFi on a device that only has an Ethernet port.
A bit more in depth
The webGUI of this device is pretty easy to understand and even for the somewhat more advanced it offers some nice tweak-able settings as well. While testing this device it worked nicely as an access-point, meaning that I used a wired connection to may main router. It works also great to supply an Ethernet device with WiFi, thus connecting one device to the device and connecting it wirelessly to my home wifi network.
As a range extender it didn’t really live up to the task, it handled just 2 devices fine but connecting more to them was getting a little bit unstable (when downloading some files). But to be fair I didn’t suspect much of the range extender function in that regard. Simply because it uses a lot of RAM memory and most of this cheap devices really don’t have enough of it to support the range extender mode. (I’m also not a big of a fan building networks like this, because a range extender is a hack anyways and for proper working it requires at least two wifi radio’s).
Opening up the WS-WN523N2
Since it was such a wonderfully cheap device I liked to see what would lie beyond the exterior casing to look for potential to do some other nice things with it. Surprisingly the device was held together with screws instead of the sonic welding you see a lot of similar small gadgets and devices, this meant that I could simply take it apart and putting it back together again.
After taking the mini router apart I was surprised of design of the thing, at first glance the two internal antenna’s stood out they where not simply printed on the circuit board but are actually proper metal antenna’s. This is not that commonly seen on (cheap) devices like this.
The mains adapter that is also enclosed within the router is also surprisingly ok, it is well insulated by a piece of plastic from the actual router board. Some proper design went in to the power supply as well, not as haphazardly put together with some products (e.g. knock off apple chargers). However the RAM memory available is a bit on the low side only 16 Megabyte, although more then sufficient for an access point. The one thing that was slightly disappointing is that the flash chip is only 2MegaByte, this means that porting OpenWrt to the device isn’t possible. The minimum requirement is 4MB.
One thing that surprised me slightly as well, is that the board came with a full working ttl/uart test point on the board itself. But then again it would make testing the router while in production easier as well. To connect a ttl adapter to the board, simply connect the TX RX and the GND to the adapter and leave the 3.3V completely unconnected. After you connected your adapter simply set a telnet client to the correct Comport set the Baudrate to 38400 data bits to 8 stop bits to 1 and no parity and flow control.
Chips of interest
UART / TTL information
Data bits: 8
Stop bits: 1
flow control: none
only connect the GND TX and RX and leave the 3.3V unconnected.
Some good (cheap) ttl adapters from dx.com are: PL2303HX USB to TTL Converter Module and the PL2303HX to USB TTL Upload Download Wire for Arduino of course there are plenty of other adapters out there as well.
Boot log / rom dump
Great and cheap device to connect a single device to wifi or to be used as access point with a fairly decent range. As range extender there are better choices out there, but in my opinion range extenders aren’t the best choice to extend a WiFi network