Wayne N. Kawamoto
Managing Editor, www.smallbusinesscomputing.com
For almost any user, except those who need to support small business networks and higher, Actiontec’s Dual-Mode Wireless-Ready Cable/DSL Router is a competent product available at a reasonable price, and comes with an easy installation and 24/7 toll-free support. With the router you can network two wired PCs via Ethernet or USB, and share Internet access with 802.11b-compliant desktops or notebook PCs. If you can live with some of the device’s limitations, this router is one to consider.
The modem offers two WAN ports: an Ethernet port for use with Ethernet-based cable or DSL modems, and a USB WAN port that connects to Actiontec’s own USB Home DSL Modem. The company says that until now, networking with its USB modem was impossible, which forced users to purchase non-USB devices when they wanted to share Internet access.
Using the router’s wireless capabilities, you should be able to network up to 32 desktop or notebook PCs using 802.11b cards. The router is designed to support the standard 802.11b wireless speed up to 11 Mbps.
The router can network two desktop or laptop computers over wired connections – one Ethernet and one USB. The router’s promotional material says that it supports three LAN ports, but that’s counting the wireless connection. Don’t expect support for three wired connections. While the USB port works well, I would have preferred an additional Ethernet port. Another negative is that the router lacks an uplink port. If you purchase this router, your wired networking capabilities will be limited.
The router comes with two PC Card slots, one filled by an 802.11b-compliant PC card, which provides the router its wireless networking capabilities. If you want wireless capabilities, purchase the $169.95 version that includes a wireless PC card (the lower-priced $99 SKU does not include a wireless PC card). The second PC Card slot offers potential expansion capabilities that can support applications such as wireless printer sharing, Internet-based voice phone calls via VoIP, and more.
It comes with USB and Ethernet cables, an AC adapter, and some documentation, and is compatible with Windows 98 or higher, and for the Macintosh, System 7.1 or higher.
The router’s installation is excellent, making the process as simple as possible. Actiontec’s innovative and thorough installation should provide a model for all manufacturers. It’s the clearest and easiest that I’ve used.
The automated setup wizard walks you through every installation step, including hooking up and configuring the router. To assist you, Actiontec provides color-coded ports and color-coded cables with labels on each end that show where to connect them. The on-screen pictorial guides are clear enough for novices to follow and the installation asks whether you use AOL, checks the network card, verifies network settings and the readiness of each new computer, and offers suggestions. The company’s tech support told me that the automated setup wizard does not work with a Mac.
Experienced users may become impatient with the installation’s many on-screen prompts. For example, the software tells you in one screen that you’ll need the purple cable, and then, in the next screen, tells you to “get the purple cable.” This is followed by a screen that tells you to connect the purple cable.
The power cable even has a label that says “plug this end into a power outlet.” This is almost ridiculous as the freshest newbie knows how to plug a power cord into a wall outlet. On the plus side, the installation process leaves little to chance and excuses the fact that the router only comes with a half page of printed instructions.
As it turned out, although the installation was thorough, I experienced a glitch that required a call to tech support. The technician recommended a simple hardware reset that fixed the problem. Actiontec offers 24-hour, toll-free technical support, which I called several times. Each time, whether late at night between 10:00 pm and 1:00 am or in the afternoon (Pacific time), I had no problems reaching a technician within minutes.
Physically, the router may be mounted on a wall. It comes with holes that accept screw or nail heads. However, the modem sits in positions that I consider sideways or upside down.
In my testing with a notebook equipped with an Actiontec 802.11b-card, the router offered throughput of 3.5 Mbps (define) under close and ideal conditions. After switching floors, the throughput fell approximately 2.5%. When I ventured further, the signal quality quickly deteriorated and the connection was lost. In the end, the range of the Actiontec router was less than that of others that I have tested.
I couldn’t evaluate the performance with an Actiontec USB Home DSL Modem, as I didn’t have access to one, but the router worked well with my Fujitsu DSL modem. When I invoked 64- and 128-bit wireless security encryption, I found the encryption’s impact on performance to be almost unnoticeable.
The router comes with a built-in NAT firewall, Web site and Web service blocking that prevents access to undesirable content; and 64- and 128-bit WEP (define) encryption. You may also set power filters to audit and report log files on Web browsing activities. Bottom line, however, is that the router’s administration of these security features is not as in-depth as that on other products. For example, you can’t save logs, and have little control over the ports that you want to filter.
Actiontec’s Dual-Mode Wireless-Ready Cable/DSL Router is a competent product for networking two wired PCs via Ethernet and USB, and effectively sharing Internet access with 802.11b-compliant devices. I was particularly impressed with the device’s thorough and helpful setup, and 24-hour, toll free technical support.
For novices who will be supporting small home networks, the Actiontec is definitely one to consider. On the other hand, those who need to support and administer to the needs of small businesses and offices will probably want to look elsewhere.
Model Number: GEU404000-01 ($169.95 MSRP; $99 without wireless)
Pros: Easy and thorough installation; color-coded cables with clear labels, reasonable price.
Cons: Single Ethernet port, no uplink port.
Reprinted from 80211-planet.com.