NetGear Internet Access Gateway Router RT311


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Rating: Very good


My primary concern was protection against the Internet elements. (My home machines, like many DSL subscribers, use public IP addresses and to my horror one day, I realized I could map a drive over the Internet to an administrative share on my file server at home while sitting in my cube at work. Ouch!) Since I needed to protect and share the line with three machines, I figured a hardware router would be a better fit for me. I decided against software firewalls for a few reasons: they’re more trouble to implement on three machines, sophisticated firewall software costs big bucks (and I wasn’t sure how well some of the cheaper products would cope w/ PPTP and other protocols). Of course, I’d also miss out on the ability to share a single IP address.

I went with the NetGear router for two reasons:
(1) I’ve used NetGear for most of my network needs and have had no complaints
(2) NetGear claimed to support Microsoft’s PPTP protocol in both directions. Any machine can act as both a PPTP client and server (and the idea of “securely” accessing my home network from anywhere on the Internet was intriguing).

The router works admirably. Like other similar products, the router uses NAT (Network Address Translation). It sits on the WAN (or Internet) with the IP address your ISP assigned you, and dishes out internal IP addresses via DHCP to the computers attached to it. The Internet community only sees the router’s IP address, while your home network sits behind it (this is where the “built-in” firewall comes in).. The router supports many advanced features, such as the addition of static routes and port forwarding (essential for Internet gamers, NetMeeting, VPN or Web hosting). Fortunately, some of the more popular programs (like RealAudio, Windows Media Player, and IRC) don’t require any special configuration and simply work straight out of the box. And speed isn’t an issue. My DSL line still blazes like it always did whether it’s filtered through this thing or not.

My only complaint is the lack of configuration software. The router ships with a small application named FirstGear that lets you configure the basic settings (for example, you can define your primary DNS server, but there’s no place for the Secondary assignment). For advanced configuration, you need to telnet in to the box and manipulate an archaic menu interface. You can also attach a serial cable and use a program like HyperTerminal (but I can’t imagine why you’d want to do this unless you don’t have network access to the router). Once you telnet into the box, configuration doesn’t get any easier. For example, there’s no way to make a quick change, save it and move on, without first tabbing through all of the available options and reaching the bottom of the menu (pretty lame). I called the NetGear tech support team to make sure I wasn’t missing something. The tech admitted the packaged software was useless and that there was no secret workaround for the labor-intensive configuration program. My only guess is that NetGear is targeting this router for a more sophisticated, network-savvy crowd and figured they’d feel right at home using telnet (reminds me of the guy who told me he used VI to write an entire book). I protest that even the most brilliant computer professional would prefer a nifty web interface over fixed screen fonts and keystrokes any day.

Bottom line: The Linksys router everyone is raving about might be a better option. It includes a built-in 4-port 10/100 switch as well as a sleek, web-based configuration, and it’s ten dollars cheaper the last time I checked. However, while the Linksys router sports many of the same advanced features as the NetGear product, the company doesn’t support them – you’re on your own if you can’t get things to work right. Personally, I like a vendor that stands by all aspects of their products, and since I plan to use and experiment with some of these advanced features over the years, it’s comforting to know that I won’t be met with shrugged shoulders when I’ve got a question. I’ll just keep my fingers crossed that the folks at NetGear take a hint and release a software update that brings its configuration up to par with its competitors.

Submitted by: Nathan

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