- Inexpensive and easy to use
- four wired Ethernet ports are more than most gateways offer.
- Rudimentary firewall protection.
Actiontec, a newcomer to the UK, has recently launched its inexpensive and easy-to-use Wireless-Ready Multimedia Home Gateway at £129.95 (ex. VAT; £152.69 inc. VAT). This product lets you share Internet access, peripherals and files among multiple computers in your home; add a pair of Wi-Fi-compatible adapters and you can wirelessly surf the Web as well. Although the gateway has its limitations, particularly its rudimentary firewall protection, it's still a good starting point for home networkers on a budget.
In a time of space-age designs, this product's unassuming, plain exterior is oddly refreshing. This little home networking nucleus measures just 17.8 by 20.3 by 5.1cm and can sit horizontally or vertically on or under your desktop. There's also an optional wall mount for maximum wireless coverage, but don't get too creative -- you'll still need to run a power cable to the gateway, along with Ethernet cables for any wired PC connections.
Given its low price and ease of use, the gateway is also suitable for the small business market, allowing a broadband Internet connection to be shared among up to 35 computers. It also has several attractive options that set it apart from the competition. On the back of the unit, you'll find four 10/100 Ethernet ports for wired connections -- a must-have feature if you want to swap large video files across the network. The gateway's dual PC Card slots, located on the side of the unit, are also unique. The top slot supports 802.11b, which lets you wirelessly communicate with other devices at speeds up to 11Mbit/s within a 100-metre range via radio waves; the bottom slot adds other networking flavours, including HomePNA, HomePlug and Bluetooth. Actiontec is working on developing cards for release later this year or early next year. Both slots also support the new 802.11a technology, with its maximum bandwidth of 54Mbit/s.
If you want to go wireless, it'll cost you a bit more than the price of the gateway itself. First you need to plug Actiontec's £99.95 (ex. VAT) Wireless PC Card -- or any other Wi-Fi-certified card -- into the top slot on the side of the gateway. Then you need to plug another card or wireless desktop adapter into each computer you want to network. Depending on the number of computers you have, this step could quickly cost more than the gateway itself. Actiontec plans to sell kits that include the gateway and one or more Wireless PC Cards.
Provided your desktop runs Windows 95 and above or Mac OS 7.1 and higher, installing the gateway is simple. Before you get started, you'll need to configure the network settings of each PC you plan to network. Actiontec walks you through the process in its illustrated setup guide. Then you plug in the power supply and connect the cable from your broadband modem to the gateway's LAN port. Finally, plug in the RJ-45 (Ethernet) cable(s) from your PC's NIC to one of the gateway's four Ethernet ports -- Actiontec includes one RJ-45 Ethernet cable to help you get started. After a quick restart, you handle further maintenance and management via your Web browser using the provided IP address.
The Web-based management interface makes configuration easy. Simply open your Web browser and type the provided URL into the address bar. When the installation wizard appears, click the Begin Basic Setup button and follow the on-screen instructions. The wizard asks you a few simple questions about your connection, whereupon it automatically configures your system. From this interface, users can also control features such as firewall services (for example, blocking specific sites), log files, throughput thresholds, protocol support, file/print sharing and so on.
The firewall is this gateway's biggest problem. Actiontec offers rudimentary protections, such as blocking specific Internet content and auditing browser trails. But the gateway doesn't currently offer a hacker-pattern inspection and blocking feature to protect against threats such as IP spoofing and other hacker subterfuges. Neither does it send email alerts of hacking attacks. Although the likelihood that a home network will be hacked is theoretically small, if security is important to you, you'll have to add it yourself.
The Wireless-Ready Multimedia Home Gateway performed satisfactorily in our throughput tests. The gateway is than adequate for home use, especially if you just want to surf the Web wirelessly. Actiontec claims you can roam within 100m of the gateway, but since range is determined by environment, your experience will most likely differ, depending on the walls, floors, and other obstructions between your computer and the gateway. Your signal can also fade due to distance or interference from metal objects, cordless phones or other sources. So as you roam farther from the gateway, the data rate drops to 5.5Mbit/s, then 2Mbit/s and finally 1Mbit/s before giving up altogether.
Actiontec's Wireless-Ready Multimedia Home Gateway is a good way to share a broadband connection in your home. At just £129.95 (ex. VAT), the device is definitely good value for money and it's easy to set up and configure. Just remember that a complete wireless network will cost you extra, and you may want better security than Actiontec's product provides out of the box.
|Voltage Required||AC 110/220 V|
|Voltage Required Margin||± 10%|
|Frequency Required||50/60 Hz|
|Type||external power adapter|
|Voltage Provided||5 V|
|Capacity||Connection / user qty: 35|
|Data Link Protocol||Ethernet, Fast Ethernet|
|Network / Transport Protocol||L2TP, PPTP, TCP/IP, UDP/IP|
|Features||NAT support, firewall protection, full duplex capability, manageable, switching|
|Compliant Standards||IEEE 802.3, IEEE 802.3u|
|Remote Management Protocol||HTTP, SNMP, Telnet|
|Communication Mode||full-duplex, half-duplex|
|Data Transfer Rate||100 Mbps|
|Status Indicators||Collision status, port duplex mode, power, active, link/activity|
|Rack Mounting Kit||not available|
|Connector Qty||1, 4|
|Processor / Memory / Storage|
|Digital Video Format||none|
|OS Required||Apple MacOS 7.1 or later, Microsoft Windows 2000, Microsoft Windows 95, Microsoft Windows 98, Microsoft Windows 98 Second Edition, Microsoft Windows Millennium Edition, Microsoft Windows NT 4.0, Microsoft Windows XP|
|Min Operating Temperature||32 °F|
|Max Operating Temperature||104 °F|
|Humidity Range Operating||10 - 80%|
|Product Line||Actiontec Multimedia Home Gateway|
|Type||Drivers & Utilities|
|Type||connection / user qty|
|Service & Support|
|Type||1 year warranty|
|Service & Support Details|
|Service Included||parts and labor|
|Full Contract Period||1 year|