I've actually had 2 of these contraptions and I must say I haven't had the best experience myself!
The ones I've used were roughly the shape and size of a 200 page book I'd say, white with 8 symbols situated on the front for power, 4 ports, wireless, DSL and internet - there are tiny, but legible, labels underneath each light telling you what is working when they flash. The 4 ports stand for where you're connected to, ie Port 1 will light up when the PC is connected to the internet, Port 2 will light up if the Xbox is connected to the internet. It's all about where you connect your ports at the back! The phone line cable is a typical white colour, and the mains plug is a typical black colour, with an abnormally large plug attached to it - I don't have a clue why it has to be so big!
The first one of these we got at my mum's house, so me and my brother could go on the internet on our laptops without downloading anything to her PC, which had a habit of breaking down. So, setting it up I had nothing to do with that time, all I know is it took a couple days and a phone call to Virgin to sort it out, so I shall explain set-up later. After everything was set-up though, we received the internet perfectly and I was able to do whatever I wanted online as long as this router was switched on. Internet was pretty fast and perfect, and then as I used my laptop more it slowed down. I thought this was normal for a PC, to slow a little after a bit of use, but then it would take minutes to load a page and eventually, after about 6 or 7 months, the internet just wasn't working. Nothing would connect, even after disabling it and then re-abling it - nothing. We rang Virgin, who we were with at the time - nothing. I even had the Wireless card looked at - nothing! We put it all down to my laptop's Wireless card though, assuming it to be broken because my brother's still worked perfectly.
Of course, a few months later I was at a friend's and she mentioned I could connect to her wireless if I wanted to. I tried it, just for giggles really, and because I was bored of my English, and it connected. I was able to do whatever I wanted online again. She had a completely different router than what we had, so I decided that the router must be broken, not my wireless card. It turned out my brother's wireless had broken only a few weeks after mine too (he doesn't talk to the family much - moody teen ad all that) so that can't be coincidence!
So after a few phone calls and emails to Virgin, mum gave up and we lived without the internet for a while (lol) and the router went in the bin, something never to be used again and something that ruined my online fun. You can imagine my annoyance after ordering Virgin to my Uni house in February and opening the box to find a lovely, shiny, new NetGear DG834GB - white, as I remember it, small, and with those same 8 lights that like to go out randomly and interrupt your surfing...
This one I HAD to set up myself, my boyfriend just so happened to need to go to town so could I sort it out so he can do his thing quickly? It wasn't actually that hard thinking about it, all I had to do was take a quick look at the instructions and follow them; plug the lead from the phone line into the specified slot at the back of the NetGear, and then plug it into the mains. There was also a yellow USB wire that connected from the yellow slot at the back of the NetGear into the yellow slot at the back of your PC - this would be perfect if I was anywhere near the PC at that point!
Our phone line is in the hall, and our PC in the front room, so this 2 foot (max!) yellow cable was not going to stretch from one side of a house to the other, impossible. And we tried it! So no points to whoever decided that should go in the box with it as we had to go into town the next day, find a phone line extension instead (£5 out of pocket so far) and then connect it behind the PC. This time it did work, but expect to need longer wires if your phone line isn't near your PC, and don't expect them to be included! We were also using this internet for the Xbox Live we had too, so yet another USB wire needed to be bought to connect to that (£10 more out of pocket...)
Anyway, once it was all plugged in and flashing, we had to wait 7 days to connect to the internet. We didn't get connected straight away, but actually had to ring Virgin to find out there's a certain url you have to visit to set-up the actual internet - clever huh? So eventually we managed that, and obviously we needed all the details of the NetGear to do it - they were printed perfectly clearly, black ink on white sticker, on the underneath of the NetGear. That was the easiest part of registering and set-up, ever.
So we got to work on using it. In the 3 months we've had it the only problems that's occurred is when it decided to randomly die in the middle of the day. We guessed it was probably just too hot because it had been on for hours, so switched it off and tried it again that night. It worked fine, so we've now made a habit of switching it off for longer periods of time.
The real test was whether it would connect with my laptop on wireless or not. I left the boyfriend to do all the network set-ups etc, all I have to do now is log on and I'm online so I've no idea what he did, it took him less than half an hour though. So far I've been connected perfectly to the internet for the past month, so far! It took 6 months for it to stop working last time so fingers crossed I'm still able to use it come October!
Having used it myself the second time round it seems to be a pretty simple piece of equipment, lights and words telling you what's working and what isn't, plug it into 3 things and away you go, but I really did hate it the first time! I think it may be one of those things you'd have to get used to yourself, so make sure you fit it yourself or at least watch someone do it. It makes more sense that way!
It comes in its own handy box, usually free with Virgin internet purchases (or maybe any other internet purchases, I've only ever had Virgin) as either the main source of internet or just as a wireless router - we use it for both as we're on a phone line, pretty perfect for that use actually. The only problem with having it on a phone line is the Wireless cuts out completely when using the phone, something I found out the hard way. I actually needed the internet for the phone call though! Not recommened if you use your house phone a lot really, unless you only need one page of the internet up at a time.
I assume they're always white and roughly the shape and size of a small book with the same 8 symbols on the front waiting to flash. The other one was hopefully just one of a bad batch because so far (fingers crossed) no problems with this, but only time will tell...
I found out about a month ago my mum's also got another one herself for her own Wireless as she bought herself a laptop for work. She's been 'surfing the net' as you do, and has so far not had any problems. She also got hers from Virgin, for free, but as they have fibre optics it doesn't interrupt their house calls, so definitely worth a try if you're on optics but not very good on phone lines!
Until recently, home networking has been the domain of nerds, and rich ones at that. Not only did a home network require at least two (expensive) PCs, but also the other relevant equipment which itself wasn't exactly as cheap as chips (to quote another "Duke").
There has been much grumbling in this household about the amount of time that I spend online hogging the phone line and I had always promised that as soon as I considered broadband to be within my price range, I would sort out this problem and everyone would be happy.
Well, that day has arrived, and as the resident nerd it's up to me to sort out the whole sorry mess. As I usually find, the problem to be solved wasn't exactly straightforward. Chez Duke has two PCs, in two separate rooms, on two different floors. The PC at the very top of the house is the one used most often, but it's the second PC, on the floor below, which is right beside the phone point. As you can imagine, the long phone extension cable running down the stairs created all sorts of havoc, especially when checking emails or chatting on instant messaging and someone kicked the lead out of the phone socket or demanded some phone time. Although my solution was a lot more expensive, physically wiring the PCs together was too huge an undertaking, especially since the wiring would be semi-permanent.
The final point was that I didn't want one PC to be some sort of "master" (i.e. needed to be switched on to be able to enable the broadband connection) and I was looking for a solution where either PC could be booted up and used irrespective of the state of the other.
Due to restrictions with wiring and the like, I had to resort to the more expensive wireless technology, and my research around the internet led me to the Netgear 54Mbps Wireless ADSL Firewall Router (with 4 port switch). Phew, what a mouthful, eh? This set up would mean that the PC beside the phone point would be physically connected to the router whilst the PC at the top of the house would be connected wirelessly which solves all my problems!
I can hear you all running away in terror at the horrible jargon, so stop! Return! I shall try to explain to you what this is all about.
I suppose the best place to start is the ADSL part. You probably know ADSL better as Broadband. Broadband is a fast internet connection (depending on the speed of the most common broadband connections it can be between 4 and 10 times faster than your ordinary modem connection). ADSL is generally associated with BT telephone lines. If you are running your phone line/broadband connection through a cable company such as NTL, you'll need slightly different equipment.
Wireless is also pretty easy to explain, cos it means you don't have to use wires. It's as simple as that.
As an aside: Wireless network technology may also be described as 802.11a, 802.11b or 802.11g, and you shouldn't panic if you see these complicated looking numbers. The 'g' suffix at the end of the numbers indicates that the speed of the connection is 54 Mbps, transmitted at 2.4GHz whereas the 802.11 indicates the protocol (or interface) used to transmit and receive the data. 'a' and 'b' suffixes mean that the same interface is used, but at different speeds and frequencies. It's more common to see 802.11b and 802.11g these days. 802.11b and 802.11g are compatible as they transmit information at the same frequency, although 'g' is approximately 5 times faster than 'b'.
A firewall isn't a big nasty thing looking to kill you either. A firewall is a piece of hardware or software (in the case of the Netgear, it's hardware) which monitors internet signals going to and from your PC and has the ability to restrict access, based on your settings, stopping anything that you don't want accessing your PC. If you're looking to have a broadband internet connection (or any kind of internet connection which is pretty much on all the time), a firewall is a must.
Another part of this all-in-one package is the router. A router is typically described as something which enables two different networks to talk to each other. The router sits between these two networks and generally gives information the best path to take to get to the required destination.
Finally, we move onto the switch. A switch is a piece of equipment which gathers information from and distributes to a variety of sources (in this instance, it will be to and from all the computers in your network). It may also be required to act as a filter as well.
Essentially then, the Netgear 54Mbps Wireless ADSL Firewall Router provides you with a broadband modem and hardware firewall base unit whilst allowing you to network your computers together without the inconvenience of wires, although that option is also open to you.
Inside the box, you'll find the actual base unit along with a power supply, a micro filter, two cables, the driver software on CD and the instructions.
The instructions are very clear and give precise details on exactly what you will need, although it's worth reading these before your ADSL connection is switched on in case you need extra equipment. Everything you need to connect to your broadband is contained within the box with two exceptions. If you wish to connect wirelessly, then you will need to purchase a separate wireless network card/device (typically priced somewhere between £30 and £50) and you may have to invest in extra micro filters (apart from the one you use to connect the router to the phone line, you'll need extra ones for each phone you have connected to an extension in your house at around £5 each.) It's advisable to have these at hand before you install the hardware as voice communications through the telephone lines can interrupt your broadband connection (and the microfilters keep the voice and broadband signals separate).
Installation was incredibly easy, and between unwrapping the package and reading the instructions, the first PC in the house was connected to my broadband connection within ten minutes all thanks to the incredibly easy Setup and Detection Wizard which automatically detected practically all the settings I needed to use. Bear in mind that five minutes of this was because I kept mistyping my login details for my broadband connection, and you'll see how simple this process is! The CD which accompanies the base unit is exceedingly useful at this point, giving advice and providing tutorials and troubleshooting guides should anything go wrong. It does get a bit technical in places, but is clear and easy to understand where it really counts.
The base unit itself is roughly just smaller than the size of an A4 sheet of paper in terms of desk footprint and roughly an inch and a half high (not including aerial), although there are screw holes on the bottom/back for wall mounting if desk space is limited. It's very plain looking with a few status lights across the front and the power socket and network ports along the back. The status lights, which indicate power and network activity through the 4 physical ports, the wireless connection and the broadband connection, are clear and easy to see.
Once initially installed, setting up the router/firewall is slightly more difficult. The instructions are sadly not as helpful here and many 'ordinary' users may find themselves out of their depth when trying to set up some of the slightly more advanced aspects such as the firewall but generally, most people should be able to get themselves up and running with no difficulties whatsoever. When accessing the base unit to change or update settings, there is an explanation of each setting to the right hand side of each page, although these may be a bit too jargon-y for a lot of people. That's not to say that it's impossible, because it's easy to set up restrictions to stop your little ones from accessing www.britneyinthebuff.com or www.swearyhumour.org, but tackling something more advanced may leave you scratching your head.
It's important if you are using a wireless connection to secure your connection. I found the manual to be woefully unhelpful at this stage, but found an excellent piece of (general) advice at http://www.pcnineoneone.com/howto/80211bsecurity1.html. (as an aside, there is plenty of great help on a large range of computing topics at this site and is well worth a look!)
The last thing that I did was change the default password for the router as an additional security measure, and satisfied that I had done this correctly, turned my attention to surfing the internet.
Browsing speed, download speeds etc. were all excellent indicating that I had properly connected the first PC to the router/firewall via the network cable, and that I could turn my attention to the second PC which was to be connected wirelessly.
This again was easily done. For simplicity, I used a Netgear wireless network card (WG311) because some people recommend using a card of the same make as your router, but this is not a necessity. Once again, I tested the connection and everything was excellent.
Setting up the network aspect of the system was also easy enough, by running Windows XP's Networking wizard on both PCs. As the router/firewall had already done a lot of the work previously, it was a simple matter of typing in a few names and letting it be. I can now swap documents between the PCs and play games, too.
I've been using the router/firewall now for a few weeks, and as the advert says, the better something works, the less we realise that it's there. This is no less true of the router, and while the performance of it depends also on my wireless network card and my broadband connection (both of which have also been top notch in the same time period), I have been impressed by the ease of installation and accompanying documentation and support options from the website.
Now everyone in the household is happy. The phone line is again free and both computers can simultaneously connect to the internet at speeds better than our previous dial-up connection could provide. If there ever comes a time when I need to add more computers to the network, then this isn't a problem as this piece of equipment can connect up to 253 computers to the internet connection (4 via a cable connection and the rest wirelessly).
If you're looking for further technical information on this router/firewall, then the official site is at: http://www.netgear.com/products/prod_details.php?prodID=223
Total cost of this system:
Netgear 54Mbps Wireless ADSL Firewall Router (with 4 port 10/100 Mbps switch): £122.42
Netgear WG311 54Mbps Wireless PCI adapter: £51.69
Pipex 512 Xtreme Solo Broadband connection: £23 per month (inc. VAT)
One of the PCs already had a network port built in, so I didn't need a network card, although you can pick these up fairly cheaply at around a tenner if you need one and extra networking cable can be picked up easily as well. If you don't know where to get any, you could try Maplin at http://www.maplin.co.uk/
The equipment may be a bit on the expensive side, but I already feel that the cost has been justified. If you're facing a dilemma similar to mine, I can't recommend the Netgear 54Mbps Wireless ADSL Firewall Router (with 4 port 10/100 Mbps switch) highly enough.
** Please note **
Please note that these prices are currently six months old and its possible to pick up these components for much less than I paid. For example, the actual DG834G can be found on Amazon for eighty of your English pounds.
The following review is based on both my own personnel usage of the Netgear DG834G router and also as a tool in a business environment. Firstly let me tell you what is included within this device and then why I chose it for both environments.
This device is made up of the following an ADSL MODEM, 4-port Switch, Wireless Access Point and Firewall. Bear this in mind when making a purchase if you dont want all of these facilities NetGear and other manufacturers make other products such as a model that does not include the ADSL MODEM.
From a business point of view we had to deploy Broadband access to around 100 remote users in different geographical locations. Because we ended up using a few different Broadband providers we wanted to provide a standard front-end device. Each different provider was offering to supply a different USB Modem device. However a word of caution with this approach. Because there is no need to use your ISP supplied MODEM you may potentially have problems if you require support from them at some point.
Secondly at some locations more than one person would want to connect via the Broadband at the same time. With the NetGear device up to 253 devices can be connected (although realistically you would unlikely want this to be the case).
Next our standard operating system was Windows 2000, which unlike Windows XP has no built in firewall.
Finally a number of users expressed an interest in using Wireless connections in there homes.
With these requirements in mind the NetGear product was a bit of a no brainer.
What you get/What you need
First what you get. The pack contains the router itself (with mounting brackets), power, filter, ADSL cable and one Ethernet network cable. Instructions supplied are brief but in truth thats all thats needed.
Apart from whats supplied you are going to need some method of connecting up your client computers newer PCs and laptops are likely to have either a built in network or wireless card but if not you are going to need one.
The router is managed via a web front end. By opening your web browser and going to the address of the router (http://192.168.0.1) you end up at the management console.
Basically if your client machine is ready there is no reason not to be up and running within 5 minutes. After being prompted for the console username and password you are met by a wizard.
This is just a case of choosing your country and language and whether you would like the router to auto detect the connection type. Auto detection has only failed once for me and a retry sorted this out. The auto detections works out things such as the Encapsulation type either PPP over Ethernet or ATM.
At this point you are asked for the username and password provided by your ISP and asked to click the Apply button. Once done you are basically ready to go!
The Web Console
Just a quick mention on the console itself as this is where you configure pretty much everything. The console is broken up into 5 logical sections Setup, Security, Maintenance, Advanced and Web Support. These show on the left hand side of the screen with extra options then displayed in the middle and comprehensive help on the right hand side. Overall well layed out and easy to follow.
I will mention Wireless security separately and the following is the more general security you can set.
Firstly you can block full web sites or sites with certain keywords. This can be set to work in a couple of different ways. You can choose to have this block across all times and all connecting computers or only at certain times of the day for instance. An extra option allows you to choose one computer (actually one IP address) that can connect to any blocked information.
Backing this service up are logs and an e-mail service, which will let you know if someone has tried to connect to any blocked sites.
To protect you from hackers the device also includes a firewall and NAT (Network Address Translation). Obviously its beyond the scope of this review to give full details on the inner workings of firewalls but this includes protection from Denial of Service attacks (such as Ping of Death) and blocks unwanted traffic from the Internet.
As tight as a firewall is sometimes you do need to open up certain ports to allow things to work correctly. An example of this is for NetMeeting.
Reading through support documentation I discovered I would need to open up 2 ports 1503 (T.120) 1720 (H.323).
To do this you have to tell the firewall through Rules what you would like to open up.
For some reason port 1720 was listed but I had to create a manual entry for 1503. This was easily done however by creating a new service. Note that while I investigated this and worked this out myself a colleague who also uses this model of router at home called NetGear support and they remotely set this up for him.
Once setup you can disable and enable these Rules as you need them (i.e. when you have finished using NetMeeting).
This device supports the 802.11g standard which means it can run at up to 54 Mbps.
The Wireless Settings allow you to configure a number of options. The first option you might want to change is to actually allow the router to act as a Wireless Access Point. By default this is switched on so if you arent going to be using Wireless its a good idea to switch it off it at this point.
If you are going to be using Wireless the other settings are all security related from this point on.
Firstly you can change the default SSID from the default NETGEAR to one of your own. From a security point of view its a good idea to change this.
You can also turn off the broadcasting of the SSID. Again from a security point of view there is no reason to leave this switched on as you can key your own SSID into any client machines.
The next bit of security allows you to setup an access list of allowable machines to connect via Wireless. This is based on the MAC address of each network/wireless card that is going to connect. Each card has a unique MAC address. You can type this in manually or if the router can see any devices it lists them for you to choose. Again for security reasons there is no reason not to set this up.
Your final options are to choose the type of encryption you want. The default is not to use any encryption but the other options are
WEP (Wired Equivelant Privacy) you can choose from either Automatic, Open System or Shared Key based on either 64 or 128 bit strength..
WPA-PSK (Wi-Fi Proteced Access Pre-Shared Key)
Although its beyond the scope of this review again you should really use some sort of encryption.
There are a number of options available from this menu including looking at the status of the router and diagnostics, which pretty much speak for themselves.
Two that should be used however are the Set Password and Router Upgrade options.
The Set Password option allows you to change the master password to access the router via the web console. The default password is literally password so it goes without saying you should change this straight away.
Another priority should be to check for a firmware upgrade for the router. I had a problem on a couple of routers in that the line would seemingly drop for no reason. I never found out why only a couple of routers behaved in this way but the firmware upgrade seemed to stop the problems straight away. The process for doing the upgrade is simple to follow and takes no more than a couple of minutes.
Pretty much speaks for itself and in truth most never needs to be changed.
One option that needs to be understood to a certain extent is LAN IP Setup. By default the IP address of the router itself is 192.168.0.1. The router also has a built in DHCP server which basically auto assigns addresses to any other machines on its network. This range is from 192.168.0.2 to 192.168.0.254. Again this can all be changed and from a security point of view if you know only a couple of machines are ever going to connect to the router there is probably no reason to have the pool this large.
Perhaps the most important option on here is Remote Management. By default this option is turned off but can be turned on with the click of a mouse. By turning this on the router can be managed via a web console from a remote location such as by a NetGear support person.
The NetGear DG834G fitted the bill perfectly for what I wanted it to do. Despite a couple of problems (fixed with a firmware upgrade) I have no reason not give this product anything less than a perfect score.