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Technology Reviews

By JOHN TORRO and DAVE GUSSOW

© St. Petersburg Times, published July 2, 2001


BEFSR11 cable/DSL router

BEFSR11 cable/DSL router

MAKER: Linksys

PRICE: $89.99

We had a family conflict: My son needed Internet access while doing homework late at night. I wanted to go to sleep. But because my PC was the server for our home network, it had to stay on and I had to stay up while my son worked.

Later I made the mistake of taking my PC offline for a hardware upgrade, which turned the rest of my family into an angry mob who couldn't go online or do instant messages.

My home network -- I had crawled through the attic pulling wires, installed Internet connection sharing software and connected it all with a hub -- would have to change. What I wanted now was a hardware solution that would let all four of my home computers share my Internet cable connection, provide a firewall to protect the network from outside intruders and, most important, wouldn't require that my PC be on to work.

I bought the BEFSR11 EtherFast 1-Port Cable/DSL Router, which supposedly lets up to 253 PCs share one broadband Internet connection. The reviews I read online overwhelming cast the BEFSR11 as simple, almost automatic, to set up.

I'm used to dealing with network protocols such as TCP/IP and equipment such as routers, gateways and hubs. But I wondered if it could really be as simple as it was portrayed.

It was. I uninstalled my Internet connection sharing software from my PC, removed the TCP/IP information assigned by my Internet service provider, then disconnected my cable modem from my hub.

I connected the cable modem to the BEFSR11 router wide area network, or WAN, port and the hub to the router's local area network, or LAN, port using a normal patch cable. After powering up the equipment, I accessed the BEFSR11 router installation program using my Web browser (Internet Explorer or Netscape will do on either a Windows or Macintosh computer). And I entered the TCP/IP information my Internet service provider had given me. The steps are explained in the router's documentation, which is well written with step-by-step illustrated instructions.

After turning the route and cable modem off, then back on I was back on the Internet. More important, so was the rest of my family. One of the added benefits of the BEFSR11 router is its firewall protection. I can share resources, such as printers and PCs, within my home network without them being seen by the outside world (and hackers). Also, the hardware solution is much faster than any software solution could be.

If you have a hub, the BEFSR11 router is all you need. When you consider that the BEFSR11 replaces your Internet connection sharing software and firewall software, it is a bargain.

- JOHN TORRO, Times correspondent

BEFN2PS4 cable/DSL and voice router

MAKER: Linksys

PRICE: $179

This story has a happy ending, but it was anything but smooth sailing trying to get a device that promises two services to deliver both.

We easily connected the Linksys BEFN2PS4 router to a friend's home network in minutes. It worked fine immediately, sharing Internet access with three PCs that had been using a hub.

The router also allows you to plug in a regular telephone and make Internet calls through the Net2Phone service, even if the PC is turned off. It sounded like an intriguing idea but became the center of a tech support horror story.

Our first attempts didn't work. We couldn't register for the phone service online, the phone card included in the package had an incorrect PIN number printed on it, and dealing with tech support left us frustrated and didn't fix the problem.

In fact, it was a textbook case of tech support exasperation: We sent e-mail, only to get answers that we already had tried. We were referred to phone numbers, which turned out to be recordings that sent us back to what we had tried or informed us that the company was having problems with its system.

When we finally got to talk to a human, we got bounced from Net2Phone, which said it couldn't help, to Linksys, which took four days to call back. By that time, though, we had given up.

Only because Net2Phone's marketing department called to check on our test did we get everything fixed. Net2Phone acknowledged its database problem prevented registration, apologized for the inconvenience and set up a new test.

This time, everything worked. Internet phone calls have improved greatly since our test last year (Tech Times, April 24, 2000). We didn't have any echo or breakup, and could use a regular phone, not the headset or microphone we used a year ago. And at 3.9 cents a minute, the long-distance calls were relatively inexpensive. One caution: Internet phone calls don't know the difference between local and long distance, so all calls have a charge.

The second test was so successful, my friend decided to buy the device.

- DAVE GUSSOW, Times personal technology editor

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