Actiontec Wireless-Ready Multimedia Home Gateway

By Bob Ryan

November 02, 2001

If you're not a network guru but want to enjoy easy-to-setup wireless cable and DSL sharing, this might be the product for you. However, that doesn't mean it's flawless.

Model: GE204000-01

If you're not a network guru you'll appreciate the Actiontec Wireless-Ready Multimedia Home Gateway. It is one of the easiest Cable/DSL routers we've ever setup, which means it should have wide appeal. However, several glitches keep it from earning a recommendation

Pros:

- Easy setup screens
- Lots of features
- Flexible; upgrade to wireless only when you need it

Cons:

- DMZ/port forwarding not working
- Intermittent connection hiccups
- Unusable manual


Want to talk about it? Use the Forums.


Product Stats

View a summary of this product's capabilities.

Setup

As with most home gateways, you access the setup screens of the Wireless-Ready Home Gateway via your web browser. After plugging in your cable or DSL modem to the WAN port and setting up a PC on a LAN port you get to setup by entering the router's LAN address, which defaults to 192.168.0.1. The basic menu has links to setup/configuration, status, utilities, and a help page.

The Setup/Configuration page is where you get to the most important features of the Actiontec box. You can elect to perform a basic setup, change the administrator password (the default is blank), or get into some of the advanced features with Advanced Setup.

Most people can get everything they need done with the router by clicking the Begin Basic Setup button. This leads you through a series of simple, wizard-like screens (e.g., Are you connected via cable modem or DSL?) that make configuring your gateway a no-brainer. Actiontec also includes information on how to configure the Wireless-Ready Home Gateway for many different ISPs on its website.

It's a good thing setup is so easy because the manual is almost useless. Someone at the printing plant must have fallen asleep at the bindery because the manual repeats the first several pages numerous times. Until you get connected and can download the manual from the Actiontec website you're flying blind in many respects.

Basic Features

Out of the box the Wireless-Ready Home Gateway is a four-port 10/100 switch that uses address translation to let all the computers on your network share a cable modem or DSL connection to the Internet. What makes it different is a pair of PC Card (a.k.a. PCMCIA) slots on the side. This is where "wireless-ready" comes in; you can't actually use this as a wireless access point until you add a wireless PC Card. The basic box lists for $149 and sells for about $130; upgrading it to 802.11b wireless costs about $100. The $30 premium you pay for the "wireless-ready" capability is reasonable, especially considering that the slots will support faster 802.11a cards when those are available. In addition, Actiontec plans to provide other networking options such as Blue Tooth and HPNA for the second PC Card slot.

Advanced Features

Beyond basic connection sharing the Wireless-Ready Home Gateway has some very nice features that you get to-more the most part-through the Advanced Setup screen.

Advanced Setup gives you easy access to most of the gateway's configuration settings. If you're a parent concerned about where your kids are going online you'll like the URL blocking feature. You simply enter the URL and click Add to put an offending website on the blocked list.

Actiontec did a good job balancing friendliness and features. For example, the DHCP server settings lets you set an address range and turn the server on an off but it doesn't provide more advanced features such as providing a list of current leases or setting time limits on leases. The same ease-of-use philosophy is at work with the services blocking option. Actiontec makes it easy to keep client computers from accessing common services (i.e., web, news, ftp, e-mail, and IM).

If your ISP uses your MAC address to authenticate you, you'll appreciate the MAC Address Cloning option. You enter the MAC address of the device you previously used to connect to you cable modem and the Home Gateway mimics that device to you ISP.

The Advanced Setup includes screens for both DMZ Hosting and Port Forwarding. The former lets you completely expose the TCP and UDP ports of a client computer, while the latter lets you selectively expose the ports you want. In effect these features let you get around the firewall protection offered by the built-in name address translation (NAT). Some applications-especially Internet games-require access to specific ports.

In practice neither the DMZ hosting nor the port forwarding appears to be implemented correctly. I tried both when attempting to run the Qcheck WAN-to-LAN performance tests but neither gave Qcheck access to the necessary ports on the client system.

The Wireless-Ready Home Gateway comes with three built-in utilities. The most interesting is the Web Activity Log which lets you see which computers on your network are accessing which web pages. Big Brother may not be watching, but you sure can.


More useful are the Restore Default Settings and Upgrade Firmware utilities. Having the firmware upgrade utility in the router means that computers running the Mac OS and other operating systems can administer the gateway. This isn't a Windows-only box.

Router Throughput

On the LAN-to-WAN tests we got an average throughput of 2.4 Mbps. As was mentioned above, tests that involved exposing client ports across the firewall failed on the gateway. This included the LAN-to-WAN UDP streaming test as well as all the WAN-to-LAN tests.

We also noticed a recurring glitch in the gateway's operation. When going to use the Internet after the network had been idle to several hours, we would lose Internet connectivity after about five minutes. The only way to restore normal operation was to recycle the power on the cable modem.

Wireless Features

On the wireless side the Actiontec box supports 64- and 128-bit WEP, though you do pay a performance penalty of about 30 percent when you use 128-bit encryption. This penalty makes it harder to overlook the lack of any type of MAC-based authentication. The only configurations you need to deal with are the network ID, the channel you'll use, and-optionally- the encryption key.

Because the gateway uses a PC Card adapter for its access point it doesn't have an adjustable antenna. To adjust the antenna you have to adjust the position of the gateway itself

Wireless Performance

We tested the Wireless-Ready Home Gateway with an Actiontec 802.11b PC Card installed. The clients were also equipped with Actiontec adapters. The results are summarized in the table.

Test Description

Qcheck Transfer Rate (Mbps)

[1MB data size]

Qcheck Response Time (msec)
[10 iterations 100byte data size]

Qcheck UDP stream 
[10 seconds at 500Kbps]

(Actual throughput- kbps)

(Lost data- %)

AP to Client - Condition 1

2.8

 3 (avg)
5 (max)

398

 0%

AP to Client - Condition 2 2.7  4 (avg)
7 (max)

398

 0%
AP to Client - Condition 3 2.7  4 (avg)
5 (max)
398  0%
AP to Client - Condition 4 2.6  4 (avg)
6 (max)
398  0%

(Details of how we tested can be found here.) 

The results are not outstanding but certainly acceptable.

Summary

The Actiontec Wireless-Ready Home Gateway is a product that a lot of people need. It lets you get into wired home networking at a relatively low price while leaving you the option of upgrading later to wireless. It is easy to setup and configure-which is a huge plus. There is a big market for a device like this.

But right now, the Actiontec box isn't quite there. The botched manual and the intermittent connection glitches point to a product that was either rushed out the door or that suffers from shoddy quality control. You'd hope that the Wireless-Ready Home Gateway is just a reprinting and a firmware upgrade away from being a killer home product, but only time will tell.

Want to talk about problems with the product? Use the Forums.

Reprinted with express permission of PracticallyNetworked.com



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