Just six months ago, I had one personal computer and was cruising the Internet using a 28.8K modem. My how times have changed! In late 1998, Cox Cable was busy laying fiber optic cable in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia as they were expanding their digital communications network.
A new low-cost and exciting service was being offered to residents - high speed Internet access via cable modem. For myself, moving to a cable modem was a no brainer. I was already paying over $40 a month to a local Internet Service Provider (ISP) for Internet access and to Bell Atlantic for a second phone line.
Thanks to a special offer from Cox, installation was free. Opting to rent the cable modem, and using Cox@Home, my monthly bill for unlimited Internet access was around $45. For $5 more a month, I was enjoying the benefits of superior upload and download speeds compared to a 28.8K modem. On-line gaming moved to another level as response times were down to the 50-100ms range (depending on the server).
About a month ago, I finally broke down and purchased a second PC. With one PC, and three of us sharing time on it, we were constantly arguing about who would get on and when. It went something like this:
Dave: Dad, Steve's been on the computer for the last two hours playing Half-Like. I really need to get on the Internet and do some research for my homework assignment.
Dad: Sure Dave, all you want to do is play Diablo II. I'll go talk to Steve and ask him to get off.
Dad: Steve, Dave needs to get on the computer. Plus, I haven't updated nV News yet so I need to get on right after him. When are you getting off?
Steve: Dad, I'm right in the middle of an important clan match. This match is for the championship and we got started an hour late because the other clan didn't show up on time. Anyway, Dave doesn't deserve to use the computer because he doesn't help out with chores. At least I cut the grass.
Dad: OK, I'll tell Dave. But I'm not happy about this either. How do you expect me to manage a web site when I can't even use the PC?
Dad: Dave, Steve said he will be getting off soon. You can get on after him.
Dave: Well, since Steve hogged the computer today, I get to use his time tomorrow.
Dad: What about me Dave? I need to update the web site. How long will you be on?
Get the picture? I also knew that a second PC alone wouldn't do the trick. A PC without an Internet connection wasn't going to cut it.
Enter the Linksys EtherFast 4-Port Cable/DSL Router. With the increase in using cable modem and DSL Internet access, this relatively new peripheral is extremely popular in the home networking market.
The system requirements for the Linksys EtherFast 4-Port Cable/DSL Router are as follows:
- One RJ-45 Broadband Internet connection
- One PC with an installed 10Mbps, 100Mbps, or 10/100 Mbps Ethernet card
- TCP/IP network protocol for each PC
- UTP network cable with RJ-45 connector
- Microsoft Internet Explorer 4.0 or later, or Netscape Navigator 4.0 or later
The Linksys Cable/DSL router provided us with two useful, and life saving...heh, capabilities:
- Allowed both PCs to use the cable modem at the same time (WAN)
- Allowed both PCs to communicate with each other (LAN)
Before getting started, I wanted to let you know that installing and configuring the Linksys Router was my first experience using a networking product of any kind. So consider yourselves warned! I'm not going to cover the advanced settings of the router since I have yet to use or even understand them. However, Linksys has an excellent guide for newbies called Tech Helper. This guide would have helped me tremendously had it been published before I purchased the router.
Setting up and configuring the router was a breeze as the documentation (1.6MB PDF) provided with the product is excellent. Both computers had existing network interface cards (NIC) installed along with Microsoft's TCP/IP protocol software. Along with the router, I also purchased two Belkin RJ-45 Category 5 cables. One was 7 feet in length while the second was 25 feet. Here's the setup:
Connect the network cable from the cable modem to the WAN port on the router. Connect each PC to the LAN ports (1-4) on the router. Turn off the power to the cable modem and the router and re-boot the PC. That's all there's to it.
Configuring the Linksys Cable/DSL router was straightforward assuming you have the necessary settings at hand. Configuration is done via a browser and requires the following information from your ISP.
- Fixed Internet IP Address
- Computer Name and Workgroup Name
- Subnet Mask
- Default Gateway
- Primary DNS IP address
Open up the Internet browser and set the address to http://192.168.1.1. You will be greeted with the following logon screen:
After setting up the various IP addresses, I changed the router password, enabled DHCP, and set the number of users to 2. The router assigns each PC connected to it a unique IP address.
Mission accomplished. I was in business as both PCs were able to access the Internet. The kids immediately took over the two PCs and teamed up in a game of Counter-Strike. On their favorite server, each one was pinging between 80-100ms. I was the best Dad in the world :)
At this point both PCs were showing up under Network Neighborhood. However, I encountered a problem, which was unrelated to the router, in setting up the ability to share files between them. Since each PC is assigned a unique IP address by the router, I pinged each one and continued to get a request timed out message.
I checked out Practically Networked and discovered that ZoneAlarm's Firewall was doing its job by rendering the computer invisible. Configuring ZoneAlarm's local zone properties took care of that.
I proceeded to set up the Windows 98 file sharing capabilities for each PC. This step involved selecting the network properties for the NIC and checking the share files and printer options.
Once file sharing is installed, a sharing option will be available when selecting hard drive properties. From here, access permissions can be established. In this example, I am giving the second PC full access to the D: drive on the first PC.
And finally a network performance benchmark from SiSoft Sandra.
The older PC contains the original 10MBps NIC that was installed with the cable modem while the new PC has a 10/100 Mbps NIC. I will be replacing the 10MBps NIC, since the 4-port router has an auto-sensing Fast Ethernet 10/100 switch on the LAN side. This will increase the data transfer rate across the LAN considerably.
The Linksys Cable/DSL Router exceeded all my expectations. Installation and configuration was straightforward and the unit performs flawlessly. While any piece of hardware can give owners headaches, over 80% are recommending the product over at Practically Networked.
I normally don't rate products that I review, but in this case the Linksys Cable/DSL Router gets an A+ from me and the rest of the family.