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Hardware Review of:
BEFSR41 Cable/DSL Router
Linksys

 

Picture of a Linksys BEFSR41 4-Port Router

Wayne Rogers is an old Alamo PC member, now working for Motorola in Fort Worth, and lives in Parker County, where there are more horses than people.

From the March, 2003 issue of PC Alamode Magazine

Every so often you find a product that you enjoy so much you want to tell everyone. I just purchased a Linksys BEFSR41 V.2 Cable/DSL router w 10/100 4 port switch. This is a router, hardware firewall, and Internet sharing networking device, all in one. It enables you to network up to 253 PC's , using one DSL or Cable modem. If you have more than one computer and broadband, you should consider this router. It is widely available in retail stores for $129.95, I bought mine for $99 on the net. 

Requirements include an RJ-45 10 or 100 Mbps NIC (Network Interface Card) and patch cable for each computer. You will also need a patch cable from the router to the modem. Internet Explorer 4.0 or better, or Netscape 4.0 or better is required. It should work on any system that supports Ethernet, but the manufacturer only officially supports Windows, though there is limited Mac and Linux support.  DHCP, IPsec, DMZ, and PPPoe are supported features. Details are available at the Linksys Website

Configuration is accomplished using your Internet browser. The router generates Web pages internally. Security is provided by using a username and password that can be changed by the user. Individual computers connected can be restricted from Internet access while still participating on the intranet. A log can be created to track addresses of Internet addresses accessed through the router. Remote configuration is available and can be disabled. 

The physical firewall uses NAT (Network AddressTranslation) to enhance security. Intranet addresses are translated to the IP address used to connect to the Internet. Any computer outside your network will only see that one IP address. Hackers running port scanners will not even see your computers inside the firewall. The process is transparent to the user and the serving Web sites. WAN requests can be blocked to prevent pings from being acknowledged. 

I use Zonealarm Pro, the commercial version of the excellent freeware software firewall. This program monitors access to and from the Internet, producing alerts when access is attempted from an unauthorized IP address. Before I installed the router, I was getting alerts at the rate of 50-100 per day. I don't know how many of these were actual attacks, but I don't get any now. 

The 4 port switch is capable of dynamic routing, as well as static. The router reads the IP address of incoming packets and forwards them only to the appropriate port. A hub, by comparison, forwards the packet to all ports, generating unneeded traffic. This increases the chance of collisions, slowing the network. The slowdown probably wouldn’t be significant on small networks. However, the extra cost of the 4 port model compared to the one port version is only about $20. So for less than the cost of a hub, you can get a router. Even if the speed is not noticeably faster, the cabling setup will be simpler. If you have four computers or less you simply plug into the back of the router, no hub or hub cable is required. If you have more than four, you can add hubs and have four collision domains. 

I installed the Linksys router between my computer and the DSL modem. This machine is a K-6 500 MHz w 384 Mb RAM and Win 2K Pro. Nothing! I tried everything I could think of, but no Internet access. I called tech support about 4:00pm, got a voice mail; I left a call back number. The tech support is 24/7, so I called back at 10:00 pm, waited about five minutes, and I got a very helpful tech who diagnosed the problem in two minutes by having me use ipconfig and ping. Another technician called the next day at 1:00 pm, but the problem was already solved. Tech support that is not only helpful, but returns calls? How wonderful! 

The problem was that I was still trying to use the Enternet 300 software, supplied with the DSL modem. The router is configured with your ISP username and password, along with any other information such as DNS addresses needed to log on and authenticate your ISP connection. Any application that requires Internet access passes the request to the router, which quickly makes the connection and passes the data back. The original software is no longer used. Connection is established in about five seconds, and the user doesn’t have to do anything. The connection times out after five minutes idle. The time interval can be changed or even set to constant on, but I found no reason to change the default value. 

Next I patched my old computer, a K-6 200 MHz 64 Mb NT 4.0 machine into the router. Once I found the right place to put the gateway and DNS numbers, it worked amazingly well. The old machine surfs as fast as the new one, too bad about the old blurry 14" monitor. No longer do I have to get off the couch to access the Internet.  I even have a laser printer on one computer and a color ink-jet on the other so I don’t have to switch cables and can use both printers at the same time. 

Even though setting up the router is as easy as it can be, this is fairly heavy duty network stuff.  Setting up the network and configuring the computers is not for beginners. You should be comfortable with networks before starting a project like this. Installing the router is little more than replacing a hub, for an existing network. If you don’t  know a topology from a protocol, then find someone who does.  Maybe you can put a sign in your front yard saying “CSMA/CD wanted”.


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