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PracticallyNetworked Recommended Logo

We're often asked what products we recommend.  We someday hope to have a data-driven objective rating system, but until then, this list will have to do.


Much as we hate putting these "weasel words" here, we feel we must, since some people think that a recommendation is a guarantee!

Use these recommendations at your own risk, and don't blame us if a recommended product doesn't work in your application.  There's no substitute for doing your own homework.  If this stuff were easy to choose or use, we wouldn't be here!



 

Software NAT Routers

  • If you have only a few computers sharing the connection, and have a PC,   use Sygate, due to its low price, ease of setup, and ability to handle most new applications without having to reconfigure it.

  • If you have a Mac based network, use Vicomsoft's SurfDoubler if you can deal with only two computers being able to share the connection simultaneously, otherwise you need to use Internet Gateway.

Tip: If you have both PCs and Macs in your network, set up the sharing on the PC, since there are more (and less expensive) options for it.

Hardware NAT Routers

This is probably the toughest category to make a recommendation for.  Experience has shown that due to differences in BSP (Broadband Service Provider) network setups and other considerations, what works well in one situation may be a disaster for others.  Look at these recommendations, but do your own research!  Check the Opinions if we've reviewed the product you're interested in, and check the Forums, too!

  • If price isn't a prime consideration, you can't do much better than the SonicWall2 product line. The SOHO2 will handle small LANs of 10 users and the Tele2 may be better if you have heavy VPN requirements.  A stateful inspection firewall, excellent logging and alarms, access controls, content filtering and flexible firewall policies are among the features that make this product well worth the money!

  • A good choice on the inexpensive (around $100) end of the product spectrum is the SMC Barricade line, which comes in 4 port, 8 port and wireless (see below) models. The Asante FriendlyNet is essentially the same product, but is "officially" supported for the MacOs.  The built-in Windows (LPR based) printserver, and support for dialup modem WAN connections tends to tip the value scale over competitive products.  SMC also does a good job of quickly responding to problems with stable firmware updates that don't break existing features.  Logging features are pretty weak, however.

 

802.11b Wireless

  • Wireless Router: The SMC Wireless Barricade and its twin, the D-Link DI-713P take this one hands-down.  Features include: 3 port 10/100 switch plus 802.11b Access point, built-in Windows (LPR-based) printserver, and support for dialup modem WAN connection.

  • Wireless Access Point: No recommendation yet for this area.

  • Wireless Client Cards: The ORiNOCO PC Card Adapter has drivers for just about any OS you can think of, excellent speed vs. range, and the best set of client utilities that we've seen.  The same can be said for the USB Gold, except that its driver support is limited to Win98/Me/2000.

 

Multi-Network Routers

  • The 2Wire HomePortal line can handle LANs with Ethernet, HomePNA, and 802.11b wireless segments, all in one box!  The HomePortal 100 sells for $200, handling Ethernet and HomePNA, and the HomePortal 100W adds 802.11b wireless access for $100 more.

 

Home PNA Adapters

  • Buy HomePNA2.0 products...HomePNA 1.0 is old news, slower, and will slow down 2.0 products on the same network.  No specific product recommendations here since all products perform about the same.  However, many users have complained about installation problems with NETGEAR HomePNA adapters, so... fair warning!

 

Ethernet NICs, Hubs, Switches

  • We have no specific recommendations for these products and also don't generally review them.  Consumer-grade non-managed products in this category are basically commodity products, with virtually all functionality provided by the chipset used.  Buy on price from recognized manufacturers and avoid generic computer-show specials if you're concerned about long-term reliability.  For switches and hubs, buy based on the layout and packaging of the product, i.e. location of connectors and indicator lights.

    You can also check this page from DSLwebserver.com for an article that compares the performance of a number of popular 10 and 100Mbps Ethernet network cards.

 

Print Servers

  • We have no specific recommendations in this area and would like to review them, but haven't gotten around to it yet.  Some things to look out for are:

    • Protocols supported - Some of the inexpensive models don't support TCP/IP or Apple's Ethertalk, but only Windows' NetBEUI and/or IPX/SPX.

    • Required applications - Many products require that you install an application on the machines that will access the print server.  These apps may be Windows-only.

    • Bi-directional support - If your printer has features that require a bi-directional parallel port (and many do), either check that the features can be disabled in the printer, or make sure your print server has a bi-directional parallel port!

     



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