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 2Wire HomePortal 100

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 Author: Tim Higgins
 Review Date: 4/5/2001

Model: HomePortal 100

- Very very fast!
- Good attempt at simplifying the home network setup experience.
- Supports Ethernet, USB, and HomePNA 2.0 LAN ports


- Big and non stackable
- LAN USB port only for Win98,ME,2000
- Limited features



3/7/01 Corrected LAN port speed to 10BaseT from 10/100.

2/8/01 Now available from Dell, too!

2/5/01 Corrected WAN port speed to 10BaseT from 10/100.

1/20/01 Now available from CompUsa, both via web and in-store.

1/10/01 $100 price reduction on all models!  Wireless model available soon for $400.

The Stats

Check this page for a summary of the Home Portal 100's capabilities. 



The Basics

  • Power

  • Broadband Link

  • Home Network

  • Link and Activity LEDs built into rear panel Ethernet connectors

  • One RJ45 10 BaseT WAN

  • One RJ45 10BaseT LAN

  • One USB Type B (square) LAN

  • Two USB Type A (rectangular) for "peripherals" 

  • Power

  • One RJ11 HomePNA 2.0

Comes with
  • CDRom with installation software

  • printed Quick Start Guide poster

  • printed User Guide

  • one normal UTP cable

  • two RJ11 phone cables

  • one USB A to B cable

  • modular phone jack Y adapter

  • 100-240V Power supply

  • NO Hardware Reset switch

  • NO Uplink or Normal / Crossover switch for LAN Ports, but LAN Ethernet port is auto-MDI/MDI-X sensing (see this page for more info).


Style and Substance

2Wire has hyped their Home Portal series since this year's CES show last January.  The product looked sexy and had interesting specs, but months came and went and nothing shipped.  But now product is finally hitting the streets, so I lined up a review unit to see if it really lived up to the buzz that 2Wire's PR folks had been generating.  Since we don't have access to DSL service, we chose the Ethernet WAN port model, the HomePortal 100 (HP100).  (2Wire also has the 1500 series with DSL WAN ports, too.)

The quick take is it more than lives up to the hype in routing speed!  But the feature set still needs to evolve.  Let's go see why!


It's all in the Setup!

2Wire's focus is to make it easy to setup a secure LAN and share it via a broadband connection.  Their approach is similar to that taken by Microsoft, NETGEAR, Intel and others: put another interface on top of that nasty networking setup stuff.  However, 2Wire comes the closest that I've seen to pulling it off, and even does it for MacOS and Windows machines!  How do they do it?

First, their documentation is decent.  It contains connection diagrams and explanations of 5 different types of LAN connections, including wireless and HomePNA.  The manual also tells you how to add additional computers for each type of connection.  It even has a useful "FAQ" section, which can also be reached on their Web site.

Second, they give you connection options.   If your computer already has a HomePNA adapter built in, you can use HP100's HomePNA2.0 port.  No HomePNA?  Then use the USB port... they even supply the cable!  If you're already Ethernet housebroken, then plug into the 10BaseT Ethernet port. The only thing that isn't built-in is a wireless connection, but you can add an access point or even one of the USB wirless client adapters using any of the LAN ports.  You can connect devices to all three port types and they'll be connected via an internally switched connection.  If you need more Ethernet ports, just connect up a hub or switch (but make sure it's a 10/100 autosensing switch since the HP100's LAN port is only 10BaseT!).

I like it! No matter whether you use a normal UTP or crossover cable, or whatever kind of port you connect to, the HP100 will figure it out and connect you up!

Third (and most importantly) they did a good job with the software (and firmware)!  Let's examine this one a little more closely.


It takes three...

There are actually three pieces to 2Wire's management suite, although they'd really like you to use only the first two.  (Of course, I'll tell you about all three!)

1) The Installer: Comes in Win 95/98/NT/ME/2000 and MacOS 8.5 or better flavors (nope, no Linux).  It took awhile and required one reboot.  The Key Code that the installer asks for is very important and is part of 2Wire's ease-of-setup. 2Wire's products are mainly sold direct via phone (a web form just brings up a phone contact form) and the sales person will ask you for information about your ISP network configuration.  This information is keyed in, and out pops a KeyCode that is printed on your HomePortal box and install CD sleeve.  The Key Code tells the Installer how to configure the WAN side of the box without your needing to futz with IP addresses, domain names, etc.

Home Portal Installer - Computer Name screen
(sample Installer screen)

The disadvantage is that if you give them the wrong info, or 2Wire's ISP database information is wrong, the box may come up with no WAN connection, as mine did.  My 2Wire contact traced the error to an incorrect assumption that he made about my ISP (he thought I had a PPPoE connection), when he generated my Key Code.  If this happens, you'll need to access the secret Management and Diagnostics Console (see below) to reset the box to factory defaults.  You'll then need to go to the 2Wire Support site and generate a new Key Code, hopefully this time with the right info.  I just answered "Other" to the Key Code generator's ISP question, and received a Key Code that asked me about all my WAN parameters... just like setting up other routers.  Note that Host and Domain names are supported for @Home users, but RR TAS login and MAC address changing or "spoofing" is not available.

Things I didn't like about the installer:

a) It reset my browser Home page to the HP's internal HTTP admin server.  It also created a duplicate "Default" Netscape User profile to do this.  

b) It also changed my network logon from Windows to MS Networking.  Given the target audience, I understand the reasoning for this change, but the browser change could be very confusing to an inexperienced user.  I think installers should at least tell you when they make changes like this, a preferably ask permission!

b) It made me give them registration info.  At first I didn't dare bail out of this because I didn't see any Opt-out option and I was still in the install process.  But the program took a long time between screens and finally hung, so I had no choice.  The setup still took and I didn't get any nag screens later, though.  To be fair, the program displayed the 2Wire privacy policy, but again, didn't give you the option of "No thanks!".

2) The Home Portal Monitor: This is a System Tray app in Windows (I don't even know if it installs in the MacOS version) which lets you take the actions shown in the screen shot below.

Home Portal Monitor properties

The "Change Mobile Computer" location feature lets you store two network profiles for a computer.  This will make it easy to move a laptop between your 2Wire and work networks, for example.

The Monitor also has a web portion, which comes up if you select most any of the System Tray icon options, or by typing  (http://home/  or http://homeportal/ should also work due to the DNS built into the HP100) into your browser.  The screen shot below shows the "View Home Network" screen.  (I'll explain about the "grayed out" network members later.)

Home Portal Monitor Network screen

Like everyone else, 2Wire wants you to make their home page, your home page, and three of the four icons have nothing to do with the management of the box.  I'd have liked to see more features on the network tab (see below), but hey, 2Wire's gotta pay the bills whatever way they can!

3) The (secret) Management and Diagnostics Console (MDC):
This little guy (which my 2Wire contact told me about when I couldn't get my install to work) saved me from sending back the box unreviewed.  You reach it by typing (again, you can substitute "home" or "homeportal" for the IP address) into your browser.   You can mostly just look at stuff (those text boxes are READ ONLY), but you can set some important parameters for the WAN port and set up Application Hosting (port mapping) for Client machines.

Home Portal M and D Console - ISP connection screen

I got the feeling from my 2Wire friend (and from the fact that it's not documented anywhere) that they really don't want customers to use this interface unless directed by 2Wire support.  But since it accesses information and functions that you can't get through the HomePortal interface, you should know about it, and use it if you need to.

A few words on Linux and other OSes...
It's possible (although not recommended by 2Wire) to install the HP100 without installing the HomePortal software by just using the M&D console.  You can even access the Web part of the HomePortal interface, although if your browser isn't handy with Java, you may not get a very satisfying experience!

Firmware updating is done via the web browser and Java.

Any client whose OS includes a TCP/IP stack should be useable with the HP100.  If you have problems getting an address from the mandatory DHCP server, you can manually assign TCP/IP info if you start at the high end of the subnet range and work down.  Note that you don't have to install the 2Wire HomePortal software when you add MacOS or windows clients to your network either.

In all, these Management Interface components should give novice networkers a smooth installation experience.  If not, Tech support is available 24/7 via a toll-free number or email.  The contact info is printed in the User Guide (ignore the old Mon-Fri limited hours info), and is clearly shown on the HP Monitor's Troubleshooting screen, something I'd like to see all manufacturers do!


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