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Model: F5D5230-4, $111.99 direct
The Shape of Things to Come
In most small business environments network equipment typically
gets little or no respect. During my days as a consultant I visited
many offices where network hubs and modems were literally left lying
ungracefully in the middle of a snake-like coil of CAT5 cables.
The size of most routers -- and just the simple fact that they're
not attractive to look at -- is usually what condemns them to this
type of causal mistreatment.
Belkin Components has introduced a new series of network switches
and gateways that might bring a bit of respect to these often abused,
but important products. In this case, it's the Belkin 4-Port Cable/DSL
- Attractive design with a small footprint
- Advanced Administration features
- Stackable design
- Only 4-ports
- Trigger configuration is confusing
- Weak documentation
The first thing you notice on the Belkin 4-Port Cable/DSL Gateway
Router is its stylish design. Unlike a typical rectangular shaped
network product, this unit is constructed of molded plastic and
stands vertically (thus it's small footprint) in an A-shaped design.
Four large, easy to read link lights displayed in a staggered formation
dominate the front. Connection speeds are easily identified by either
a green or amber link light. Green indicates a 10Mbps connection
and amber 100Mbps. From a distance you might think the Belkin router
is an accessory to a Star Wars toy collection.
As the name implies, the Belkin allows users to quickly and easily
share an existing Cable or DSL internet connection between multiple
PCs. It makes use of a Web-based management system for configuration
and administration duties. A 4-port 10/100Base-T switch is integrated
into the Belkin. This combined with the built-in DHCP server makes
configuring your workstations a simple affair.
As your network needs grow, additional Belkin products (such as
the similarly shaped Belkin 5-Port
Switch, model F5D51305) can be stacked onto the gateway router
using the system's unique docking ring. Throwing a few of these
together will give you a quite a conversation piece.
The Belkin makes use of some advanced firewall techniques to help
safeguard your LAN from unauthorized intrusion. Network Address
Translation (NAT) is enabled by default and Stateful Packet Inspection
(SPI) technology examines all incoming data packets looking for
possible Denial of Service (DoS) attacks.
Advanced features like Internet client filtering can also be enabled.
This allows Internet resources to be filtered by IP address, granting
certain users access to selected resources during a certain time
of day. This is useful if for example you had wanted to prevent
the guys in the mailroom from having cruising on the Internet during
Virtual server settings (a.k.a. port forwarding) are pretty straight
forward and shouldn't be too difficult for most users to configure.
Unfortunately the Belkin also makes use of triggers which can be
very confusing. The documentation doesn't even address this feature
so don't expect any help there. If you're not familiar with them,
triggers work by having the router watch the outgoing data for a
specific port number and protocol. The system records the IP address
of the transmitting machine and then uses port-mapping to return
the data through the firewall and back to the original machine that
initiated the trigger.
In some circumstances an application just might not function properly
behind a firewall. Examples of this could be seen with Microsoft's
Netmeeting or even streaming media. In this event you could use
the Belkin's DMZ (Demilitarized Zone) feature to bypass firewall
protection for that system.
A security log monitors your system and keeps you informed of unauthorized
attempts to gain access to your system. The only compliant I had
with this setup however is that detection results can't be e-mailed
to the network administrator. The log can only be examined through
the web interface. This really should be addressed at some point.
Installation of the Belkin into the network was remarkably simple.
I connected our workstations into the unit's 4-ports and booted
up the PCs. To fine tune some of routers settings I pointed the
Web browser to the unit's default address of 192.168.1.2. After
entering the default username and password, I was greeted by one
of the best interfaces I've worked with to date. It's simple, clean
and easy to navigate. Most of the configuration options are pretty
straight forward. Unfortunately, the DHCP page wouldn't allow me
to reserve any IP addresses. This means that if you needed to assign
a static address to a server you would have to use an address that
resides outside the current scope.
In this world of cookie cutter designs it's nice to see a company
break from the norm and not only offer an attractive product, but
also a quite capable one. The Belkin's firewall and user management
features are very good, setup was a breeze and priced at around
$100 you can't go wrong. The limited downside: I would have liked
to have seen some real VPN features built into the router and a
bit more functionality in the DHCP settings would have also been
If all you need however is a simple router that's easy to configure
and use then the Belkin Cable/DSL Gateway Router could be just the
product you've been looking for.