NetPassage 16 Broadband Internet Gateway
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Model: NetPassage 16 (MSRP: $129.99)
The NetPassage 16 from Compex (www.cpx.com) is a low cost device that allows you to share a broadband Internet connection with both wired and wireless clients. Like most other Internet sharing devices, the NetPassage 16 uses a built in DHCP server to distribute IP addresses to attached clients. It then functions as a proxy server, relaying traffic between network clients and the Internet.
- Supports dial-up in case broadband fails
- Fault tolerance through use of multiple NetPassage 16 units
- Works as Access Point as well as Internet gateway
- No built in modem
- Only supports serial modems, not USB
- Price increases to get bundled WLAN PC Card
- No PC Card eject button
- Must use COMPEX wireless NIC
The initial setup process was relatively easy. It involved attaching the NetPassage 16 to a DSL modem and to the network's main hub. I also inserted a wireless network card to test the wireless capabilities.
Upon power up, the NetPassage 16 acts as a DHCP server and assigns IP addresses to the network clients, both wireless and wired. The next step is to enter the NetPassage 16's IP address into a Web browser to access the various configuration screens. For this process to work properly, the workstation must be configured to use a dynamic IP address, and can't be set up to use a proxy server.
Once you've entered the NetPassage 16 management interface, the configuration is very simple and straight forward. The interface allows you to do things like change the password, set IP address ranges, and enter modem dialing properties.
What really sets the NetPassage 16 apart from other low budget Internet sharing devices is its versatility. The NetPassage 16 is loaded with extra features that make it a must have in any SOHO. One such feature is support for an external modem, which allows the NetPassage 16 to automatically establish a dial up connection to an ISP, should the primary broadband connection become unavailable. For telecommuters, it even supports client side VPN pass through using PPTP and IPSec protocols.
You can connect multiple NetPassage 16 units to your network. Doing so allows you to achieve scalability by routing traffic through multiple Internet connections. This means that your network clients will see a strong performance benefit because the Internet traffic is being distributed through multiple Internet connections and through multiple proxies. Likewise, using multiple NetPassage 16 units provides a degree of fault tolerance in that if one broadband Internet connection were to fail, then the NetPassage 16's fail over capabilities would automatically reroute traffic through the functional connection
Another feature that I really liked was that the NetPassage 16 natively supports 802.11B wireless clients. In fact, if you don't already have a wireless access point, the NetPassage 16 can be used as an access point.
Although I definitely liked the NetPassage 16's feature set, it seems to me that COMPEX could have made the product much better. For example, although the NetPassage 16 can use a modem to dial into an ISP in the event that a broadband connection fails, the unit doesn't have a built in modem. Instead, the NetPassage 16 simply offers a built in serial port and comes with a serial cable that you can use to attach an external modem. I would like to see an internal modem integrated into future versions of the product.
Although the NetPassage 16 supports wireless clients, the unit I was furnished with requires you to supply your own wireless network card. However, I found that Compex now offers a NetPassage 16 bundled with a wireless network card. This unit has an MSRP of just over $200.
The NetPassage 16's primary WAN interface is a 10 Mbps RJ-45 port. The 10 Mbps speed is adequate since few cable modem or DSL connections within the budget constraints of most small businesses transfer data above 2Mbps. The four port switch built into the unit supports 10/100 Mbps JR-45 Ethernet connections. PCs may be either connected directly to these ports or the ports may be linked to other hubs. The unit's serial port is a standard UART port capable of supporting an external 56K serial modem - no USB.
Finally, the unit's PCMCIA socket supports a wireless network card. During my initial tests, I was able to use a third party wireless NIC. However, this NIC soon failed, and after talking to tech support, I discovered that the NetPassage 16 is only designed to work with the Compex NIC. I was disappointed to see that the NetPassage 16 didn't have an eject button. I ruined a perfectly good wireless NIC, because I had no choice but to pull the card out by the antenna
For a wireless performance test, I routed 1000 KB of data from the wired network to a wireless client through the NetPassage 16. In my tests, the average throughput (as measured by QCheck) was an incredibly slow 843kbps -- about a quarter of the average 802.11b product. I hooked my 3Com access point back up and ran the test against it in case I was doing something wrong, and the 3Com unit was running at about 5 Mbps. I even went so far as to attempt to use several different brands of NICs in my laptop just in case I had a bad antenna on one of them. This was done without running WEP encryption or IPSec tunnels or anything weird that could slow things down. I've checked this thing inside out, and can't figure out why it's so slow.
Virtual Servers And Port Mapping
The NetPassage 16 supports the use of virtual servers and port mapping for both HTTP and FTP servers. The unit allows the outside world to access HTTP or FTP servers that exist behind the firewall in two different ways. First, you can have the unit redirect all traffic that's intended for a specific IP address to a private IP address by making an entry into the unit's NAT table. Your other option is to map a specific port type to an IP address through the unit's NAT table. For example, you could tell the unit that a specific IP address belongs to a FTP server. This feature worked exactly the way that it was supposed to.
The NetPassage 16 allows access control based on time, IP address, and port. The unit contains an internal time clock and a setting for time zone information. Once the time and time zone has been established, you can control what days and times that Internet access should be made available to clients.
You can also control access based on IP address or port number filtering. Doing so involves telling the unit to either accept all outbound traffic or reject all outbound traffic other than the IP addresses or port numbers that are listed on an exception table. The unit automatically blocks requests from the Internet, unless those requests are directed to a virtual server. The various access control mechanisms worked flawlessly.
As a whole, I really liked the NetPassage 16. Although there are dozens of Internet sharing solutions on the market, few have the versatility of the NetPassage 16. The biggest problem is, all of them have more speed.