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SpeedStream 4-Port Wireless DSL/Cable Router

Model Number: 2624 ($179)

The $179 2624 Wireless DSL/Cable Router is a follow-up product to Siemen/Efficient Networks's existing SpeedStream 2623 unit, which is now being phased out. In terms of hardware differences between the two units, the 2624 provides 4 switched LAN ports instead of 3, and a single 5dB removable dipole antenna in place of the older model's dual 2dB fixed antennas. Finally, while the 2624 retains its predecessor's printer port, it omits the serial port which was used to provide backup dial-up access.

I lament the loss of the serial port, and I think this is an extremely useful feature for those of us with broadband access that goes up and down more often than the Dow Jones Industrial Average. SpeedStream says that their research showed it wasn't a priority for the vast majority of product purchasers. That's probably true, but the company indicated that the serial port might yet return in another product in the family. I certainly hope it does.

The 2624 does still offer something else not always seen in a residential router -- a print server that supports any Windows client from 95 through XP as well as Unix and Linux clients. One neat feature -- holding down the rest button on the rear of the unit sends a router diagnostic report to the attached printer.

Pros:

  • Excellent network gaming support
  • Printer port
  • Easy setup and configuration

Cons:

  • Inflexible access control
  • Inadequate logging/alerts

Basic Features

The 802-11b-compliant Speedstream 2624 provides all of the general features expected in a product of this class, including DHCP (client and server), virtual servers, support for Dynamic DNS, and DMZ support. As with any router worth its salt, the 2624 lets you define special applications that require specific ports through a firewall.

The most notable feature of the router, and one that Internet gamers in particular will appreciate, is the 2624's ability to automatically allow supported games to work correctly across the NAT. The router firmware is aware of specific games. Currently, about 40 are supported; future support will be provided by the UPnP standard.

I gave it a whirl by jumping into a game of Risk II on MSN Gaming Zone, and it worked as advertised, without any configuration necessary. Incidentally, this feature also supports common telephony applications like NetMeeting, CUSeeMe, etc.

On the wireless side of things, the 2624 has a built-in 802.11b access point that supports up to 128-bit WEP encryption. According to SpeedStream, the aforementioned removable antenna will have the ability to be upgraded with forthcoming replacement antennas that could afford better signal strength, longer ranges, or both.

The 2624's configuration is done via the browser, a de rigueur feature nowadays. It also provides remote access capability and lets you specify a port number (default: 8080) allowing you to enable remote access and the virtual server features simultaneously.

The router firmware can be upgraded via the Web interface, or if you're a huge nerd, via TFTP as well.

The 2624 carries a one year warranty on parts and labor, and they provide a strong incentive to register your product with them: Do so, and you're covered for an additional year.

Installation and Setup

The 2624 stands among the quickest and easiest setup of any router I've seen to date. Indeed, I did not even get a chance to run the Setup Wizard before the unit had configured itself up with my cable modem and gone to work.

As mentioned earlier, the 2624 also supports Universal Plug and Play (UPnP), so if you're running Windows Me or XP, it can be automatically identified and configured by those operating systems.

Also worth noting is that most configuration changes to the 2624 can be made without the need to reboot the router -- a real time and aggravation saver.

Performance

The 2624's wireless performance was quite good across the board, with throughput and access time results coming in as expected for a product of this class. Wireless throughput scores from router to clients were predominantly in the low 4Mbps range, while access times were around 6 ms. In addition, enabling 128-bit WEP encryption did not result in any significant degradation in performance.

Access Control

If the 2624 excels in its support and ease of configuration for online games, then it lags somewhat behind when looking at access control features.

The 2624 does not provide content filtering per se, but it does offer a rudimentary URL filtering feature where you can specify keywords. It's better than nothing, but it's easily circumvented by pinging a URL to resolve the address, and then entering the resultant IP address into the browser, which provides unfettered access to the site. If these seems like an unlikely scenario to you, think about the computer savvy of today's youth.

This problem could be avoided if the router would resolve any IP address entered into the browser and then compare the URL to the filter before forwarding the request. SpeedStream acknowledged the weakness, and they're considering potential ways to fix it.

The 2624 provides an access control feature that allow you to block internal clients access to pre-defined services (or ones you define) or prevent Net access entirely. You can also prevent wireless clients from accessing the LAN, WAN, or both.

At the moment however, the various access control schemes only allow you to specify clients by IP, not MAC address. It would be a lot simpler to be able to specify a fixed MAC address rather than potentially variable IP addresses. SpeedStream is working on a firmware update which will allow you to specify clients by either MAC or IP address, and it should be available by the time you read this.

Unfortunately, the unit lacks any time-based access control, so you can't configure the router to prevent access say, in the overnight hours so junior can't get up at 3:00 AM and surf for nasty stuff.

Security

The 2624 supports NAT, and provides a firewall that scans incoming packets looking for the telltale pattern of a denial-of-service (DoS) attack. The router also lets you suppress ICMP echoes so it will not respond to pings or traceroutes from the Internet.

I subjected the 2624 to infiltration from a host of online port-scanners, and found no open ports or otherwise apparent vulnerabilities or weaknesses.

The 2624 does have a basic logging capability, but only for internal clients accessing the Internet. It does not track external attempts to access the internal network, and it lacks any advanced features like the ability to e-mail logs or alerts when unauthorized access is attempted on either end of the router.

Summary

If you're an avid gamer, then the SpeedStream 2624's gaming support is reason enough to pick one up, and the integrated print server also makes it worth considering for a residential broadband network. However, if comprehensive access control and the logging and alerts for same are your primary concerns, then this is probably not the right product for you.

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