Actiontec Wireless-Ready Multimedia Home Gateway

Model: GE204000-01

If you’re not a network guru you’ll appreciate the
Actiontec Wireless-Ready Multimedia Home Gateway. It is one
of the easiest Cable/DSL routers we’ve ever setup, which means it
should have wide appeal. However, several glitches keep it from
earning a recommendation

Pros:

– Easy setup screens
– Lots of features
– Flexible; upgrade to wireless only when you need it

Cons:

– DMZ/port forwarding not working
– Intermittent connection hiccups
– Unusable manual


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Product Stats

View a summary of this
product’s capabilities
.

Setup

As with most home gateways, you access the setup screens of the
Wireless-Ready Home Gateway via your web browser. After plugging
in your cable or DSL modem to the WAN port and setting up a PC on
a LAN port you get to setup by entering the router’s LAN address,
which defaults to 192.168.0.1. The basic menu has links to setup/configuration,
status, utilities, and a help page.

The Setup/Configuration page is where you get to the most important
features of the Actiontec box. You can elect to perform a basic
setup, change the administrator password (the default is blank),
or get into some of the advanced features with Advanced Setup.

Most people can get everything they need done with the router by
clicking the Begin Basic Setup button. This leads you through a
series of simple, wizard-like screens (e.g., Are you connected via
cable modem or DSL?) that make configuring your gateway a no-brainer.
Actiontec also includes information on how to configure the Wireless-Ready
Home Gateway for many different ISPs on its website.

It’s a good thing setup is so easy because the manual is almost
useless. Someone at the printing plant must have fallen asleep at
the bindery because the manual repeats the first several pages numerous
times. Until you get connected and can download the manual from
the Actiontec website you’re flying blind in many respects.

Basic Features

Out of the box the Wireless-Ready Home Gateway is a four-port 10/100
switch that uses address translation to let all the computers on
your network share a cable modem or DSL connection to the Internet.
What makes it different is a pair of PC Card (a.k.a. PCMCIA) slots
on the side. This is where "wireless-ready" comes in;
you can’t actually use this as a wireless access point until you
add a wireless PC Card. The basic box lists for $149 and sells for
about $130; upgrading it to 802.11b wireless costs about $100. The
$30 premium you pay for the "wireless-ready" capability
is reasonable, especially considering that the slots will support
faster 802.11a cards when those are available. In addition, Actiontec
plans to provide other networking options such as Blue Tooth and
HPNA for the second PC Card slot.

Advanced Features

Beyond basic connection sharing the Wireless-Ready Home Gateway
has some very nice features that you get to-more the most part-through
the Advanced Setup screen.

Advanced Setup gives you easy access to most of the gateway’s configuration
settings. If you’re a parent concerned about where your kids are
going online you’ll like the URL blocking feature. You simply enter
the URL and click Add to put an offending website on the blocked
list.

Actiontec did a good job balancing friendliness and features. For
example, the DHCP server settings lets you set an address range
and turn the server on an off but it doesn’t provide more advanced
features such as providing a list of current leases or setting time
limits on leases. The same ease-of-use philosophy is at work with
the services blocking option. Actiontec makes it easy to keep client
computers from accessing common services (i.e., web, news, ftp,
e-mail, and IM).

If your ISP uses your MAC address to authenticate you, you’ll appreciate
the MAC Address Cloning option. You enter the MAC address of the
device you previously used to connect to you cable modem and the
Home Gateway mimics that device to you ISP.

The Advanced Setup includes screens for both DMZ Hosting and Port
Forwarding. The former lets you completely expose the TCP and UDP
ports of a client computer, while the latter lets you selectively
expose the ports you want. In effect these features let you get
around the firewall protection offered by the built-in name address
translation (NAT). Some applications-especially Internet games-require
access to specific ports.

In practice neither the DMZ hosting nor the port forwarding appears
to be implemented correctly. I tried both when attempting to run
the Qcheck WAN-to-LAN performance tests but neither gave Qcheck
access to the necessary ports on the client system.

The Wireless-Ready Home Gateway comes with three built-in utilities.
The most interesting is the Web Activity Log which lets you see
which computers on your network are accessing which web pages. Big
Brother may not be watching, but you sure can.

More useful are the Restore Default Settings and Upgrade Firmware
utilities. Having the firmware upgrade utility in the router means
that computers running the Mac OS and other operating systems can
administer the gateway. This isn’t a Windows-only box.

Router Throughput

On the LAN-to-WAN tests we got an average throughput
of 2.4 Mbps. As was mentioned above, tests that involved exposing
client ports across the firewall failed on the gateway. This included
the LAN-to-WAN UDP streaming test as well as all the WAN-to-LAN
tests.

We also noticed a recurring glitch in the gateway’s
operation. When going to use the Internet after the network had
been idle to several hours, we would lose Internet connectivity
after about five minutes. The only way to restore normal operation
was to recycle the power on the cable modem.

Wireless Features

On the wireless side the Actiontec box supports 64- and 128-bit
WEP, though you do pay a performance penalty of about 30 percent
when you use 128-bit encryption. This penalty makes it harder to
overlook the lack of any type of MAC-based authentication. The only
configurations you need to deal with are the network ID, the channel
you’ll use, and-optionally- the encryption key.

Because the gateway uses a PC Card adapter for its access point
it doesn’t have an adjustable antenna. To adjust the antenna you
have to adjust the position of the gateway itself

Wireless Performance

We tested the Wireless-Ready Home Gateway with an Actiontec 802.11b
PC Card installed. The clients were also equipped with Actiontec
adapters. The results are summarized in the table.

Test
Description

Qcheck
Transfer Rate (Mbps)

[1MB data size]

Qcheck
Response Time (msec)
[10 iterations 100byte data size]

Qcheck
UDP stream 
[10 seconds at 500Kbps]

(Actual
throughput- kbps)

(Lost
data- %)

AP
to Client – Condition 1

2.8

 3
(avg)
5 (max)

398

 0%

AP
to Client – Condition 2
2.7  4
(avg)
7 (max)

398

 0%
AP
to Client – Condition 3
2.7  4
(avg)
5 (max)
398  0%
AP
to Client – Condition 4
2.6  4
(avg)
6 (max)
398  0%

(Details of how we tested can be found here.) 

The results are not outstanding but certainly acceptable.

Summary

The Actiontec Wireless-Ready Home Gateway is a product that a lot
of people need. It lets you get into wired home networking at a
relatively low price while leaving you the option of upgrading later
to wireless. It is easy to setup and configure-which is a huge plus.
There is a big market for a device like this.

But right now, the Actiontec box isn’t quite there. The botched
manual and the intermittent connection glitches point to a product
that was either rushed out the door or that suffers from shoddy
quality control. You’d hope that the Wireless-Ready Home Gateway
is just a reprinting and a firmware upgrade away from being a killer
home product, but only time will tell.


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Reprinted with express permission of PracticallyNetworked.com

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