SMC Barricade g 54 Mbps Wireless Router with USB Print Server


Model: SMC2804WBRP-G

Price: $129.99

Pros: USB print server, 200 mW radio, supports WEP and WPA simultaneously

Cons: No dial backup or repeater function

For the longest time, it was impossible to find a WLAN router that included a USB print server. Now, right on the heels of the Netgear ProSave 11g Wireless Firewall with USB Print Server comes yet another router sporting a USB print server. This time it’s SMC’s Barricade g Broadband Router (SMC2804WBRP-G).

Features

The $129.99 SMC doesn’t have every capability of the more advanced FWG114P, notably the serial port for modem backup or remote dial access, but it adds a few interesting and unique features.

Like the Netgear, the SMC WBR2804P-G is based on the GlobespanVirata PRISM GT chipset. The SMC uses a powerful 200mW radio and has dual external dipole antennas that are removable. A setup wizard is provided, but it turned out not to be necessary since the unit auto-configured itself to my broadband connection upon power-up.

I like the fact that the 2804WBRP-G’s DHCP server lets you define lease duration, which is uncommon for products in this class. Lease times can range from a half-hour to “forever”, and the latter setting helps you ensure that port mapping will always work on a particular client (i.e. a game console) without having to assign a static IP to the device.

While configuring the SMC’s time zone information, I did notice that the device uses hard-coded IP addresses rather than FQDNs to define NTP servers. While this has no serious effect on users, the practice can potentially cause problems for the entities that maintain those time servers (the addresses specified in the 2804WBRP-G resolve to governmental and education institutions). Hard-coded NTP addresses in prior products from SMC and other vendors have caused considerable consternation among network administrators in the past.

The 2804WBRP-G offers remote management, but a minor inconvenience: you can only specify a single (or “any”) remote IP for remote access, which forces you to leave the router reachable from any address even if you want to manage the router from more than one client on a particular remote network. The router’s system log is difficult to read via the browser due to a small fixed window which requires scrolling both vertically and horizontally. Fortunately, it can be saved to a text file (manually) and syslog export is also supported.

Printing

Of course, the reason this product will be on many people’s shopping list is the USB print server. At the moment though. SMC doesn’t provide (either in its documentation or on its Web Site), a list of compatible USB printer makes or models. SMC is working on a list of verified compatible printers that will be posted to the company Web site in late March.

Nevertheless, setting up the 2804WBRP-G with an Epson CX3200 worked without any difficulty, albeit with the expected side effect of rendering the printers status software largely inert — something that’s unavoidable when using bi-directional printers on a network.

Security

The SMC 2804WBRP-G has extensive firewall and content and traffic filtering features. To control the access of your network users, you can filter LAN traffic by protocol at the WAN port, and you can filter access to Web sites by URL and keyword. As is the case with most broadband routers, you can filter access to the entire network by MAC address, and any of the aforementioned filters can be fully scheduled.

There is also intrusion detection present which can be configured to notify you by e-mail in the event of various forms of attack.

In a move that seems to be gaining popularity in this class of broadband router, the WBR2804 lets you define not just one DMZ computer, but up to eight DMZ hosts which receive unfettered access to (and from) the Net. This doesn’t do you any good if you haven’t been assigned multiple global static IP addresses by your ISP (and most people are lucky to have even one, especially in residential scenarios) but if you can take advantage of it, it’s a nice feature to have.

On the wireless side, the WBR2804P-G offers standard WLAN configuration parameters like channel selection, SSID broadcast, and enabling of the PRISM chipset’s “Nitro” feature. It doesn’t offer much in the way of advanced configuration of wireless settings such as signal strength or fine-tuning packet size. The former would be appreciated given the high output power and the potential need to retard the range for security reasons.

In the realm of security, the 2804WBRP-G offers both WEP and WPA. For the latter, you can use TKIP encryption with a pre-shared key but the higher-horsepower AES isn’t an option. Authentication to an external RADIUS server is also an option, though you can specify only one, not a primary and a backup as is often the case.

Interestingly, the WLAN authentication/encryption settings aren’t mutually exclusive as they are in every other router I’ve looked at to date. In addition to WEP and WPA settings, there is also a combined WEP/WPA setting that accommodates either type of client. (SMC says this is in response to customer requests–and you thought vendors didn’t listen to customers!)

As the setting implied, while configured this way the router could associate with either WEP or WPA clients, and in fact could communicate with both kinds simultaneously–a first in my experience. Given that much older hardware and software support WEP only, this dual capability of the 2804WBRP-G makes it easy to continue using older equipment without forgoing the ability to use WPA on clients that support it. Of course, keep in mind that a network’s security is only as strong as its weakest link, and you largely negate the benefits of WPA if there is even one vulnerable WEP client on your network. Therefore, this feature is best used only as a short-term convenience or in situations where security is not absolutely paramount.

I did encounter some glitches while using WEP and WPA clients at the same time. My WPA client would often momentarily lose its connection and need to be manually re-associated to the router several times before IP connectivity would be restored–a phenomenon that did not occur when using WPA only. Also, at least one 802.11b adapter I tried would not connect to the 2804WBRP-G with WEP unless the router was in “WEP only” mode.

Performance

The high power of the 2804WBRP-G’s 200 mW radio resulted in excellent wireless throughput as measured by Chariot. Throughput at 10 feet was 23.26 Mbps, and dropped to 15.96 Mbps by 50 feet, but it remained at that level through to 125 feet, where performance was still a healthy 15.11 Mbps.

At 10 feet, performance with WPA encryption enabled dropped down to 18.74, a percentage more or less commensurate with other products in the class. In mixed b+g mode though, the SMC’s throughput almost identical at 18.56, considerably higher than the 11-14 Mbps that’s typical of mixed mode.

Summary

In the final analysis, the SMC has a lot going for it. While the lack of dial backup or WDS repeater capabilities will make it unsuitable for some environments, the combination of low price, high power/performance, and the USB print server make the SMC 2804 WBRP-G worthy of consideration for any home or small office.

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