|Image credit: Newegg|
We all know notebooks are great at what they do, but as we have also seen, a notebook can be enhanced considerably with the use of special accessories. My recent acquisition of a new wireless router/modem combo from Netgear has been performing very well, not only improving my overall work flow, but deserving of a closer look.
PROS: Easy setup and connection, fast, reliable, transparent, solid signal strength.
CONS: Doesn't work with some devices, fixed user name, no manual
Being a content DSL jockey now for 6 years, I was very surprised about two weeks ago when my bullet-proof connection began to drop for what seemed like no apparent reason. Sure, I checked with my provider for any outages in my area but service was A-OK. Windows reported an active connection, all the status lights on the modem were working as they should, yet web pages just simply failed to load. Further troubleshooting finally revealed a problem with my DSL hardware, as it would only report back properly after a full power cycle.
I would never have thought that a DSL modem, being a solid state device, would ever end up giving problems like this.
Aside from the fact that I had been hunting for a wireless solution to complement my hardware farm already, my ISP now unashamedly wanted $75+tax from me to pay for the replacement hardware. Obviously, a bare DSL modem does not cost that much, and so I headed online to see what I could get elsewhere. Wandering into my local Staples a day later, I managed to locate the Netgear DGN2000. This stylish device is a DSL modem, ethernet router, and wireless access point all in one.
I've always been apprehensive of settling down with wifi because of the risks of being exposed to external threats. Sad to say, but my home location is not the most ideal to run a wireless network, nor did I have a working understanding of the features available. In all honesty though, the DGN2000 has made my upgrade extremely easy answering all of my concerns. More importantly, I am confident in the security features of the device protecting my wireless signal.
The DGN2000 comes with everything you need in the box to get going, including all the cables, a vertical stand and setup disc. Keep in mind, you will still need a wired connection to the device for initial setup, but once done, you can pretty much toss that CAT5 cable. The setup CD guides you through the entire process, just make sure you have your DSL logon and password details - I called my ISP ahead to make sure.
Once the setup is through you connect via wifi with your notebook/netbook/smartphone or whatever else you happen to fancy. I had problems trying to connect at first, and immediately thought the problem was with the encryption/passkey. Turned out I needed to broadcast the SSID, after which my notebook logged on and acquired the network.
It's only been a short 24 hours since I've enabled the DGN2000, but it has already made a difference for me. No longer do I need to worry about a cable hanging out the back or side of my device, and the wireless web access has opened up opportunities for handheld devices I currently have and plan to get. Speeds are fast, with the hardware quoting full 6Mbit bandwidth on my DSL line, and speedtest.net reporting a very low ping time along with zero packet loss. The performance feels actually better than I had with my old wired connection.
Likewise, this is a great device if you like to sit outside the house and work, or if you have a deck/patio where a cable may not reach. The liberation wifi brings to your internet devices can bring many new ways in which you use your gear. This is actually making me eager to get my hands on a Fujitsu UH900 now. You still have the option to use a wired connection, and if need be, turn off the wireless access point if you have no need for a wireless network - the DSL modem will still function, be it wired or wireless.
Security options are extremely well covered, with WEP, WPA, WPA2 and WPA/WPA2 mixed. Once your wifi connection is established, you can disable SSID broadcasting, preventing rogue devices from detecting your signal. Two further layers of security come in the form of wireless isolation and access control, which records the MAC address of your specific device and stores the information, acting as a hardware lock. Advanced settings will also help deter denial-of-service attacks, lock out port scans and let you run diagnostics, set email notifications, firewall settings and back up all router info. Overkill for a first-time wifi user, but comforting nonetheless knowing that these features are available, and used together, provide solid protection.
You even have the ability of setting up as many as four independent wireless networks, each with it's own SSID, security and device settings - that's great if you review notebooks like I do and need a separate, unsecured signal for testing purposes. You can set up a "guest" network if you have friends coming over every week with their notebooks and don't want to share with them your main passkey. It's also a good way to police the computers on your network, keeping, let's say, your work computer and personal gear out of the eyes of devices that you know only need a temporary web connection.
I was disappointed that the wizard ran through first time yet was unable to connect my notebook. It took a second run with SSID broadcasting turned on to finally pick up a signal - blame that on my inexperience I guess. Something else that I found strange was that while the router password could be changed, the user name was fixed - or should I say, I saw no options for changing it. Unless you use a really clever password, access to the router setup could be compromised by a determined hacker. Finally, while the software explains pretty much everything, a paper manual would help folks who are new to these kinds of gadgets and have never set up or worked with a wireless network before.
I was also very much surprised when I tried to connect an older iPaq and was unsuccessful. I tried multiple security authentications, including fully open, but was just unable to connect. What made it frustrating was that I have two of these same handhelds and neither would connect. It is possible that the handheld's wifi radio was bad, but having both units go bad? I'll need to do further testing to isolate the issue, since connecting with a handheld device is something that I know I will be needing in the future.
One thing I do wish the DGN2000 had was a USB port for network attached storage (NAS), as I happen to have an external hard drive lying around that I could use. Fortunately that's something you can find on the DGND3300, this unit's big brother, and costs only $33 more. When you factor in the one-time cost of an external hard drive (~$60) versus recurring annual/monthly fees for limited cloud storage (as much as $125/year in some cases), that's a saving that will add up very quickly and multiply over time. NAS allows not only for file streaming, but hundreds of gigabytes of storage you can access wirelessly at home, wirelessly on the go, and keep it online for as long as you want. Think of how that could open up uses for a smartphone, slate device or handheld PC. Worth it? I'd say yes.
The Netgear DGN2000 is a solid device that provides excellent wifi signal and speed. The security features alone make it a better choice over a regular DSL modem, and the ability to use other wireless devices that lack an RJ-45 connection is a huge plus. At $99 this is not a cheap solution, but it is certainly better value compared to what ISP's may charge for their own vanilla hardware. I would definitely recommend the DGN2000 if you plan to stick with DSL service for a good while or if your ISP's modem is not performing up to par. If network attached storage is also on your list of must-have's, then going with the USB-equipped model is a no-brainer.