ActionTec Electronics Call Waiting Modem and Home Phone Line Network - HotHardware

ActionTec Electronics Call Waiting Modem and Home Phone Line Network

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Home Grown Networking and Modems from

ActionTec Electronics

http://www.actiontec.com

 


Not long ago, "Home Networking" was a segment of the PC and Peripheral Market that did not even exist. However along with the huge success of the Personal Computer and the Internet within the mainstream and "Family/SOHO" (Small Office/Home Office) space, came the Multi-PC Household. Soon, for today's average family, one PC was not enough. It was as if the "Great Telephone Line Battle" was raged again but this time on a different precious commodity, "Computer Time". Now instead of hogging the phone lines for voice calls, Teens are sucking up MHz. and bandwidth in the Chat Rooms and Web Pages of the Internet. Not to mention the fact that with all the "Surfing" today's average family is doing, it is a wonder that anyone can get through via a voice connection!

Enter ActionTec, a California, US based company focused on the strategic integration of the Computing Family Unit... :-) Wow, with an intro like that, they may call me for an interview! In any event, this is a look into two products which will help alleviate the "PC bottleneck" within today's online home. The ActionTec ActionLink Home Networking Kit is designed to connect multiple computers in your home with ease. In addition, the ActionTec Call Waiting 56K/V.90 Modem is designed to allow you to take the voice calls you want during an online session. Here's what we thought...

The ActionLink Multi-Room Home Networking Kit

The first piece of our little family care package is the part that brings us all together, the network. The ActionLink Home Networking Kit consists of two PCI add in cards the will enable two computers to set up a network via standard telephone lines that already exist in your home or office for that matter. Here's what the hardware looks like.

What amazed us was the sparse number of components that exist on these boards. Basically, the cards are made up of an AMD "PCNet-Home" chip, the controller that handles Ethernet connections via the phone line, and a few passive components. That's it! There are two jacks on the header of each card which allow you to connect them to your wall phone outlet and then pass the connection through to either a modem or phone line. Here are the rest of the specifics.

  • Interface: 32 bit PCI (Bus), RJ-11 (Home Telephone Line Network)
  • Operating Systems: Windows 95, Windows 98, and Windows NT (NDIS device driver)
  • Warranty: 5 years
  • High speed, 1 Mbps transmission over existing home telephone wiring
  • Use a single Internet account to provide simultaneous independent Internet access to multiple users with ActionTec's DynaNATTM software.
  • Includes Actiontec's patent-pending software for easy installation, setup, and Internet access
  • Simultaneous Home-Networking and Fax/ Modem (Internet) or simultaneous Home-Networking and POTS (telephone use)
  • Provides automatic IP address assignment for networked systems
  • Supports all popular Internet Applications (Web Browsers, e-mail programs, news readers, games and more)
  • Firewall protection
  • HomePNA compliant (Home Phoneline Networking Alliance)

As you will note in the specs, the transmission rate over the network which is an Ethernet connection is 1Mbps. or half duplex 10baseT. This is a lot slower than a standard 10baseT Ethernet solution but then again you don't have to wire your house with CAT5 (10baseT Ethernet) cable either. 1Mbps should, in theory, be fast enough for most home users at this point in time. Also of note is the fact that this product supports Windows NT, which should make the SMP/Multi-Processor crowd happy.

In the box you get the cards, a couple of Phone Patch Cables, Manual, Driver CDs and a Multiplayer Game Bundle. The game bundle was a little sparse, including only some demos from a few Accolade titles like Hardball 6 and Jack Nicklaus 5. So we set out to get connected in the Hot Hardware HQ. Here's how it went...
     

Installation and Setup

The cards installed in both or our test systems, a P2-450 and P3-450, without a hitch. The cards were installed in fairly loaded systems and in one case actually had to share an IRQ with another device. We never experienced any conflicts whatsoever. Life was generally good. We set our cards up to pass the phone connections through to our internal modems and then from the modems to the phone sets in each room. We are happy to report that all devices co-existed peacefully. The network, modems and phones all worked on those two thin strands of copper. As a matter of fact they almost all worked this way simultaneously. More on that later.

The software drivers for the cards loaded very easily and Protocols for NetBEUI, IPX/SPX and TCP/IP were all installed with Win98 Networking, File and Print Sharing Clients. We did experience a little hiccup with the DynaNAT Internet Connection Sharing software. The version that we received in the box regularly crashed in Win98. However, after downloading the lastest version from the ActionTec web site, all was well again and we had no more crashes moving forward into our tests.

 

Performance, Ease of Use and Features

Once we had our hardware and software installed, we were able to access and transfer files from one machine to another with ease. We also were able to set up the one printer we had set up on the network, as a Networked Printer under Win98. This allowed us to print from our second machine, located in a second floor room, down to our primary computer's printer on the first floor. Basically the network was seemlessly the exact way you would use it on a standard LAN, only we were doing this on own simple phone line wired network in the home.

Internet sharing connection sharing was also a snap! When you install the DynaNAT software, it asks you to specify one computer as the "Network Server" and the other as a client.

It also lets you monitor you modem's throughput and activity across the network...

DynaNAT work well, as advertised. Our client computer was able to Web Browse and send email all through the connection on the Call Waiting Modem at the Server's end. The "Server" system acts as a gateway for any clients on the network. You can of course have multiple servers on the network as well. It worked just like connecting to the net via a LAN connection on a corporate network. The client box didn't need to have a modem or even another ISP account for that matter. With the advent of free email from various online vendors, this could obviously prove to be a very economical way of web access.

Remember that the two computers will be sharing that one internet connection so basically split that bandwidth in half if you are simultaneously surfing. The software does a decent job of load balancing so it doesn't get too bogged down. For this review we were sharing a 56K connection on the ActionTec Call Waiting Modem. If you are fortunate enough to have a Cable Modem, you'll have all the bandwidth you'll ever need to share with everyone on your network. That's correct, the ActionLink Home Network Kit also supports and shares Cable Modem and DSL connections to the net!

We then fired up a few games like Quake3 Arena and the like. We set them up with Multiplayer sessions over a LAN connection and played without any problem. The 1Mb data rate was more than enough to keep lag times down to a minimum and we never experienced a hitch or stutter.

For the final test we transferred one 12MB file from one machine to the next and back. The time to transfer the file to the client machine was 2 Minutes and 35 seconds. The time it took us to pull that file back down to the server was a little quicker at 2 Minutes and 5 seconds. These are approximate numbers since we timed these transfers the high tech way with a "stop watch" approach. These numbers are fairly close to the 1Mbps data rate that is specified on the box. All told the ActionLink Home Network Kit lives up to its claims.

     
But wait a minute, the niehbors STILL can't get through on the phone if the family is causing a perrenial busy signal with all the shared surfing we are doing, right?

So here's ActionTec's solution for that modern day problem! Click on!
     

The First "Call Waiting Modem" Is Born...

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