Installing and configuring the
Compex NetPassage 16 was nearly painless. We
connected the gateway to our Motorola Cable modem (Optimum
Online ISP), plugged our Athlon test rig into an open port
and inserted a WL11 into the gateway and within seconds we
had an active Internet connection on our wired Athlon
system and this was without even entering the
configuration menu or installing a single driver. We
then inserted a WL11 into our Compaq laptop and installed
the drivers, but our laptop wasn't communicating with the
network. We jumped back to the wired rig and brought
up the configuration menu through our browser by entering
the local IP address 192.168.168.1...
And in the
lower message window we had a message saying the firmware
in our wireless adapter needed updating. So, we
downloaded the latest firmware, inserted the card into our
laptop and updated it's firmware. We then updated
the firmware in our other card, reinserted the cards into
the router and laptop and from this point forward we had a
wireless connection to the internet and our other PC!
If we didn't have a laptop, and were only using USB
wireless adapters, we would not have been able to update
the firmware on the PCMCIA card though. Hopefully
Compex will eliminate this problem by shipping all retail
parts with the updated firmware preinstalled.
describing the network topology at great length, we'll
illustrate it using some diagrams provided by Compex...
If you're new to networking,
don't be confused by the fancy terms or product names, the
configuration is actually fairly simple. Your PCs
are connected to the gateway (either wired or wireless)
and the gateway is connected to your broadband modem.
IP address are assigned to the PCs via DHCP and the
gateway essentially "tricks" the modem into thinking its
another PC and it is assigned an IP by your service
provider. The gateway's internal router assigns IPs
to the computers using the NAT (Network Address
Translation) protocol, so the only IP address being
transmitted is the gateway's external IP. This
essentially "hides" your PCs, which adds an element of
security. There is also a built in firewall that can
be configured to block access based on user defined rules.
You can even restrict access to the web while you're away
from home to keep the kids away from "unsavory" sites,
while still allowing them access to e-mail. Another
great feature (that hopefully you'll never have to use!)
is the ability to connect an external 56K modem for backup
dial-up internet access. If your broadband
connection goes down, the router will dial out and share a
56K connection amongst the PCs connected to the gateway.
Another, more powerful feature
of the NetPassage 16 is the ability to load balance
connections between multiple network groups. Once
again, we'll illustrate...
What's illustrated here, are
two groups of computers sharing two broadband connections.
If one connection goes down, the other takes on the new
load, or both connections share the load to keep
congestion to a minimum.
The NetPassage 16 also has the
ability to setup "Virtual" wireless LANs, or VLANs.
VLANs are not exclusive to the Compex NetPassage 16, but
it is the first product in it's class to bring this
feature to the SOHO market, which helps differentiate the
NP16 from similar products from their competitors. By using WEP (encryption) codes, users can restrict access to
certain parts of their network, while allowing access to
other parts of the network or the internet. Why would you want to do this?
Well, let me give you an example. Let's say you're
running a small business and have a potential client
coming by to do a presentation. The client needs web
access to properly complete his presentation, but you
don't want to give him access to the files or other
valuable information on your servers. By setting up
a VLAN to block access to the other machines on the
wireless network, your client can have still web access without
even seeing the other machines.
HotHardware Test Systems
Power on demand
Test Machine #1
AMD Athlon XP 1800+
256MB of DDR PC2400 SDRAM
nVidia GeForce3 Ti500 AGP
IBM DTLA307030 30GB
ATA100 7200 RPM Hard Drive
Windows XP Pro
Compex Broadband Gateway
3Com 10/100 PCI NIC Card
Compex USB Wireless 11Mbs LAN adapter
Machine #2 (Compaq Laptop)
at this point we've figured out what hardware we need and
have connected our components. Once the drivers are
installed for the Wireless Adapters, there is very little
configuration that needs to be done unless you want to
setup a VLAN or define specific rules in the firewall.
If you're using a wireless adapter, after the drivers are
installed, located in the system tray is a small icon
which indicates the current status of the wireless network
(visible at left). If the indicator is Green, the
link quality and signal strength are good. Yellow
indicates a weak link, and if the indicator id Red your
wireless connection is down. Fortunately, we didn't
see a Red indicator until we took our laptop outside of
the lab, about 60 feet away from the gateway.
Double-Clicking on the indicator in the system tray brings
up a Wireless LAN Configuration utility...
configuration utility, users can check link / signal
status, set modes and rates, enable encryption or just
check basic information about the adapter. The
gateway / router has it's own configuration menu that is
accessed through a web browser from any machine on the
network. If you look at the screenshot of the Main
Menu above you'll see that accessing any section is only a
single mouse click away.
concerned about their network security after installing a
product like the NetPassage 16 will be interested in the
We ran the "Shields Up" test
on Steve Gibson's
without changing a single setting in the router and these
were our results. The screenshot speaks for itself.
While I don't want to mislead you, and make you think
using a NetPassage 16 insures a completely secure
connection to the web, it does offer a good level of
security without having to run any resource hogging,
personal firewall software. If you've got a cable or
DSL connection and aren't running any sort of firewall,
run the "Shields Up" test on your rig and see the
difference for yourself...but don't panic when you see the