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Compex Parallel Broadband Internet Gateway
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Date: Feb 21, 2002
Section:IT/Datacenter
Author: HH Editor
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The Compex Parallel Broadband Internet Gateway - Page 1

The Compex Parallel Broadband Internet Gateway
Powerful, Flexible Connection Sharing Made Easy...

By, Marco Chiappetta
February 21, 2002

As Internet Service Providers (ISP) begin bringing broadband into the hands of more and more home and small business owners, the need to secure and share this bandwidth has become increasingly necessary.  Up until recently, if you were "talking tech" at home, rarely would the words "router", "gateway" or "firewall" get mentioned.  Times have changed though.  Now users are blessed with high speed internet connections and hardware prices have dropped so low that many homes are now equipped with multiple PCs.  A majority of these users also want to be able to share files and their speedy Internet connections amongst all of their computers, while at the same time protecting themselves from the RARE, malicious hacker.  These new services and multi-PC homes have spawned a whole new market, and products like the ones we are looking at in this article are now widely available.  We've got the Compex NetPassage 16 Wireless Capable, Parallel Broadband Internet Gateway along with all of the necessary supporting hardware to setup a wireless network on the grille today.  With these items, users will be able to network their PCs and share and secure their broadband connection using either traditional cables or swank new 802.11b compliant wireless adapters.

Let's take a look at the participants in this HotHardware review of the Compex NetPassage 16 Wireless Capable, Parallel Broadband Internet Gateway...

   

Included with the NetPassage 16 router is a serial cable, power adapter, a network cable and a very complete user's guide that clearly explains how to configure and use all of the available features.  In fact, if you're not too familiar with networking in general, you may actually gain some useful knowledge reading through the manual!  The WLU11 Wireless USB LAN adapter is bundled with a USB cable, manual and driver disks, while the WL11 PCMCIA Wireless LAN adapter comes with a simple plastic carry case, a manual and driver floppies.  Basically the bare essentials to get the products up and running are included...No more, no less.

Specifications & Features Of The Compex Parallel Broadband Internet Gateway
Make it simple and powerful
Features and Benefits:
Support external ADSL/Cable modem, V.90 56K analog modem
Integrated 4-port 10/100Mbps Switch
IEEE 802.11b Wireless LAN option
Load Balancing and Fail-Over Redundancy
Wireless Pseudo VLAN (Per Node and Per Group)
64-bit or 128-bit WEP
Wireless modes: Access Point or Wireless Client
Virtual Server (Port Forwarding and IP Forwarding)
Time-based Access Control
IP Packet Filtering
Remote Management

Product Information:
NetPassage 16 Broadband Internet Gateway
 
Technical Specification:
Industry Standards
IEEE 802.3 10Base-T, IEEE 802.3u 100Base-TX, IEEE 802.3x Flow Control
CE Mark, FCC Class A, Gost, C-Tick, UL

WAN Interface:
10Mbps RJ45 Ethernet (support external Cable/ADSL modem)
 
RS232 serial port (support external V.90 56K analog modem)

WAN Protocol:
Static IP, Dynamic IP, PPP Over Ethernet (PPPoE), RAS

LAN Interface:
4-port 10/100Mbps Fast Ethernet Switch
Type II PCMCIA slot for optional Wireless LAN Card

Parallel Broadband:
Load Balancing & Fail-Over Redundancy

Wireless LAN Mode:
Access Point or Wireless Client

Wireless Pseudo VLAN:
Per Node or Per Group

IP Addressing:
Classful or Classless subnet

Built-In DHCP Server:
Yes

DHCP Reservation:
By MAC addresses

NAT Firewall:
Yes

Virtual Server:
Port Forwarding and IP Forwarding

Access Control:
Time-based

IP Packet Filtering:
By TCP Port and Source IP

IP Routing:
Static and Dynamic

Routing Protocol:
RIP1 and RIP2

VPN Client Pass-Through:
PPTP and IPSec

NetMeeting:
Yes

Management Interface:
Web-based, TELNET Command Console, RS232 Serial Console

Remote Management:
Yes

Configuration Backup and Restore:
Yes

Firmware Upgrade:
Yes

Environment Requirements:
Temperature
Operating: 0°C to 50°C
Storage: -20°C to 70°C
Humidity
Operating: 10%RH to 80%RH
Storage: 5%RH to 90%RH


Make sure to not just scan over the features and specifications listed above.  Many questions you may have about these products can be answered there.

We snapped off a few pictures of the NetPassage 16 gateway, the WLU11 USB wireless LAN adapter and the WL11 PCMCIA LAN card to not only give you an idea of what these products look like, but to illustrate their size.

   

Considering the NetPassage 16 is equipped with an integrated 4-Port 10/100 switch, a PC Card slot to accommodate a WL11 card for wireless use, a serial port and nine status LEDs, it is very compact.  The NetPassage 16 is about the size of a box of 5.25" floppy diskettes (am I showing my age or what!).  Besides the power indicator, the remaining LEDs adorning the front of the unit show communication status between the broadband modem and router, link status, wireless network status and activity across the ports.  The WLU11 USB wireless LAN adapter is very compact as well.  The WLU11 is less than an inch high (excluding antenna height) and about two inches wide by three inches deep...about the size of a deck of cards.  The WL11 wireless LAN card is obviously the same width and height as any standard PCMCIA card, but the antenna lengthens the card by about 3/4 of an inch.

This is what the WL11 looks like when fully inserted into a slot on our Compaq Presario laptop.  As you can see, the card's antenna protrudes from the slot quite a bit, but if you're using a dongle and standard LAN card now (like I WAS), the protruding antenna won't bother you in the least!

Installation and Setup

 
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The Compex Parallel Broadband Internet Gateway - Page 2

The Compex Parallel Broadband Internet Gateway
Powerful, Flexible Connection Sharing Made Easy...

By, Marco Chiappetta
February 21, 2002

There are a few things that needed to be considered when setting up a wireless network with the Compex NetPassage 16.  The gateway itself is "wireless capable", so to setup a wireless network you'll need a WL11 PCMCIA wireless LAN adapter for the gateway itself AND wireless adapters for the computers you would like to have connected.  For example, lets say you wanted to share your internet connection and setup a wireless network between two PCs.  For this configuration you'd need a NetPassage 16, a PCMCIA wireless LAN adapter for it and TWO more wireless adapters for the PCs.

Installation & Setup Of The Compex Parallel Broadband Internet Gateway
Fairly straight forward with one hurdle to overcome
 
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.

Instead of 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 (Wired)

  • Compex USB Wireless 11Mbs LAN adapter

Test Machine #2 (Compaq Laptop)

  • AMD K6-2 366MHz.

  • 160MB of PC100 SDRAM

  • NeoMagic 128XD

  • IBM 12GB Laptop Hard Drive

  • Windows Millennium

  • Compex Wireless PCMCIA 11Mbps LAN adapter


OK, 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...

    

    

In the 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.

User's concerned about their network security after installing a product like the NetPassage 16 will be interested in the screenshot below.

We ran the "Shields Up" test on Steve Gibson's GRC.Com 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 results! :)
 


Testing and The Rating

 
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The Compex Parallel Broadband Internet Gateway - Page 3
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