Essay Preview: Router Comparison
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Connecting remote offices or home PCs to the Internet and corporate networks can be troublesome, requiring a balance of bandwidth limitations, security concerns and firewall functionality. Simple setup is also a necessity, so less-experienced users can easily get these fairly complex systems up and running. In addition, the cost of communication hardware and software must be kept to a minimum to meet tight budgets.
The routers also offer firewall protection for security, productivity and operational purposes. Though these arent heavy-duty firewalls like those that cost upwards of $10,000, they do offer the most common protocol-filtering mechanisms.
All three routers offer browser-based installation and management, and operate as Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP) servers. This feature automatically supplies the workstation with an IP address and gateway setup information upon booting-eliminating the arduous task of manually assigning IP parameters to workstations during setup.
Most of the devices support the same protocols: TCP/IP; Point-to-Point Protocol (PPP); HTTP; Challenge Handshake Authentication Protocol (CHAP); Password Authentication Protocol (PAP) and Network Address Translator (NAT). These protocols allow users to connect to any standards-compliant ISP (via PPP) and authenticate using either CHAP or PAP authentication protocols. Once connected, these routers can share a single IP address among many workstations using the NAT protocol, saving the cost of extra IP addresses.
However, each router was different in very important ways that you must consider before buying.
Ramp Networks WebRamp 310i
I had this router up and running within minutes, and configuring five workstations took little more effort than simply powering them up. It allowed me to easily configure all attributes, from ISP information to security, using a Web browser. The WebRamp offers NAT, Virtual Private Network (VPN) tunneling via Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol (PPTP), and packet filtering based on protocol and port number.
It was the only router to support the IPX protocol, allowing the workgroup to access NetWare servers when connecting directly to the corporate office. Another unique feature is the WebRamp 310is POTS interface, which allows data calls to be pre-empted on incoming or outgoing telephone voice calls. This enables workgroup members to use the same phone lines as the router and save on the cost of extra phone lines.
The router is equipped with two built-in 56K V.90 modems and has an external 230Kb per second RS-232 port. The WebRamp 310is 47.59Kbps performance put it slightly behind the ProxyServers 49.83Kbps throughput. The router has a built-in four-port 10BaseT hub for building an instant Ethernet network. The device supports Multilink PPP (MLPPP) and Ramp Networks proprietary Connection Optimized Link Technology (COLT), which allows multiple modems to be combined for aggregated bandwidth. Although MLPPP allows for more robust bandwidth aggregation, it requires support by the ISP. COLT works a little differently, normally allowing speedier delivery only of Web pages (FTP file transfers, for instance, are not affected).
Considering its price, performance, features and ease of configuration, the WebRamp 310i is best-suited for the small office. It replaces its sister router, the WebRamp M3t, on our WinList.
Multi-Tech ProxyServer MTPSR3-200
The ProxyServer had the best security features of the routers I tested. It was difficult to dream up a configuration that it didnt support. However, unlike the other two routers, the ProxyServer is equipped with only one Ethernet port and requires the purchase of an external