SAN FRANCISCO (07/05/2000) - With cable and DSL In-ternet connections becoming less expensive and more widely available, users are ditching dial-up modems and second phone lines in favor of these high-bandwidth DSL alternatives. Until recently, connecting multiple computers to such hardware meant paying higher monthly ISP fees. Enter broadband routers: these devices let multiple computers (PCs or Macs) share a single cable or DSL Internet connection, and can network your home computers to boot.
Macworld Lab tested six broadband routers ranging from US$149 to $399: the Hawking Technologies PN9225, Linksys Group Inc. EtherFast, Macsense XRouter and XRouter Pro, Netgear Inc. RT311, and MaxGate UGate-3000. The routers present varying degrees of setup difficulty, but all of them will have your computers networked and online in no time.
All the routers except the Netgear RT311 offer simple Web-based configuration.
(The Netgear unit requires that you download a Telnet application and use its command-line interface; the company says the RT311 should allow Web-based configuration by the time you read this.) You can configure the routers over the Web using any browser-equipped computer-running the Mac OS, Windows, Unix, or Linux-on your home network.
We tested the routers over a DSL connection with a static IP address and found the Linksys EtherFast and MaxGate UGate-3000 easiest to set up, requiring only a few minutes to install the hardware, connect our Macs to the router, and get online. The hardest to configure was the Hawking PN9225, which requires you to first configure your Mac with the IP information from your ISP, then hook up the router and configure it. With the other routers, you simply set the configuration in the TCP/IP control panel to Configure Using DHCP Server. Your Mac configures itself to use the router, and you then set up the router with your Web browser.
If you have a static IP address from your ISP and you want to run a Web or file server (such as Mac Personal Web Sharing), you can configure one or more machines on your network with a static IP address from the router. You then configure the router to allow only certain Internet traffic access to those machines. If you have a dynamic IP address, consider the UGate-3000: it includes a year of free Dynamic DNS service.
One difference among these routers is their Ethernet connection. The Hawking and Netgear units require a hub but will work at 10 or 100 Mbps, so they can connect to a network of either speed. The Linksys EtherFast and Macsense XRouter Pro have built-in four-port 10/100 switches; the UGate-3000 sports a built-in four-port 10/100 hub. The Macsense XRouter offers only four 10BaseT ports-which is fine for sharing an Internet connection but could make for slow transfers of large files between locally networked machines.
Macworld's Buying Advice
You can find inexpensive software routers (for example, Sustainable Softworks' $89 IPNetRouter; see Reviews, January 2000). However, they require that you dedicate one machine to running the software, and they won't speed up your network. If you want a faster network and a shared Internet connection, the Linksys EtherFast and Macsense XRouter Pro are your best choices.
Broadband Internet Routers Compared
Hawking Technologies PN9225 2.5 mice $149 888/662-8828 Small footprint and inexpensive, but difficult setup.
Linksys EtherFast 4.5 mice $199 800/546-5797 Easy setup and good price.
Macsense XRouter 3.5 mice $200 800/642-8860 Easy setup but slow file transfers.
XRouter Pro 4.0 mice $250 800/642-8860 Easy setup.
MaxGate UGate-3000 3.0 mice $399 800/284-8985 Simple setup but a bit pricey.
NetgearRT311 3.0 mice $199 888/638-4327 Easy to add to existing network, but command-line configuration interface is confusing.