ISSUE 552: The high tech office- May
Shared connections provide a low-cost
link to the Net
issues ago, we looked at how it is becoming easier to set up a local
area network for a small office. This allows users to easily share data
and devices like printers, CD-writers, and more.
Another benefit of networks is shared
Internet connections, allowing the whole office to get by on a single
link to the Net. This is especially handy if you've got one of the new
cable or DSL low-cost, high-speed connections.
Still, sharing an Internet connection
can involve other complications and costs. Typically, it requires
adding a second Ethernet adapter to the computer that's connected to
If you're just setting up your network,
you'll need a hub if you want to connect more than two computers and
software to share the Net connection, unless you're using the latest
versions of Windows 98 or Windows 2000, which have Internet connection
sharing built in. You will also require software to provide some
security for all those machines newly exposed to the rest of the world.
But there's a better way.
Linksys is a California company
with a product line focusing on small office networking solutions. They
have recently offered the EtherFast Cable/DSL Router (about $260),
which offers a host of features to help connect a small office to a
fast Internet connection.
While discussions of networking
hardware tend to be rather dull, this one is worth reading about. First
of all, the Linksys product is designed to connect a cable or DSL modem
with a network. There's no more need to install a second network
adapter in one of your computers. And it includes a four-port 10/100
switch. That means that you can plug up to four computers directly into
it, sharing that Internet connection and accessing it at full speed.
If you have four or fewer computers to
connect, you won't need a hub for your network. And switches such as
this one offer much better performance than hubs. (Hubs divide the
available bandwidth between the connected machines, while switches give
each machine the full available speed.) That will speed both your
Internet connections and all other network activities.
Most of the hubs bundled in home office
starter networking kits run at the slower 10 Mb/sec. speed. This
product operates 10 times faster, at the 100 Mb/sec. speed of most
modern network adapters. Even so-called fast Internet access is much
slower than this, but other network activities will immediately seem
All your connected computers share a
single Internet address so there's no need to purchase additional
addresses from your service provider. And even though the unit includes
four ports, you can connect them to other hubs or switches allowing you
to share Internet access with as many as 253 computers. The router can
be set to automatically assign networking addresses, helping to
At the same time, it acts as a
firewall, protecting your networked computers from outside intruders.
When I tested my computers on Steve Gibson's Shield's Up
security-check Web site (www.grc.com), it reported that all
testable ports were closed or hidden from hackers. (Of course, that
won't help protect you from downloaded virus attachments. You should
still keep anti-virus software running and up to date.)
The hardware was quite simple to set up
and configure. After plugging it in, you connect to it with a Web
browser and set its options. A few things to be aware of, however:
There's a Setup Wizard disk in the box to make setup and configuration
even easier, but there's no mention of it in the documentation.
The printed documentation is
straightforward, but only covers Windows 95/98 users. NT/Windows 2000,
Linux, or Mac users can also benefit from this product, but you're on
your own in setting it up. (I had no problem connecting to it on both
my Mac and Windows 2000 systems.)
Most users will have no need for the
unit's advanced features, but if you do, Linksys does not offer tech
support for those options. Again, you're on your own.
While writing these columns, I try out
a lot of software and hardware. Few items have proven as immediately
beneficial as Linksys's router. Within an hour of opening the package,
my office network ran noticeably faster with tighter security. *