Ease of setup
The $129 EtherFast router comes with a quick-installation sheet and an illustrated 45-page user guide. First, you must connect the PCs you want to network to one of the four LAN ports located on the back of the router. (Of course, all of the PCs you connect must have installed network-interface cards.) Unfortunately, Linksys doesn't include any network cables, so you'll need to get your hands on some Cat-5, UTP cables. Next, connect your broadband modem to the router's WAN port and plug in the power supply. Once all the cables are connected, configure each PC's TCP/IP settings to obtain an IP address automatically from the router's DHCP server, which supports up to 253 users. (Check the user manual for TCP/IP information.) Finally, launch your Web browser and enter the router's IP address, which is provided in the manual. The router's setup page appears and lets you configure the device, depending on your particular ISP and network setup.
The EtherFast router comes with all the features you'd expect for the price--and then some. A built-in, auto-sensing, 10/100mbps switch gives each node dedicated bandwidth, which dramatically boosts performance when running applications such as videoconferencing, IP telephony, and multiplayer games. The EtherFast router also has an uplink port--a feature noticeably absent on similar routers, such as the D-Link DI-704 Cable/DSL Internet Gateway. The uplink port expands your network by letting you connect to another switch or hub. However, when you use the uplink port, you must sacrifice the first LAN port, which is automatically disabled. For security, the EtherFast router includes a built-in NAT-based firewall for keeping hackers at bay. However, we wish the EtherFast router had is a serial COM port, which lets you share an external analog or ISDN modem connection if your broadband connection fails.
While the EtherFast router is well suited for network beginners, it also offers several advanced features for more seasoned users. The EtherFast router supports firmware updates via the browser-based interface, allowing foolproof upgrades as Linksys adds new features. IP filtering provides user-level access control, and it also lets an administrator block Internet access from any machine on the local network. In addition, you can fully expose one of the computers to the Internet using the DMZ (demilitarized zone) option. The DMZ host computer acts as a buffer between the outside world and your local network. This is a useful option for Internet gaming or videoconferencing. Telecommuting and virtual private networking (VPN) are also fully supported via point-to-point tunneling protocol (PPTP) and IPSec pass-through technologies.
One of the few things wrong with the EtherFast is its warranty. Linksys backs the router for just one year, while other such devices CNET has reviewed are covered for anywhere from five years to life. Everything else about the support is sound: Free phone support is available 24/7, and the Linksys Web site offers user guides, firmware upgrades, FAQs, and a searchable knowledge base.
If you're looking for a device that lets you share a high-speed Internet connection among multiple PCs, the Linksys EtherFast four-port cable/DSL router is a solid choice. Its feature set and trouble-free, Web-based setup will appeal to users at all levels. We only wish it came with a longer warranty.