Ethernet, wireless, and phone-line networks all have their advantages. Ethernet is fast, wireless is flexible, and the phone line is cheap and convenient. So why not have all three? Why indeed, answers the 2Wire HomePortal 100W. This multifunctional device lets you connect regular (10mbps) and Fast (100mbps) Ethernet networks, with or without hubs, to a cable or DSL modem. You can also hook up 802.11b wireless networks and 11mpbs HomePNA phone-line-equipped computers; even USB networking is supported. Ethernet, wireless, and phone-line networks all have their advantages. Ethernet is fast, wireless is flexible, and the phone line is cheap and convenient. So why not have all three? Why indeed, answers the 2Wire HomePortal 100W. This multifunctional device lets you connect regular (10mbps) and Fast (100mbps) Ethernet networks, with or without hubs, to a cable or DSL modem. You can also hook up 802.11b wireless networks and 11mpbs HomePNA phone-line-equipped computers; even USB networking is supported.
Space-age design and technology
The $399 2Wire HomePortal 100W includes everything you need to hook an existing home network of almost any type to a broadband Internet connection. In addition to the HomePortal 100W itself, the box includes a power supply, two software CDs, documentation for Windows and Macintosh systems, a USB cable, an Ethernet cable, and a pair of phone cords. There's even a Y adapter so that you can connect both the HomePortal 100W and a phone (or other device) to the same wall outlet. Bear in mind, however, that the HomePortal 100W does not work with HomeRF wireless devices.
The HomePortal unit is a fairly bulky piece of equipment, about as large as a big-city telephone book or a full-sized dictionary. The styling, calling to mind one of Jane Jetson's kitchen appliances, is eye-catching but not very functional. There's no way to stack it horizontally, although its small vertical footprint occupies minimal desk space.
Three lights on the front of the unit show the status of electric power, your Internet connection, and the home network. Various solid and blinking color combinations warn you of possible connection problems or errors. The back of the unit is the business end; you'll find an RJ-11 jack for HomePNA phone-line connections, an RJ-45 Ethernet jack for hooking up a DSL or cable modem, another Ethernet input for tying to a network adapter card or hub, and a USB port. The last lets you connect any USB-equipped PC to the network and to the Internet connection--a real convenience.
Given the complexity of the networking situation that the device addresses, the instructions are lucid and comprehensive. There are five ways to connect your first computer to the HomePortal 100W, depending on whether you're using Ethernet, Ethernet with a hub, wireless, USB, or a phone line. Each is illustrated with a wiring diagram and step-by-step instructions. The trickiest part is setting up wireless PC Cards to connect to the HomePortal 100W. The foldout instruction sheet outlines this procedure briefly--too briefly, in fact. Skim it and head for the 19-page Wireless Client Configuration Guide, where you'll find specific instructions for Lucent Orinoco, Cisco Aironet, 3Com, Apple AirPort, and other wireless cards.
Once you've done the wiring and powered everything up, run the installation software from the included CD-ROM on each PC that you'll connect to the network. This installs only the software that lets your computer's network adapter communicate with the HomePortal 100W; you must have already installed the drivers for the network adapter. Our HomePortal 100W arrived configured for use with our Road Runner cable modem service, using information we provided by phone, just as it would be if you bought it through your ISP. According to 2Wire, most users will purchase units from their broadband provider, so they won't have to provide any more settings to reach the Internet than we did, which was essentially zero. If you do purchase yours separately, the HomePortal 100W works with all ISPs, including AOL and CompuServe, says 2Wire.
When you run the software CD, the Setup Wizard also installs the HomePortal Monitor in the taskbar of your computer. This utility gives you quick and handy access to a number of network tools. For example, you can easily select the printers and files you want to share, change your laptop's network settings for either home or office use, troubleshoot basic problems, and receive software updates, as well as view basic connection and network information.
The HomePortal 100W includes basic network address translation (NAT)-based firewall protection. The firewall scans all incoming traffic and hides your home network from potential hackers behind a single IP address. To set more advanced security features or to change the default firewall settings, you must enter the HomePortal management setup page through your computer's Web browser. Simply type in the provided IP address and click the Firewall Configuration link. The HomePortal 100W also supports virtual private networks (VPNs), including IPSec pass-through.
Web and tech support
The HomePortal 100W comes with an adequate one-year return or replace warranty. Phone support is available only Monday through Friday but for long hours: 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. PT. A test call was answered on the third ring by a technician who seemed both knowledgeable and courteous. The 2Wire Web site offers some handy tools, including network status indicators and performance meters to tell you how fast your broadband connection really is. You'll also find an online user guide, FAQs, and contact information.
The HomePortal 100W is an excellent solution for home networkers, telecommuters, and others who have existing or planned networks and want to share a high-speed Internet connection. Once you plug in the HomePortal 100W, all telephone jacks throughout your home become live Internet connections. Plus, it supports the popular and fast 802.11b wireless standard. Best of all, it's easy to set up and manage, requiring very little effort.