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For $202, the 3Com OfficeConnect wireless cable/DSL gateway comes with everything you need to set up a wireless network. In addition to the gateway, the box includes a printed, foldout installation guide; an Ethernet cable; and a CD that contains a comprehensive, 88-page user guide and 3Com's Gateway Discovery application software. With its small footprint and four rubber feet, the gateway fits easily on a small table or shelf. The OfficeConnect also features a sturdy, built-in mounting bracket on the bottom of the chassis, so you can easily hang it from the ceiling or the wall. The back of the device sports two adjustable antenna, an Ethernet cable/DSL port, and four 10/100 LAN ports.
No experience necessary
Like most gateways, the OfficeConnect features a Web-based configuration tool, which you can access through a standard Web browser. However, because this involves messing with your computer's IP settings, 3Com developed a much easier approach. Just insert the included CD, launch the Gateway Discovery application, and follow the onscreen instructions. The program automatically finds the gateway and opens the Web-based configuration screen--a convenient feature for the TCP/IP challenged.
In addition to a setup wizard, the Web-based configuration tool includes some wireless LAN extras. For example, you can view a list of connected devices, a table of your current network settings, or a log of network and security activity. But perhaps the best feature is the check box that lets you disable the wireless network. By switching off the gateway's radio, you eliminate any wireless security threats.
To serve and to protect
In CNET Labs' tests, the OfficeConnect performed well. It delivered 4.8Mbps on its 802.11b interface, on a par with competing devices such as the Belkin wireless cable/DSL gateway router.
The OfficeConnect offers some of the best security features in its price range. The built-in firewall recognizes common attacks used by hackers and automatically blocks access to the offending party. It also lights an LED on the front of the gateway for two seconds--a nice touch. Of course, we would prefer that it stayed lit much longer. In addition to its NAT abilities, which hides your computer's IP addresses, the gateway blocks inbound pings on the Ethernet cable/DSL port, so hackers will have a harder time detecting your device. You can also assign network privileges to connected computers, restrict network access using Mac addresses, or set up one or more computers to act as a virtual server. The gateway offers VPN pass-through support (IPsec and PPTP) but requires an additional server to initiate and terminate connections.
Like most 802.11b products, the OfficeConnect includes both 64- and 128-bit WEP--useless against a skilled hacker. Other manufacturers, such as D-Link, offer 256-bit WEP encryption, but don't be fooled. WEP is intrinsically weak, regardless of the bit count. Nevertheless, with WEP turned on, you've placed a hurdle in the way of hackers. If you need better wireless security, consider devices with support for 802.1x.
A lifetime of service
3Com's support policies are a mixed bag. The company backs its gateway with an excellent lifetime warranty but limits its free phone support to just 90 days. 3Com also collects customer and product information when you first call or register online. To avoid having your personal information strewn about, be sure to opt out via the company's Web site.
Small-business users with little or no networking experience will find the 3Com OfficeConnect wireless cable/DSL gateway very appealing. It offers good performance and decent firewall protection at an affordable price.
Measured in Mbps (longer bars indicate better performance)
Measured in milliseconds (shorter bars indicate better performance)
|How we tested|
For practical throughput tests, CNET Labs uses NetIQ's Chariot software as our benchmark. For our wireless testing, the clients and routers are set up to transmit at short ranges and maximum signal strength. CNET Labs also runs Chariot software using the TCP protocol in response-time tests. Response time measures how long it takes to send a request and receive a response over a network connection. Throughput and response times are probably the two most important indicators of user experience over a network.