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Packed for action
The two-toned gray NetPassage 16 stands about 8 inches tall and has a small, rectangular footprint. It comes with a PC Card slot on top for a Wi-Fi card but doesn't include an external antenna, which might restrict the card's useful range. The $150 bundled version we tested includes the WL11A wireless PC Card, but the unit is also available as a standalone product for $100.
Typical of broadband routers, you can configure the NetPassage 16 via an easy-to-navigate, Web-based interface. You can also use a command-line configuration screen accessible via Telnet for more remote management. The setup screens guide you from basic recognition of your broadband ISP connection to switching on NAT firewall protection and activating custom features.
The documentation is less detailed than we'd like, however. A printed, 16-page guide contains basic setup information, a list of specifications, and support policies. The installation CD includes Windows-only drivers for the Wi-Fi card and a 66-page electronic manual. The manual contains illustrated installation and configuration guidance but extremely limited troubleshooting help.
It can carry a heavy load
The NetPassage 16 has many good networking features. These include a four-port 10/100 Ethernet switch, an RS-232 serial port for an external modem, and firewall protection. But the NetPassage 16's most unique feature is Parallel Broadband, a load-balancing technique that requires two routers and two cable or DSL connections. In addition to balancing the connection between the two hookups, if one fails, the router will default to the active connection. Once the units are connected, all you have to do is activate Parallel Broadband via the Web setup screen; the unit does the rest.
In addition to NAT, which hides your network's IP addresses, the NetPassage 16 offers other useful security features. These include 64- and 128-bit wired-equivalent-privacy (WEP) security and a Pseudo VLAN capability, which keep outsiders from penetrating your network by establishing an isolated wireless network. Other security settings include the Virtual Server capability and IP packet-filtering.
Acceptable wireless performance
In CNET Labs' tests, the NetPassage 16 delivered disappointing results at first. While its Ethernet performance met our expectations, wireless throughput ranged from fair to worse. Our first evaluation unit delivered an unacceptable .8Mbps. Compex sent us a firmware upgrade, after which throughput improved to an acceptable 4.5Mbps, slightly below the 4.9Mbps throughput of routers from Belkin, NetGear, and SMC. You can download the firmware upgrade from the Compex Web site, and the company says the upgrade is available in units shipping June 1 and later.
Compex's three-year, parts and labor warranty is quite good for products of this type. Toll-free technical support is available Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. PT. The company's Web site offers FAQs and the latest firmware updates but not the manuals.
On paper, the Compex NetPassage 16 offers business users a lot of attractive features. But even with the firmware update, its performance was lackluster. With so many other good routers on the market, the NetPassage 16 is an also-ran.
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' response time tests are also run with Chariot software using the TCP protocol. Response time measures how long it takes to send a request and receive a response over a network connection. Throughput and response time are probably the two most important indicators of user experience over a network.