Compex's NetPassage 26G is a wireless router with a twist. Though it's a tad pricey, it lets you connect printers and Webcams via two USB ports on its rear panel. The router's USB print server adds useful functionality to the unit, but using the 26G as a Webcam controller disables the router functions--a major bummer unless you're just looking for a cheap surveillance solution. The security features of the NetPassage 26G are hampered by the fact that Compex asks you to pay an additional $25 to unlock the unit's Stateful Packet Inspection (SPI) firewall. You get free SPI protection with many other routers, such as the (which also has an integrated USB print server) and our Editors' Choice . This makes the NetPassage 26G worth considering only if you need the Webcam feature. The Compex NetPassage 26G router is easy to set up. Pop the unit out of the box, plug in the 7.5V AC adapter, connect your broadband modem and Ethernet cables, and configure the device via the router's browser-based configuration utility. The sparse, printed quick-installation guide comes in four languages (English, French, German, and Russian) and is informative enough to get you going. More detailed information is available in a PDF manual on the installation CD. The CD also bears the handy uConfig.exe program, which locates the 26G on your network and launches the configuration utility.
The browser-based utility is easy to use and similar to the configuration tools we've seen in other routers. It lacks a wizard to simplify setup, however, and in our test bed, the uConfig program launched three separate instances of our browser each time we connected to the router.
Setting up a network printer isn't covered in the quick-installation guide, though the product manual gives instructions. You enable the service through the 26G's configuration utility, but you also need to use Windows' Add Printer function and install your printer driver on each PC that will print through the router--the standard process for adding any printer. The Webcam feature is trickier to set up and entails loading separate firmware onto the router. The Compex NetPassage 26G router places all its ports on the rear panel: one WAN port, four Ethernet ports, a 7.5V DC jack, and two USB ports. The 26G has only a single, short, nonremovable antenna. You can't add a better antenna to improve your coverage, but you can use the unit's Wireless Distribution System (WDS) to expand your coverage area with additional NetPassage 26G routers. WDS allows multiple NetPassage 26G routers to connect to one other over a wireless connection, eliminating the need for an Ethernet backbone to expand your Wi-Fi network.
The network printer support allows you to attach your printer to the router and keep it always on for everyone's use. Webcam support, though, is a bit of a gotcha. When you install the separate Webcam firmware (available for free from Compex's Web site) using the browser-based configuration utility on the accompanying CD, you lose all your router functions. In other words, you can use the NetPassage 26G either as a router and a print server, or as a Webcam controller, but not both.
The 26G's security offerings are weak. The unit includes an SPI firewall, but you have to pay an additional $25 for a key to unlock the feature. For wireless security, the 26G offers 128-bit WEP but lacks WPA support. In our informal testing using the v1.21 firmware shipped on the installation CD, the Compex NetPassage 26G router performed flawlessly with hardwired Ethernet connections, but its wireless range was weak. and delivered better results. Wireless performance improved notably when we upgraded to the newer v1.24 firmware, but coverage still fell shy of the competition.
Our Webcam worked well with the NetPassage 26G while we had the necessary firmware installed. You view Webcam images from within Internet Explorer via a connected computer. The print server also performed admirably. Our Samsung ML-1450 printed with nary a hitch when attached to the NetPassage 26G. The Compex NetPassage 26G router comes with a long three-year warranty, but you need to activate it by sending in the included registration card. Compex provides toll-free technical support Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. PT, and the company's Web site hosts FAQs, e-mail tech support, and the latest firmware upgrades. Both the electronic user manual and the printed quick-installation guide include a wealth of screenshots for configuring the NetPassage 26G and your computers for Windows networking.