Hands-on hardware: DSL / cable modem routers

By Steve Antonoff, ITworld.com |  Networking

You've got your DSL connection. You're using an ISP-provided DSL bridge (aka DSL
modem). Your LAN is routed through one computer that accesses the Internet with network
address translation (NAT) or proxy services. Your service is OK, but you feel there are
definitely some weak spots.

Where are the weaknesses?

The most obvious weakness is that Internet access depends on one computer. If that
computer is a server, it's probably up and running most of the time; but then you-know-
what happens, maintenance is required, and so on. And, of course, such things will
happen at the worst possible moment for someone on the network.

Another weakness is that the computer serving as the router/NAT runs at least four
pieces of software that consume resources: DHCP, NAT/Proxy, the Point to Point Protocol
Over Ethernet (PPPoE) service, and the DSL connection software. All are OK, but
consume valuable resources.

Also, your DSL probably goes down more often than you'd like. When this happens,
the software establishing the connection to the DSL must continually retry the
connection -- or, more likely, try a few times, then give up until an administrator
instructs it to try again. We were offline for 6-8 hours last week because no one
restarted the DSL connection. The actual outage was probably much shorter.

Where do you go for improvements? For a minimal investment ($80-$150, depending on
brand), you can add a DSL/cable modem router, a semi-intelligent box that sits between
the DSL bridge and the LAN. A router is smart enough to continually retry the DSL
connection after it goes down. It can also provide some valuable services to your LAN
and lighten your server's workload.

Thanks to several vendors, I was able to try three different routers: a Hawking
Technology PN9225 10/100 Broadband DSL/Cable Router, a Trendware TW100-W1CA, and a
Linksys BFSR11.

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