You definitely know where you are with Netgear kit – if it’s platinum and curvy, it's one of Netgear's consumer networking products. However, if it’s dark blue, boxy and on the small size then you know you’ve got an SME product. Netgear’s new FWG114P definitely falls in to this latter category.
This new combo-router is the latest variant in Netgear’s ‘114’ range of networking kit. Netgear has a policy of making up a wide variety of similar but slightly different products, all based on parts from the same product bins and so it is with the FWG114P. The basic building block here is its standard 4-port 10/100Mbps switch. To this is added is an 802.11b/g Wi-Fi accredited access port, a router gateway, a stateful packet inspection firewall and a print server. Bringing up the rear is a serial port capable of taking a dial-up modem to act as a fail-over connection should the main connection to the WAN give up the ghost.
All this functionality is packed in to one of those diminutive blue enclosures that Netgear favours. So small, in fact, that it is deemed at risk of theft and so comes complete with a slot for a Kensington lock. If you wanted to set up a small branch office network from scratch, the FWG114P has most of your networking needs covered.
The ‘P’ in FWG114P stands for ‘print server’ and rather than a parallel port there’s a single USB 1.1 port at the rear in to which you can plug a wide range of common ink-jet and laser printers and share them over a network – a list of supported printers is provided at the Netgear web site. Next to it is a DB-9 serial port. This can take a V.92 dial-up modem or ISDN adapter, which can be set to automatically kick in, should your broadband link fail. If you use ADSL, which comes without any sort of SLA, this facility is a worthwhile brow-soother.
Setup is the standard, slick Netgear affair. You plug your broadband gateway into the WAN port and a PC into one of the four Ethernet ports. There’s no software to install so you simply fire up a web browser and navigate to 192.168.0.1. A setup wizard can then automatically detect and configure all the required network settings, so you can be online in just a few minutes. The wizard is compatible with any standard Web browser, so you can access it from Windows, Macintosh and Linux computers.
As you now have a permanent Internet connection, some sort of firewall protection is obligatory these days and the stateful packet inspection firewall built-in to the FWG114P is more than adequate for the job. The FWG114P uses a ‘Rules and Services’ model, which is used to control all port usage through the firewall. The SPI firewall, (which is found in other Netgear models) worked well in practice, passing the web-based Shields Up tests (www.grc.com) with flying colours. It’s also fairly easy to configure firewall rules, thanks to the well-designed UI. Comprehensive logging options are a bonus. Other security features, such as the blocking of keywords, Java, and ActiveX, work together with NAT and the filtering rules to secure the network from outside hackers
It also supports VPN pass-through for PPTP, IPSec and L2TP traffic on the WAN interface but not on the wireless side, so these require WPA or WEP protection. Unfortunately, Netgear has been tardy when it comes to delivering Wi-Fi Protected Access support for its wireless products. When it shipped, the FWG114P was minus this very desirable security feature. However, a firmware upgrade that included WPA was promised by the end of last year. Netgear has kept its word but only just - the version available for download at the time of writing was a beta version.
Larger enterprises will be able to integrate it with their RADIUS infrastructure, while more modestly equipped SOHO users can make use of WPA-PSK instead. As well as WPA, this upgrade also bestows RAS functionality on the serial port, allowing remote users to access the network or indeed Internet access.
The new firmware also allows you to turn off the FWG114P’s Network Address Translation (NAT) and become a ‘classical RIP capable router’. If you have a set of public IP addresses, the new firmware gives users access your servers without using the DMZ (De-Militarized Zone) function, which limits you to just one server. The new LAN-to-LAN feature lets you connect two different LANs via a dial-up connection. Another update slated to be available early in the new year will enable support for two IPSec-based VPN end-point tunnels, complete with Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) support.
Its wireless performance is another strong plus point, the FWG114P offering very good throughput scores, bettered only by the ‘turbo’ 54G hardware. Its broadcast range was also impressive, no doubt assisted by its larger than average antenna. The wireless firewall also handles a sizable network, with support for up to 64 wireless clients and 253 NAT clients, which are larger than average seat numbers. On the downside, it’s a shame the FWG114P lacks a WDS mode that would let the firewall router wirelessly communicate with other 802.11g access points.
The FWG114P is definitely one for the shortlist if you’re setting up a small network or a branch office. Barring an ADSL modem, it has just about every essential network infrastructure feature you could want. Its Wi-Fi side is well executed, too, and its feature list is being extended with new releases of firmware.