Ah, I remember the good old days, back when I still lived on campus at my University. Every dorm room had two cat5 jacks, IP addresses were plentiful, the bandwidth, limitless. However, those same dorm rooms eventually began to cramp my style, as they were very cramped. Ergo, I decided to upgrade from my University cube, to an off campus domicile, consisting of several interconnected cubes, which you crazy people sometimes refer to as an 'apartment'.
Recommend this product?
This 'apartment' of course, did not have those lovely cat5 jacks in the walls that would allow my computers to send packets romping freely through the near limitless bandwidth of the CSU ResNet. However, AT&T Broadband (ATTBI) cable was avalible. Ergo, I signed up for said service, but found myself needing a way to hook up multiple boxen, but not wanting to shell out for extra IP addresses. Enter the Linksys BEFSR41 Cable/DSL router. I purchased the 4 port version with the built in router, as I like it's features.
The term 'Cable/DSL' router is somewhat of a misleading name. The router itself has no capabilities to decode a DSL or Coax signal, and requires an external Cable/DSL modem. However, the vast majority of users of the BEFSR41 are Cable/DSL users, so the router's name reflects it's target users, rather than it's functionality. Anyway, upward and onward with the review.....
The exterior: The unit itself is pretty slick to look at, with lines reminiscent of an art deco interpretation of a tortise. The front of the router is covered with LED's which show traffic and connectivity for the various connections on the router. The posterior has 6 Cat5 ports, 1 for connecting to a WAN(Wide Area Network, as in a cable modem connecting you to the internet), 4 ports for client computers, and 1 'uplink' port, into which another switch/hub/router may be plugged into. Overall the layout is pretty slick, if somewhat simple.
Features: The router itself is actually bursting with features, how many you use depends upon how in depth your skills are, and how extensive your needs are. I'll cover the major points that most users will need to know about, and touch briefly on a few of the more advanced features.
NAT firewall The router acts as a NAT(Network Address Translation) firewall for all machines on your LAN (Local Area Network). What this means is that to the rest of the internet, machines behind the router's firewall are essentially invisible. The router assigns each machine an IP address, but all requests from machines on the lan appear to come from the router's IP address. Ergo, as far as computers on the internet are concerned, your LAN does not exist, only the router.
DHCP Server The router defaults to a DHCP (Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol) server for your LAN. Basically, all those big fancy words mean that when you turn on a computer configured to use DHCP, it will automatically recieve an IP (Internet Protocl) address from the router. Since you can't talk to the network without an IP address, this feature is quite handy, and goes hand in hand with the router's NAT capability.
Web based administration All administration tasks on the browser can be handled with a handy dandy browser interface. Simply put the default LAN IP of your router into a browser's address bar, and you're presented with a wealth of slick, easy to read pages that will allow you to view the status of the router, and tell it to do whatever you want it to do. Pages for DHCP status, port forwarding, traffic logging, and pretty much every piece of information the router can provide to you are presented in a clean, tabbed interface. Very slick, very easy to use.
Now, the above three features are the 'big three' for your average users. All three combined basically means you have an easy to use, stable, and secure network ready to go as soon as you pull the router out of the box. NAT and DHCP are preconfigured, so all a user has to do is pretty much plug everything, reboot the computers, and away they go. The router is capable of PPPoE (important for DSL users), DMZ hosting, and port forwarding. The last two features are more geared toward the serious net-nerds, both of which enable you to host internet/game/other application servers from a machine on your LAN.
Ease of Use: This router pretty much runs itself. It's out of the box configuration was wholly adequate for getting my home network off the ground, and a few minor tweaks allowed me to get some extra features up and running that I wanted. The only trouble I've had with the router is not an issue with the router at all, but rather with my ATTBI cable modem. Whenever AT&T's DHCP server decides it's time for my modem to get a new IP address, things get wonky. From what ATTBI tech support has told me, if there is an active connection on the modem (such as a router that runs 24/7) and the modem renews it's IP address, both the modem and router commit seppuku, necessitating a reboot of the entire network; modem, router, and all client computers. This is somewhat annoying, but it's more an issue with the modem than the router.
Aside from the little DHCP issue, and the fact that the router gets kinda toasty, I really have nothing bad to say about it. I've got 3 machines on the router at the moment. (Verloc; my WinXP/Redhat gaming/development box. Nostromo; my roomie's win98 laptop. Auriga; a Slackware 8 Samba server, and coming soon, Sulaco, my Slackware 8.1 UT2003 server) None of these boxes has had a whit's issue with this router, despite the varied components and operating systems.
Overall: Overall, the BEFSR41 gets top marks, and a big, fat Action Snark Seal of Approval for being robust, easy to use, dependible, easy to use, and did I mention easy to use? This router is an excellent selection for the backbone of a home network, and I highly recommend it.