For a job, I got to recently compare a pair of home networking kits, and the D-link DFE 910 was one of them. Although there are a number of different ways to link computers together for your home, I prefer Ethernet. This is the fastest and most reliable connection available. The wireless networks do work, but the level of frustration with trying to keep a good signal, and their relatively slow transfer speed, overshadow the advantage of a lack of wires. The USB networks also have a slower speed then Ethernet, and have what I'm told is a safe limit of only 20' per cable. Ethernet can go over 300', which is long enough to connect machines in any home. Even if you go through the walls, or along the ceiling.
Recommend this product?
Many people want to build a small home network these days. The primary reason to connect your home computers together is usually so that all the machines in the home can share a broadband connection. Some people are probably sharing a regular phone line connection through their modems as well. Other people build a home network simply to share a printer, share files, or just to play games against one another.
Up until the beginning of this year, the majority of these kits didn't come with Switches, but instead Hubs. Hubs look almost the same, and most people wouldn't be able to tell the difference in transfer performance with just two machines. Switches used to be much rarer, much more expensive and usually wouldn't come in anything less than 8 ports. All that seems to have changed sometime last year when I wasn't paying attention. Now, the performance difference is worth the very small price difference. My local CompUSA didn't even have any D-link Hubs for sale, only switches. A Hub takes all the information in and out through one channel (the uplink port can be the exception). If you have four machines on your hub and they are all transmitting data, the 100mb speed is divided among the machines needing the bandwidth. With a switch, each connection has a separate 100mb connection, so it is a much cleaner transfer of data, with fewer collisions.
The D-link DFE 910 kit comes with the following:
One D-link DSH-5 Switch
Two DFE-530TX network cards
Two 20 foot Cat 5 cables
Internet sharing software, and game demos.
The entire package costs $100 at my local CompUSA. If I were to buy the parts separately, the switch would cost $50, each network card $30, and the cables are usually very overpriced at about $10 each. The savings for getting them all together in this kit is at least $30. This is well worth it, and this setup is usually exactly what people need. For the setup I tested, I really only needed cables that were about 4 feet long, and one machine already had a network card, but the whole kit was still a deal rather than buying the individual parts.
The DSH-5 Switch has six ports. One is an uplink port, and the rest are standard 10/100mb connections. There are lights letting you know when a connection has been made between the switch and a computer. And they are different colors depending on if it is a 100mb or 10mb connection. The Switch will autosense 100mb speed if the network card will allow it.
I keep reading that this switch has a fan and is very noisy for a small piece of hardware. I've also read that the newer version doesn't have a fan, but instead gets very warm. The newer versions don't say anything any different on the packaging, nor does the switch have a different name or anything. I was testing it in a business environment so I didn't really notice the noise, so I'm not sure which one I tested. In comparison, the Netgear Switch gets very warm, very fast.
The DFE-530TX network cards are more than adequate with an easy driver installation. They install in any PCI slot and will use a single IRQ. They only have a port for a Cat 5 connection, having no BNC connector. Having two cards is all most people will probably need. If you have more machines you want to network, you do not need to get another D-link card, and five ports on the switch is more than any home should ever need. If it still isn't enough, the uplink port on the switch can be used to connect another switch to the network.
This kit also comes with the program Midpoint Lite. This software is only the free shareware version of the software, and will allow you to get all your network computers on the Internet at the same time through a single modem or broadband connection. You don't need this at all if you have Win98 SE or newer, since that has the same type of software built into it. I didn't need to install it, but I keep hearing bad things about the software. It is supposed to be very difficult to install, and very unstable on Win95. This pretty much defeats the purpose since the only time you may want to use it is if you are still running Win95 on an older machine.
There are also demos of the popular Blizzard computer games Warcraft 2 and Diablo. These are nice ways to test out the network, but pretty old games relatively speaking. I'm surprised they couldn't include the full versions of either game since they probably are in the bargain bins for less than $10 these days. Still, they are very good games, just old.
D-link is not as respected as the Netgear brand, but I cannot tell why after using these two products. The D-link Package says it has a lifetime warranty and free technical support. The products are so simple, I doubt anyone would really have to use it, but it is good to have. The Netgear warranty is only for five years. The performance between the two cards and switches seems to be the same. The Netgear doesn't seem to have any real advantages. The Netgear switch has more lights to represent the speed throughput, but has one less port. And each Cat-5 cable is ten feet shorter.
Since each package is the same price, I would say that Netgear seems to have the better made product, but if you get the D-link, you certainly aren't buying an inferior product.
Here is my review of the Netgear FB-105:
Amount Paid (US$): 99
Driver Availability: Windows, Linux, and Mac