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    Review of the Linksys BEFSR41 Ethernet Cable/DSL Sharing Router

    With the advent of cheap DSL/Cable connections becoming more widely available, users are starting to setup their own networks at home with multiple machines wanting to share the DSL/Cable access.

    The Linksys BEFSR41 Ethernet Cable/DSL Sharing Router is an affordable home office/small business router for those of us who have a highspeed internet connection and a small network. The market for SOHO (Small Office / Home Office) routers is exploding much like the market for 56k modems exploded a couple of years ago. Just like modems, there is a very broad spectrum of SOHO routers in terms of performance, features, support and most of all price.

    There is an amazing amount of potential for a company to be one of the first to develop and introduce a product into this exploding SOHO market. But this SOHO market has some of the toughest and most demanding customers out there, the home business owner. The home business owner pays his bills out of his pocket and thus looks for a product that can offer performance, reliability, useable added features all at a reasonable price.

    Unlike more expensive routers (Cisco, Lucent, Bay Networks, Netopia) the Linksys BEFSR41 can be picked up any local computer store for roughly $260 (CDN) although I have seen some listed on auctions for less.

    The Linksys BEFSR41 is a nicely packaged and aggressively priced little router. You can run NAT/PAT with this router or use a block of public IP's. Want the router to act as a DHCP server, no problem, this little Linksys has that ability and it is mind numbingly easy to configure. Like all routers running PAT, you can easily open up ports if you are running a mail or webserver on your internal LAN. The one most visible added feature of this router is the nice 4 port 10/100 switch (yes I said 10/100 SWITCH, not a measly 10 mbps hub). Here are a couple of great close-up shots of the router from Linksys's website.

    The Linksys's other big feature is the GUI (Graphical User Interface) that you use to configure the router. All you need to do is set the IP of your machine to say with a gateway of the router, say, open up a web browser and punch in the router's IP. After you type in your username and password, you're into some of the easiest router web configuration screens I've ever seen. Basic router configuration for most residential users consists of filling in about 6 blanks on the initial screen and that's it. All your advanced configurations are easy to find under the appropriate tabs. You can even block specific users from using the internet (all network admins are drooling over this feature).

    Most local telcos/ISP's DSL requires the use of PPPoE (PPP over Ethernet) to connect with their service and this router comes with PPPoE built in and ready to go. No need to upgrade firmware (much like Cisco with the 827), this router was one of the first ethernet to ethernet routers that came with PPPoE ready to go for DSL service. So far so good right?? Well its great this router does PPPoE but PPPoE is the problem with the performance of this router you will see in a couple of paragraphs. When used with a cable modem, the router worked quite well, but with DSL the router locked up quite frequently which looks like a problem with PPPoE and the router.. No updates/bug fixes/firmware updates are available on the Linksys website to fix the problem.

    This router has one other feature which Linksys considers a feature and it might be a feature for some residential users but it also is a drawback if you're looking for basic tech support and trouble shooting. Linksys thought it would be good to stop people from attacking (smurfing, Denial of Service attacks etc..) to not have the router respond to pings and traceroutes. This is great to stop people from attacking your router but what happens when you forget about this feature, which many small business users will, and when you are looking at traceroutes into your router and see these timeouts where your router is... Even most tech supports departments at most ISP's will also diagnose this as a problem with the router at first glance even though nothing is really wrong, the router is just not responding to the pings/traceroutes. The other related problem is that tech support also cannot log into your router remotely and fix or troubleshoot your router which will leave your local ISP tech support blind if you call them for help, best they can do is use your as their eyes and ears as they troubleshoot your router. On the topic of drawbacks the other drawback I see is that there is no console port. I guess if they would have included a console port it would of increased the size of the router case and price a bit.

    So far we've talked about all the features about this router, how easy it is to configure now we come to performance. In terms of speed, unlike analog 56k modems, it doesn't matter much which modem/router you have, they will all give roughly the same speeds. DSL speeds are dictated more by your telco. The closer you are to your CO and the better quality of line you have, the better your speeds will be. Unlike analog modems, there is no tweaking with init strings for DSL modems/routers. Speed is fine, but unfortunately we found one major flaw with the Linksys, reliablity. For SOHO users, or any business user, reliability is one of your top priorities. Why are so many businesses still using ISDN when they can high speed cable and DSL connections? Reliability, being a bit slower is fine, but you can't make money if your site/network isn't accessible... The Linksys's flaw is that roughly once a day the router would just hang (think of a router having the equivalent of the Microsoft blue screen of death). Even powercycling the router (pulling the power plug, no on/off switch here) didn't help. We had to wait about 15 minutes plug it back in and on the router went on its merry way, working fine. We had the latest firmware and all three linksys routers tested exhibited this problem. Yes we did emulate a small office with a webserver, mailserver and about 30 workstations so maybe for the average residential user they might not notice this problem (or if they do notice this problem and they are used to HSP modems, maybe they'll be used to it and won't mind at all). Because of this flaw I highly don't recommend this router for DSL access for business users who want to use their own web/mailservers.

    With Respect to Residential users, Linksys did their homework on this router, they gave it a small footprint, kind of cute and not intimidating or ugly (like a Cisco 2500 for example), full of features, highspeed connectivity and all at a very competitive price. Might not be a homerun because of their reliability concerns but it puts them towards the front of the pack in terms of residential routers for highspeed connectivity.

    With respect to Business users, again this router is full of features, has highspeed connectivity and is quite affordable..... BUT reliability equals dollars and cents in the business world where you have to be able to rely on your internet connection being up and reliable. If you run your own little network with servers from your home, you can't sit beside your router babysitting it all the time in case it hangs/freezes etc.. It's not a bad router but if you are serious business owner, and are serious about your business, buy a router that is probably more expensive but more reliable. Remember the image of your business relies on your website.. If you're hosting your own webserver for your business you want the most reliable hardware (webserver, hubs, routers etc..)in your network, because your businesses image is what the end user sees....

    Mark Breakdown:

    Category: Comments:

    Performance: The router worked well, EXCEPT for its frequent "lock ups" I swear Microsoft had a hand in this routers development. I've never seen a router freeze as often as this one. Even powering off and back on didn't help.

    Supportability: Linksys has a very good Support Site and a free tech support number (24/7) is included with the router as w ell as a 1 year warranty. Unfortunately the router doesn't have the debugging abilities of a more expensive Cisco router. This would probably not be one of your local Tech Supports Favorite routers to support but the Linksys Support Site is quite good.

    Ease of Use/Configuration: This router's web based interface is easier then extremely easy to use. The Webramp web based interface I thought was the best until I saw this one. For a novice user or a SOHO user, this router's interface is a perfect introduction to routers. User friendly and well laid out.

    Compatibility: This router will work with any TCP/IP network out there (as long as its all RJ45 connectors but then again everybody uses that anyway). As for connecting to your ISP, this router supports usual PAP and Chap authentication as well as PPPoE for the DSL users out there.

    Features: What is the Linksys's best feature? PRICE. Being a cheap cute, affordable full function router puts it squarely on the short list of routers most SOHO users look at. The 4 port 10/100 Switch is the second best feature. Router and a 4 port 10/100 switch all in one for such a cheap price?? How do the they it? Well designed web interface is also a big plus. Lack of a console port is all that keeps this router from getting a perfect 5 in this category.

    Personal: With respect to Residential users this router is probably one of the cheapest full feature routers on the market, great product if you want to share a highspeed connection, eg: 4 college roomies, split the cost of a DSL line, router hook their PC's up, form a small network and they get to share highspeed access at an affordable price.

    With respect to Business Users you really have to look at what you need this router for, just letting your users surf or are you looking to host your own servers..

    Overall: All in all I give Linksys credit for really trying to build a good product with a ton of services. If they can build reliability into this product, they could easily grab a nice share of the SOHO/residential highspeed router market pie. 55.5/100

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