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    Review of the Netopia R9100 Ethernet to Ethernet Broadband Router

    For December we continued our tests of DSL /Cable Modems/Routers and this month we tested the Netopia R9100 Ethernet to Ethernet Broadband Router

    Netopia may not be a manufacturer you heard a lot about. They concentrate soley on the CPE (customer prem equipment), which means they build, design and sell smaller customer end routers. Netopia hasn't ventured into the Cisco/Lucent/Bay Networks dominated world of high capacity core network routers. Netopia's competition in the CPE end of the market is pretty stiff with newcomers Linksys, Dlink , Netgear, Ramp Networks (bought by Nokia), Alcatel, as well as big boys Lucent and Cisco and most other modem manufacturers clamouring to develop and launch products in cutthroat competition for a piece of this rapidly exploding market.

    The Netopia R9100 Ethernet to Ethernet Broadband Router is basically an evolution of Netopia's current line of routers. If you've seen a Netopia then the R9100 (or R6100 or R7100 DSL Routers) look very similar since they are all based on the same basic modular design. The R9100 is designed to be used with your Cable/DSL modem to connect with your ISP (other Netopia models such as the upscale R6100 has a built in Alcatel DSL modem). An added feature the R9100 has is an 8 port half duplex 10base-T hub built into it and it has an uplink port to connect another hub in. Some consider this a great feature but this really only should ohhh and ahhhh the SOHO (small office home office) user who buys a Netopia and gets this great built in hub. In all honesty most medium to larger businesses who would buy this router already have their own 10/100 hub or Switch already so a half-duplex 10 base-T hub is redundant. The router can do NAT/PAT, act as a DHCP server as well as route for a block of public IP's. A basic firewall is included in the router as well if you wish to enable it and down the line, Netopia is planning on VPN enabling these routers as well.

    Quite simply plug the included ethernet cable from your DSL/Cable Modem into the "Line 1" port on the R9100 (first knock against the Netopia, on most other routers you refer to the port going to the DSL/Cable Modem as "WAN" port, not line 1. It almost sounds like engineers built the router, left off the markings and in a rush, some non-engineer decided to label the port as "line 1" for lack of a better term). Anyway, the R9100 is pretty easy to configure out of the box, if you have a standard config, simply telnet to the router, or use the included console cable to connect to the router and the first screen you go through is the "Easy Setup" menus, simply fill in blanks on the screen (PPPoE username, password etc...) and you could be up and running within minutes... On the other hand, since there isn't much in terms of documentation so either you run through the CD included or wander your way through Netopia's configuration menus. The configuration menu is designed to be easy to use, locate and change settings. Its not too bad, although the configuration menus on say Ascend Pipeline series router by are far simpler and contain more information then the Netopia menus. Unfortunately there is little to no help screens in the menu's and some things you just guess at and hope you get them right. For example one quirk I really did not like was the fact that on many routers, like a Cisco, you don't need to make a routing statement to an ip, you can just route to an interface. Not so on this Netopia , if you don't know your gateway, and for many ISP's you won't, you are supposed to set your gateway to and when we asked a Netopia Engineer about this, his responce was, "Well that is what we decided it should be." Now the average joe on the street who buys a Netopia R9100 and doesn't know what to put here, he will start guessing at IP's, bug his ISP and they might tell him, but the moment that changes, he has to call his ISP back etc... It works but.... its an old design flaw, more annoying then anything. Other then that, using the "easy setup" is a breeze and will get 90% of users up and online within minutes.

    The rest of the Menu is subdivided into: WAN Configuration, System Configuration, Utilities and Diagnostics, Statistics and Logs, Quick Menus and finally Quick View. Pretty good setup, all divided nicely into logical sections, good design. If you are looking for something, its usually pretty easy to find... although certain things, like say the menu for username and password to connect to your ISP is buried a couple menu's deep under "data link options" (kind of an important menu to be buried that deep I'd say..). My other big beef with the menu's besides their lack of help is the annoying feature that you must hit enter after you enter your selection, many many many people I have talked to growl and snarl when they sit down at a Netopia to configure it, other routers you type in your subnet mask, for example, and hit tab to go to the next line down to enter something else. Not with this Netopia, you have to hit enter first to save your setting. As well sometimes you hit tab and other times you hit enter to bring up a pull down menu to make a selection. Some issues like trying to configure access lists or as Netopia calls them "Filter Sets" to keep users from accessing your network are a pain in the neck to figure out how to do and with little help on the CD, and the website not to mention minimal help in the menu's make it a hair pulling experience. I wish Netopia would of cleaned up the Menu's a bit more and make entering data in the menu's less quirky.

    Netopia has a good warrenty, Support Site and they have tech support which is quite helpful. My emails to tech support get responces within 12 hours which I consider great tech support and well worded helpful support. Although I have heard a couple of complaints from collegues who have called tech support asking fora bit of guidance on how to setup MRTG to monitor the router and getting the runaround from an engineer who basically told my collegue to look on the web for help configuring MRTG to poll a Netopia. In terms of quality the Netopia isn't to bad, yes it is plastic but hey its not a Cisco 2610 (and only $2000 less then a 2610 to). Although of the 3 test units we used, one had a power button that didn't work, stuck on continually, the same unit's case also was slightly ajar (maybe related eh??) and the back metal plate with all the connectors was quite flimsy and felt cheap. I never noticed the router getting super hot like a Cisco 827 (ModemHelp.Org's January Review) which is a bonus. Another quirk (I'm running firmware 4.6.3) and maybe upgrading to a newer firmware will solve it, is that the router doesn't always "dial" or attempt a connection at the slightest bit of traffic coming from the LAN... Many times I would have to go into the router and make it connect, then it would stay up for hours, days etc.. but it kind of annoying when sometimes it wouldn't "dial on demand" and sometimes would. I had 2 other Netopia R9100 users complain of the same issue and firmware upgrades didn't help with them.

    Yes the Netopia R9100 does have many little quirks but it does have some good features and it does its job well. If this was say 1998 and this was a new router, I'd be jumping up and down proclaiming this router as god of CPE routers... but in reality the design is a bit dated, and its lacking features and functionality of other routers in its class. Its a decent router, just 3 years late to be the star of party.

    Mark Breakdown:

    Category: Comments:

    Performance: Good performance, except sometimes the dial on demand doesn't always work.

    Supportability: If you're an ISP, I feel this router will generate a bunch of support calls based on quirks alone. Netopia Tech Support is a quick phone call or email away. I think Netopia will even come into your ISP and help train your tech support reps if you deploy Netopia products which is very good. 10/15
    Ease of Use/Configuration: Pretty easy to configure if you know what your are doing and someone tells you what to bunch in the "Easy Setup". If you're a router rookie, and you want to play with the router a bit, be prepared for growling hair pulling swearing at the router sessions.
    The Menu's are a good start, they just need a bit more organizing to make them more functional.

    Compatibility: This router will work with your current IP, IPX or Appletalk network and your Cable/DSL connection with your ISP although Netopia says this router does PPPoA as well as PPPoE, we couldn't make the router do PPPoA to work with our 3 Meg DSL.

    Features: The 8 port half-duplex hub is a nice feature.. although other routers in this class are including 10/100 switches (such as the Linkys tested in our August review ). Pretty standard router, basic firewall instruction set but quirky. One feature missing is good debugging and troubleshooting which is a must for a good tech support department. The more information you have the easier it is to diagnose and fix a problem.

    Personal: Not a bad router, not a great router, middle of the road router that's has features that are a bit dated. To quirky for a new user to easily configure out of the box and probably not the first choice of many ISP's to deploy.

    Overall: As I already said, not a bad router, but there are other routers that are newer, with more features, cheaper, with less quirks and a newer more modern user friendly design. 69/100