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    Review of the 3Com Dual 56k Lan Connect router

    This month we are bridging the gap between routers and modems with this 3Com Dual 56k Lan Connect Modem router which is essentially 2 56k V.90 3Com Modems, a 4 port hub and a small router all tied together nicely in nice compact box.

    The question you are probably asking is, "Why are these routers still around if everybody has highspeed DSL and Cable Internet Connections?". Well there are many locations that can't get highspeed DSL/Cable/ISDN so in order to get decent speed internet access for their business they could turn to a product like this one and get 112k Bonded analog service. Truthfully you really can't get 112k access, since it is 2 56k V.90 modems and we all know the max speed for V.90 modems is really 49 to 53k.. So realistically you could see top connections speeds of 98 to 105k.

    Two analog lines are cheaper then a microlink (ISDN) line so the question is why aren't businesses using a router like this where they can have 2 analog lines providing 100k service instead of paying for more expensive ISDN lines and only achieving speeds of 128k... Well the answer is quality. With ISDN you get a much better quality line, the analog line has all the same faults and problems (frequent disconnects, line noise, need for init strings etc..) that plague normal analog 33.6 and 56k modems where with ISDN you usually get 128k service... or you don't get ISDN at all..

    This router has a nice compact design, well built and comes from a well-known manufacturer so how does it stack up against everybody else.. Many router manufacturers do produce dual analog routers although you do have to search their websites for these products. The immediate competition comes from the Netopia R2121 and the Webramp 310i/315i. The software that comes with the 3Com is ok, generally i'ts pretty but all it does is set TCP/IP on your machine to use DHCP and when you fire up a web browser you get the 3Com configuration menu.. I actually find it easier to either set my machine to use DHCP or set my IP to with a gateway of (the 3Com's IP) and forget about installing another piece of software on my machine that really isn't needed. The web-based interface was ok, the initial screens were actually quite useful and straightforward although after you have gone through these initial screens, modifying, or more importantly, where to find the right settings. After a while it isn't that hard to find where to change your connection settings... but its not very well laid out. One huge beef I have is that after I changed the IP of the router I repeatedly locked myself out of the router because I didn't change the LAN settings IP as well.. With no console port, its kind of hard to get back into a router where the old IP and the new IP don't work.. grrrrrr Thankfully it is pretty easy to reset the router back to factory defaults, which is good. The Netopia has a menu driven interface, which is also kind of quirky to use.. but not as bad.. and the Webramp 310i/315i has a much much better web-based interface to use.

    If I were a provisioning department at an ISP I wouldn't install the software, but if I was an individual home user I probably would install it the first time. The documentation on the CD-ROM was actually quite excellently done and very helpful.

    Speeds.. well they were pretty good, dialing into Cisco 5800's, 5300's, Ascend Max's and Lucent Portmasters gave pretty good speeds, certainly on par with the Webramp's speeds... But we noticed that the handshaking/authentication process was much much much longer then the Webramp 310i/315i. Poor quality lines also really throw this 3Com into convulsions so if you live in a rural area with poor quality phone lines and are attempting to bond the 2 analog lines via Multilink PPP you might be in for some surprises.. If for instance your first channel dials, and connects fine but your second channel has a problem connecting.. Both channels are dropped.. Usually the first channel would stay connected and routable so when the second channel finally does make a successful connection, then the 2 channels are bonded via multilink ppp..

    Two things I would like to see on this router are a power switch (I am not a fan of pulling the power supply to cycle the power on a router) and a console port, which would make configuring this router easier.

    3Com Support documentation is pretty decent.. Their webpages and documentation on the CD are very well done with lots of helpful information... BUT this product has some glaring faults... This router can be configured via the web interface, which was mentioned above, but it can also be configured via a command line interface (via telnet), which is very good. Remote configuration via telnet is a standard feature on most good quality routers... Except in this case telnet mode is useless. There are little to no diagnostics you can run. You can't ping, traceroute, resolve DNS or even see an ARP table in telnet mode (can't do it from the web interface as well). Apparently you can configure the router via telnet mode... But there are neither instructions on the CD nor 3Com's website. A quick call to 3Com tech support to see how I could change the Ethernet IP of the router via telnet mode resulted in some interesting advice.. 3Com's quote was, "We don't support it", nor did the tech know how to configure the router via telnet mode.... Question is.. Why would you go through all the trouble to add in a telnet based interface for configuring a router... but not support or know how to use it??? It would of been better off to disable the telnet functionality instead of teasing us with an active but relatively useless telnet based command line configuration option... Logging is also an issue with this router, the Netopia and Webramp give some generic logs but still useful. This 3Com gives useless logs, even if you fail authentication the logs won't mention anything about authentication failure, password failure, username failure etc.. The error messages in the logs for other problems are also vague and somewhere between not useful and minimally useful. My advice if you are having problems connecting, turn on the speaker (via web interface) and listen to the modem connection sounds.. I personally haven't had to troubleshoot modem connection problems in this manner since the days of the 2400bps BBS's..

    Yes I've been pretty hard on this poor little router... but there are some advantages to this router, this router is about half the price of the Webramp 310i/315i and once it is configured it does work fairly adequately.. Again I feel this product is a stop gap product for companies that can't get highspeed DSL/Cable/ISDN.. Not a great product, lots of deficiencies but if you really need 100k internet it can get the job done.

    Mark Breakdown:

    Category: Comments:

    Performance: Speeds are pretty good, handshaking and authentication took longer but it's an analog connection, you can't expect super quality from analog connections.

    Supportability: This router earns points for a decent documentation CD and decent 3Com support website... but loses all those points and more for: no console port, useless command line interface, not well laid out web-based interface, useless logging and no diagnostic utilities.. -5/15
    Ease of Use/Configuration: Initial configuration isn't all that bad if you follow the instructions, use the install CD, and wish to have the router configured for NAT ( IP's) and DHCP.. Other then that, configuring this router, and learning its quirks can sometimes be a hair pulling experience.

    Compatibility: The 3Com Office Connect Dual 56k LAN Modem should be compatible with any TCP/IP based LAN, as well as most ISP's. All your ISP really needs to do is allow multilink ppp connections, which they should already do for ISDN.. Note though, you will probably pay ISDN internet access rates for this service (Multilink PPP) as opposed to using $19.95 unlimited dial residential internet accounts.

    Features: Two 56k Modems, 4 port hub and a web-based interface... (and nice metal construction so when you knock it off your desk it doesn't break into thousands of pieces)

    Personal: This router has a lot of quirks, and some very bad design flaws.. But once configured it works and works and keeps on working..

    Overall: This is a niche market product with some limitations and flaws... but if you can't get anything else, it will do the job. 52/100