Review: FriendlyNET FR1104-G Wireless Firewall Router
Price: $40 and up; rebates may be available
Requirements: DSL or cable modem with Ethernet connection, Ethernet (for wired use), 802.11b or 802.11g card (for wireless use)
With the proliferation of both broadband access and multi-computer households in the US, the small-office/home-office (SOHO) router market has exploded in the last two years. As the adoption of 802.11 wireless standards—first b, known in the Mac market as “AirPort”; then g, known in the Mac market as “AirPort Extreme”—grew wider and wider, people began switching to wireless in droves for its added convenience, leading to the practice of wardriving. But I digress.
The Asanté FriendlyNET FR1104-G wireless router is the long-time Mac-friendly company’s most modern entry in the highly competitive SOHO router market. Featuring four 10/100Base-T Ethernet ports and 802.11g wireless access, the FR1104-G, like most of its competition, will allow a cable or DSL connection to be shared among multiple computers with minimal fuss.
Setup is simple in the extreme: the user needs only to remove the router from the box, attach the removable (and therefore upgradeable) antenna, plug in the AC adapter, and attach the included Ethernet cable to the broadband modem’s Ethernet jack. The router’s own OS must then be configured via your Web browser. A configuration wizard is provided, and will serve most users just fine.
More advanced users will appreciate the great depth of configurability available. The router software allows for a plethora of configuration changes to suit nearly any network setup. Foremost in most users’ minds should be the security settings, and the FR1104-G supports WEP (64/128/256-bit keys), WPA, 802.1x RADIUS authentication, and non-broadcast of the SSID. MAC address filtering is available on both wired and wireless connections to prevent unauthorized users (read: your friendly neighborhood wardrivers) from connecting. A dedicated firewall is also provided, and its software can defend against denial-of-service attacks, provide bi-directional packet filtering, and perform extensive domain and URL filtering and logging. Other standard SOHO router features such as NAT, VPN pass-through, dynamic DNS configuration, a routing table, end-user firmware upgrades, system backups, wake-on-LAN, and remote administration are all provided.
For Mac users, especially those with a mixed network of OS X and OS 9 clients and/or older printers, finding a wireless router that passes AppleTalk packets is very important, and the FR1104-G is one of the few on the market that will route AppleTalk from the wired to the wireless side and vice versa. The FR1104-G’s upgradeable antenna is also a very nice feature; though its wireless reception is on par with most other SOHO routers, if you find yourself in a situation where reception is poor, the standard RP-SMA antenna connector allows for an easy upgrade.
My only complaint about this otherwise outstanding device—and the reason it fails to get an Excellent rating—is that almost every single configuration change requires the router to be rebooted. You can put off rebooting until you’re done configuring, which is nice, but in both Netgear and Linksys equipment I’ve used, reboots after configuration changes were the exception rather than the rule.
A word of advice: make sure to check for a firmware update on Asanté’s support page right away. There are a lot of routers in the retail channel with the older G1.0 firmware, and AppleTalk support (according to Asanté) requires G1.1 or later. Use the cross-platform Web-based installer to upgrade to G1.2; the Mac-based installer only goes up to G1.1 at this time.
If you have any reason to use AppleTalk on your network and you want a wireless router, the Asanté FR1104-G is the product you want. It’s reliable, easy to configure, and (mostly) very Mac-like. It’s also one of the least expensive upgrade paths for users who want the extra speed of 802.11g.