Compex NetPassage 16

Compex NetPassage 16



  1. Ian
    Introduction

    The NetPassage 16 from Compex is a rather unique product, a low-cost device that can share a broadband internet connection with wired and wireless clients. Small companies and multiple computer homes will find this feature set very handy indeed, as it will wire up to 4 PC's with the fast switch, and provide wireless access for any laptops on the network. A secure broadband connection for all these PC's can be provided from this box, instead of requiring : a hub, wireless access point, internet connection sharing software, and some firewall software.ADSL/Cable modems are supported via an RJ45 interface, and a serial port is provided so an external 56K modem can be hooked up as a backup. A 4-Port 10/100 switch is provided for wired connection, and a PCMCIA slot for the Compex WL11A wireless network card - other wireless networking cards cannot be used.


    The NetPassage 16 is compact for an internet gateway with all of these features, and is extremely light. The enclosure feels a bit flimsy, but the overall build quality is of a high standard.

    NetPassage16Gateway.gif
    NetPassage 16

    Specifications
    • Support external ADSL/Cable modem, V.90 56K analogue modem
    • Integrated 4-port 10/100Mbps Switch
    • IEEE 802.11b Wireless LAN option
    • Load Balancing and Fail-Over Redundancy
    • Wireless Pseudo VLAN (Per Node and Per Group)
    • 64-bit or 128-bit WEP
    • Wireless modes: Access Point or Wireless Client
    • Virtual Server (Port Forwarding and IP Forwarding)
    • Time-based Access Control
    • IP Packet Filtering
    • Remote Management
    • Built in DHCP server
    The built in DHCP server is a great help to those with small networks - this will assign IP addresses to all the network clients. If you want to use the wireless features of the internet gateway you must purchase Compex's own wireless PCMCIA card, I do find it rather strange as to why they didn't build one in, but it would bump the price up if you do not need this feature.

    Included Items
    • NetPassage 16 Internet Gateway
    • Power Adapter
    • Driver CD
    • Manual
    • Serial Cable
    The NetPassage 16 comes with all the accessories to get you up and running, excluding the actual RJ-45 network cables which need to be used.​

    NetPassage16Included.jpg
    NetPassage 16 Included Bundle


    As mentioned earlier, you need to use Compex's own Wireless PCMCIA card in the NP16:​


    NetPassage16PCMCIA.jpg
    WL11A Included Bundle

    Features

    There are a couple extra features available on this gateway that are not usually available to products in this price range. Firstly, the ability to "load balance", meaning that if you have (for example):

    2 Gateways, each connected to a broadband modem, whereby one of the connections fail. The still working connection's bandwidth is shared amongst both gateways, allowing access to all PC's connected to both gateways:


    NetPassage16Balance.jpg
    Example Load-Balancing Network


    If you only use one gateway (which I suspect will be the most common route), you can select to have a backup external 56K modem dial up. If the 56K modem was built in, it would be a much easier to use feature - and probably taken advantage of. As it stands, only small businesses who would rely on e-mail / low bandwidth surfing would see the benefit of the redundant connection.​

    Installation

    Installation of the NetPassage 16 was fairly straight forward, although it is always good to have some computer knowledge when setting up networks - as it is not always easy getting advanced settings changed in Windows.First of all, get the unit set up and plugged into the mains. Compex recommends placing the unit on its side to help heat dissipation, although I have had no problems when using it flat. Once this is done, lay the standard RJ-45 network cable from gateway to the main PC's network card and plug both ends in.

    As soon as you turn the computer on (pending correct driver installation of the actual existing network cards), you should visit the default configuration IP address "192.168.168.1" in your browser. You must then enter the password, set as default to "password":

    NetPassage16Password.jpg


    Once your password has been verified, you are presented with a configuration screen in which most of the configuration of the gateway must be done. Most of the settings will be fine for the majority of users, but those wishing to ban IP's, configure DHCP IP ranges etc... will have to use the web interface to do this:

    NetPassage16Configure.jpg


    Installing the PCMCIA card in a laptop is even easier, simply plug the card into a free PCMCIA slot and power the machine up. It will recognise the card and prompt you for the driver CD, then once this is complete, run the software installation program on the CD (which requires a reboot). You will then get a tray icon of a monitor, a green colour for a good connection, yellow for an ok/bad connection, red for bad/no connection.

    Performance

    All of the tests we conducted were performed in Windows XP, as this is most likely the operating system of choice for power users. Compatibility with Windows XP was excellent, the drivers were stable and the PCMCIA software was user friendly.​

    The range of the NetPassage 16 + Wireless network card was enough to allow VLAN access in any room within my house. With the gateway in the upper corner of the house, the signal was still of good quality (approximately 65%) in the opposite corner downstairs.​

    If this were to be used as a SOHO VLAN (as would be most common), this would provide enough range with reasonable transfer speeds. Internet surfing and sharing of small documents was not noticeably slower than loading from a local computer, but transferring larger files (about 10 megs) would take about a minute to transfer. The wireless segment of this product is inline with other wireless solutions, providing about 4.5Mbps transfer speeds.​

    The 10/100 switch was on a par with other units I have tested, and was in fact a straight swap with my Netgear switch when testing.​

    Conclusion

    We have been using this gateway for about a month now, replacing our old 4-port hub. Wired performance has been just the same, but the wireless option makes things much easier. 3 Main PC's are wired, and then a wireless laptop (mainly for surfing the net and sharing MP3s) - all of these are connected to my ADSL provider through my external modem. There was a big benefit when I could use any computer on the internet, as opposed to turning a main machine on with the shared connection connected to it, every time another computer needed it.

    This is quite a niche product, and an ideal solution for SOHO VLANs. The product does come with a lot of good features, but the manual could explain them better (the manual was pretty big, but some bad grammar and some vague installation examples). Another potential problem was the lack of a PCMCIA eject button on the gateway, you have to be pretty careful when removing the card.

    There are not many competing products, and especially not ones with this price/performance ratio. If you can sacrifice some speed over a standard switch, you can have a lot more useful features in this wireless gateway.