We used ZyXEL’s M-102 PC Card for wireless testing and found that the installation routine on the CD-ROM failed because it couldn’t load a couple of libraries. We downloaded a later version from ZyXEL’s support site and this worked fine. The router provides plenty of wireless security features as you get SSID masking, MAC address filter lists and WEP and WPA encryption. WPA is offered as Personal and Enterprise with the latter requiring an external RADIUS server for user authentication. The router and PC Card both support a Super G Turbo mode but this didn’t make any significant improvements to performance. We used a 1.6GHz Fujitsu Siemens notebook running Windows XP SP2 and ran the open source Iometer utility over a link with a Supermicro Pentium D 3.2GHz PC on the LAN. With no encryption over a two metre line of sight connection it reported a modest raw read throughput of 38Mbit/sec. Our real world tests confirmed this with a 691MB video file taking 158 seconds to copy from the PC to the laptop and returning an average of 36Mbit/sec. Adding WPA encryption to the mix saw the same copy average only 26Mbit/sec.
Compared with the likes of Netgear, the web filtering tools featured in the P-336M are far superior. Instead of a largely useless URL blocking list, you get the facilities to deny access to all web sites except those you list making parental controls far easier to implement. Furthermore, you can create multiple access control rules and schedules allowing different policies to be active on particular days and between specified time periods. Rules are applied to selected systems using their IP or MAC addresses and as the web access feature is a separate function you can decide whether a rule should include the list. If it doesn’t then the rule is supposed to block all Internet access to the systems specified but try as we might we couldn’t get it to work. We were advised by ZyXEL that this does not function properly due to a bug in the current firmware version which is currently being worked on. Finally, the router’s logging features are a cut above the rest as it keeps track of all visits to banned web sites and provides details of the systems that tried to access them.
Wireless performance isn’t good but ZyXEL’s sleek new router does offer a lot of useful features for the price. It has particularly good access controls and above average URL filtering capabilities plus wireless networking is a doddle to set up.
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