Adding multiple computers to a single Internet connection is getting easier and less expensive for small business and home users. Macworld Labs recently looked at three new models in the market: the Asanté FriendlyNet Cable/DSL Router, the UGate 3200, and the Linksys EtherFast 1-Port Cable/DSL Router. We compared all of these with the winner of our last router roundup, the Linksys Etherfast 4-Port Cable/DSL Broadband Router, and rated them based on ease of setup and usefulness of added features.
All the routers were easy to setup out of the box; many experienced users might even find that they don't need to consult the directions. (The only potential confusion that inexperienced users may encounter is the misunderstanding that these routers don't support the Mac, since the illustrations in their instruction manuals show only a Windows browser.)
We tested the routers using DSL with a static IP address and found the setup time was equally minimal for all three routers. No router required any more attention than the others. The most noticeable difference in setup came with the Asanté FriendlyNet Cable/DSL Router. It features a handy setup tool that asks you to select the specific type of Internet connection, such as Cable Modem, DSL with a static IP, DSL with Dynamic IP Service, or Road Runner. You're then presented with only the information fields that are relevant for your type of connection. Experienced users can take the alternate path of choosing from a series of buttons such as Static IP or Get IP Information. The Asanté FriendlyNet Cable/DSL Router is equipped with four ports. The UGate 3200 featured seven ports, making it an ideal solution for a small office. But, those extra ports also carry an extra high price tag; you can purchase the Linksys Etherfast 4-Port Cable/DSL Router and a matching 5-port 10/100 Hub for less.
Each router includes a DHCP (Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol) server, which means that machines on your LAN's TCP/IP settings can simply configure "Using DHCP," thus reducing the amount of time you'll spend configuring each computer. If you should require a static IP address for any machine on your network, it's an option available with all three routers.
If you'd like to add Apple's AirPort to your network, you'll be happy to know it works fine with the three routers we tested. Users of AirPort (both the built-in hardware and the base station) should take special caution, however, as the AirPort DHCP server can conflict with the DHCP server built into these routers. The conflict can potentially bring down the entire LAN. Instead, the routers can be used with AirPort as long as AirPort is not used to serve DHCP over Ethernet.