Thursday, March 23, 2006

Netgear FWG114P, with Sighs

I went to a lot of trouble to find an old/new stock Netgear FWG114P firewall/router with wireless in order to replace my malfunctioning older Netgear box, which needed to be reset constantly. I wanted something that was not cutting edge. I wanted that one because it had a built-in USB print server, which turned out to be fairly useless, because it only supports a small handful of printers. Sigh number one.

The much-maligned Airport Express seemed to support a lot more printers, except it didn't work, at least not for printing big images, and it needed to be rebooted, for no apparent reason, quite frequently, despite installing all available updates.

Anyway, I've had the new box up for a few months now, and it has worked flawlessly, until yesterday, when it stopped providing internet access. Sigh number two.

There was nothing wrong with the cable modem or the uplink. The iMac could connect to the wireless network. The router had just lost its ability to do DNS lookup or talk to hosts out on the internet. So, I want to log in and check the status. I thought it was supposed to be administered only by a wired connection, but I seem to be able to get to the admin page via the Airport. Hmmm. That's not what I intended, since we run an open wireless network (yes, deliberately). Anyway, I can't log in. It doesn't seem to recognize the password I'm pretty sure I assigned it. Try the permutations I can think of; they don't work. I'm locked out. Sigh number three.

Pull the power, and plug it back in; it works again, although I still can't log in.

Was the router compromised in some way? I don't know. If I can get it to reset the password without losing its logs, I might be able to find out, but more likely, everything will be wiped, and I'll have to re-load my saved settings (at least I saved them!) and see if I can limit admin access to a wired port. Sigh number four.

Rant: why is this so hard? I am not doing anything exotic with this box. It is mostly just there to let my wife use her iBook from downstairs and to protect my PC (running Windows 2000 or Linux) from various attacks from the wired network. Almost all the ports on the router are closed and in "stealth" mode. The PC was off, and my PowerBook wasn't connected. The network consisted almost entirely of the uplink to the cable modem, the firewall/router, and Grace's iBook. The iBook isn't running any servers. Grace runs Mail and not much else. Yet, the box just up and stopped working.

This thing is supposed to be an appliance. Do I need to reboot my refrigerator every month and throw out all the food? Does my toaster need a firmware upgrade periodically? I don't think so. As far as I'm concerned, my experience with the Airport Express and with these two Netgear appliances has led me to believe that the whole category of appliance firewall/routers is suspect. I'll have to stop recommending them altogether, and when someone wants to know how to set up a simple home wireless network, I'll have to throw up my hands and say "hell if I know." Thanks, Apple! Thanks, Netgear! Grrr...

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