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Compex NP26G-USB Review

Highs

  • Easy setup
  • excellent admin tool
  • webcam and printer network support
  • good wireless performance.

Rating

Our Score 8
User Score 0

Lows

  • No WPA encryption yet
  • cannot use webcam and router at the same time.
With support for network printing and a webcam server, the NP26G-USB has a feature set unrivaled in the SoHo router marketplace.

Summary

When we first heard of the Compex NP26G-USB and its dual USB ports, the first thing we thought of was network based storage using external USB hard drives. Unfortunately this is not possible at this moment – but we’ve heard rumors of Compex trying to support it. If they can add that plus WPA encryption, and create a single firmware that supports both router and webcam functions, Compex may have one of the best 802.11g routers on the market.

Compex sells the Netpassage in both a USB and non-USB configuration so if webcam or print server support is not a requirement for you, you can save some money. The company lists the MSRP of the USB model at $149, but it can be found online for under $100 and even under $80 at Newegg, making this a great bargain in our opinion.

With support for network printing and a webcam server, the NP26G-USB has a feature set unrivaled in the SoHo router marketplace. Its performance and features are on par with other more well-known brands and its price is competitive. With all that the NP26G-USB has to feature, we’d recommend this product to almost anyone looking for a quality home or small office wired or wireless solution.

Introduction

When you think of home and small office networking, Compex may not be a company that comes to mind. In fact, it may be a company that most consumers have never heard of. But as we’ve seen with other consumer electronics and computing components, it’s the “small guys” and the relative unknowns that often have the most innovative ideas.

Compex is a Singapore-based networking hardware producer with a U.S. headquarters located in Anaheim, Calif. One of the company’s innovative ideas is the subject of this review – the NetPassage 26G-USB wireless router with dual USB ports.

What makes the NP26G-USB so different from competing products is the inclusion of those two USB ports, which allow the unit to act as a wireless print and webcam server, as well as a regular wired and wireless router.


The NetPassage 26G-USB by Compex is a stackable, one-antenna design.

Features and Design

Based on the Conexant Prism GT 802.11g technology, the Compex NP26G-USB is compatible with 802.11b and 802.11g wireless devices and features four 10/100 Ethernet ports and a single antenna for wireless networking. It is a small gold-colored box measuring 6 ½-inches wide by 4-inches deep by 1 ½-inches tall, making it the smallest footprint of any four-port router we have seen yet. The unit features green/amber activity lights for LAN, WLAN and WAN activity (they are green with a 100Mbps connection and amber with a 10Mbps connection), a green USB activity light, and a blue LED power indicator. Unlike most other wireless routers we have seen, the activity lights are visible both from the front and the top of the unit, so that they are easily seen when mounted horizontally or vertically with the integrated wall-mounts.

On the back of the NP26G-USB are the four Ethernet ports, a WAN port, the two USB ports, a power plug, and a reset switch. The unit ships with a power brick, English, Russian, German and French quick install guides, a manual and utilities CD, and a small but nice addition – a wall-mount template. Missing is an Ethernet cable, which we often see included in SoHo routers – even wireless routers as they still need to connect to a modem.


An unfamiliar sight on a SoHo router: two USB ports.

Backed by a three-year warranty and available online for under $100, the NP26G-USB packs a lot of features for a competitive price.

Advanced Features

Besides the printer and webcam capabilities, and the usual SoHo router functions such as DHCP and port forwarding, the NP26G-USB has a host of advanced features for both home and office applications. Those features include:


  • Remote Management – allows you to access the Web-based router configuration from anywhere on the Internet.
  • Parallel Broadband – for scalable bandwidth, load balancing and fail-over redundancy capabilities.
  • Wireless Distribution System (WDS) – allows you to extend the wireless footprint by adding more routers to create a chain or star configuration of access points.
  • Virtual Servers based on Port and IP forwarding – allows you to easily set up application servers on your network that can be accessed from the Internet.
  • DNS Redirection – redirects DNS requests from networked PCs, to avoid repetitive set up of DNS addresses on each computer on the network.
  • VPN – allows you to set up a virtual private network, to allow secure communications over the Internet.
  • Universal Plug and Play (UPnP) – Allows UPnP enabled devices and applications to automatically open required ports, reducing the amount of setup required (especially for gamers).
  • Stateful Packet Inspection (SPI) Firewall – this add-on feature ($25 one-time fee) allows for an advanced firewall configuration. An SPI checks the contents of packets on your network, ensuring the integrity of the packets.
  • Wireless Pseudo VLAN – allows for data privacy and protection, making it so wireless devices can not communicate with each other. This feature is very useful in business applications and if you are using the NP26G-USB in a “hotspot” environment.

For a full list of specifications, click here or on the “Specifications” tab at the top of this review.

Setup and Configuration

Setup of the NP26G-USB is straightforward and relatively easy. Besides the printed 10-page quick install guide, the CD contains an 88-page detailed setup guide and user’s manual. The NP26G-USB doesn’t include a setup wizard like we’ve seen in other routers such as the D-Link DI-624, but as long as you follow the manual or quick install guide, it should be easy.

We strongly recommend that novice and expert users refer to the manual for setup and that all installs incorporate at least WEP encryption for the wireless network. As noted in this article, wireless security is something that many users miss in the setup routine. We were highly disappointed that the quick install guide suggests that users leave the wireless security mode as “none” and only refers to WEP in the PDF manual. This is important because we think many users will not go past the quick install guide once they get their network setup and working. Wireless security issues as noted in our “Protect Your Wireless Network” article are partly the fault of users that don’t read the manuals, and partly the fault of manufacturers that leave the devices open by default and don’t make enough users aware of the security concerns. The NP26G-USB doesn’t feature WPA wireless security so the 64/128-bit WEP security will have to do for now. We were told that Compex will soon be releasing a firmware update that incorporates WPA, but we have not seen it yet.

Features Management

As with most SoHo routers, the NP26G-USB features a Web-based configuration module. We really liked the way Compex designed the configuration and immediately noted a speed difference in the response time of the Compex utility compared to any other utility we have tried. The Compex management program was decidedly faster than any other we have tried. It also doesn’t require rebooting after making changes to the wireless setup or other features, unlike other routers we have seen where it seems you need to reboot the product after every change, no matter how minor it may seem.


The Web-based admin for the NP26G-USB is the fastest and easiest we’ve seen yet.

The URL and content filtering found in the D-Link DI-624 is much more robust and easier to use than the Compex solution, but besides that, the NP26G-USB features the best navigation and Web-based management we have seen. It does have a few quirks, such as a several odd Maylay or Chinese to English translations, and the router’s clock not taking daylight savings time into account even though it says it does. It allows users to easily update or upgrade the router’s firmware by simply browsing for the downloaded file. It also features the ability to backup or restore router settings to your computer, allowing you to save settings in case you lose or have to reconfigure them.

Printer and Webcam Configuration

The idea of being able to print to one printer from any wired or wireless computer on the network is something that we think a lot of users will appreciate. Based on the CUPS (Common Unix Printing System) project, the NP26G-USB supports a very high percentage of USB-capable printers and takes the place of a separate and often expensive print server. Setting up a networked printer is as easy as plugging it into a USB port, enabling the print server in the Web administration application and adding the network printer on your PC. We had no issues at all getting our USB printers to work with the router or with Windows XP and 2000 and Mac OSX. Those of you hoping to use the NP26G-USB for two printers may be disappointed as at this time, it only supports one printer and one webcam at a time.

The webcam server is also a nice feature, but it requires a bit more work and comes with some tradeoffs at the expense of other features. If you want to use the NP26G-USB as a webcam server, the device can not be used as a router. To enable webcam support, users must install a webcam-only firmware upgrade which disables the router functions. The device can still be used as a print server as well, but you’d have to purchase another router to have both a router and webcam server at the same time. This does make sense, as such a configuration allows for the webcam to be located anywhere the wireless (or wired) footprint reaches and you may not always want the webcam to be located where your router is. However, the marketing material we have seen from Compex does not note this fact and we think it should.

After upgrading to a webcam-capable firmware, setup of the webcam was just as simple as everything else with the Compex router. The router is currently compatible with 10 different webcam models from Logitech, Samsung,  Creative Labs and TrackerPod. After plugging a webcam into a USB port on the router, you must add at least one user to the module in order to allow access. To access the webcam, users simply need to point their web browser to the NP26G-USB’s IP address (either internally or from the Internet) and enter their username and password. From here, users can view and control the webcam, which includes the ability to pan, tilt and zoom if the camera supports those features.

Wireless Performance

We tested the NP26G-USB under the same conditions that we tested the D-Link DI-624 and it performed well. Our test setup came with the Compex iWavePort WL54G 802.11g PCMCIA adapter but we had no problem accessing the router with any other wireless card we tried, including the D-Link DWL-G650, the Sonnet Aria Extreme, or our Compaq Presario R3060’s internal Broadcom 802.11g card.

For our testing, we transferred large, highly compressed files such as the 508MB demo for the game Far Cry and the 380MB image of the Clark Connect Linux firewall/server package.

Our first round of testing was done with our wireless laptop in the same room as the router, about 10 feet away. With the internal Broadcom wireless card, and with WEP encryption enabled (which has been shown to slow down transfers a bit) transfer speeds topped out at about 15.3Mbps and averaged only around 9.4Mpbs. Using the Compex card, transfers were better, averaging about 16.2Mbps and topping out at 20.2Mbps.

At our second test location, one story below and about 15 feet away from the router, we recorded a 19.2Mbps maximum transfer speed and a 15.3Mbps average transfer speed with the Compex card. The internal Broadcom card dropped to an average of about 9.3Mbps and a maximum speed of about 10Mbps. Connectivity at longer distances was excellent and on par with other wireless solutions we have tested.

When we first heard of the Compex NP26G-USB and its dual USB ports, the first thing we thought of was network based storage using external USB hard drives. Unfortunately this is not possible at this moment – but we’ve heard rumors of Compex trying to support it. If they can add that plus WPA encryption, and create a single firmware that supports both router and webcam functions, Compex may have one of the best 802.11g routers on the market.

Conclusion

With support for network printing and a webcam server, the NP26G-USB has a feature set unrivaled in the SoHo router marketplace. Its performance and features are on par with other more well-known brands and its price is competitive. With all that the NP26G-USB has to feature, we’d recommend this product to almost anyone looking for a quality home or small office wired or wireless solution.

Compex sells the Netpassage in both a USB and non-USB configuration so if webcam or print server support is not a requirement for you, you can save some money. The company lists the MSRP of the USB model at $149, but it can be found online for under $100 and even under $80 at Newegg, making this a great bargain in our opinion.

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