Nexland ISB Soho Review

There are so many things just right with this router....
There are so many things just right with this router....
There are so many things just right with this router....

Highs

  • Very customizable
  • 5 year warranty

Lows

  • Unusual design

DT Editors' Rating

Home > Product Reviews > Router Reviews > Nexland ISB Soho Review

Summary

With great features like 10/100 Switch, Dynamic DNS, and the ability to customize your own Virtual Servers, all for the low price of $159.00 seems like a no brainer to me. Then you throw in the best documentation I have seen for a piece of computer hardware and I feel like I should be paying more. I don’t know what there tech support is like, but if it’s anything like the quality of their product then I have no doubts that it’s just as good.

I absolutely love the Soho. There are so many things just right with this router. I’m really surprised that they don’t sell Nexland products in major consumer PC retailers. But, I have a feeling they don’t need to. If they keep releasing great products like the ISB Soho, then their reputation for having some of the best routers will continue to grow.


Intro

If you have never heard of Nexland and their networking products, don’t feel bad. You can’t buy their products in your typical CompuUSA or other local mega-computer stores. However, this does not mean they are an inferior product by any means. I personally had never heard of Nexland until I got the ISB Soho for review. Now, I can’t see myself without it.

Nexland makes internet routers and firewalls for personal and corporate use. They have some of the best looking hardware I have seen, with the majority of their products being a pretty cool purple color. The ISB Soho happens to be made out of a transparent plastic that shows the internals, ala iMac. It’s cool. It’s hip. It stands out if you don’t tuck it away under your computer desk. It’ll cause your friends to actually ask questions about it.

Well, the looks aren’t the only cool thing. This personal router/firewall is the best one I have ever seen, and the competitive price is the real killer.


Setup

The Soho comes with some typical components you would expect from any other competitor: A fold out quick reference manual and a 6.5 foot CAT5 Ethernet cable. However, it also comes with a CD-Rom with all the documents in PDF format along with some tools (like the firmware tool), and a wonderfully put together 54 page User Manual.

Being the impatient person that I am, I didn’t bother with the quick reference or User Manual and just plugged in the Soho’s power supply and hooked my cable modem and computers Ethernet cables into it.

I use AT&T cable modem service. I used to have a static IP but after the fiasco a few months ago with @home, AT&T took over and moved me to DHCP. DHCP is a lot easier to setup then a static IP configuration. But from my past experiences with routers, the router always requires some type of setup. Not the Soho. As soon as I had my machines and cable modem hooked up, I was instantly connected to the net without ANY configuration whatsoever. None. I was overjoyed to say the least.

I soon found my first critique of the Soho. The Soho only allows web based administration. There is not an advanced way to connect to the unit to admin, like telnet. This is a feature that many other routers have. Although it’s not a huge gripe, I prefer doing my configuration through telnet.

With that aside, the web tool is absolutely beautiful. Not only is it aesthetically pleasing, but it’s very discoverable. I was able to go through all 15 configuration screens without any hassles or confusion. However, if you do get confused, you could rely on their easily accessible Help system to explain things in a very user friendly way.

I was completely amazed at how there was always the right amount of information readily available in this product: a quick start guide, a full User Manual, and a complete and accurate built in Help system. What more could you ask for?

Configuration

The amount of configuration you can do to this router/firewall is pretty staggering for a personal system.

Here’s a list of the configuration screens available:
Main Setup: contains basic DHCP and PPPoE settings.
Static IP & DNS: you can define your network settings (IP, Gateway, Netmask) if you have a Static IP. You can also define up to 3 DNS servers on this page.
STATUS: displays your network status along with the Soho’s hardware information (firmware version, virtual servers, etc)
LAN IP & DHCP: You can give your Soho a specific LAN IP and enable/disable and define it’s built in DHCP server.
Config Password: Where you set a password for the Soho administration access.
Advanced PPPoE: If you need to, you can do some more advanced things for you DSL users, like manually connect/disconnect, set an idle time out and choose additional services if supported by your ISP.
Dynamic DNS: Yes, it’s true. This is one of the really cool features. If you subscribe to a Dynamic DNS service, you can still give your machine a domain name and connect to it using this configuration screen. Configure things like Username/Pass, Server, Hostname, Mail Exchanger and some other nifty stuff. Definitely cool.
Routing: The routing screen, where you can define where to route traffic to particular machines on the LAN. The Soho supports multiple routers on the network, and the RIP2 (dynamic routing) protocol.
Host IP & Group: With this screen, you can reserve specific IP’s that the Soho handles to particular network adapters. This is pretty useful for say, if you have a laptop and you don’t want its IP being taken by another machine when the laptop isn’t connected to the LAN. You also define Access Groups which are used in the firewall setup (Access Filters.)
Access Filters: Another great feature. This is one of the screens where you define your firewall settings. You can block most standard protocols from this screen, and up to 5 different user groups with individual levels of access. There are preset protocols define, like FTP, Telnet, RealAudio, and Mail. Up to 12 preset protocols, and 5 custom filters.
Special Applications: Do you have certain applications/games that don’t seem to work well with firewalls? This is where you can setup the Soho to allow these programs to work correctly. There is a predefined list of apps, but its list has always been blank for me. The good thing is you can define your own settings for particular applications.
Virtual Servers: This screen allows you to setup the Soho to pass traffic for a particular protocol to a server. For example, you can enable Web server and point it to a specific IP on the LAN. All the servers on this page are predefined. You can define your own Virtual Servers on the next screen
Custom Virtual Servers: Define your own custom virtual servers with this screen.
Exposed Host (DMZ): A must have, if you need a computer exposed to the net, you enable this feature. You are limited to only one machine, but it’s a great feature if you happen to want to play a particular game that won’t play behind a firewall. You just enable DMZ while you play, then turn it off when you are done.
Expert Level: I didn’t touch this screen much, but you can configure the advanced settings for the Soho here. Some of these settings are Idle Renew DHCP (with a force renew button), Allow IDENT, Enable/Disable NAT, IPSec configuration, and Remote Access configuration so you can access the Soho’s administration page from a remote computer.

As you can see, there are plenty of settings that will keep the utmost geek of us content, yet simple enough for the complete novice to get hooked up.

The amount of control and customization is what sells this product for me.

Usability

With so many levels of customization of the Soho, one would think that novice users might be intimidated. However, I don’t believe this to be the case. Because there is documentation to get the average novice up and running with out any problems (read Quick Start Guide), most will never have to look at any of the other configuration screens other then the Main Setup and LAN IP & DHCP screens. If they do get confused or have questions about a particular setting, the Help and User Manual are extremely well written. They are not skimp on information, but don’t give so much information that you don’t want to read. This, plus the fact that if you are on a DHCP connection, you just hook up your Ethernet cables and go! No configuration is needed.

 Enabling the firewall, I tested with various settings. The firewall works great for almost every setting. However, I’m a RealVideo expert, and was skeptical that they could block RealAudio with a preset setting. I was right, somewhat. If you enable the firewall to block RealAudio using the preset, then the RealMedia stream will usually just be cloaked via HTTP. However, if you happen to be using an old RealPlayer or if the stream is coming from an old Real Server, then the stream will be successfully be block. There are also certain ways content providers provide streams where they will be successfully blocked by the firewall as well, but I only encountered a few. I also tested a bunch of applications behind the firewall with the default setting (basically nothing is really blocked) and most applications had no problem. I did have a problem with some games though, but that was easily fixed by using the DMZ feature.

At one point, I did lose internet access. I also could not connect to the administration utility. I hadn’t changed any of my configurations and had been using the Soho for a couple days. I was at a loss. The problem seemed to fix itself after I unplugged it for a while though, and haven’t had a problem since.

Conclusion

With great features like 10/100 Switch, Dynamic DNS, and the ability to customize your own Virtual Servers, all for the low price of $159.00 seems like a no brainer to me. Then you throw in the best documentation I have seen for a piece of computer hardware and I feel like I should be paying more. I don’t know what there tech support is like, but if it’s anything like the quality of their product then I have no doubts that it’s just as good.

I absolutely love the Soho. There are so many things just right with this router. I’m really surprised that they don’t sell Nexland products in major consumer PC retailers. But, I have a feeling they don’t need to. If they keep releasing great products like the ISB Soho, then their reputation for having some of the best routers will continue to grow.