USB Cable Single Room Network Starter Kit
by: Howard Carson, send
by: Actiontec, go
to the web site
Pentium-class PCs, each with minimum 16MB RAM and CD-ROM drive,
Windows 95 (with USB upgrade), Windows 98, or Windows 98SE
or higher, 1 modem and Internet Service Provider account are
required for Internet
(Ed Note: reviewed in 1999)
networking is rapidly gaining in popularity. The
demand is coming from all types of computer users
with multiple PCs in one home location who need easy
to install file and printer sharing, Internet access
sharing, and occasional multi-player gaming. Actiontec's
ActionLink USB Cable Single Room Network Starter
Kit uses a USB cable which can be plugged into any
two computer systems with USB ports. The ActionTec
DynaNAT(R) software is supplied for modem sharing.
A pair of PCs equipped with USB ports, running a
USB- compatible OS such as Windows 95b, Windows 95c,
Windows 98, or Windows 98SE are required to install
the kit. Patch software for some OS versions is included
in the ActionLink package.
Many home computer users are finding that linking two PCs
together to share files, play games, and share an Internet
account is useful, fun, and quite necessary because of the
presence of two or more computers. But for companies trying
to get home consumers to dive into networking, the biggest
problem up until quite recently has been finding easy, quick
methods to teach typical home users about hubs, network cards,
10-BaseT Ethernet cables, and Windows network interface card
drivers. Forget about it. Most users just want connectivity,
not a technical education.
The Universal Serial Bus (USB) system introduced mainly
by Microsoft and some key computer makers a couple of years
ago, has simplified installation and configuration of a wide
range of peripherals (printers, monitors, external drives,
speakers, scanners, and so on). ActionTec's USB networking
system brings the same level of good functionality and simplicity
of installation to home networking.
The ActionLink kit contains a 20 foot (6 meter) USB cable,
a CD-ROM containing the DynaNAT software and two manuals
(1 for the cable; 1 for DynaNAT). We networked two home computers
in a small home office: a brand new Dell Dimension PIII/400
running Windows 98SE, and a PII/266 clone running Windows
98. Both computers had 128MB RAM, 8MB 3DFX cards, 3Com 56K
fax/voice modems, and 10/100 Ethernet cards. We had to remove
the Ethernet cards from both computers.
is simplicity itself. Install the networking and DynaNAT
software on each computer, then plug in the USB
cable. That's it. Run the configuration at any time to change
the default settings. The software sits in your System Tray
and provides troubleshooting help if things go wrong. DynaNAT
is software that allows for Internet access sharing. NAT
stands for "Network Address Translation" which
is commonly found in hardware based routers. DynaNAT acts
as a DHCP server; when a client machine is booted, an IP
number is automatically assigned to it. A normal 56K modem
connection worked properly. There is no faster access available
using ActionLink because network cards must be removed on
both systems in order for ActionLink to work. Playing Quake
3 over the Internet might have been interesting for us, but
with only a 56K connection it was nearly impossible. Playing
Quake 3 between the two systems locally was excellent however.
The host system had a ping of 0 and the other system had
a ping ranging from 50 to 100.
The maximum network throughput you'll achieve on a USB
network of this type is about 4 megabits per second (Mbps).
10-BaseT Ethernet tops out at approximately 10Mbps, averaging
5-6Mbps. ActionLink's performance when copying files, printer
sharing, and LAN gaming was only slightly slower than standard
Ethernet; very nice indeed.
You must remove any Ethernet cards installed in the PCs
you want to network. This is a bit of a disaster because
of the growing popularity of ADSL, DSL, and cable modem hook-ups.
For us, stepping way, way back to 56K modems speeds from
our usual cable modem connection was a genuine disappointment.
Pros: Typical home computer users will find this kit absolutely
easy to install and use. Synchronize your files, provide
Internet access for both computers, use 2-player games, share
files, drives, and peripherals. The ActionLink package includes
a reasonably good, basic Firewall (part of DynaNAT). If Ethernet
is beyond you, this Kit is an excellent option and definitely
faster that a serial cable. Everything installed and worked
as advertised and the documentation was great. We'd give
this kit our highest rating except for the incompatibility
with network cards and the consequent lack of access to ADSL,
DSL, and cable modems, but if you're happy with your 33.6K
or 56K Internet access (or if ADSL, DSL, and cable modem
access is simply not available in your locale), the ActionTec
ActionLink USB network kit is a great choice that's priced
to the Editor are welcome and occasionally abused in public.
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