The 3Com OfficeConnect Remote 812 ADSL Router is one of the most used routers throughout Europe and the US, but has had very little exposure in the UK. This is most likely due to its high price bracket, as it’s aimed at business users.
Front and rear of the OfficeConnect Remote 812 ADSL Router
Upon opening the package you are greeted with the router, power pack, RJ11 lead, a very small RJ45 patch lead, a console cable, install CD and a quick setup guide. The Quick setup guide is simply a way to get you online without devouring into the advanced features of the router. A comprehensive manual is found on the CD in PDF format, and later revisions of this manual can also be downloaded from the 3Com site. The only problem with this is what happens if you need the manual from a command line based system, that has no PDF viewer?, well simply, you can't view it. You would have to gain access to a machine with PDF capability.
For the purpose of this review, the router was configured to DHCP mode. Once the router had synced with the exchange the network cable was plugged into my network card which immediately picked up the connection, and an IP number was assigned to my machine within seconds. At this stage you can install the provided software to administer the router, but its use was minimal, as typing in the IP of the router (example: http://192.168.200.254) into your preferred web browser, had the same desired result. Due to the routers native web based administration server, this means that any operating system with a browser can take control of it. Don’t worry if you are using a command line based system though, as telnet administration is also available, which can be done over the LAN or via the console cable directly connected to the router. Telnet administration is covered extensively in the manual.
The router has an integrated 4 port, 10Mbps hub, which allows easy file sharing across a small LAN. Additional network hubs or switches can be added via the "uplink" port, with a limit of 40 users. Many routers are now available with inbuilt 100Mbps switches, which makes the relatively slow hub look somewhat out of place from a manufacturer of this stature.
VPN support is native with 40, 56 or 128-bit encryption (both PPTP and L2PT), at the users disposal. The router configuration menu makes it simple to set up VPN tunnels.
VPN Configuration Page [View Full Size]
NAT & PAT modes are both supported which allows almost any application to be used behind this router with seemless integration. You can bind your external IP number to an internal one on the LAN, making sure that all incoming connections are sent to the right PC (DMZ mode). If you have multiple IP's from your ISP, you can assign each machine its own external IP number. If however you want to share one IP across the entire LAN, the NAT option of the router will take care of this, with the option of forwarding specific ports to different machines.
The option for expandability is there, should BT Wholesale decide to make speeds faster than 2Mbps available, this router supports up to 8Mbps downstream and 1Mbps upstream. Also, if BT allow multiple ISP's on an ADSL line, the router will support up to 16.
After entering the default username and password, you are greeted with the following configuration page:
System Status & Setup Page [View Full Size]
The layout of this is reasonable; I had no problem in finding what I was after. Setting up the router to establish a connection with my ISP was a 2 minute job. The only required input was the encapsulation type (PPPoA), my username and password, VPI and VCI values (0 and 38 respectively), and the default IP number on the LAN that everything should be forwarded to if NAT is enabled (optional). Once these values are submitted to the router, you have Internet access in around 20 seconds.
I feel it important at this point to inform all users that it is almost a requirement to update the routers firmware from the 3Com site. This is due to various security vulnerabilities that the router has with its native firmware. This will also give access to additional VPN options which make it much easier to set up. It is also strongly recommended that you block all incoming access on ports 80 and 23, to stop web based and telnet administration. This can be done either by setting up a filter to ignore incoming connection requests on both ports, or if you have a web server and /or a telnet daemon on your network, forwarding these ports to the required machine will also stop remote administration of the router.
The router was tested with various games and I had no problem joining online servers, but if you want to host a game, you have to be the default machine on the LAN that everything is forwarded to (if in NAT mode), or forward each port that the game uses to the required machine on the LAN (this is standard practice when using NAT). On a similar note, it’s not possible to get this router to work with MSN Messenger file send, even if you are the default workstation. This is not entirely the routers fault, as MSN Messenger is essentially a non friendly NAT piece of software. Other file sending options in programs, such as in mIRC and P2P based software worked without a hitch. Newer versions of MSN Messenger support SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) however, unfortunately the router does not support it.
General support issues
The amount of things the router monitors is extensive. You can pull up stats about the Upstream Attenuation, Upstream Signal-to-Noise Ratio, CRC and HEC errors, and even the transmit power that the router is using to send the signal. If a problem should arise, this information is excellent to find out where the culprit is. To view some of the stats that the router produces, you will need a java enabled browser as it displays them in real-time. For the average user, this information will never be of any interest. For diagnostics purposes, an ISP may be able to make use of this data to determine where a problem lies.
The router has been working reliably 24/7, even when serving multiple computers. If the connection to the exchange goes down, it automatically retries until the line is active. Unplugging it from the line, causing the router to desynchronize with the exchange had no effect on internal LAN performance, all traffic was routed correctly and IP numbers were still assigned. When the line was plugged back in, the total time until machines were able to browse the Internet was around 20 seconds.
If you’re a business user looking to bring your ADSL connection across your entire LAN, with extensive features, good VPN support, and excellent reliability, this router should be considered. Home users should only consider this if they can get it considerably lower than the retail price, as there are much cheaper routers out there that will most likely do everything that they will require. Somehow, I can't stop feeling that your "paying for the brand name" with this router, as it seems overpriced.
£570 – 3Com Office Connect Remote 812 ASDL Router
Prices listed above are excluding postage and VAT.
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The contents of this review should not be relied upon in making a purchasing decision—You should always discuss your requirements with your service provider and hardware supplier.