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Advertisement:
Billion BIPAC-741GE V2 ADSL Firewall Router with Switch
Date 18th August 2003
Author James "Agg" Rolfe
Manufacturer Billion Electronic Co
Vendor PC Range


Usage and Conclusions

Easy Setup:
Setup really was a no-brainer. If you're in a rush to set up the modem and enjoy your new broadband, it doesn't get much simpler than this. Plug the modem into the phone line (using the provided cable), plug your PC's ethernet connection into one of the 4 ports on the back of the modem (also using the provided cable), use your web browser to connect to 192.168.1.254, enter your ISP-provided ADSL username and password, wait a few seconds for the modem to dial up... and you're ready to surf. Pack up the manual and the other bits into the box, stick it on your shelf and forget about it.

Configuration:
If, however, you do decide to explore the extra features of this modem/router, the amount of configuration options available is almost bewildering. The 741GE, as with the 711CE, has a built-in webserver and configuration is entirely web-based. You can configure the device through the console port, via telnet or via an SNMP service, but I found the Web interface did everything I needed and plenty more. Billion have thankfully laid out the various menus to be fairly clear about what goes where, but you will need some understanding of firewalls and networking to get the most from it. Like any decent tool, this modem can be used in a simple manner by people unconcerned with the details, while people who do have specific advanced requirements from it and who understand the technology can use it in a more sophisticated manner. In fact, the feature list reads like a networking textbook:
  • Firewall capability with DoS and SPI protection
  • Parental control with packet filtering and URL blocking
  • Security log which records hacking attempts and can email you with a warning
  • Dynamic DNS, DNS proxy
  • Virtual server and DMZ
  • VPN embedded and pass-through
  • Port throttling (in 32kb/sec increments) on the Ethernet ports
  • DHCP client, server and relay
  • Remote administration (configure the modem from the internet interface)
The whole back of the box is dedicated to listing the features and standards that this modem supports. There's a large photo here if you want to look at them in detail. Some of the more interesting functions I played with were:

Virtual Server:
This lets you run servers from your local network which can be seen on the internet via your ADSL connection. To test this, I added the address of my home linux server to the HTTP port in the Virtual Server configuration on the Billion. Sure enough, when I gave a few people in IRC my IP address, they could see the homepage of my linux box. You can do the same for any port you like, and there are pre-set fields for most popular server types to make it easy.

Note that many ISPs block server ports from their clients for security reasons. Some will re-enable them if you ask, but some won't. Iinet have an online toolbox that lets you enable or disable the port blocking. If your ports are blocked by the ISP, then obviously this Virtual Server function won't be able to work. Also, if you don't have a static IP address assigned by your ISP, it complicates things slightly. However, you can use a Dynamic DNS provider - there are several free ones, have a Google - and the Billion supports a range of Dynamic DNS providers.

Firewall:
This stops traffic on particular ports from entering or leaving your network. Turning it on with the maximum settings allows nothing through at all, as I discovered when my streaming audio, SSH session and IRC session all died simultaneously. There are some presets called High, Medium and Low security and you can tweak them by individually allowing packets through on a by-port or by-address basis. For example, the High setting allows POP3 (retrieving email), HTTP (surfing the web) and a few other common ports, but not IRC or streaming audio. You could enable IRC to your favourite server only or allow all IRC traffic through. I did some experimenting with nmap and the firewall seems to work pretty well. You can log any intrusion attempts and the modem can apparently even email you an alert.

DHCP Server:
This is an extremely handy thing for an ADSL sharer to have. You set all the PC's to "obtain IP address automatically" and when they connect to your network they are assigned a non-routing IP address by the Billion. Using NAT, the Billion will then let all those PC's connect to the internet transparently. This makes adding a new PC to your network a breeze and required no special software to be installed. If you have devices that you want to have the same address all the time (like my linux server) you assign them an address in the same subnet but outside the range that the DHCP server assigns within. In my config, the Billion will assign 192.168.1.1 to 192.168.1.20. The Billion itself is at 192.168.1.254 and my linux server is at 192.168.1.111. This works completely transparently. The modem itself is also a DHCP client of course, and is assigned an internet address by your ISP when it dials up.

If you're connecting to a network that assigns addresses to multiple client PC's, the Billion can be configured to simply forward DHCP requests to a remote server. Most people won't be in that situation with a normal residential ISP, though.

Parental Control:
Some people will hate this feature! This lets you disable or enable web access on a per-domain basis, via the use of "Trusted" or "Untrusted" domains. You can specify to ONLY allow access to your trusted domain list, or to allow anything except untrusted domains. You can even do it with an automatic schedule, so, while you're at work, little Timmy can only access disney.com. After, say, 6pm, he can go crazy with your supervision. Again, you can log all failed accesses. I added overclockers.com.au to the untrusted domains list and immediately received only "Error 403: Permission Denied" for any OCAU page including the PCDB and Forums.

Speed:
In terms of benchmarking there's not much to be done. The Billion supports ADSL speeds of 8Mbps download and 1Mbps upload, but if you can afford those in Australia you're probably way too busy sailing your private yacht and racing your Lamborghini to bother surfing the net anyway. The most common plans seem to be 512Kbps down and 128Kbps up - via my connection I could see no difference between the 741GE and the 711CE I normally use, with a max sustainable download of about 55KBps (note the big B, if you're confused.)

Similarly, the Ethernet side of things was indistinguishable from the 8-port $60-at-the-PC-markets Ethernet switch that normally powers my home LAN. Plugging things into either the Billion or into the separate switch (which is itself plugged into the Billion) is completely transparent and makes no difference, with the Billion providing DHCP and assigning IP addresses.

Conclusions:
Once again, Billion have packed an impressive range of features into their product. You can treat this as a simple ADSL modem or you can make it the core of a LAN, handling internet security and sharing for the whole network. The web-based administration makes it simple to configure and there is plenty of local support via 741ge.com and Billion.com.au. At around the AUD $250 mark it's pushing up towards the top end of the ADSL modem price range, but when you factor in the features and the onboard 4-port Ethernet switch it compares very favourably price-wise. Recommended!

Thanks to PC Range for providing this product for review.



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