Bob and Joy
     By Bob and Joy Schwabach

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September 2001, Week 2 -- Link Up, and Hope for the Best


 Network Switch

   Belkin, Linksys, Netgear and a tiny outfit called GigaFast all have new network switching equipment that lets you link a small number of computers together to share files, printers and Internet connections.

   Prices range from $40 to $200, so obviously there are differences. But mainly the differences are in accompanying software, which you may or may not want. In each case your computers have to have network cards, often called ethernet cards. These come in either 10 or 100 Mbps (megabits per second) speeds and the higher the number the better. Let's start with the newest boxes, which come from Belkin.


-- Belkin:


   The new "5-Port Network Switch" sells for $78 and lets you share files and a regular Internet connection (often called a "dial-up" connection) between five computers. Once you have installed such a network switch, all the computers can use the same peripherals: printers, scanners, backup drives, etc. This particular box is a nice-looking device, with numbered lights that let you see who is connected at a glance.

 4-Port Cable/DSL

   Moving up in price to $138 list ($119 at discounters) gets Belkin's "4-Port Gateway Router," which connects one less computer but lets everyone share a high-speed DSL or Cable modem line. Now we're talking business, as they say. You still have the file and peripheral sharing features you have with any network. An additional feature with this router is a firewall that protects the network from unauthorized access. Phone info: 310-898-1100; web: A particularly nice feature of these and other Belkin products is a lifetime warranty and lifetime free tech support.


-- Netgear:


   Netgear's 4-port switch and router also lets users share Cable and DSL high-speed Internet connections and sells for $159 list price. (Discounters on the web sell it for $99 to $120. Firewall protection is part of the package. A check on Cnet  found that a survey of more than 200 users showed 93 percent were satisfied with the product, seven percent not satisfied. (Note: Not all products are surveyed on Cnet.) Setup is a little tricky.


-- Linksys:


   The four-port Linksys router  has a street price under $200 and handles Cable, DSL and voice lines. It comes with a Net2Phone account and password which lets you start off with 160 minutes of free phone calls on the Internet. After that you have phone charges, but they're cheap. It is the voice feature that makes this router more expensive.


   Net2Phone gets mixed reviews on the quality of voice transmission and the kind of awkward delays you often get between speakers when calling on the Internet. The same kind of uneven results are reported with DSL (digital signal lines), though not with cable. For reviews on DSL services (which vary considerably), check out the web site


-- GigaFast:

 Gigafast Ethernet

   Last, and least in price, is the 5-port Gigafast ethernet Mini Switch, which lists for just $40 from one of the Internet discounters This is a very tiny box (the smallest on the market), with some nice features. Chief among these is a plug and play setup that automatically detects whether the lines connected to it come from individual computers or from another switch or router. If it does detect another router it automatically makes that port an uplink port, so the router down the line can continue to function as before. The Netgear box up above, for example, cannot do this.


   Unlike the other boxes, which come from well-known manufacturers, the maker of this one is unknown to us. Still, that doesn't mean it's not good, and we welcome new electronic blood.





--  This travel site has added the U.K. and Ireland to its previous coverage of North American destinations. Has lots of travel tips, lists of guide books, recent newspaper and magazine articles, etc., plus links to other web sites that have travel tips. Some are personal accounts.

--,,, and all list properties available for vacation rentals in the U.S. and Europe.

--  A site run by the General Services Administration. It claims to search every word of every U.S. government document. May take a while.

--  This one is run by the Commerce Department and has a list of all federal government databases, including Supreme Court decisions. Also includes many federal reports.

--  The "got milk" campaign moves to the Internet here, with recipes for getting more milk in your diet. A recent study shows that drinking milk cuts the risk of breast cancer in women roughly in half.

The numbers report


   A reader survey by PC Magazine found that Dell computers had the highest satisfaction rating among buyers. No surprise there; Dell has ranked on top in user satisfaction for several years.


   The number two ranking was a surprise, because it wasn't a company name but was for computers made by small neighborhood shops. These are sometimes called "white boxes," because they use standard parts, as opposed to a "black box" machine, which would have unknown contents. E-Machines and Compaq, which may or may not be taken over by Hewlett Packard, had the lowest satisfaction ratings.


NOTE: Readers can search more than four years of columns at the "On Computers" web site: You can e-mail Bob Schwabach at  or