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The Hub

Before I get too far ahead of myself let's take a look at the rear of the unit. On the rear of the unit are three serial connectors for the modems or ISDN connections. Adjacent to these is a female serial connector labeled "console". Adjacent to these are the four ports for the built in hub. Lastly is the connector for the power cord. Notice that there is no WAN connector to allow the unit to later serve as a hub for DSL or Cable service. The unit is shipped with one ethernet cable and two CD's. One CD contains the software to make the unit work and the other CD is the CacheLink software. CacheLink allows you to pool the internet cache of your different computers together so that when users at different computers view the same page they can pull the files necessary to display a page off each other's computers rather than waiting for the data to be downloaded from the internet. I'll discuss the effectiveness of CacheLink later in the review.

The 350e comes equipped with a 10BaseT 4 port hub. This may prove to be the Achilles' heel of the unit. 100 MBps networking equipment has been available for some time, and most users would be better off with 100 MBps of bandwidth compared with the 10 MBps that the 350e features. While this hub has the ability to have 253 users routed through it once more hubs are added behind it, I find it hard to believe that the unit will not be seriously congested with only ten users. Once several users begin to use the internet the unit will have heavy demands put on it. Add in the browsing into each computer's cache necessary to make CacheLink work and I think you'll see that there will be data moving from different computers looking for the computer that requested the data, and the added traffic that loading pages from the internet will inflict on the network. This is simply not a great idea, especially with only 10 MBps of total bandwidth for the network. Why will CacheLink make the congestion worse and not better?

With only a few users I can see that CacheLink will be a timesaver. Moving data on a 10 MBps network from one computer to another is much faster than downloading that same data from the internet. Waiting for the data to download introduces the lag that is inherent with modems. A problem arises because this hub does not feature a switch. This was a criticism of mine with the other hub sent by Ramp Networks. A switch can be likened to a traffic light. It will allow the data to move from one computer to another smoothly and it will direct the data exactly to the computer that needs it. Without a switch the data must move from computer to computer on the network until the computer that requested the data is found. I can't tell you enough what a huge improvement in speed and reliability can be obtained by using a switch. Now imagine 20 or 30 computers hooked up behind this hub and the congestion with data moving from computer to computer looking for the right machine to deliver the data to. For a small network - usually five or fewer machines - a conventional hub like the one in the 350e may serve the needs of the business just fine. I'd highly recommend users who plan to expand their network beyond that size look into a switch and 100 MBps speed. For a network that is that small I think CacheLink is a great idea. I think CacheLink would be best used on a switched network running at 100 MBps since it would allow the highest possible access to that data without the congestion associated with normal hubs.

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