Coupling an Asante NAT Gateway with Mac OS X

For quite some time this column has been touting the virtues of Asante routers, among others. Recently, Critical Mass purchased an Asante FR3002AL wireless NAT gateway and FS5005C ethernet switch pair. While they work well now, the initial setup was not without its teething pains.

Since the beginning, this column has been pounding the firewall and NAT gateway drum. The internet is a hostile place, and you absolutely need something between it and you, in order to take the hits. There is no excuse for not running a software firewall, as Mac OS X comes with one, and it's now particularly easy to configure in Jaguar. Windows users have had ZoneAlarm for Windows available for years, free for personal use. Download it now. Right now.

If you are connected full-time, as many people these days are, then you may want to add a hardware layer of security into the mix. Enter the NAT gateway, a brilliant invention that combines several key network technologies into a single innocuous-looking box. Because of the way a NAT gateway works, your computers, connected to the inside of the box, are rendered invisible to the internet at large. But you can see out perfectly. The box handles all of the network gymnastics transparently. It's a thing of beauty.

In the beginning, I waxed poetically about the D-Link DI-704 and its siblings. That product is long out of print, but you can still get a DI-704P, which includes a parallel-port print server. As USB has pushed parallel printers into history for all practical purposes, the writing is on the wall for the DI-704P, the only remaining product of its type that I know of. Where the SMC Barricade and Asante FR3000 series both carried competing products, alas, these alternatives are no more today. I do, however, expect to see a crop of these that include a USB print server, as do Apple Airport and Airport Extreme.

But I digress. Several people took me to task in those early days for not recommending Mac-oriented products first. So I did my homework and gave equal time to the Asante products, with honorable mention of others. In the process, I found that, where Asante included Mac instructions for every step of an installation, D-Link shunned the Mac completely, with a rider that went like this:

Please do not keep the product in anticipation of Macintosh compatibility. Please return your product to your reseller.

I maintained then and I still maintain that D-Link underestimates themselves and their products. To their credit, they have a passel of Mac-compatible products available today. Having recently purchased an Asante kit and kaboodle for my home use, I can further say that while Mac gets lots of mention in the manuals, as far as Mac compatibility is concerned there appears to be no appreciable difference between the actual two products. That was a surprise to me. But there was more to come.

During the process of setting up the Asante, your inimitable host made a little boo-boo, which effectively shut out any administrative access to the unit. From any machine. Anywhere. It didn't take me long to figure out I was going nowhere until I reset the thing to its factory default settings. So I reached for the little reset button, standard on any D-Link. Guess what? There was no button. Just to be completely sure, I popped the plastic top off and checked inside. Nada. Fortunately I could connect to the internet directly, as my ISP account supports two hosts, as in all likelihood does yours. So I spent a long while on Asante's site looking for a solution.

Finally I found it. My box requires a factory reset. At the factory. At a cost of US$70, not including taxes or shipping. Yeah, right. And it's confirmed. This series does not have a reset button. Fortunately somebody mentioned something about a software utility made expressly for resetting the FR3000 series to factory settings. So I pulled up my antennae and went sleuthing. Presently I located it here:

Observant readers will quickly notice something about this program, which worked famously, by the way. It's a Windows program. So, if you're a Mac-only shop, then you'd be ought of luck, you ask? I'm afraid so. Here is a compelling reason to keep a junk Windows 95 machine with a network card in it kicking around. You never know. I myself would like to pose the problem to those who took me to task for not immediately recommending this product to a Mac audience. I think I see some embarrassed faces out there.

While we're at it, finding updated firmware on Asante's site can be, as the Brits say, a botheration. Fortunately the firmware that shipped with my product works just fine. But security issues change, and you have to be able to do this upgrade from time to time. D-Link has reasonably nice web support for this. Not so long ago, however, you could only download Windows installers from D-Link. Perhaps due in part to my pestering, D-Link now provides simultaneous raw binary images, which are easily installed via a browser interface. In fact, it's easier to do this than to use the Windows installer! Rack up another point for D-Link's Mac compatibility.

Apart from those issues, the Asante is a very good unit. If you're shopping for one of these things, you'll find that the FR3000 series is now out of print. All of the new models come with a reset button, so it's a moot issue for new purchases. But if you can find one of the older ones at a steal of a price, then go for it. If price isn't your highest concern, then get the genuine article from Apple and be sure of Mac compatibility.

For a few tips on setting up a D-Link with a Mac, plus some short stuff on similar Asante and SMC Barricade products, take a glance through Mating A D-Link DI-704P Router With Mac OS X.

It's so important these days to put in place a couple of basic security measures on your computer or network. Some kind of firewall is much more important even than an antivirus program. A NAT gateway, while not a hardware firewall in the purest sense, is the single best bang-for-your-buck security measure you could do, beyond enabling the software firewall that already comes with OS X. As for that Windows box, hurry up and download ZoneAlarm for Windows. It's free for personal use. You have no excuses left now! Ciao.