Mating A D-Link DI-704P Router With Mac OS X

Network technologies have advanced light years in a fraction of our lifetimes. Many of these technologies have distilled down to the consumer price point, and are a tremendous value. Take, for example, the plethora of combo NAT gateway network devices such as the D-Link DI-704P.

Now, I got into a lot of trouble with some of you the last time we talked about this stuff. So let me give you my rationale for recommending a non-Mac-certified device right up front. It goes like this.

I just had occasion to purchase a combo NAT gateway for my office. Fine. There are many brands out there. But there were two criteria for this one. First, it would have to work with a Mac. Second, it had to include a parallel-port print server. The first criterion was easy. I run Mac OS X, which is a unix operating system, and totally supports any standard internet protocol. So any standard NAT gateway was bound to work perfectly. The second criterion turned out to be a little more troublesome. My own research turned up a mere two makes of such a device that also included a print server. These are the Asante FR3004LC and the D-Link DI-704P, as well as each's respective elder siblings. The Asante is Mac-certified; the D-Link isn't. Easy choice, no? Well, no, as it turned out.

The units are similarly priced, so that wasn't an issue. It turns out that for some unfathomable reason Asante evidently has discontinued the FR3004 series of routers, and is selling off their old stock, at bargain prices, I might add. To make matters worse, these units are being handled by their online store, which is fine, except for one detail. They'll ship just about anywhere in the world except Canada, where I live. Tough luck, pal. In addition, the principal Mac dealers around here are curiously out of stock on Asante routers. And the distributor no longer lists the FR3004 series. Are you seeing where this is going yet? My regular Mac dealer, with whom we've done tens of thousands of dollars in business, spent a significant effort on my behalf looking for an alternative, and the D-Link was the only alternative that popped up. So there we are. If you still have an issue with recommending non-Mac hardware, feel free to contact me or post a vicious note to the macwrite forums. You never know; someone else might agree with you!

What's this combo NAT gateway stuff all about anyway? A combo NAT gateway is a network gadget that connects between your computer(s) and the internet. The internet is a hostile place. The NAT gateway takes the hits, and effectively shields your computers from the fracas. If you have a full-time internet connection, then one of these babies is essential equipment, even if you're an all-Mac show.

The combo bit is about how this single unit combines several key network concepts together into one box to produce the best electronic bargain since the $99 VCR. Loosely put, you might think of a combo NAT gateway as a pseudo-firewall together with a handful of switched (that's a good thing) network ports for your fleet. For more on this, take a gander at Mac OS X Security Part One: Cable and DSL.

Alright, now let's get down to business. The purpose of this article is to demonstrate how to set up a parallel printer on a Mac OS X network using a D-Link combo NAT gateway. You see, the D-Link DI-704P is singular among NAT gateways because it includes a parallel-port print server. This is important. Not only did a print server alone use to sell for several hundred dollars a pop, where now it's included in a much cheaper package, it can also extend the usefulness of your venerable parallel printer by networking it across your entire fleet. For free (almost). Most office-quality printers have a parallel port, and many consumer printers still do too, even in this USB age. If this describes you, then the DI-704P may be just your number.

Except that not only is it not Mac-certified, but D-Link goes to extensive lengths to place itself at arm's length from Mac issues. I quote from an FAQ:

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

The folks at D-Link underestimate themselves and their quality product line. In fact D-Link print servers work with Macs just fine if you're running OS X. You simply install your printer as a standard unix printer, using Print Center's IP Printing category. The host will be 192.168.0.1 and the queue name will be lp, all lowercase. Do you know, I could not find that pithy bit of information in the Quick Start manual that comes in the box? Only after I did my homework online did I find it. Allow me to save you a little trouble. When you install a printer using Print Center, the setup will look quite like this:

Example of D-Link DI-704P Printer Setup

Should you decide to install the same printer on a Windows machine, the idea is the same, provided you have an lpr client installed (standard on Windows NT derivatives). In any case, there is plenty of Windows support from D-Link, so you don't need more from me.

Now, note a couple of things about this setup. Normally the print host is either a network printer or a standalone print server driving a desktop printer. But here the print server is integrated with your router. So the address of the router is what's required. Assuming you don't tinker with the defaults, it will always be 192.168.0.1, a private internet address, by the way. The queue name is part of the lpr protocol, and cannot be changed on the D-Link units. It will always be lp, which stands for line printer, an historic name.

While we're at it, you may like to install a default printer at the unix level of OS X. Start TextEdit and open the following file from the Go To field:

~/.login

Now cut and paste in the following line somewhere near the bottom (which will be somewhere near the top if this file doesn't exist in the first place):

setenv PRINTER lp_on_192_168_0_1

Notice we use the full queue name here instead of the nicer printer name, which can be edited, by the way. Notice also that the actual brand and driver don't figure into things at this point. It's all about destination. When you tell unix where to go, it hands off the job to that print queue, which is already installed in Print Center and handles the driver details transparently. In essence, unix uses your Mac printer. The same trick works for any printer you may have installed, not just a D-Link one. You just have to determine the full queue name, using Show Info from within Print Center.

I purposely snuck a peek at a CUPS printer into the screen shots. CUPS is a clever unix-based printing technology that widens OS X printer driver support tremendously and comes with Mac OS X Jaguar and later. For example, I now have a reconditioned Okidata OL400 printer on my home network because it works handily with the Gimp-Print CUPS driver for an HP LaserJet II, unsupported in OS X alone. If your printer isn't among the already extensive collection included with OS X, then check out the Gimp-Print CUPS drivers for OS X site; Jaguar required.

While we're here, we could touch on a couple of installation tips for the unit generally. First of all, leave the internet connection to the very last. Next, open your Mac's Network system preference and check to see if you aren't already configured to use a DHCP server, which the DI-704P is. If not, add a new network Location, call it Home or something else, and set it up with Built-In Ethernet using DHCP. If blank, type in 192.168.0.1 into the DNS Servers field. Finally, press Apply Now.

Open a browser and type in 192.168.0.1/ into the Go To field. Your D-Link is also a local web server on the LAN side, so it will respond if things are connected correctly. Login as user admin and no password. Unless there is a pressing case otherwise, I suggest leaving these unchanged. Poke around the menus and find and enable the following items:

* Renew IP forever
* IP pool starting address = 192.168.0.1
* IP pool ending address = 192.168.0.5
* Discard PING from WAN side.

While you're at it, make a note of the firmware update button. It's a good idea to check into D-Link Support from time to time and see if there isn't a firmware update available. Security, you know. Lastly, you need permission to connect your new router to the network. Most high-speed accounts include connecting two devices. The first will be your main computer, but the second should be your NAT gateway. How you do this varies by ISP. My ISP account requires me to login and add the second device's MAC address (12-digit hardware serial number) manually. The competitor in my area senses the first two devices and adds them automatically. If you already have two computers registered, you merely phone tech support to remove one. Then plug in your router and connect. Done.

This is a quick summary. Feel free to drop me a line if anything isn't transparent. If I receive more than a couple of emails about this, then I'll do a separate article on installing a NAT gateway on an OS X network. D-Link disclaims any Mac support. Tell you what. If you need further Mac support for your D-Link, contact me and we'll see what we can do together.

Setting up an Asante router is a similar deal. The default Asante IP address is 192.168.123.254 with a queue name of lp. Default login is the same as D-Link's, i.e. admin with no password. Check online for further details. Likewise, if you're the happy owner of an SMC Barricade, setup is similar, with an address of 192.168.2.1 and a queue name of LPT1 for the 7004ABR or lp for the presumably older 7004BR model. Thanks to JM for that tip.

This makes my fourth D-Link gateway purchase, against one Asante. They're a very useful gadget. If you have high-speed internet, then you need one of these. Your ISP knows it too, and may well offer a package deal of a modem and NAT gateway when you sign up. Do it. Otherwise you're a sitting duck on the internet firing range. And, if you also have a parallel printer that you'd like to network, then get a D-Link DI-704P, or, if you can, an Asante FR3004LC while they last. Ciao.