ZoneAlarm Secure Wireless Router & Print Server

Reviewed by: Jack Reikel, March 2007
Published by: Zone Labs (a Check Point company)
Requires: Windows 98 through Vista; Mac OS X; any available Wide Area Network (WAN) Internet connection

MSRP: US$149.95

Zone Labs isn't the feisty little startup it used to be. In fact, Zone Labs and its parent, Check Point Software Technologies Ltd., are playing in the big leagues. Judged solely on the basis of its software, Zone Labs has always been a good company. Its ZoneAlarm firewall and various ZoneAlarm antivirus and antispam suites are all highly ranked. Now the not inconsiderable clout of Check Point is helping to put the ZoneAlarm brand on a line of network routers that should prove to be quite attractive.

The ZoneAlarm Secure Wireless Router is a dual antenna, 802.11b/g/Super-G wireless, 4-port device which also incorporates a USB 2.0 Hi-Speed printer server, and some interesting new gateway antivirus and services subscription components. As best I can tell, as of this writing it's definitely the most feature-packed home and small business router on the market. The router supports so-called Super G wireless protocols which provide speeds, when using a suitable wireless card, of up to 108Mbps. Like all the products in the ZoneAlarm lineup, the Secure Wireless Router is easy to setup and configure.


I set up the ZoneAlarm Secure Wireless Router in two different locations: the second floor office in my electronics, appliance and computer filled, two-storey house, and my fifth floor business offices amidst a sea of steel beam construction, metal wall studs and a dense network of communications and network cabling. The router worked well in all circumstances, handling all traffic cleanly, and providing excellent network stability and 100% stealth from the Internet. Check Point actually has its own patented Stateful Packet Inspection (SPI) which is essentially a version of the dynamic packet filtering method in wide use by many firewall and router makers. Unique in this class of router however is the Gateway Antivirus functionality which analyzes data coming through the router for any signs of malware. Using Gateway Antivirus in conjunction with a version of the ZoneAlarm software antivirus product installed on your computer gives you a really powerful one-two punch. Additional security is handled by the router's embedded WPA2 and IPSec encryption.

Check Point, in its zeal to tap into the high quality resources through its group of companies, ends up keeping a number of different names in your face whenever you're using the ZoneAlarm Secure Wireless Router. For example, all of the intrusion detection reports are generated by SofaWare Technologies (another Check Point company), and while the reports are important and useful (they show up at the email address you input during the product setup process), you may initially wonder why SofaWare is sending you email. The ZoneAlarm brand name is also front and center, but for more obvious reasons. Of course, everything in sight is tagged with the phrase "a Check Point company" just to ensure you don't forget. Faintly off-putting though it may be, there's no doubt at all that the ZoneAlarm Secure Wireless Router is a well designed, well made and highly functional router and print server. Color me impressed. The icing on this particular cake comes in four measures: the USB 2.0 Hi-Speed printer server, the broadband monitoring feature, Gateway Antivirus and tools, and the new subscription services.

The printer server proved flawless. Although set up instructions for Mac OS X are nowhere to be found in the supplied Quick Start guide, I managed to find the information I needed in the PDF version of the full product manual (on the product CD, and online at the product support site). The only real problem I encountered—older printer drivers—was relatively minor. Adding a printer to a PC with an original version of the HP LaserJet 1320 printer driver proved impossible until I had the bright idea of downloading the latest LaserJet 1320 driver from the HP support site. Apparently, the original driver on the HP CD cannot properly recognize the USB network location of the printer, and you end with a printer server error message. The new driver solved the problem without the need for any additional tweaking.

The broadband monitoring feature is found in the router interface which is accessed through a browser. We accessed the router using Internet Explorer 6 and 7, Opera 9 and Firefox 1.5 and 2 without any problems. You can watch and track network traffic. It's not my idea of fun for a Saturday night, but it may be useful enough anyway.

The router comes with a rather extensive set of built-in tools including PING, Traceroute and WHOIS, a packet sniffer, and a configuration import/export feature which will ultimately provide everyone from casual users to IT technicians with the ability to do some extremely fine configuration tuning.

The Gateway Antivirus is a somewhat unique feature. Once you've subscribed through the router interface, everything that comes through the router is inspected for virus-like formations. The obvious test here is to measure router data throughput with and without Gateway Antivirus running. I tried it a few times and couldn't detect any measurable slowdown with the instruments I normally use. Virus signature updates are performed automatically through the router itself. You'll find a variety of utilities available in the Services menu in the router, including the one year subscription to all the main services which are part of the initial purchase price of the router. Like all subscription services they expire, so expect renewal reminders to show up at the email address you input during the original router setup.

Cons: Shipping is included in the purchase price, which is terrific for customers in the U.S., but a bit deceiving for customers elsewhere mainly because ZoneLabs uses United Parcel Service (UPS)for international shipments. UPS continues to take advantage of the letter of the law in most countries by not only performing customs broker services at each destination border, but also charging exorbitant fees for the 'service'. UPS is also diligent about collecting any and all VAT, GST and other lawful consumption taxes at each border point, and as far as I can tell, charging a service fee for that as well. If you do not live in the U.S., ask for express shipping rather than ground shipping in order to have a better chance of avoid these sorts of charges. The router is terrific, without question, but I really hate UPS. The security/intrusion detection reports sent by SofaWare, while useful for more advanced users, do not offer stellar clarity to less experienced users. Port attack explanations are occasionally cryptic, often organized in a table that is difficult to understand, and also often include irrelevant data (lists of innocuous events due to normal computer and network operation). The Quick Start Guide supplied with the software is quite good, but it does have limitations including a complete absence of instructions for adding a networked printer to a Mac OS X computer. Also, we encountered some changes within the Windows XP add printer dialog (perhaps introduced in one of the service packs?) which are not evident in the router's quick start guide. One of the retainer nuts on the left antenna coaxial mount was not secure, which meant I had to remove the device cover to get at the inner locking nut. No big deal really, but still a small sign of sloppiness in an otherwise well built device.

Pros: The ZoneAlarm Secure Wireless Router is a very good performer. The installation wizard is very well done, marching you through the well thought out and secure default installation quite quickly. Relative beginners who want to install this router can safely follow all the default settings and be securely up and running in a couple of minutes. Add another minute or so to connect a printer to the USB print server plus a couple of minutes to add the networked printer to each computer connected to the router. The process is obviously quick easy to follow. Dual antennas generally mean that you can play with individual antenna positions in order to create the best transceiver field for the chosen router location. While the top cover was off the device, I also noted that the motherboard, general layout of electronics, and the overall construction seems to be very good, with a complete absence of binding points, no awkward releases, clean electronics assembly and a simple two-screw case assembly using metal (not plastic) mounts. I predict someone has already discovered the configuration import/export feature in the Tools tab of the router Setup menu. This is all much more interesting than the awkward BIOS modding which has been so popular in the now outdated Linksys WRT54G. I predict that the modders will shortly make the ZoneAlarm Secure Wireless Router router the absolute king of the mountain. As it stands out of the box, it did not let me down and provided almost instant connectivity and rock solid peer-to-peer networking and network Internet access. Excellent signal quality and throughput on the wireless side even in some difficult environments. An excellent router. Highly recommended.

KSN Product Rating:



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