Linksys LRT214 review
This VPN-capable business router won't leave your wallet black and blue
The Linksys LRT214 is a business-oriented Gigabit Ethernet router. Priced at around 120 (ex VAT), it has the usual range of firewall and network management settings, and is also equipped to provide IPsec and OpenVPN endpoints so your staff can connect to the office network, no matter where they are.
Housed in a compact but sturdy black and blue metal chassis, the LRT214 can either stand on four shallow feet or be wall mounted, although there's no option of rack-mounting the unit. Like many enterprise grade routers, it doesn't have integrated wireless capabilities, which also means that you won't have to worry about positioning it for optimal performance and can simply put it somewhere unobtrusive with decent airflow. The unit is passively cooled, so you don't have to keep it locked in your server room to keep fan noise from bothering staff.
One side of the router - designed to be the top if the unit's wall-mounted - bears a reset button, four Gigabit Ethernet ports, a WAN port and a DMZ port so you can directly connect devices that need to be outside your firewall, such as a web server. If you buy the router's more costly sister model, the LRT224, that DMZ port can be reconfigured as a second load-balancing WAN port, allowing you to combine the bandwidth of a pair of internet connections.
The LRT214 has the usual array of status and diagnostic lights, conveniently positioned for easy visibility. A power socket and Kensington security slot are on the right-hand side of the unit.
A brief printed guide takes you through accessing the router's configuration interface and setup wizard. The LRT214 conveniently defaults to a username and password of admin and admin, so you'll want to change the password for security's sake. We were also impressed by the router's detailed online documentation. Before beginning testing, we also updated the router's firmware to the latest version - updated firmware is also available from the official site.
Helpfully, you're prompted to do this if you use the router's basic setup wizard to help with initial configuration. This also gives you the opportunity to configure your default IP address, decide how the router's going to get its time data and enter any necessary information you may require to connect to your ISP - none for most businesses using the LRT214 as a standard Ethernet router.
We were pleased to find that the LRT214 presents a clear management interface that's in keeping with that of most other business oriented routers, rather than opting for glossy graphics or simplified settings. The main Configuration settings screen opens on the Network tab, which gives you an at-a-glance view of core settings such as IP mode, LAN and WAN settings. All your other configuration options are available via a tab bar at the left-hand side of the screen, divided into standard options such as DHCP settings, Firewall, Port Management and the LRT214's range of VPN endpoint server configuration options.
The LRT214 has a fairly standard, but extremely useful selection of enterprise-grade features. It supports VPN passthrough so, if you prefer, you can choose to use your own servers for VPN, rather than the router's integrated VPN server features. For its built-in VPN servers, however, it does not support external Single-Sign-On authentication, such as Active Directory or Radius, so each user who wants to VPN in has to have an account on the router.
Despite this, its integrated VPN servers are extremely useful and support a range of standards. IPSec is the best choice for secure VPN, and the router supports up to 50 connections using this standard. The router can also maintain a handful of PPTP VPN connections - PPTP is easier to connect to via a standard Windows desktop and easy to set up, although less secure than most alternatives. Finally, the LRT214 supports up to five OpenVPN connections. The OpenVPN standard is secure and supported on most platforms, but usually not natively, so you'll have to install a client. Linksys recommends using OpenVPN if your staff need to connect from mobile devices while on the road.
Both OpenVPN and PPTP performance were rather sluggish. While they're fast enough to check office email or access a document or intranet portal in an emergency away from the office, neither option is ideal if you need to provide staff with regular remote access to, for example, data intensive applications or large files hosted on a local server. In these circumstances we'd recommend using VPN passthrough to a more powerful dedicated device on your network under such circumstances.
Port setup allows you to give different LAN ports different priorities, which is helpful if you're going to be using one to connect a section of your network dedicated to functions that are sensitive to packet loss, such as IP telephony. You can also disable the router's Auto Negotiation settings and manually switch each port down to half-duplex, 100Mbit/s and 10Mbit/s settings in case of compatibility issues with older, slower hardware.
Content filtering options allow you to block sites by domain or keyword and set a specific schedule during which the filtering rules apply, so you can, for example, lift an office Facebook ban during the lunch hour.
As you'd expect from a business router worth its salt, the device supports VLANs on the internal interfaces, allowing you to route traffic for all your internal virtual networks over a single cable while still keeping them isolated. The LRT214 also supports logging to an external Syslog server. This is essential for fault finding and network monitoring, as on-board logs are lost when the router is restarted to clear a fault.
The LRT214 is a capable and very reasonably priced router suitable for small to medium enterprise users. While we'd have liked support for external authorisation of connections to the router's own VPN server, that's typically a feature of more expensive hardware. Similarly, the LRT214's 300MHz Cavium CN5020 processor can't match the performance of more expensive hardware when it comes to processor-intensive tasks such as serving an OpenVPN or PPTP connection. Nonetheless, you'd be hard pressed to find a better combination of features in a business router at this price.
A capable, if slightly underpowered, small business router with plenty of VPN features
4x Gigabit Ethernet ports
1x WAN port
1x DMZ port
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