Illustration: Rocco Fazzari.
We had to empathise with the cry of pain emitted by one of the recent visitors to the Whirlpool online forum, when his modem/router failed after 18 months.
''Is there a modem/router on the market today that can last more than two years?'' the afflicted poster inquired rhetorically, setting out a list of what he expected: ''The ability to remember its settings; reboot itself; reliably handle more than three devices on DHCP; have a simple web interface with a comprehensive advanced mode and handle torrents at decent speed without [impolite expression].''
It seemed a reasonable list, but like many of the Whirlpool respondents, we have frequently been cast into the digital darkness by the premature demise of an extensive range of brands and models over the years.
That ended four years ago when we installed the DrayTek Vigor 2820Vn.
The DrayTek was not cheap - it cost $480, about twice the price of a consumer model - but it had so many features that are still not available on the best-known brands, to say nothing of a fast ADSL sync speed and a robust grip that coped with a busy, complex network that included an Asterisk PBX box, two TV sets, a Sonos wi-fi streaming music system and two network storage devices.
What it also gave us was an extraordinary degree of flexibility. In addition to the ADSL2+ connection, we had the ability to plug our fall-back Optus cable service into a second WAN Ethernet port to provide additional bandwidth and load balancing, or failover. We could even plug in a 3G modem.
It had a range of VPN protocols and up to 32 VPN tunnels, USB storage and a fast Wireless N system that could run four different SSIDs with separate access and bandwidth controls.
We have no doubt that the 2820Vn would have continued to serve us for a few more years, but because of what we have dubbed Toad of Toad Hall syndrome, we have very little resistance to the lure of additional speed. Hence, last week, we installed DrayTek's Vigor 2860n-plus.
For about $450, it offers improvements in all the features that attracted us to its predecessor; including things such as load-balanced VPN for faster, secure remote connections and the ability to connect to the NBN via its new VDSL port. New firmware expected soon will allow it to connect to 4G data modems.
The 2860 has six gigabit ports (the 2820 had one) and two USB ports to attach a modem, hard disk or printer.
There seems to have been a breeding frenzy in the local population of tablets and smartphones, which makes the 2860's dual 2.4 and 5GHz wi-fi networks highly appealing.
The current model does not have the new 802.11ac wireless that theoretically is supposed to provide gigabit data rates.
In the real world, however, that will probably be limited to a maximum of 433Mbps and, given the limitations of internet speeds, it isn't immediately attractive.
Later, perhaps, we might bolt on a compatible access point to the 2860 to improve local data transfers, but we found that the range and speeds of the 8620 were fast enough, and Draytek has just released an access point ($220) to extend the range.
Things such as port forwarding and rules for specific users and groups are relatively easy to set up, although the interface could be simpler to navigate. However, the web dashboard is comprehensive and shows status lights and connected ports, for remote checks.
The 2860 requires some research to access its features. Things such as its powerful firewall's DoS defence against hackers are not turned on by default - definitely worth doing - and users should be warned to change the absurdly obvious password immediately.
The FAQs on the draytek.com.au website are quite helpful, and the support staff are helpful and knowledgeable.
The content filter (a $64 a year add-on) could be useful in a household with children or a business that wants, say, to restrict Facebook access to lunch hours.
Brisbane-based Ozcableguy.com sells the 2860 for $379 in some ISP packages.