SMC "SMCWAPS-G" Storage/802.11g Access Point

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Not so long ago I purchased a Belkin F5D7230-4 access point new in the box at a pawn shop. This seemed like a sweet little unit and just what I was looking for. While I'd like to put a customized release of Linux on an AP this isn't actually necessary to me, it only (potentially) provides additional functionality, so the Belkin unit was a potentially acceptable solution. Unfortunately, it demonstrated an inability to provide long uptimes (read: it locked up a lot) so I had to look for a replacement.

One one of my regular jaunts to Computer Geeks I came across the SMC SMCWAPS-G. This is an 802.11g access point with storage capabilities; it supports an internal 2.5 inch ATA disk, and two USB2 storage devices. The system runs Linux, and the GPL-mandated source releases (everything you need to build the same system that comes with the unit, supposedly) is included on a CD which comes in the box. Also in the box I got was a quick start poster which instructed me to load documentation from the CD (it wasn't there) and a strange power adapter which must be intended for some exotic foreign land. It also included an adapter for connecting it to our style of outlet, which didn't work.

This kind of thing is typical of purchasing strange bargain electronics, however, and should not be considered representative of the typical user experience. I ended up plugging an Iomega Zip power supply into it; same plug and voltage, one-third the current capacity. I don't have a notebook drive in the unit, and this should probably be fine unless I install one (or try to use some bus-powered USB2 storage device, which seems like a very bad idea.) After connecting the adorable little antenna, the unit is ready for business; plug it into an ethernet port via the included 3' CAT5 patch and request a DHCP lease, and you can connect to it on 192.168.2.10.

The unit does have one immediately apparent failing, which is that it doesn't support WPA2. It does however support both WPA and WEP, with or without 802.1x. The next is that the two USB ports are side-by-side and quite close together. I intended to do a test by plugging in two USB keys, but I couldn't plug them both in. Another is that the GPL source code build system included on the CD in the box will not work with any system, because rather than symlinks the CD got a number of empty files. Obviously SMC doesn't understand how to build an ISO image. While it is almost certainly possible to make the system they deliver work, you can also download the build system from their website. It weighs in at 150 MB, which is annoying and offensive since this system is just a 486 with 32MB memory. There's no reason, in other words, why you should need a custom-built cross-compiler.

Authentication options for file sharing are also extremely limited. You are restricted to a limit of five users whose passwords are stored in plaintext, and shown in plain text when editing users. There is of course no access control as to who can manipulate what files, so out of the box this system will work only for the most basic purposes. Before turning on authentication everything worked great, but after turning on user authentication and logging in, I found myself receiving access denied errors. The system apparently does not recognize that a flash drive is equivalent to a hard drive, and so I can not use the "Disk Utility" or for that matter configuring share-level security options using a flash drive as a test. There is no particular reason why this should be so; flash and hard disk devices are accessed via the same USB storage driver.

I'll have more to say about this unit after I manage to get the 150MB of code downloaded, and start trying to build it. My rationale for purchasing it was that I could upgrade the software, and I plan to more properly install Samba and some other goodies to make the syste much more secure and in fact useful.

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