GCN LAB REVIEWS
LinkRunner hunts down network setup snafus
Setting up a network for a home office so you can telecommute effectively can be pretty tricky, especially if a problem occurs. Finding the culprit in a faulty connection is like a production of Agatha Christie’s “And Then There Were None.” You just keep eliminating components until you get to the one causing the problem.
And if you don’t have a “known good” version of the piece you are trying to eliminate, then isolating the troublemaker is that much harder. Not everyone has an extra router or managed switch lying around, since it would be a huge expense to buy equipment and not do anything with it. And really, who has room to store all of that anyway?
If that sounds like you, then the LinkRunner AT 2000 Network Auto-Tester from Fluke Networks could be right up your alley. It is a handheld device that can quickly isolate network connectivity problems. Although it weighs only 1 pound, 1 ounce and measures 8.5 inches by 3.5 inches by 1.75 inches, we can’t really call it pocket-sized unless we count our large lab coat pockets. Still, its portable enough and does not take up much room in your home’s “IT closet.”
Fluke LinkRunner AT 2000 Network Auto-Tester
Pros: Readouts nice and clear; good user interface.
Cons: No notable flaws.
Ease of Use: A-
Price: $1,495 (GSA pricing available)
Wireless access point finder cures network headaches
Once we had it connected to our test network, selecting “switch” produced information (such as make, model and IP number) about the nearest managed switch to the drop we were using. It also showed which port we were connected through as well as the actual duplex and speed the connection was getting.
The “Auto-Test” function is a one-button way to get basic network information with a single press. It gave us the IP addresses of the switch, the gateway and any DNS servers it could find. It also got an IP number for itself since it detected our DHCP server. We were also able to add any URL or IP address we wanted (such as www.gcn.com), and the next time we ran the Auto-Test it included that in its list of things it tried to find. That’s nice if you need to know why a connection to a specific site or place is broken.
Testing cables can be the most frustrating part of physical network trouble-shooting. A single cable can look perfectly fine but can hide broken or crisscrossed wires that make a connection flaky at best. We connected both ends of a cable to the two RJ45 ports of the LinkRunner and ran the cable test. It told us how long the cable was and showed us a diagram of each colored pair of wires. The diagram indicated if one of them was broken, or if any wires were not straight through, a fantastic time saver if you need to see whether you assembled a crossover cable correctly, for instance.
Sometimes overhauling a network involves trying to figure out which drops correspond to which ports on the patch board. LinkRunner can make this much less tedious with Wireview cable identifiers. We just plugged the Wireview into the port at the patch board and connected the LinkRunner to the corresponding drop point.
Cable tests showed the identifier at the other end along with information about the cable connection. Multiple Wireview devices would allow a technician to identify several drop points in one go. This could save literally miles of walking back and forth between the network room and the drops. The AT 2000 model comes with one cable identifier (No. 1), but more are available either separately or with other LinkRunner packages.
We were pleased to see that the LinkRunner supported both copper and fiber cabling. Power-over-Ethernet, and both IPv4 and IPv6 were all supported as well.
We also had the option to save the LinkRunner data into report files. In order to view it properly or print it out however, we needed to install the included LinkRunner Manager Software onto a computer. Then, once we connected the device through a USB port, we could open up and print reports of the data it gathered. Through this program we were also able to back up our saved profiles. These settings ensured that the LinkRunner was ready to test in the same way each time it booted up.
Fluke Networks set the retail price of the LinkRunner AT 2000 at $1,495. Though this price may seem quite high for a handheld tester, the hours and money it could save are likely worth it. There is lower pricing available through many government contracts through selected distributors, but there are too many variables to report any specifics.
The LinkRunner AT 2000 should be a great asset to anyone who is setting up remote networks from scratch, or simply has a large network to maintain. It earns our Reviewer’s Choice designation because it’s the best of its class that we’ve experienced and could easily become an invaluable tool in any technician’s belt.
Fluke Networks, www.flukenetworks.com