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Firewalla Gold review: A router, network protector and more for the smart home

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Last summer, I reviewed the Firewalla Blue, a small connected box that promised to help monitor and secure my smart home. I was very impressed by the device back then so when the company offered to loan me their new Firewalla Gold product, I jumped on the opportunity. Having used Firewalla Gold for the last two weeks, I’m even more impressed with the expanded features. They do, however, come at a cost.

I say that upfront because while the Firewalla Blue could be purchased for as low as $ 109, you’ll have to shell out $ 419 for Firewalla Gold, and that’s an early-bird special on Indigogo. The full retail price will hit $ 499 after early orders close.

I’ll explain what you get for the larger price tag shortly; first, let me recap what Firewalla devices do.

What is Firewalla?

These are ethernet connected boxes that are attached to your home network and offer a wide range of features:

  • Details of all home network traffic, including the countries, domains, and IP addresses of servers receiving your device data.
  • Browser traffic information
  • Built-in whole home ad blocking
  • A no-fee VPN server for using public networks away from home
  • Internet and app usage controls
  • Family settings including auto-blocking of violent or porn sites, safe search, and a social hour feature that blocks all social networking apps for one hour
  • Automatic scans for open network ports that could be exploited by hackers

The Firewalla Blue device was much smaller than the Gold unit I’ve been testing. There are a few reasons for that. 

Firewalla Gold vs Firewalla Blue

First, the Gold product is the first Firewalla that’s actually a wired router. You don’t have to use the router function but I did, connecting my FiOS line directly to the back of the Firewalla Gold. I also set the router up to act as a DHCP server so it could assign IP addresses to our phones, tablets, TVs, and smart devices. 

Second, the Gold unit can handle much more network bandwidth: up to 3 Gbps. Firewalla Blue tops out at 500 Mbps. That generally wasn’t an issue with my 1 Gbps FiOS connection and wireless devices, but the new Firewalla Gold can handle the full bandwidth of our home internet and network speeds.

Third, to add all of the routing functionality, the Firewalla Gold has more powerful hardware inside. Instead of a Quad-Core 1.0 GHz 64bit ARM processor, 1 GB of RAM and a 16 GB microSD card like the Blue model has, the Gold uses a Quad-Core 64bit Intel chip, 4 GB of memory, and 32 GB of onboard SSD storage.

Image courtesy Firewalla

Firewalla Gold also supports the setup of virtual LANs and network segmentation, which can be very useful for separating and protecting your smart home devices from standard internet usage.

Image courtesy Firewalla

Put another way, this isn’t just a minor upgrade; it’s an entirely new product that retains, and even adds to, the functionality of the prior model.

Setup and usage

As far as the setup process, it took just a few minutes using the Firewalla mobile app, which is available for both Android and iOS. In the app, I chose the router setup and then connected one of my Samsung SmartThings WiFi units to the back of the Firewalla Gold. 

Other than telling the app what type of ISP I had and that I wanted the router to be a DHCP server, the device basically set itself up. And once my mesh Wi-Fi units regained their connection to the internet, all of my smart home devices were back online, with two small exceptions. I did have to soft reset my hardwired smart TV to release the old IP address it had and I also had to reboot the base station for my Wyze Outdoor Cam. 

I wasn’t able to test the VPN server away from home due to the pandemic situation, but for everything else I did with Firewalla Gold, it works as advertised.

Just as I saw all the minute details of my network traffic with the Firewalla Blue, the Gold showed the same. And I learned a little more about my smart devices because of it. 

Network data from my June Oven

None of my connected cameras, bulbs, or locks were sending data to servers outside the U.S., so that’s good. When I tested the prior model, there were a few instances of servers overseas that got my device data. 

Additionally, I received an alert of an abnormal upload from a Samsung device in the early morning. When checking details, I saw that it was a 1.4 GB upload, which surprised me. It took me a few minutes but I then realized that my SmartThings WiFi units work with Plume software, which routinely tests network speeds. I shut the auto-test feature off on the Samsung wireless units; even though I don’t have a data cap, there’s no need to waste 50 GB or more of bandwidth each month.

Sometimes I got alerts for other possible network traffic issues. The nice part about that is with the latest Firewalla app, you can check what company owns the domain of the receiving server with one tap. That’s handy as sometimes alerts will show a device name that you don’t recognize.

Depending on your home network, the devices you own, and how often they’re used, the Firewalla app can be “noisy”. By that, I mean dozens of alerts in a day. You can easily review them and decide to mute similar alerts from the same devices but it can take a little time. After my first week of use, I have the alerts configured so that I’m not getting many notifications at all.

I was able to block certain devices from the network at the touch of a button, which briefly upset my wife since it was her iPhone that lost connectivity. And the social networking apps block worked just fine for me too; that test got my son a little riled up. Such is the life of living in a protected smart home.

Adblocking also worked without fail across every device in the home when I enabled it. And when testing my home network speeds, I saw no difference before and after I installed the Firewalla Gold thanks to the faster throughput capabilities. I did add a new smart device for testing and immediately received a Firewalla alert to tell me about it. I allowed the device to connect, of course, but if I didn’t recognize such a device, I could block its access. 

Should you buy it?

All in all, Firewalla Gold is a superb solution to protect your connected devices and your internet access. It also explains in detail, probably more than you might want, what your home is connecting to. Perhaps best of all, everything happens locally on the device so the company doesn’t get any of your data. And if you decide to use the VPN server while at home, your ISP can’t see your traffic or data on their network either.

Is Firewalla Gold worth the price? While that’s a personal decision, I’d say yes if you want to make sure you know where your smart home data is going.

You could get that functionality with the less expensive Firewalla Blue but the ability to use Firewalla Gold as a whole home router with much faster throughput capabilities plus support for virtual and segmented networks make it worth the price to me.

The post Firewalla Gold review: A router, network protector and more for the smart home appeared first on Stacey on IoT | Internet of Things news and analysis.

Stacey on IoT | Internet of Things news and analysis

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