HP M220 802.11n AM Access Point review

The HP M220 has just enough security features and just enough speeds for most small businesses. Simply to set up and easy to manage, the HP M220 is a good, choice if you don't need an exhaustive list of security options and price isn't an object.
Photo of HP M220 802.11n AM Access Point

Small and medium-sized businesses have to deal with an increasingly mobile workforce and a growing number of devices that need to be connected to the network. The wireless equation is pretty simple: more devices that need to get on the wireless network means more access points to extend the network coverage. The HP M220 802.11n AM Access Point is the latest business-class access point from HP that is designed to simplify network management and maintenance for SMBs. Its price tag is also on the lower end of the spectrum, which will appeal to small budgets.

As part of the HP FlexNetwork architecture, multiple M220 APs can be deployed on the same network and managed as a single unit. The “clustering” technology allows SMBs to deploy and manage up to 10 network access points as a single entity. Each AP is assigned to a specific channel to reduce interference between adjacent units. HP sent only one access point to the labs for review, so I didn’t evaluate the clustering feature.

Hardware Specifications and Appearance
Intended to be inconspicuous, the M220 is a handy-sized white box that can be mounted on the wall or placed on a flat surface. Measuring 7.62″ x 5 ” x 1.5″ (HWD) and weighing 0.75 pounds, the M220 feels bulkier than other access points we’ve reviewed in the past. The M220 has only one 10/100 Ethernet port to connect to the network and a power port on the back panel. The Ethernet port supports Power-over-Ethernet, which means there is some flexibility as to where you deploy the AP.

The top of the access point has three LED indicators to show signal strength, Ethernet connectivity, and power. The M220 has two internal 2.4/5 Ghz MIMO omni-directional antennas.

The M220 is a dual-band, single-radio 802.11 n device, with 802.11 a/b/g support. Unlike many of its competitiors, the M220 is single-radio, meaning it operates only in the 2.4GHz range or the 5GHz, but not both concurrently. When the M220 is configured for 2.4GHz, all SSIDs broadcast using the same band. It is not possible to have on SSID for 2.4 GHz and another SSID for 5GHz. The M220 supports up to eight SSIDs (one per wireless community). Administrators can also create up to eight VLANs, again, one per wireless community. IEEE 802.1Q VLAN tagging provides security and traffic control between workgroups.

Wireless Distribution System makes it possible to deploy multiple M220 access points on a network without having to plug each one into the switch. This is important because businesses may need to have the access points but not have wired infrastructure nearby.

I was pleased to see that the M220 also supports IPV6, as it is not yet common in SMB access points.

Setup
Setup was straightforward and not so different from most router and wireless access point setup processes. Since I didn’t have a switch supporting power over Ethernet handy, I plugged the access point into the power outlet and plugged an Ethernet cable between the switch’s network port and the single port on the unit.

When I turned on the device, the green light flashed for a few seconds. When the LED was a solid green, I knew the access point was ready. I changed my computer’s IP address to be in the correct range and then pointed my browser to the IP address currently hardcoded onto the device. From the dashboard, which felt extremely dated, by the way, I could create my SSID name, assign it an IP address, change the broadcast band from 2.4Ghz to 5Ghz, and change passwords, among other tasks. The layout of the menu options took a bit of getting used to, and even after a week or so of using the unit, I still find myself sequentially going through each menu in order to find the relevant setting.

The Quick Setup Wizard provides five deployment scenarios to help users determine the best environment the AP will be used in—Next: Management Performance

I still prefer the way Meraki handles all its router and wireless access point setups, with the unit grabbing a firmware update automatically and configuring itself automatically onto the network.

Management
The interface appears fairly clean and bare-bones, but that doesn’t mean the M220 doesn’t have a lot of features. On the contrary, many of the options are buried under sub-menus and in various sub-sections on the page.

I could see usage statistics to see the MAC address of the clients connected to the AP. The rogue AP detection panel was perhaps the most interesting, as it listed all the other APs and routers that it detected in its vicinity. I could mark the ones that I recognized so that it would be saved in the trusted section, and as new routers and APs were added, they were immediately displayed in the rogue section.

Despite being an SMB product, the M220 has plenty of enterprise-class security features. It supports WPA, WPA2, and 802.11i to secure the wireless network, as well as both TKIP and AES encryption for the data. For legacy clients, the M220 supports both 64-bit and 128-bit WEP encryption.

The M220 can be deployed to authenticate users with a RADIUS server with a username or with the system’s MAC address. The wireless client can also be placed on a VLAN determined by the RADIUS server.

I could also turn on bridge client traffic filtering, which means devices associated with the same access point cannot communicate with each other.

Performance
Here at PCMag, we generally have not seen the same throughput rates with business-class APs as with consumer-focused units. Considering that business users generally have different needs and require a number of other features, we tend to not compare performance across business-oriented networking gear with consumer ones, especially those that may be targeted for heavy multimedia-streaming and online gamers.

For performance, I used Ixia’s IxChariot network performance software for throughput testing between two laptops connected to the HP M220. The M220 wasn’t blazing fast, but it performed consistently as I got further and further away from the access point. Even at 30 feet, in a test lab with tons of signal interference, throughput speeds were decent and for most business environments, the M220 delivers satisfactory results.

There is more to a good access point than speedy downloads and uploads, but it’s natural to want a good performer. It’s clear from the chart that the HP M220 is not the fastest access point; in fact it is among the slowest of all the units we’ve seen recently. However, price needs to be considered, since the HP M220 is among the cheaper ones on this list. The HP E-MSM460 is more than double the M220 price tag, and the speeds reflect the price difference, blazing past the M220. On the other hand, the Netgear ProSafe 802.11n Dual-Band Wireless Access Point WNDAP350 and Amped Wireless High Power Wireless-N 600mW Gigabit Dual Band Access Point are both cheaper than the M220 and have far better performance.

Performance for mixed mode on 2.4 GHz was just as sluggish, beginning at 28 Mbps from 5 feet away and dropping to 20 Mbps at 30 feet. In contrast, the 600mW access point from Amped Wireless began with 52 Mbps from 5 feet away, and dropped to 45 Mbps at 30 feet. Throughput helped when the client had line-of-sight of the access point.

Wireless Networking Without the Headaches
The HP M220 provides access to the wireless clients to a wired network in a simple way. Administrators can easily set up multiple SSIDs and keep track of which users are using the network, as well as track all the other access points and routers in the area to ensure there are no rogues trying to trick users into connecting to the malicious access points. Sure, the M220 isn’t the best performing 802.11n access point we’ve seen, but it seems to be “just enough” for most business needs, especially for the price. However, for ease of management and advanced, enterprise-class security, the Meraki M16 remains the Editors’ Choice for business access points.

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Specifications
Quality of Service Yes
Networking Options 802.11g, 802.11a/b, 802.11a/g, 802.11n (2.4+5 GHz Dualband)
Access Control Lists Based on MAC Addresses No
NAT Yes
IPv6 compatible No
Security WEP, WPA, WPA2, WPS (Wi-Fi Protected Setup), WPA2-Enterprise, RADIUS Server
Stateful Packet Inspection Yes
Parental Controls No

Verdict
The HP M220 has just enough security features and just enough speeds for most small businesses. Simply to set up and easy to manage, the HP M220 is a good, choice if you don't need an exhaustive list of security options and price isn't an object.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc