by Lammle, Todd
Perhaps one of the better CCNA training devices on the market, the CCNA e-trainer is that rarity in software training: a CD-ROM that's more effective than a book. If you need to study for the exam, and have a date all set, there is practically nothing on the market that compares to this book.
The first thing that you'll notice upon booting the software (be warned: you'll have to install Microsoft's Virtual Java Machine and have an Internet connection if you don't have one already) is an extremely welcome feature: a scheduler. Simply input the date of your test, block off any days that you'll be out of town or unable to study, and take a pretest to check the weak points in your basic Cisco knowledge. The scheduler will pump out a fully formed study plan for you, complete with the amount of time that you'll have to study each day, and the CCNA topics that you need to strengthen--arranged daily--for your reading pleasure; an incredibly nice touch. And, unlike much of the software-based training competition, you can schedule several different people for different tests.
But, if that were all, the package wouldn't be worth anywhere near the $79.99 list price--now, would it? But the software actually is filled with illustrations, narrations, and very well-done animations to show the reader how networking works--unlike many other "testing" packages, which are simply books that have been transferred to software hypertext. Networking is, when you get down to it, a very motion-oriented medium, with packets and datagrams whizzing around every which way; and there are certain topics--like, say, spanning-tree port blocking and VLANs--that can be confusing to the novice, simply because one really needs to see them in action for a while to understand how they work. The e-trainer offers quality animations that show exactly how a broadcast storm stops and starts, or where a switch begins forwarding a frame. A picture is, in cases like this, worth a thousand words.
Not everything is animated, of course--a full two-thirds of the training still involves voluminous amounts of reading--but the text seems, by and large, to have been cribbed from Sybex's bestselling CCNA Study Guide, by Todd Lammle. This is not a slam on the book, because the writing in the Study Guide is among the clearest and easiest to read that you'll find in study guides. You won't have problems understanding the clear (and comprehensive) test. Reading on the screen isn't as comfortable or as portable as reading from a book, naturally, but you'll get the idea, all the same.
When you've finished a section, you'll have to take a test to see how well you did; fortunately, the tests are as grueling as you'll find in any book or software package. There aren't any easy questions here; almost all deal with Cisco's terse (and easily confusable) router commands, and many of them are in the tough "Choose All That Apply" format. If you can pass these tests, you can pass the CCNA with ease--and, while the number of questions isn't spectacular, it suffices. Unfortunately, the feedback on the tests is pretty poor; get a wrong answer in "Practice" mode, and all you'll get is a ping and the chapter that you need to study. Look for more details, and you'll be brought straight to that chapter, without the slightest explanation of what was wrong with your answer. Don't expect to use this package for the test-taking engine alone. However, the way in which the e-trainer keeps records of your scores is well done and very helpful.
Also included is a simple router emulation engine--and it works for simple issues, but isn't nearly as full-fledged as, say, Sybex's CCNA Virtual Lab router emulator package. It serves for memorization purposes--but don't expect to tinker extensively. However, the e-trainer is superior to the Lab in one major aspect: it provides hints and tips for the assigned tasks. If you're unclear on what to do, the "Help" feature will get you through it.
The worst thing about this software is that it's not available yet for other tests. (There are A+ and Network+ e-trainers; but, evidently, they're from an earlier build, because neither is comparable to this.)
To sum up, this is an excellent software-based tutorial that's well worth the money, and serves as that much-desired "one-stop" purchase for you to get your CCNA. If you're under a deadline, work visually, or like tough prep exams, give this one a whirl; you won't regret it. --William Steinmetz
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