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Reg Hardware Gizmo Week logo small There can’t be many Reg Hardware readers who don’t have a home network. In fact, these days you’d have to look hard indeed to find an ISP that sells its connection as strictly single PC only and just tosses in a USB modem rather than some sort of router. A decade or so ago, just about any …

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Anonymous Coward

Are there any issues with powerline networking in a house with solar panels?

(This is probably a really dumb question, hence a/c)

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I have solar panels and wind turbines to supplement my electricity consumption.

If you are using batteries, then as long as you can switch from one grid to another (from the national grid to your batteries) then it shouldn't make a big deal.

But, to be honest, you probably wouldn't be running your home grid with batteries in use at the same time as you are connected to the national grid.

I use Devolo adapters, and there is not degradation in speed or connectivity.

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I have grid-based solar panels, and they've made no discernable difference to my powerline network.

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Silver badge

Biggest problem I had with powerline ethernet was the BT supplied infinity modem.

It came with such cheap nasty PSU that simply plugging it in caused my Zyxel powerline ethernet to lose sync and stop working.

I outed their PSU and used a better one.

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Pint

Solar Driven

My experience was that It was an issue if the powerpoints were in the same mains run as the Ethernet over Power circuit (in my case the solar panels and attempted Ethernet shared a cable from a shed to the main building). Other circuits are working fine.

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Anonymous Coward

ousted

outed is different

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5Ghz problem

The major reason 5Ghz equipment hasn't made an impact at home is its poor wall penetration. 5Ghz is fine for an open room like a cafe or bar, however in a multi-room home with a router hidden in the under-stairs its not going to be a saving grace for wifi.

Longer term the wifi standard needs to include negotiation with competing base stations.

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Re: 5Ghz problem

Yes, penetration can be a problem though I find that even with my thick concrete rendered brick walls, the 5GHz signal penetrates all the way across the flat, and it's not positioned centrally.

Yes, the signal is weaker than the 2.4 by the time it reaches my laptop, but the lack of competing networks means the performance is still better.

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Silver badge

Re: 5Ghz problem

Put an airport express or similar in every room and connect them together with cable.

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Devil

Re: 5Ghz problem

More APs is not the answer, more APs is usually the problem.

If you have an AP per room there is no way in hell you can have a sane frequency plan even if you tinfoil every room (and ground the tinfoil). Unless you live in a one bedroom flat of course.

I have an AP on my work network, an AP on my router (which goes into the DMZ I should really turn off) and an AP on my home network. That fills the 2.4 band chock-a-block in 20m radius. 5GHz is slightly better (more channels) but it will get filled up before you furnish an average house.

In any case - you are better off with a design taken out of the cellular book - sucky (but reliable) 2.4 "umbrella" with the power to the MAX to cover the whole property and "microcells" - 5GHz APs with the power to the MIN to cover only spots where you are likely to need more bandwidth - office, sitting room, etc.

The article misses one of the biggest annoyances in a home network - PAUSE frames. WiFi is all good, but the APs are connected with something and this is nearly always a variety of Ethernet. Pause frames destroy any multimedia use and will appear in most mixed 100MB/1G and some pure 1G environments. After having to debug this a couple of times I now put "pause disable" as a key requirement for any new 1G gear. If it does not have it, it does not enter the house.

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Linux

Dual-band confusion

My Gentoo Linux desktop is actually my wireless router. I used to use the freebie USB adapter that came with my old Netgear router but after a year or so, it started to overheat frequently, probably because it was doing something it was never designed to do. After that, I bought the D-Link DWA-556 and I have to say it's been excellent. It has 802.11n but I haven't tried that yet because none of my devices support it. It's 2.4GHz only but that's okay because I can only see one or two other networks in this quiet Scottish suburb. What really confused me when I bought it was why I couldn't seem to find any dual-band PCI devices when there were plenty of dual-band routers out there. Eventually it dawned on me. Dual-band routers effectively have two adapters. I would need two cards. Bugger that. Maybe it's obvious to some but it's worth pointing out.

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Anonymous Coward

Gigabit Cable

Its worth noting that when moving from 100Mbps to Gigabit cabling that in the real world network performance will be limited by the speed of the hard drives and OS overheads. Especially if you are using a cheap NAS.

For me going from 100Mbps to Gigabit only doubled transfer speeds to around 20MBytes/s.

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Re: Gigabit Cable

It's also worth pointing out that a (significant) number of cheaper Gigabit switches appear to be broken with respect to multicast traffic. Typical symptom is that your DLNA server disappears when you switch to Gigabit networking as DLNA depends on multicast working.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Gigabit Cable

Oh multicast is a whole can of worms. Most home switches, and quite a lot of expensive "pro" office ones just don't support it correctly.

We use multicast extensively for work and have to be careful to isolate various parts of the network from MC manually. If we don't then the Cisco IP telephones go mad, our wireless AP's drop off the radar, etc etc.

One of my first uses for the incoming Raspberry Pi (with an extra USB eth) is as a MC filter to place behind the WiFi AP. We only need G, so it should manage that okay.

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Re: Gigabit Cable

The main overhead is the NAS and possibly the transfer protocol you're using. Most cheaper NASes are actually slow enough in hardware terms that they can't get past - as you saw - 20MiB/s or so. But that's the NAS, not the disks. Even boring old spinning disks can bulk transfer much faster than that.

If you actually need faster speeds, you need a faster NAS. Either build one from parts with a proper x86 CPU, and run FreeNAS or something on it, or buy a higher-end box. http://www.smallnetbuilder.com/ seems to be a rather useful site for comparing different NAS boxes; they've reviewed a lot of them, and provide comparison charts. You can see a _big_ drop-off in performance from high-end, Atom-based boxes (yes, for consumer NAS, an Atom CPU is high-end...) like the Synology DS-710+ down to Marvell SoC-based boxes, which make up the bulk of the low end.

It is worth asking yourself if you really need that performance, though. 25MiB/sec is usually enough for most purposes. It's perfectly fine for streaming HD, for instance.

NFS is usually faster than SMB, if you have Linux clients.

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Silver badge

Re: Gigabit Cable

For home use, an old x86 would seem to be the way to go over what appears to be outrageously priced NAS hosts, especially if you do strip/mirror rather than RAID5. Yes it will chew more power, but how much uptime does several hundred pounds buy you? I keep the noise level down by poking a hole from the kitchen into the garage and putting the kit there.

I have mythtv running with dual HD tuners (silicon dust) on an athlon xp 1500 on a single 7.2k disk. It struggles a bit with 3 HD streams, but is fine for the most part. I actually prefer the SD channels as they are faster to transcode for tablet consumption and seeking.

As usual, greater facilities beget greater demands. I'm planning a striped system to support Win7/iscsi for my gaming host. I'll probably run dual gigabit cables and upgrade the storage CPU for that one. That will be a fun exercise!

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Pint

Re: Gigabit Cable

Indeed, I suffered from this when I got a Gigabit WD MyBook, which is now consigned to the Shame(d) Shelf. To ensure you invest in a good NAS, I would recommend http://www.smallnetbuilder.com for your research.

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Silver badge

Re: Gigabit Cable

Ha! Glad I'm not the only one who accidentally bought a one of those WD MyBooks. I don't know what I was thinking. Mine too is now sitting on a shelf, long since replaced by a proper computer acting as my home server. I bought an AMD Hudson M1 motherboard for about a £100 (comes with pre-installed, fanless APU). It sips power in the lightest of ways and comes with 5 SATA 6GB/s ports. I have two RAID-1 arrays in there and it serves data incomparably faster than my old WD MyBook ever did. I should stick a couple of cheap hard drives in the MyBook and see if I can flog it, but I doubt I'd recover the cost of the drives.

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Hmmm

Draytek make some great routers.

Would be nice to see some Microtik & Ubiquiti products in here.

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Thumb Up

Re: Hmmm

Happy draytek 2800 user here too - 6 years on one unit and counting. My only regret is that you really need an fxo port for voip and they don't appear to do consumer voip with an 8 port gigabit switch.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Hmmm

I love Draytek routers! We went through so many different routers in the office, from cheapy d-link to expensive managed cisco routers. Finally we stumbled across Draytek and that's all I use now!

I especially like their dual-wan routers, the different configuration options and bandwidth management is just amazing. The routers also have great restriction management for handling what users can and can't do, how fast they can do it, QoS and so on.

Yes a lot of this stuff is also available in DDWRT flashed routers but in my experience those routers crash a lot and DDWRT isn't as configurable and friendly as the Draytek firmware (not out of the box anyway, perhaps you can get the similar configuration after days in a terminal)

Although saying that, I do use a 2TB airport extreme at home now. The power and convenience of simultaneously running 2.4ghz and 5ghz and automated backups with timemachine was just too much. Especially when I got it at 10% discount. For a home user, it's perfect, but for a business it would be rubbish, there's practically no configuration available.

I also operate a draytek at home as a second router which provides free wifi. It's perfect for the job since I can specify exactly what users can and can't do and how fast they can do those things.

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Boffin

Separate Router And Switch

In my experience, broadband being faster than the LAN is not an issue. Maybe if you live in London it can be though?

My main issue has mostly been that the routers I've been given / bought are generally only 100Mbps so it slows down transfers between PCs quite a lot.

To combat this I bought a budget but still decent stand alone switch to connect all the PCs and 1 port used for the router. And it's wonderful :) (Wireless still comes from the router but that's slow anyway).

Also - I ran a cable from the study (where the kit is) to the living room, in the wall. It's so much better than trailing cable down stairs. And for neatness - put cables under the carpet (there's usually a big enough gap under the skirting board for a good few network cables.

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Re: Separate Router And Switch

Not just London, though obviously if you have BT Infinity or one of Virgin's recent upgrades, it's more likely.

However it can be a potential problem for those who are using their laptop, say, with a cheap ISP-supplied wireless router in a built up area. Especially if they then do something reckless like plugging in a 'b' device. That 'b' device alone might drag the speed down to around 5Mbps max, even without local wireless congestion slowing things further.

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Silver badge

Re: Separate Router And Switch

Indeed. 100mb is even available all the way up here in carlisle (independent ISP called smallworld - 100mb is still technically a trial but it you are on 50mb with them they will bump you on the trial if you ask nicely)

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Silver badge

Just a shame...

...that the likes of Virgin do not permit you you connect your own router to the network. Yes, I know about "modem mode" but that means having to run two devices when one would do the job.

I've also done @Semaj's trick of having a separate switch, although in my case it's just for the office.

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Re: Just a shame...

"...that the likes of Virgin do not permit you you connect your own router to the network. "

Is this something new, speed and/or Tivo related ? I've never had, let alone used, a router from Virgin - which is fine by me as I would tend to use my own kit anyway - but then again i've always had the base speed (0.5Mb/s when I started, soon to 20Mb/s).

If you have to use their gear, is there an up-link connection on their stuff to act as a pass-through ?

I ask as 'm considering a jump or two up in speeds and don't want to be unpleasantly surprised...

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Meh

Re: Just a shame...

I'm with Virgin but on their cheapest package, and have a separate cable modem that plugs into my router - two devices. Presumably even if you wanted to use your own router you would still need the modem part and hence have two devices. Can you even get combined modem/router boxes like Virgin's (for reasonable prices)?

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Re: Just a shame...

For faster speeds on Virgin's notwork, you need to have the new 'super modem' which has a built in router - much like the standard ADSL type.

I think the BigYin's problem is that you have to have their modem/router, even if you just use it as a passthrough for a decent router - hence the comment about 2 devices.

I found my Virgin supplied router to be quite poor and have a separate DSL router plugged into it, to run my network.

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Re: Just a shame...

Virgin now do two boxes - a 'hub' and a 'superhub' I think they call them.

The old modem+router has been done away for a Netgear with their connection which has 100mbps ethernet whilst their 30mbps+ products get a gigabit router.

It's a bit of a cheek, if you ask me, so I still run a router (gigabit) infront of their box and get double-Natting, which is annoying.

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Re: Just a shame...

with some ISPs you can call up and, if you get a clueful enough tech, ask them to flash such boxes into 'bridge mode', in which they act as dumb modems, not routers.

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Re: Just a shame...

I believe that with the VM "SuperHub" you can set it into "dumb modem" mode via its webpage setup interface. Probably something I'll have to sort out in a couple of months when I get upgraded to the 60Mb/s service ... I'm currently on the original 20Mb/s "XL" speed as when they moved XL to 30Mb/s my "free upgrade" involved paying £50 for a "superhub" which at that time seemed to have a fairly dire reputation + could not be used as a pure modem. Since then I think things sound better + they introduced modem mode and from what I gather a superhub is now a free part of the upgrade as they want to shift everyone to the latest cable standard so they can free the bandwidth used by us 20Mb holdouts!

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Silver badge

Re: Just a shame...

I've not been a Virgin customer for log (so you'd be better off checking with them directly) but AIUI you *must* use their SuperHub for cable broadband (i.e. 30meg+).

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Re: Just a shame...

The Virgin superhubs are a lot better now that the modem mode option has been added... I just wish there were an option to turn all the lighting off on it as it lights up the room like a Christmas tree.

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Re: Just a shame...

That's why God invented electrical tape.

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Thumb Up

I bought a new wireless-n capable router but was quite surprised when my N devices (all two of them) didn't run any faster than a reported 56Mbps. Turns out the G devices were dragging the speeds down for everyone else.

The only solution I could find was to let the router provide the N network and drag my old router out of retirement to provide a G network to the same network. It seems to work quite well - N devices connect to mynetwork-n and everything else connects to mynetwork, but I did have to do tonnes of fiddling around with InSSIDer to find two free channels far enough away from other networks to work properly.

There was also a "black spot" around channel 2 or 3 where if I set my router to broadcast on that channel I could no longer see it at all. I can only assume there's some kind of other device broadcasting interferance in that range.

Future expansion, perhaps when I get a "smart" box for my TV, will probably be HomePlug-based although I'm a little worried as my router and whatnot are on an extension lead and there's no second socket for a HomePlug - I'm going to have to take my chances plugging the HomePlug into a socket on the extension lead I think.

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I have a HomePlug in the bedroom that's in an extension strip, and it works just fine for the devices in there - IP camera, SIP phone and audio streamer.

Then again, in the living room, HomePlug performance was much worse when plugged into the switched spur that drives all the AV kit than when plugged in to the ring main at the point where the spur comes off it.

So you may have to experiment to get the best results, but extension leads don't automatically kill the signal.

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Silver badge

re. extension strip

I too have run a Homeplug from an extension strip with laptop and other devices plugged in, with no apparent problems (I had a short network cable and was too lazy to find a longer one). You could do some simple speed comparison tests if you had any worries about performance.

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Another good one for troublesome wireless

Is a mesh. I installed a couple of boxes from http://www.openmesh-uk.com at £70 linked by a cable, one on each floor. Works a treat, handoff between them is fine, and they have nice features like auto-reboot when it detects a problem.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Another good one for troublesome wireless

If you've connected them with a cable, what meshing feature are you using? AFAIK the only benefit of a mesh type wireless network is that the access points can talk to each other, so you don't need to have a wired connection to each one. In fact on the site you link to it says "The routers that are disconnected will form wireless mesh links with the other routers and the gateway" which suggests that the meshing function only activates once the wired link is removed.

I'm not aware of any technology which allows a generic wi fi client (e.g. a laptop) to roam completely seamlessly between access points as it moves into range of each one - the protocol simply wasn't designed with that in mind, unlike say GSM.

I would love to be proved wrong though - I have 3 access points in my house, and even though they all use the same SSID and security credentials devices still simply will not reliably move between them...

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Gold badge

Re: Another good one for troublesome wireless

"I'm not aware of any technology which allows a generic wi fi client (e.g. a laptop) to roam completely seamlessly between access points as it moves into range of each one - the protocol simply wasn't designed with that in mind, unlike say GSM."

Now I may be wrong, but I'm sure I've seen a network where all the APs pretend to be a single AP, and the clients just think they are always talking to a single AP, and the individual APs do all the handover between them.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Another good one for troublesome wireless

If you can dig out a link, product, etc then I would be overjoyed!

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Re: Another good one for troublesome wireless

It's called WDS: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wireless_Distribution_System

Implementations might not be compatible across different WIFI APs, but if you build a network with all the same kit, it'll probably work. Note that I haven't tested this at all, since one high-powered AP can cover my whole house quite nicely.

As for devices, you may not be in the right country, but I rather like the devices offered here: http://www.wlanparts.com/category/wlan.access_points/

As for my network - I've got a policy against using wifi for anything that isn't mobile, so I'm running CAT6A everywhere (slowly.) I'll be ready when 10gbit kit gets semi-affordable. And yes, I need it, because my (rather old) fileserver can manage a sequential read speed over 500MB/s, and I can't stand waiting for transfers that are bottlenecked down to 112MB/s. Also, it's important for me to have the biggest toys.

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Re: Another good one for troublesome wireless

Late reply, sorry.

The mesh hardware (linked to in my previous comment) is designed to cover hotels, marinas and that sort of thing, with multiple APs linked by cable or a 5Ghz backbone, and present a single SSID. So as far as the client is concerned it's all one network. I'm not sure of the technical details but there's nothing fancy on the client (just regular laptop).

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Thumb Up

I've just bought a couple of powerline plugs because we've got fed up with the Netgear DGN1000 router that keeps blocking data intermittently (even though the connection strength remains good). Loved the idea of that Solway wall socket with 4 port switch built in, but £108 plus VAT makes it a 'business only' purchase - I'd buy it at half that, but no more (if you're reading this, Solway).

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Anonymous Coward

DGN1000 is hell in a little black box

As a visit to their forums will tell you. The disconnect between the wireless side and the ADSL side seems to be an endemic problem. And when connected, speed is low.

Strangely, it seems to be the router of choice that Orange is handing out for home users.

I draped CAT5e behind the furniture so our laptops could be connected. Fortunately a clear-out of unused kit at work means I now have a Netgear Prosafe WAP box on extended loan for my home wireless. Variable power output, dual frequencies and a dozen SSIDs if I need it.

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Alert

108 quid and no power switch on the mains socket?!!

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Silver badge
Go

Forgot the obvious

Chuck the rubber ducky antenna out and put a proper one on there. Even a small humble N access point will be able to broadcast through reinforced concrete walls (especially if they have the metal "faraday cage esq" framework).

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Silver badge

Re: Forgot the obvious

Can you give any links for 'proper' antennae please Danny?

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Re: Forgot the obvious

Presumably the OP means things like this

http://www.amazon.co.uk/TP-Link-TL-ANT2408CL-2-4GHz-Omni-Directional-Antenna/dp/B002VYP5QW/ref=pd_cp_computers_3

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