It's been a few months since we had a serious discussion about home networking. I've just had to rebuild much of my network, and thought I'd share my experiences with current products and configurations.
I just moved to Texas, but a week before the move, a mega-thunderstorm burned out a bunch of my electronic equipment. On the trash heap following that:
- Cable modem - owned by the cable company, so no loss to me
- Router - these are cheap, but I lost the whole DHCP configuration, and getting all this stuff configured again will be a pain
- 8-port gigabit switch - oddly, about half the ports still work, but I don't trust it anymore
- DLink NAS
- Desktop computer's NIC
- One DirecTV PVR's NIC
- PhonePower VoIP adapter - after the hit, it started to generate so much heat that its plastic case is warping
- An HDMI switch connected to my TV, of all things
The NJ house I moved out of, I'd completely wired for ethernet before WiFi was a real option. The new house in TX doesn't have that, and TX houses don't have basements, making new wiring too much of a headache.
Getting myself back onto the net was the first task. I decided that in the long run it would be cheaper to buy my own cable modem
(it'll pay for itself in 1.5 years, and with buried cables in my new town, there's minimal chance of its destruction). I went for the fastest I could find, a Motorola Surfboard
, but really, any DOCSIS 3.0 would do. I had to let Time Warner Cable know the MAC address (their horrible customer service could fill another lengthy post). I subscribed to 50Mbps service (up from the 15Mbps maximum I could get in NJ), partly because the wife will be working from home, and will need plenty of bandwidth for that. I'm glad to report that the actual, measured bandwidth from TWC is slightly higher than that, even in prime time.
I also had a cheapo WiFi router in a box, which I'm currently limping along with until I can get better. That got me bootstrapped to where I could at least function.
The PhonePower VoIP adapter
was easy. I called them, and had a new adapter in two days, minus $15 shipping. And it's pretty cool that I can just plug in here in TX, and still have the same phone number.
Since I don't have ethernet wiring, and don't want to be tied down to WiFi speeds, I needed a way to move the signal around. I'd previously used powerline adapters
to good effect, and found that they've gotten faster in recent years. With three pairs of 500Mbps TP-Link Powerline Adapters
, I can get the data into almost every room. I really like these things. They're super-easy to set up, and although they don't really provide the whole advertised 500Mbps, they're still a lot better than WiFi.
To get a wired connection to the damaged desktop, I needed to free a slot (the NIC had been on the motherboard). Who needs a phone modem these days? That card went in the garbage, with a spare gigabit NIC
in its place.
The biggest challenge so far was the NAS. I had planned for the future by using RAID drives, but in fact both drives were intact; it was the NAS itself that was dead. And with no device to read the RAID array (and this being an older, discontinued model), I had no good way to get the data off the drives. Luckily I'd made a backup onto a portable drive just a week prior, in anticipation of my move, so data loss was trivial.
To replace the NAS Server
, I got a Synology DS-212j
. This is in the process of being discontinued (there's one lesson I didn't learn), so they're relatively cheap. I stuck the drives from the original NAS into this. I'm *very* impressed with this device. I don't know if there's anything special about the hardware, but they've obviously put a ton of effort into the software. Its configuration and management tools are just orders of magnitude nicer and easier to use than anything else I've ever seen. And the first thing I was able to do with it was plug that portable drive into its own USB jack, and copy off my backup (at this point I hadn't swapped out the desktop's NIC, and I really didn't want to push that much data through WiFi!)
One of the slick things about the Synology system is that it supports add-in applications (I know other vendors off this as well, but not with such an easy-to-use repository as Synology offers). And one thing I wanted to accomplish was to run a media server, to replace an old server that I'd decided not to bring to TX with me. Synology lets you install a Plex server
with just a couple of clicks. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to get the Plex server working for remote access from my Android.
I think the reason I can't get that remote access running is because of the network configuration in that crappy router I'm using. In particular, it doesn't give me sufficient control of DHCP to ensure that things live in the network where I want them to be. So I've got on order a new, better router
, a NetGear WNDR3700
(another product near end of lifecycle, that you can get relatively cheap). It's supposed to have very good radios, to allow for access out in the backyard, or to support the wife's multifunction printer thingy in her office (which only offers WiFi connection, no wires allowed). I plan to install DD-WRT
onto it (which I also had back on the old router in NJ), so I'll have pretty much complete control over the network.
I wasn't able to replace the DirecTV receiver - the technician wouldn't go up on the roof to install the dish, and couldn't guarantee that the signal strength would reach the box if he stuck the dish onto the side of the house. So now I've got a whole-house HD DVR
system from TWC (again, with the nightmare customer service). Years ago, before HD, I had TiVos. Those were better than the DirecTV DVRs. And those DirecTV boxes were way better than the TWC boxes. They're awful! Clunky user interface, intentional crippling of features like 30-second skip, and again, their awful customer service, make me regret this part of my decisions.
The last bit is that pesky HDMI switch. The only reason I had it in the first place was because my old AV receiver
doesn't support HDMI at all. Rather then spend a money for the particular weird setup I'd need for that, I tossed out the receiver and got a new one, a Pioneer VSX-822-K
. So now I've got a complete, integrated switching system, making the wiring much, much, simpler.
In the past, I'd use a weird off-brand networked video box to get access to my music and video library. I thought I could use DLNA
in the new AV receiver to get access to the library. But DLNA sucks. It doesn't need to, but I've yet to find any implementation of it that's anything close to usable with a large library. With hundreds of artists in my music collection, just paging through the list of artists is too painful. So while this *should* be a feature of the new system, in fact it's not usable at all. The old no-name video network box lives on.
If anyone's at all interested in this ramble, I'll report back when I've got the new router set up. And maybe I'll come up with another alternative rather than DLNA. I've been thinking about getting a Raspberry Pi to run either Plex or XBMC on.(edit: I included a bunch of links to products in Amazon. These aren't affiliate links, I just wanted to give folks a way to look at specs.)