Networking

I have been meaning to post something about my home network for a while but I was finally urged to do it because I got a new network switch that improves the whole network dramatically and because friend of the show KT expressed interest. SO, here it is, my home network:

The internet comes into the house through a cable modem supplied by the fine folks at Comcast. The modem has a built in wifi router but I don't use this for wifi because there's a tiny little antenna in the inside of the plastic case and no good way to boost that signal. And it sits in my office in one corner of the house so that signal would be pretty awful everywhere but in the office. Since the modem web dashboard won't let me just turn the wifi off I password protected it and set it to not broadcast it's name so it doesn't even show up on wifi network lists.

The cable modem does have a decent enough router in it so I let it assign all the local IP addresses and do DNS for all of the connected devices. Comcast does do that weird re-direct to their search page for mistyped url addresses but since every modern web browser uses the address bar as the search bar mistypes just get routed to Google.com. And I've found that their DNS is fast enough that I don't notice much difference from when I put custom DNS settings in the old ethernet router - more on that below. It's just microseconds, anyway.

A quick note about the crappy schematic above... From the cable modem through to all devices a solid line denotes ethernet (Cat5 or better) cable and dotted lines are wifi connections.

The cable modem connects to my home network through a Netgear 8-port Gigabit switch. I had been using a TP-LINK TL-R860 ethernet router here, but I found that either the fact that it was only a 10/100 speed router or that signals were going through two routers, my speeds to the internet – and those across the home network – were limited. My favorite podcast co-host can tell you of my frustrations with latency in connecting to the internet. By the time I changed to the switch I was restarting the TP-LINK router more than once a day.

Changing to the switch to connect everything also increased speeds between devices on the network - Apple TV to Mac Mini, Mac to network storage - by at least three times. It is nice that all but the biggest movies stored in iTunes on my Mac start almost instantly on the Apple TV. And my backups to my network storage are super fast now.

In my office I have three devices connected directly to the switch. First, and most boring, is my work PC. It's a PC. Nothing else to say about that. Then I have my Mac mini. This machine is really the hub for everything. I have all of our music, movies, and photos on it. It is also where I control all of the backups of everything (much more about backups in an upcoming post) and where I record and edit the podcast. I actually have all of the podcast files on the next device, the network attached storage, for when I eventually get a MacBook Air, so that I can easily access and edit those files without having to be stuck here in the office.

On to the NAS. I have used so many different devices for storage, from external USB drives, to firewire RAID arrays, to a drive at my parent's house synced over CrashPlan and they all kind of sucked. Finally I decited to go ahead and get something that would just work and stay working. I bought a Lacie 5big Network 2. It's a network attached RAID device that holds five hard drives and manages the RAID for me. Currently I have five one terabyte drives in it and with the RAID management that gives me about 3.6 TB of usable space. That's divided up amongst a couple of backups and a storage folder where I have some files I wanted temporarily off the Mac mini (for space reasons) and all of the podcast files as mentioned above. I do have a USB drive attached to the Mac mini for backing up the NAS (I am very data paranoid) but those details will wait for an upcoming backups post.

For the rest of my network I have to thank the contractors that built my house. I'm not really sure why but they wired the house with Cat5 instead of regular phone cable. And there is an accessible hub box in the garage so I can rewire it to control where the signals go. This let me take a Cat5 cable from the switch to the jack in the wall of my office and route that signal through the walls and garage to the room where we have our entertainment center. From the jack in that wall I have a Cat5 going to an ASUS wifi router.

The awesome thing about this router, the RT-N66U, which I actually didn't find out about until after I had it for a while, it how customizable it is. First, you can turn off the router part of it completely by switching it to Access Point mode. This makes all devices connected to it, whether ethernet or wifi, find a router upstream for an IP address and DNS info and such. Also, the antennas on this ASUS router are replaceable. So I've removed one and attached a higher power antenna from Super Power Supply. It's huge and my wife hates it but it gives a great wifi signal throughout most of the house and her iPhone and work computer never have trouble connecting.

Connected via wifi are our iPhones, my new-ish iPad, Beatrix's old iPad, Erin's terrible work PC notebook, and our printer/scanner. We print a surprising amount of stuff for 2014 and printing wirelessly is the real dream of the 90s. For photos and documents having a scanner is the best thing ever.

The ethernet ports on the ASUS router (which is in my TV stand behind my receiver because, curiously, I can't turn off the bright, blue blinking lights) have my Apple TV, PS3, my "smart" TV (because I had a port for it and an extra cable, so why not?) and our Vonage VOIP phone modem plugged into it. We have one of those phones with a base station and a bunch of wireless handsets so no phone cable running through the house. We could probably get rid of that "landline" but enough companies and people have that number — whom we don't necessarily want to give our cell numbers to — that it's kind of worth keeping it. Vonage lets me set it so it never actually rings and all calls go straight to voicemail, so that's nice.


Links:

Netgear GS208 switch

ASUS RT-N66U wifi router

Super Power Supply® 1 x 15dBi 2.4GHz 5GHz Dual Band WiFi RP-SMA Antenna

LaCie 5big Network 2

Seagate Expansion Desktop Hard Drive