Over the years, my home office has become a museum of sorts for wireless routers. There on a shelf sits my old reliable Linksys WRT54GS with upgraded antennas, next to it is a Linksys WRT350N, and lastly a Netgear WNR3500L. My current router sits in the office as well, that is a Netgear WNDR3800. The WNDR3800 is less than a year old and performs quite well, but then Western Digital announced they were getting into the wireless router business and announced the My Net N900, which is interesting since it includes 7 Gigabit Ethernet ports! But alas, I could not justify upgrading to a new wireless router in less than a year. With each router upgrade I have looked at three features: speed of actual CPU, internal memory, and DD-WRT compatibility. Home routers are essentially computers that route network traffic. The faster their CPU and more memory they have the faster they can operate. On slower ISP connections, you do not notice it as much, but once you upgrade your internet connection and add more devices to your home network, the more your router’s performance becomes impacted. Hence the WNDR3800 works better than the slower WNR3500L it replaced. I am mostly talking about the wired connections, since wireless speeds can vary and I tend to prefer wired connections. The more I thought about it, the more I came to the conclusion that I was really trying to upgrade the CPU and memory in my router; the wireless radio was adequate and the built-in 4-port switch was already being supplanted by a dedicated 8-port switch. In general wireless routers are a good value. They combine a wireless radio, a network switch, and routing capabilities for around $150 or less. The WD N900 looks like an even better value, given the 7-ports, but in my case, I wanted to separate the three main functions. Hence my search for the perfect home router began.Continue reading
Like most technical people, I find myself watching less and less television. There are simply not enough hours in the day to do my regular work, spend time with the kids, walk the dog, and watch TV. However, I still like to watch the occasional South Park episode on SouthParkStudios or turn on Hulu to watch a few episodes of Parks And Recreation and 30 Rock. For a time, I encountered a lot of issues with SouthParkStudios not streaming right. After doing some research, I found that Flash streaming is problematic if you have multiple computers at home. The solution is to modify your router settings. In DD-WRT routers go to NAT/QOS: Port Triggering and add port 1935. This will allow SouthParkStudios videos to work on all computers in your home network.
This fix should also work for Hulu Plus videos as well. However, the other problem that Hulu Plus has is that it defaults to 720 HD most of the time. If your internet connection cannot handle this speed, it is best to log into Hulu, go to your Account: Settings and under Player Settings change the Playback Quality. For me 480p works fine.
Recently, my home network has managed to grow significantly. Between a couple of file servers, three client machines, and a printer, I thought my Linksys WRT350N was handling the load fine, but then it was all the other non-computing devices that are starting to eat away at the network. There are smart phones, the Playstation 3, Nintendo DS and Wii, a new Blu-ray Player that I got that has network capabilities, and the home theater receiver now too has a wired network connection. When you add up all these network devices, the typical wireless router is no longer a good fit.
Expanding The Network
The first problem I ran into is that the network must support both wireless G and N devices. Putting devices on the same radio signal causes slowdowns for N devices. Separate radio signals can be had by purchasing the latest dual radio routers, but these are usually expensive. If only some company would make an 8 port Gigabit Ethernet wireless router that would also help me out a bit, but there is not at this time a perfect router. The best solution that I could come up with is to have a main wireless N router manage the network, with a switch and another access point connected to the router. Adding the switch and access point brings up another problem. Namely that you want to maintain Gigabit Ethernet connections between the router, switch and access point. Most wireless routers and cheap switches are 100 Fast Ethernet and since the purpose of building out the home network is to deliver HD video and other multimedia services, it is best to go with Gigabit Ethernet as much as possible.
What I ended up with right now is using the Netgear WNR3500L as my main router. This is a moderately priced router that can be had for around $70 or less. You can find the specifications on Newegg. Other than the price, the 480MHz CPU and 64MB of memory are good selling points, add open firmware support and you have a great bargain. I ended up purchasing two WNR3500L units from the local BestBuy; utilizing BestBuy’s rewardzone coupons, I was able to save 12% off the regular price.
Once at home, I went through the process of upgrading the WNR3500L to use DD-WRT instead of the default Netgear firmware. Netgear considers the WNR3500L an open router, so you can upgrade to opensource firmware packages; Netgear even has a website for you to reference: MyOpenRouter.com. For upgrading specifically to DD-WRT reference: Upgrading to DD-WRT: Demystified first, then go to the DD-WRT Router Database to download the .chk firmware file: Netgear WNR3500L Firmware: Special File for initial flashing. You will need to flash to this firmware first in order to install a full DD-WRT firmware. Next download the actual firmware you will want to use from MyOpenRouter.com. I went with a version of the King Mod DD-WRT that does not have miniDLNA. At this point you should be ready to start flashing, just follow the specific instructions for the WNR3500L, that DD-WRT provides.
Add A Switch & Access Point
Next comes adding the switch and access point to the network. At this time the main router does the Wireless N radio only. I hooked up my old Linksys WRT350N as a Wireless G access point. The second WNR3500L is being used only as a switch at this time. In the future I may switch the Wireless G signal to the second WNR3500L and replace the WRT350N with an actual 8 port Gigabit Ethernet switch. To turn any DD-WRT router into an access point or switch follow these instructions. The hard part is figuring out which port to plug into on the access point or switch. For the WNR3500L all ports are Gigabit Ethernet, so you can use the Uplink port, but for an older router like the WRT350N, I used one of the regular ports, since the Uplink port on that router is not Gigabit.
As usual, once it is all setup, I had some problems with my Blu-ray Player, but after a couple of resets, everything worked as designed. The Playstation 3 likes having a wired connection and it plays media files from my Windows Server now without problems. Of course having more boxes, is more complicated and the electric bill will definitely be higher after all, but the speed is well worth it and it cost me less than buying an expensive cutting edge router.