Thursday, June 17, 2010

New Home WiFi

This past week and a half has been a real PITA at Chez Markowitz.  All of us, except my younger daughter, came down with some form of sinus/bronchial crud.  I missed two and a half days of work last week, a half day this week, and still have congestion and a cough.  So, when Judith called me up Monday afternoon to let me know she couldn't get online at home, and that one of my UPSes was beeping, I was not too happy.

Something caused one of our breakers to trip.  After getting the UPS back online I found that the SMC 802.11n WiFi router which I've been using as an access point for the past couple of years was dead.  No lights, no nothin'.  So, after getting a bite to eat I took a trip down to Microcenter.

I looked over the various WiFi routers and access points they had on hand and wound up getting a Cisco-Linksys WRT54GL.  I could've gotten it cheaper at Amazon or NewEgg but didn't want to wait several days for it to arrive, since we all use wireless access daily.

I chose the WRT-54GL for a couple of reasons.  First, it has a very good reputation for reliability.  Second, there are several projects which are dedicated to providing open source firmware which extends the box's functionality.  E.g., dd-wrt, OpenWRT, and Tomato.  As explained below I'm using it only as a switch and a WAP for the time being but this might change in the future.  (Note: If you're interested in putting 3rd-party firmware on a Linksys router, make sure you buy the WRT54GL.)

Why an 802.11g router instead of a new 802.11n router?  Even with the 802.11n SMC, I had to keep it in g/n mode, since we have a few g-only devices.  E.g., Judith's iPod Touch, my Droid, and an Apple iBook.  In g/n mode I wasn't seeing any better performance than with it in n-only mode.  Also, I the Linksys's Fast Ethernet ports are not a handicap for my needs, as they are plenty fast to handle my Internet connection.  Internet speed tests give results about the same as before.  We don't do any major file transfer between systems on the LAN.  I just don't need Gig-E now.

One advantage of the SMC box was that you could put it into bridge mode, which disabled the routing functions.  My router is an SMCD3G DOCSIS 3.0 cable modem/gateway, so I don't need the WiFi box to do routing.  The WRT-54GL does not support this, so instead of connecting it to my SMCD3G via the WAN port, it's connected using a LAN port.  The DHCP server is turned off on the Linksys so there's no conflict with the SMC's.

After using the WRT-54GL for a few days it seems like the WiFi signal coverage is a bit more uniform than the dead SMC gave me.  So much for 802.11n as a range extender.  Aside from wireless protocol, antenna design and transmit power play a big role in the range of one's WiFi device.

My home webserver,, is plugged into the Linksys box.  The web server has the same publicly-routable IP it's always had, while the Linksys has a private IP on the same subnet as the SMC's private LAN interface.  There's no problem with running more than one network on the same wire.

Finally, along with the WiFi router, I bought a new APC UPS Monday night.  My old Back UPS 650 was due for a replacement.  This time I got a 1000 VA APC box, which will provide backup power to and the Linksys.  I have another Back UPS 650 powering the SMCD3G, my Arris eMTA, and our cordless phone base unit.  I can wait awhile before I'll need to replace that one.

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