In search of a lasting wireless network solution
March 3, 2013 7:12 AM   Subscribe

After wasting two different off-days trying to get my damnable modem+router working, I want to return them both and get something entirely new. Any good recommendations for a solid, reliable DSL modem and wireless router set-up with decent NAS support?


- had an ISP-supplied hybrid modem/router for a few years that worked fine
- bought a new laptop last year and swapped the hard drive for an SSD
- decided to use the spare hard drive as an external drive for storing large media files and performing automatic backups
- bought an Apricorn USB hard drive enclosure designed to support NAS stuff
- bought a Western Digital My Net N600 router with a USB port designed to support NAS stuff (the old modem had no USB ports)
- ran into endless bizarre problems trying to get the N600 maintaining a connection to the old modem in bridge mode
- discovered plugging in and using the external drive was crashing the router firmware
- exchanged N600 for a better-spec'd N750
- more bizarre problems; dropped connections; router web interface sluggish
- tried installing a firmware upgrade from the official website
- now the router won't even boot up, *not even after a paperclip factory reset*

(╯°□°)╯︵ ┻━┻

There are just too many potential glitches and conflicts here for me to deal with any more -- the fact that the modem is old (and in bridge mode), the general bugginess of Western Digital's routers, the fact that I'm using a laptop hard drive instead of one purpose-built for NAS work.

So I want to start from scratch. New DSL modem. New router. Maybe even a new hard drive and/or hard drive enclosure if that might help.

What I need to know:

- What's the best option for a reliable dedicated DSL modem? No-frills is fine as long as it's reasonably fast and can support a PPPoE connection type.

- What's the best option for a reliable wireless router with support for an external USB hard drive? I'm willing to spend more if it can buy me quality, dependability, and a no-hassle set-up with a decent web interface. I'm seriously tired of troubleshooting unaccountable wifi problems via unhelpful router settings pages that crash often and don't tell me anything useful.

- What's the best option for a reliable external hard drive set-up? I'm not doing enterprise-level stuff here -- I just want it to store my iTunes, my movies, and have some space left over to automatically back up a ~256GB SSD. I already have a laptop hard drive in the Apricorn enclosure I mentioned, and it did allow me to (temporarily) access my files wirelessly. But I'm not sure if the crashes I mentioned were due to the Western Digital router being shoddy or the hard drive/enclosure set-up being inappropriate for that purpose. Should I maybe reformat the hard drive for use as a NAS? Or would it be better to just get a purpose-built USB NAS drive?

I'd also be interested in a decent combination DSL modem/router with NAS support if that would be easier to set up. My current, years-old modem/router hybrid works flawlessly, but just doesn't have any USB ports to plug a drive into (only a USB B port, which apparently can't support that kind of thing).

Any recommendations -- especially based on personal experience with the device -- very much appreciated!
posted by Rhaomi to Computers & Internet (5 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: (Also, I looked into getting an Airport Extreme, but apparently the file system doesn't play nice with Windows-based hard drives? Not real sure about that...)
posted by Rhaomi at 7:14 AM on March 3, 2013

Can't say for modem but the ASUS RT-N16 has been working well for me. Not a dual-band router, but there is a newer model that has this feature; the N16 is still very solid without it. Two USB ports for storage, full gigabit WAN/LAN, lots of internal memory, etc.

With the TomatoUSB firmware (I use the latest Shibby build, works well, no hiccups) reports are that NAS works fine. I'd tried it briefly only to use a a media server.

But the main point is this: look for something that can run alternate firmware. The alt stuff gets patched faster, is updated more often, and has better configurability than the stock firmware. Many companies - ASUS included - point out the alt firmware capability as a feature.

The only caveat here is that I remember it taking a little bit of time to get the firmware on the router. I also flashed an ASUS RT-N12 and that one went without issue, so it could be either a firmware thing or a model thing. But once it booted into the new stuff I haven't had to touch it in months. It replaced an old WRT-54G, also running Tomato, that hadn't needed so much as a reboot in around two years. Half the instability with these things seems to be the firmware.

Some people like DD-WRT but I haven't used it. Tomato has a nice, clean interface, and even though the "official" build is not being updated users like Shibby and Toastman are actively maintaining the code and releasing new custom builds.
posted by caution live frogs at 7:42 AM on March 3, 2013

Response by poster: (I'm trying to do some research myself on a hybrid DSL modem/router with storage but keep getting results for great devices... available in the UK/Australia/New Zealand only. WTF?)
posted by Rhaomi at 8:23 AM on March 3, 2013

We're using a Comtrend 5072T ADSL2+ modem with a Linksys WRT54g running Tomato, and the combo is rock-solid, getting a shade over 20 Mbps down, 1.1 Mbps up. Multiple family computers happily stream Netflix at the same time. Very satisfactory, never needs any tweaks. No NAS recommendations though, sorry.
posted by anadem at 9:30 AM on March 3, 2013

Response by poster: GLORIA IN EXCELSIS MAYO

I did some more research, found this great-sounding NetGear N600 router/modem with USB storage I'd overlooked originally (when I was looking at pure routers to use for my existing modem). It was $130 at Best Buy -- where I needed to go anyway to return the wonky Western Digital router -- but it turns out they just started price-matching Amazon TODAY, so I got it for 55% off.

And it works flawlessly, with dead-simple set-up and no issues accessing the NAS so far. I guess I will mark this resolved, as surely Nothing Could Possibly Go Wrong.
posted by Rhaomi at 9:42 PM on March 3, 2013

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