Getting broadband and wifi: what equipment should I get, etc?
December 10, 2003 4:18 PM   Subscribe

So I'm about to take the plunge (finally!) into broadband 'Net access. What's even more exciting for me is that I get to play with this WiFi stuff I hear so much about. [more inside]

What's a good base station, laptop card, and desktop ethernet card to have? How much will this set me back? Is it pretty much all the same, or do you get what you pay for? Any particular brands you recommend? Should I bother with 802.11g, or just stick with b? Anything else I should know?
posted by Vidiot to Computers & Internet (13 answers total)
802.11G is the way to go now, as it's becoming an accepted standard, is faster, and it's backwards compatible with 802.11B.
posted by SweetJesus at 4:20 PM on December 10, 2003

i have generic stuff - it all just works (no-name desktop ethernet cards, cisco and apple laptop cards (one b, one g), belkin and linksys base stations (one b and one g - no problems b to g etc), noname ethernet hub).

the only thing you should worry about is security (imho). i can't really help there as i route everything through a (linux) firewall, but maybe someone else will give useful advice. at the least, if you have a windows machine connected permanently, i'd install something like zone alarm (but it depends on how you connect things - if you go through the wireless hub for everything, that may be enough (presumably they do nat? - can someone else comment?) - you may want to check the different base stations to see what security features they offer).

oh, and you may need two base stations if you want good quality service throughout a large house, or at least take care placing one central station.
posted by andrew cooke at 4:39 PM on December 10, 2003

This all depends on your priorities. If you define "good" as best bang for the buck, there is plenty of cheap but usable hardware out there to choose from. Head down to Fry's and you can get a whole kit for under a couple hunnert bucks. If you define "good" in some other way, it might be helpful to tell us what that is.

For me, "good" networking hardware for my household is a feature set:

For the AP: SNMP monitorable, telnettable and serial port configuration, never ever fails or crashes, supports "powersaving" as well as full-speed clients, works in a bridging rather than routing configuration (I'd never ever want my AP as my public-facing bastion host)

For network cards: Supported by a module already in the vanilla Linux kernel source, also supported by Windows' shipped driver base (i.e. doesn't ABSOLUTELY REQUIRE a driver to be downloaded and installed), has a kick ass built-in antenna with great range, is rugged enough that I don't worry about bonking the protruding bits of the card, doesn't eat through laptop batteries.

For both of the above: External antenna connectors, reasonably inexpensive on the used/eBay market.

What I wound up doing is getting a used 3Com AirConnect AP and upgrading it to the 2.0 firmware. I have several cards around the house but the only one I actually like is the Lucent WaveLan/IEEE a.k.a. "Orinoco Silver." The range I get with it is about 50' more than the 3Com or Linksys cards -- I can go anywhere in the house, upstairs or downstairs (or in the basement), and just about all the way to the back of the yard. That's a realistic 150-foot radius through (heavy 100-year old) walls, floors, ceilings and doors.

For wired NIC cards: 3Com 905B "Cyclone" Fast Ethernet 100baseTX. Every box in my house has one and they Just Work. In a household environment they are perfectly sufficient, and I run a couple of servers with these cards as well.
posted by majick at 5:37 PM on December 10, 2003

Vidiot, I recently outfitted my house with all new gear, here is about what it ran me:

linksys 802.11g router = $120
1 generic 802.11g PCI card for my desktop = $50

I have two existing powerbooks with airport cards in them (one does 802.11b, the other does 802.11g) and a cable modem running from the wall directly into the linksys router. Essentially, my entire house is running wireless and it works great. The speed at which I can copy files between two 802.11g machines isn't too bad, approaching about 35-45 Mbit (which is better than a standard 10Mbit wired ethernet network, but slower than a 100Mbit ethernet network). I don't move tons of files between the machines all that often (they are usually less than 1 mb in size and are almost instantly transfered), so the speed between machines is fine.

The linksys works fine out of the box, after I setup the cable modem on a PC and cloned the MAC address on the router (it's a comcast cable thing - where only a single card is supposed to work on your line).
posted by mathowie at 5:37 PM on December 10, 2003

(Sorry -- 150-foot DIAMETER. The radius is about 75 feet. That'll larn me to talk all that fancy math!)
posted by majick at 5:41 PM on December 10, 2003

If you're a big wired tech person, G might be worth it, Vidiot, but if you're not, B is much cheaper, and should do you fine.

If you're only going to be using the wireless to surf the Net (and not network computers in your house together, share files, etc), all you need is B. Your internet connection isn't fast enough to be of any use on the G band.

But if you're a mathowie with multiple computers and a DVR, etc., where you'll be copying or moving files from computer to computer, G will make the transfers faster.
posted by gramcracker at 6:11 PM on December 10, 2003

I just upgraded to G for the holidays and experienced a huge drop in range. (Traded up in the linksys family.) Has anyone else seen anything like this?
posted by ph00dz at 6:27 PM on December 10, 2003

the only thing you should worry about is security (imho). i can't really help there as i route everything through a (linux) firewall, but maybe someone else will give useful advice. at the least, if you have a windows machine connected permanently, i'd install something like zone alarm

Is this necessary? If I am just using it to web-surf, are there additional steps I need to take besides passwording the connection?
posted by PrinceValium at 6:28 PM on December 10, 2003

Most Wireless network switches have a decent firewall, especially if it supports uPNP (universal plug and play) that will keep most people from getting deep in your network. Of course, there is nothing better than having Antivirus on all machines and a dedicated computer filtering and firewalling.

If your *just* surfing, and not doing anything else like FTP then you should be fine, make sure you uncheck any box regarding "allow point to be accessed from internet" or "Allow outside connection to switch", not that im an authorative resource on secure home systems.
posted by Keyser Soze at 7:19 PM on December 10, 2003

ph00dz -- that is worrying as I plan on upgradeing to G to increase my range. It is supposed to increase not decrease.
posted by stbalbach at 7:39 PM on December 10, 2003

PLEASE lock down whatever wireless you set up. Do it for the children. Even WEP is better than nothing.

Oh, and for the love of all things Holy, don't buy 802.11G. It runs at only twice the speed of B while knocking out a lot of B access points. It pollutes the spectrum, and worse, certain brands of G WAPs have been known to kick off ALL other G WAP activity. Also, any person nearby operating at B speed will simply degrade your performance to B anyways.

Blech. Stick with B. It works and would be the friendly choice.
posted by shepd at 10:05 PM on December 10, 2003

If you want to make your own FTP (welcome to the club! Please sit down in one of our leather chairs, have a cigar, and laugh at our own genious) you need to go into your router by typing something like and setting up uPNP to allow people to access port 21 (or whatever) to a specific computer's internal address. If you have any problems e-mail me. We always accept new members.
posted by Keyser Soze at 10:07 PM on December 10, 2003

I had a linksys 80211b at my place, but was a novice at security (maybe it wasn't possible? maybe security isn't the right word?). I live in a building with multiple condos. We were seeing the folk's upstairs' shared drives.

I reset the password, but didn't know how to do anything w/ the MAC stuff in the instructions, so I gave up and went back to the wired version. I really hate the wire running on the floor all over the house (can't drill b/c HOA blah blah). Is there a way to make it work in multiple housing situations?
posted by yoga at 6:52 AM on December 11, 2003

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