Home Network & WiFi Configuration
October 30, 2007 11:39 AM   Subscribe

Home Network Question: Help me choose the right router and network configuration for my needs.

Our Netgear 802.11b router just died, so we're in the market for a new one. However, we have a couple of concerns.

1. We've been talking about moving up to 802.11g, but my partner's G3 iBook won't be able to connect to it. She plans on getting a new computer early next year, but until then, we still need that computer to connect. If we get a "g" router that claims "b" cards can still connect, will that really be the case? Will we need to adjust configuration in some way?

2. We'd like to network our printer and an external hard drive over the router. What's the best way to do this?
posted by me3dia to Computers & Internet (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
1. A Linksys G/B device works just fine with B equipment. Half of our laptops are "B" and have no issues. That being said - when a "B" device is active, everything else slows down to "B" speeds.

2. Tough to say - some routers may have a printer port - most do not. It might be better to buy a "NAS".

I have one of these - Linksys DNS-323 - it works great - though I don't use the USB printer port. Yes - accessing the drive is a little slower than directly connecting it to USB. And seeing as you are not using Vista - then it should work fine for you (Vista + non-Windows Samba/SMB devices don't play well together)

In the future, when buying a printer spend a little extra and get one with a built-in ethernet port.
posted by jkaczor at 12:03 PM on October 30, 2007

1. Yes, a 'b' will connect to a b/g router. Make sure it's set up that way in the configuration page of the router.

2. You can get routers with USB port(s?) for external printers, though I don't have a link right now.
posted by defcom1 at 12:03 PM on October 30, 2007

The 'g' standard includes the 'b' standard. The only problem with this is that your entire network will slow to 11Mbps. Fast enough. I can recommend a Netgear or a Linksys WRTG router. For the printer, you can pickup a cheap HP network interface for just about any printer. The hard drive I would recommend connecting to a machine of n the network and sharing from there. Much easier to deal with that building a file server from scratch.
posted by Fferret at 12:08 PM on October 30, 2007

One thing to be aware of when connecting an old G3 iBook to a newer 802.11b/g router: You'll want to use WPA or WPA2 security, but the iBook is a little wonky about what encryption it will support. As I recall it'll work with TKIP, but not AES, but you may have to try a few combinations of the security settings on the router before the iBook will connect reliably.
posted by Good Brain at 12:14 PM on October 30, 2007

Most router firmware will let you select between B, G, or B/G. I have a Linksys WRT54G at home and clients of type B and G connect fine. The 11Mbps slowdown mentioned by those before is accurate.
posted by hcastro at 12:15 PM on October 30, 2007

BTW, it's not entirely true that your entire network will slow to 11Mbps if you connect a 802.11b device to it. It will degrade performance of 802.11g, clients because they'll have to wait longer when an 802.11b client is using the network than they would for another 802.11g client, but they'll be sending and receiving packets at the higher speed.
posted by Good Brain at 12:17 PM on October 30, 2007

If we get a "g" router that claims "b" cards can still connect, will that really be the case?

I think these days you'd be pretty hard pressed to find a router that doesn't support both.

Will we need to adjust configuration in some way?

In the setup screen for most routers there is an option to use just b, just g, or both. 99% of the time the router ships with the "both" option set.

We'd like to network our printer and an external hard drive over the router. What's the best way to do this?

The easiest way (and you sound kinda noobish, sorry) is to connect both to a computer, and then share both the drive and the printer on that computer.

If they are hooked to a Mac, go to System Prefs > Sharing, and give your computer a sensible name. Under the "services" tab, turn on "Personal File Sharing," "Printer Sharing," and "Windows Sharing," if you have a win box on the network. Next, go to System Prefs > Print and Fax. In the "Sharing" tab, check "Share my printers...[or whatever]" and then also the check boxes next to the actual printers you want to share.

Finally, from some other Mac on the network, from the Finder menu bar select Go > Connect to Server and type in "afp://x.x.x.x" where x.x.x.x is the IP address of the box you want to connect to. (If the box you are connecting to is Windows, do "smb://x.x.x.x") Alternatively, if its Mac-to-Mac, select Go > Network > Servers and you should see the computer you set up to share there.

To connect PC-to-Mac, open "My Network Places" and in the "common tasks" pane on the left you should see "Add Network Place." Click on this, and follow the Wizard, which is pretty straightforward, again using your IP address.

Now, if going Mac-to-PC or vice versa, you're going to need to know the IP address of the computer you're trying to connect to, which obviously isn't the most DHCP-friendly thing in the world. So your two options are basically:

1) Manually set up each computer's IP settings, and then turn off DHCP on the router. This is the less preferred method, as then when your friends come over with their laptops, they have to go through the whole rigamarole of doing the same, rather than simply entering the network password and getting on automatically.

2) Turn DHCP on, but set up permanent IPs for any computers that you want to do sharing with. This is a fairly straightforward process with most routers. You simply enter the MAC address of the NIC attached to the computer you want to share in one box, then enter the IP address you want it to permanently be assigned in the next box, and hit "OK." If you do this for each computer that you will want to connect to for sharing purposes, then you can be certain that the printer will always be attached to the computer at (or whatever). Then, in the network configuration of each computer, you should still set them to use DHCP, as the router will be assigning them IPs, it will just always be the same IP.

Now, of the two most popular routers, the standard white netgear will do permanent IP addressing over DHCP out of the box using the factory installed router configuration application.

The VASTLY superior in almost every way Linksys WRT54 series, however, to my knowledge as of the last time I bought one, will not. In order to get it all done, therefore, you'll need to install third-party router configuration software on the WRT54, the most popular of which is probably DD-WRT (which is based upon OpenWRT, or maybe the other way around. Anyway, they're similar). Once you get DD-WRT up and going on your WRT54, you'll then be able to do permanent IP addressing over DHCP, and also have access to a TON of additional features for tweaking your wireless settings and network. Its well worth the effort.

One final word of warning there, however: WRT54G's beginning with version 5.0 and including v5.1 and 6.0 have much smaller amounts of flash ROM than earlier versions, meaning that only a special, scaled-down version of DD-WRT will fit on. Now, it is possible to get everything I described above done with the micro build of DD-WRT and a WRT54Gv6.0 (I just did it a few weeks ago) but it is slightly more of a headache, so if you have the option, get an earlier version of the hardware.

Ok, I guess that's enough of a ramble to get you started.
posted by ChasFile at 12:18 PM on October 30, 2007

As far as networking goes, I am definitely a noob. Both of our computers are laptops, and it's not feasible to have a printer and external HD connected to them at all times -- that's why we wanted to connect them to the router instead. We don't have a third computer to act as a peer-to-peer pseudo-server.

One thing my partner had heard was that if the external HD was plugged into the router, it might run constantly. Is that true?
posted by me3dia at 1:04 PM on October 30, 2007

If you go the route of the DNS-323 you can set it to shutdown after "x" number of minutes.

See - I disagree with ChasFile - it is actually simpler just to buy a couple devices that plug into the router and not have any computer configured as a "server". They consume less power and typically work with any operating system.

I've tried both paths for my home environments over the years (for the last 2, I've worked from home) with 9 computers in total (including some that are actually runing "server" operating systems) and by far the most reliable solution is always a little box that plugs into the network instead of a computer...
posted by jkaczor at 1:17 PM on October 30, 2007

Sorry, addendum/corrections: When connecting to either a Mac or PC from a PC, in the "add new network place" wizard, what you want to enter is:


where x.x.x.x is the IP address and computername is the name of the computer as set in the System Prefs > Sharing dialog on a Mac and Control Panel > System > Computer Name in "Full computer name" area on a PC. (Quick note that while you're in there, it helps if everybody has the same thing entered into the "Workgroup" field, both Mac and PC, as well. Typically this is:


Second, when using Finder > Go > Connect to Server on the Macs and connecting to a PC, it will prompt you for a username and password. This is simply the username and password you use to log on to Windows when you first boot up. It may be worthwhile to create a "public" or "shared" user account specifically for the purpose of having people use those credentials to connect to your shared resources, so that a) you aren't sharing critical/personal stuff, only what's in the dummy user's "Shared Documents" folder and also you aren't giving out your real, personal login credentials to other people.

Note that while by default once you share-enable a Mac you share basically everything on it, while on PC's you have to set up sharing for each folder you want to share (I believe that when you first set up a PC for file and printer sharing, it automatically creates a "Shared Documents" folder with sharing enabled on it for you, but I might be wrong). To get around this you can share the root (i.e. simply enable sharing for your C: drive) but Windows strongly discourages it: you'll have to click through about 185 dialog boxes and warning messages to get it done.

Finally, much like connecting a shared Mac to a shared Mac is often simply a matter of going to Finder > Go > Network and browsing around (other sharing-enabled Macs in the same workgroup should automatically appear), connecting a sharing-enabled PC to a sharing-enabled PC is often as simple as going to "My Network Places" and browsing around (again other PCs with sharing enabled and in the same workgroup should automatically appear, as should any uPnP devices [like your router, perhaps])

Once you get all your connections set up, you might want to make shortcuts/aliases of all the shared folders on all the other computers (or in your case the one shared external HDD) and just sticking it on your desktop somewhere. That way you won't have to go through the Go > Connnect to Server or the "Add a New Network Place" dialog boxes again. This can be made even more official in Windows by mapping that folder to a network drive. In an explorer window, select Tools > Map Network Drive, and follow the wizard, which is very similar to the Add New Network Place wizard. Once that's set up, you can access that network-shared folder as if it were just another hard drive -- which in your case, again, it is!

Bleah, the delights of home networking, neh? Stick to it, though, as once you get it done the possibilities are endless: media servers, DVR data sharing, remote desktop access, etc etc etc.
posted by ChasFile at 5:04 PM on October 30, 2007

I guess its just a matter of where you like your "simple" to be, jkaczor. As easy as possible to install and set up, or as reliable and flexible as possible to use.
posted by ChasFile at 5:17 PM on October 30, 2007

it's not feasible to have a printer and external HD connected to them at all times -- that's why we wanted to connect them to the router instead.

Wow, that is information that would have been helpful to know before hand. :'(

At any rate, its pretty irrelevant. Once you have the drivers installed on both machines (assuming you mean to print from both machines) and sharing set up on each then you can plug the printer or HDD into either laptop at any time and everybody should still be able to see it just fine.

There are, of course, lots of network storage appliances that are basically just hard drives on a dumb terminal, and of course HP makes several printers that have WiFi built in that will connect to your network wirelessly, so there are lots of "stupid" (ne "uncontrolled") ways of doing it, too. Those solutions tend to cost more money, of course.

I don't know, between getting a whole new device and setting it up and configuring it all just right and on and on, I've just always figured its simpler to just use the solution you already have on hand.
posted by ChasFile at 5:28 PM on October 30, 2007

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