Wireless Networking
August 17, 2004 7:15 PM   Subscribe

WirelessNetworkingFilter: I'd like some advice from you networking gurus (more inside):

We are moving to a new apartment with no cable jacks in the office. We will have broadband access from the main cable in the living room. I quite suspect it is cheaper to set up a wireless network than hire a contractor to install more cable jacks. We need to network 2-3 desktop computers. Neither desktop has a wireless card. I know we will obviously need a wireless router in the living room. From what I could figure out, our computers will either need new wireless network cards, or we will need some sort of wireless access point in the bedroom that connects to our desktops via ethernet or USB. I'm more concerned with making it easy than the cheapest way. So while I'm sure I could manage to put in some wireless cards, the access point (or wireless network adapter?) appeals to me. I'm hoping this would be idiot-proof, as in we would just plug in our PCs and have a network connection the way we do with our current non-wireless router. My biggest concern is speed and reliability, so that would override making it easy. I have concerns about the USB type, because in my very limited experience, USB networking devices can sometimes cause performance problems. But it's been years since I've used one, so maybe they are better now. So I'd like to know if I have the basic idea right, and if so, what you would recommend: wireless router + cards in each machine, wireless router + access point + network cable to desktops, wireless router + access point +USB connection to desktops, get a contractor to come hardwire the room, or something else?
I'd also welcome any recommendations or brand names. I've never had any trouble with regular Linksys routers, but if certain brands are notorious or anything, that would be useful to know.
posted by sixdifferentways to Computers & Internet (10 answers total)
Myself, I'd go with the wireless router (one that has a decent firewall) and the wireless cards route, as long as you won't be using that connection to move a lot of data between computers. If you do move large files around from one machine to another, it's almost certainly going to choke your router / access point and require you to reboot it quite a lot. This is a problem that seems to be common to almost all wireless networking setups. You can't substitute hardwired connections for heavy data transfer yet.

If after that bit of doomsaying you think that wireless is the way to go, then I'd probably recommend the Linksys WRT54G router - I did a little research when I thought my router was going south and it's gotten some of the best reviews from actual users for dependability. It's got a decent SPI firewall and supports WPA, which is a far better encrypted protocol than WEP. Can't say about cards but you'll probably find that matching hardware is the way to go.

Oh, and USB = yeccch, IMO.
posted by Dipsomaniac at 7:41 PM on August 17, 2004

To second Dipso's view I would go for "wireless router + access point + network cable to desktops" if you plan to share any internal traffic between machines as wireless just does not cut it.
posted by arse_hat at 8:25 PM on August 17, 2004

Response by poster: Thanks!
So as I understand it, the access point is pretty much a receiver that all 3 machines plug into with a traditional network cable via their existing traditional ethernet jacks - along with working as a sort of router which networks the computers together? In this case, would the machines have separate IPs assigned from the router, or would they all share the same IP that the router assigns the access point? It will work either way, I was just curious.
posted by sixdifferentways at 8:58 PM on August 17, 2004

The access points from Linksys (and SMC, upon checking) only have one RJ-45 port, so they're meant to be hooked up to a traditional router-ish device (which handles assignment of IPs and/or firewalling). The access point is only good for allowing wireless devices access to a normal network - you would still need wireless cards for all three machines.

Now, if your connection is one that allows you to get separate IPs for all machines directly from your ISP, then an access point would be all that you needed, but I doubt that cable is hooked up that way (most DSL isn't either). You'd need to put a hub downstream from the AP to wire multiple machines directly to it. It would probably be cheaper and easier to get a wireless router rather than a regular router + AP.

Another thing you could try (and I have no idea if this would work) would be to put the AP downstream from your cable connection, then the wireless router in the computer room and hardwire the PCs to it. Then the AP is simply acting as a relay for the router to the connection. YMMV, I have never seen this in real life.
posted by Dipsomaniac at 9:36 PM on August 17, 2004

sixdifferentways Get a wireless router to connect to your cable modem. (assumes a windows environment) connect a WAP to one of your desktops and add a 100baseT card to the same machine. Share the WAP Internet connection and plug the 100baseT connection into a cheap hub and plug your other machines into using static IP’s and so on. All your peer to peer stuff is wire speed and your Internet access is shared. Also, if you don’t have a laptop you want to use with the wireless link, you can share only IP and not the windows protocols across the wireless link for just one more level of security. I don’t know what your building is like but if the outside is easily accessible a cable may be able to be run to the office via the outside of the building for a low cost or free with a bit of sweet talk (offer a beer?) with the cable guy.
posted by arse_hat at 10:11 PM on August 17, 2004

With all the schemes discussed so far you will have your wireless router in the living room with no hardwire connection to a computer. Do you have a laptop? I like to have a hardwire connection for administering the router. It is more reliable and more secure (your can then turn off wireless administration). This is an infrequent job so dragging your laptop into the living room and wiring it into the router is not too much hassle.
posted by caddis at 11:13 PM on August 17, 2004

Response by poster: I do have a laptop, and that is a good suggestion.

Thanks Dipsomaniac and arse_hat , that answers all my questions. Should have said, but yes it's Windows XP Pro. This stuff should be simple to Google, but I found that was not the case.
The problem with the cable install is my cable company (Comcast) has a policy against installing additional jacks in apartments, even if the leasing office says it's OK. Guess it's a stupid CYA policy since they are not dealing directly with the property owners. However, you can hire someone outside to do it and they said they would "activate" the jack - at a $10 a month fee per jack, I might add. They were vague on the details, but it seemed like a rip-off to have to pay extra to split the connection I was already paying for. It is an older property, with solid plaster walls, so the extra jacks have to come from splitting the cable outside and then drilling through the exterior. I may yet still check with the property management on how much this usually costs, but I am not paying Comcast an extra $20+ a month for this "activation" business.
I checked again, and the office is only about 30 metres from the living room. I may just decide it won't be too hard to just run cable, after all. Even if I do, I think this type of info is likely to help future AskMers.
posted by sixdifferentways at 11:27 PM on August 17, 2004

I may just decide it won't be too hard to just run cable, after all.

You mean Ethernet cable, right? Because more cable jacks in other rooms (like you mention above) won't do you any good. As someone who has 3 computers connected to a wireless network, let me say that cards are the way to go. Access points typically have one jack on them and the manual says not to hook a hub into them (I have no idea why, but I can confirm it slows traffic down). Plus the cost would probably be equivalent to 2 cards, given APs aren't that common in stores.

It's good to have the laptop for administering the router, especially given you can't do firmware upgrades wirelessly. Honestly, wireless transfers of huge files are slow, but it's not that big of a hassle. I routinely move multi-gig files across the network wirelessly; I just plan for it and start them before going to bed. It doesn't crash the router or anything like that. If you're never moving anything more than 10 or 15 megs at a time it's no big deal.
posted by yerfatma at 4:04 AM on August 18, 2004

Check out powerline networking. You can get HomePlug-compatible bridges for $60 or so at CompUSA; you'll need two. Basically the bridges combine your two networks (one with your cable modem, the other with your computers) into a single network, more or less seamlessly.

Powerline networking is not very fast (not even as fast as wireless) -- 2 or 3 Mbps is the most you're going to get in most situations even though the technology promises up to 14 Mbps. But it's fine for getting an Internet connection into another room. As a bonus, people driving by can't use your network. The triple-DES encryption used by the HomePlug standard can probably be cracked, but there are a lot fewer tools out there for doing that than there are for sniffing wireless.
posted by kindall at 11:32 AM on August 18, 2004

Response by poster: Yeah I meant I may be able to just run 30 metres or so of 2 lines of ethernet cable from the living room back to the office. Might not be too big a job. I've done similar things in commercial offices. The challenge will be seeing if I can do so in a tidy manner, as my wife probably won't be too thrilled with the geek chic of CAT 5 cable snaking across the place. I may even hire out someone to do it if I can find somebody really good at cabling (maybe using those little "tunnel" boxes that will hide the lines.)

I didn't realise that about the cable jacks. I've been lucky enough to live in buildings with built-in T1 networks for the past several years, so this will be my first experience with cable broadband. Some of the DFW metroplex's finest minds in network administration are now checking into it.

Good tip on the cards. Sounds like the way to go. It's rare that we move large files between machines. Both have fast DVD burners, and I have a couple of external 200 GIG USB 2.0 hard drives (and hopes for an iPod purchase soon), so I have a few other options to move data if it does come up.
posted by sixdifferentways at 11:42 AM on August 18, 2004

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