Make your own null modem cable

One of my coworkers needed to make a null modem cable last week, and most of the sites he found made it far, far too difficult. Here’s how to make your own null modem cable.

Most of the time, you only need three pins. In fact, I never needed more than three pins, no matter what I was connecting. Usually, a 3-wire null modem cable is more than sufficient.

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Build the best, most secure wifi in your neighborhood

My neighbor asked me for advice on setting up wi-fi in his new house. I realized it’s been a while since I’ve written about wi-fi, and it’s never been cheaper or easier to blanket your house and yard with a good signal.

Blanketing your house and yard while remaining secure, though, is still important.

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How I upgraded a TP-Link TL-WR841N to DD-WRT

How I upgraded a TP-Link TL-WR841N to DD-WRT

If you want a nice router or access point, you can do a lot worse than upgrading a TP-Link TL-WR841N to DD-WRT. The TL-WR841N is inexpensive and reliable, and DD-WRT runs well on it once you get the right build.

You can configure it to be a router, an access point, or a repeater, based on what you need. It usually costs $25 and sometimes you can find one on sale for $20 or even $15, so it’s a huge bargain. Even if you want 802.11ac speeds, a TL-WR841N makes a fantastic secondary access point to improve your connectivity.

Let’s get on with the upgrade. In the case of the TP-Link TL-WR841N (or TL-WR841ND, which uses the same build), it’s really easy–10 steps. Read more

A shortcut for wiring your house with Ethernet

As convenient as wireless is, wireless will never match the security, speed, and reliability of wired Ethernet. I ran some wired Ethernet jacks in mid-2009 and have no regrets, but on my last trip to Lowe’s, I spied a nifty shortcut for wiring: an Ethernet coupler that plugs into a standard keystone jack. They were expensive, but looked like a good way to cut out the most consuming part of wiring a house. I looked online, and they cost less than $2 from Amazon. Read more

Cable connections are the last thing most people check…

Fed up with trying to host a network printer on a Windows 7 box on a mixed network, I broke down and bought a Jetdirect card for my aged HP Laserjet 4100. Don’t worry–used Jetdirect cards are cheap these days. I paid $7 for mine.

Of course I made installing it harder than I needed to. I’m a professional. Don’t try this at home. Read more

If you’ve been delaying upgrading your network, keep delaying

If you’ve been procrastinating about deploying 450-megabit (802.11n) wi-fi to your house, I have a reason for you to procrastinate a while longer: Gigabit wireless (802.11ac).

It’s only about twice as fast as its predecessor, which pales next to the 8x improvement 802.11n provided over 802.11g, but if you’re wanting to stream HD media through your house, you’ll notice the difference.
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Wiring your house without tearing into walls

Tearing into existing walls to thread CAT5 through them isn’t a chore that I think anyone relishes. It’s not too bad if you have an unfinished basement and can do everything in interior walls, but the further you deviate from that, the worse the job gets. One of my computers sits where it is solely because it was easy for me to get CAT5 there.

I stumbled across a novel solution to the problem. It isn’t cheap, and I want to emphasize that I haven’t tried it. But it’s possible that I will at some point. It’s called Flatwire.
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Improving DSL speed

I found some DSL speed tips. They work. If you have DSL, you should read them and do the same.I went from speeds all over the map to a fairly consistent 600 kbps just running a new CAT5 line for DSL. Replacing the cheap, flat, old-fashioned phone cord running from my modem to the phone jack and the other cheapie in my patch panel with UTP phone cords boosted me another 30-50 kbps. That extra boost varies, but it’s something, and I’m glad to be consistently above 600 kbps now.

Finding UTP phone cords is a challenge. Supposedly Lowe’s has them but I can’t verify that. I had one that I wasn’t using for some insane reason. I found another one at a garage sale, obviously from a DSL installation kit. I don’t remember what I paid for it, only that it was a lot less than it’s worth to me. Digging through boxes of random cables at garage sales can pay dividends.

The easiest way to get them is probably to make your own from scrap lengths of CAT5/5e/6 cable. Just crimp RJ11 modular plugs onto the ends instead of RJ45. Radio Shack sells a package of 10 plugs for $6. Overpriced, but convenient. There’s always a Radio Shack nearby.

Belkin sells a special shielded twisted pair modem cable as an “Internet cable,” for around $20. I’m sure it’s a very good cable, but it’s not worth 20 bucks.

When looking at a store, as a general rule, flat cables are always bad, but a round cable stands a chance of being good.

If you have a fairly new house, chances are your phone wiring is pretty good, in which case the most important thing is getting a good phone cord. If you have a house built in the ’60s like me, with phone wire run after the fact by a weekend handyman who either didn’t know or didn’t care how to avoid interference on the wires, that’s another story. If there’s 30 feet of bad wire between the telco and the modem, the quality of that last 6 feet of wire doesn’t make much difference.

While you’re at it, you might as well replace all your phone cords with these higher-quality models. Your voice calls will be clearer, and it eliminates the possibility of those cables introducing interference into the line. That interference shouldn’t reach the modem, but “shouldn’t” is no guarantee.

New wiring

Gatermann and I spent most of the day pulling CAT5e through the house. It’s long overdue. The guy who wired the phones in the house broke every single rule I could find about running voice/data cable, and it wasn’t good stuff to begin with. Plus, I was really tired of the lack of reliability of 802.11g in this house. Why I can see all of my neighbors’ networks but not my own is beyond me.Running a single CAT5e line from where the phone network comes in over to the center of the house made a huge difference. The phones sound clearer, the DSL is much faster (consistently 630K now–it used to dip to 300K frequently) and running lines is much easier when you’re away from the circuit breaker box and not surrounded by power cables everywhere.

At present I only have two rooms networked, but it’ll be easy enough to add to that as needed now.

Wireless is convenient, but 100-meg is very nice. It’s reliable and fast. Gigabit is even nicer. Now it would actually be practical to upgrade to gigabit. At gigabit, network resources run nearly as fast as local ones.

I wish I’d done this years ago.

Wiring the house

My trusty Linksys WRT54G started dying yesterday. I think I’ve had it 3-4 years, so it’s had a decent run.

I have some temporary wiring in place until I decide what I want to do, but I really think I want some wired Ethernet.For one thing, my phone wiring is really bad, and I think that’s affecting my DSL speed and reliability. Modern CAT5 wiring would solve that problem neatly. And if I ran a dedicated unfiltered line straight to the modem and filtered lines everywhere else, I could get by with just a single line filter, instead of a half dozen. That should improve reliability too.

And while I’m running CAT5, I might as well run two wires, so I’ll have convenient network jacks in several places in the house. And if I’m running wire, I might as well run CAT5e and get gigabit capability. That should give me faster and more reliable networking, both locally and online.

The project would take about $100 worth of cable and jacks, I estimate. I already have plenty of jacks, so I’d just have to buy a spool of CAT5e. That, and find the time to run it.

I may keep wireless around for ultimate convenience (a combo DSL modem/router/access point costs about $70, which isn’t much more than another WRT54G, and my modem is getting old too), but I like the idea of having my desktop PCs connected via gigabit. It’ll make sharing drives more practical, and potentially much more secure if I get fancy with network segmenting and firewalling.

I think I’m going to be asking the network wizard at work a lot of questions… Good thing he sits right next to me.

And now mostly I need a free weekend to do all this.