Do you need a new router? If your Internet is slow after upgrading to a faster service, and if your wifi range and reception is poor, or your Internet connection just generally misbehaves a lot, you might need a new router.
Even the New York Times, of all places, has published articles extolling the virtues of new routers. If your wi-fi at home is bad, they say, think about picking up a TP-Link Archer C7 router. I like the Asus RT-AC66U myself, but in my experience, and the experience of my colleagues, a new router makes a huge difference.
When one longtime friend upgraded to a TP-Link Archer, he told me his wi-fi improved so much his wired network was suddenly struggling to keep up with it.
If you need gigabit ports for your home server or router project and you’re short on available expansion slots, I have just the thing. Home sysadmins have known for a while that you can get cheap PCI-X Intel NICs and run them in PCI mode, but you may not know that you can find the very same thing by searching Ebay for HP 7170 and it’s usually cheaper. It’s not rare to find them for $7, shipped.
I’ve been using and recommending DD-WRT for years, but it’s getting harder to find inexpensive routers to run DD-WRT. Many inexpensive routers now use non-Broadcom chipsets that DD-WRT and other third-party firmware don’t support well, or at all.
But there’s still a way to get inexpensive, compatible routers that isn’t likely to change any time soon.
A good way to eliminate dead zones in your house where wifi doesn’t work is to add one or two wireless access points to your setup.
Access points, thankfully, are no longer stupid expensive–they used to cost twice as much as a router in spite of being nothing more than a cut-down router–but almost every access point I’ve looked at has one or more compromises built in. That said, if you want something you can plug in and configure by filling out three or four things, you might be willing to live with those compromises.
I read a story last week about an insanely fast router that can run at up to 5.3 gigabits, far faster than even the crazy-fast gigabit Internet service that only a lucky few people are able to get. The article questioned what anyone would do with it.
Think beyond network speeds, though, and there’s a lot you can do with that power.
So, a relative’s PC was getting a bit aged, and runs Windows XP, barely, so I talked them into an upgrade. I noticed that Micro Center had HP/Compaq DC5700s for $99. They were standard issue office PCs a few years ago, and there are a lot of them in the refurb channel. We went and got one over the weekend.
“What are you going to do with that?” the sales rep asked. “We only use them as cash registers.”
“Word processing,” I said.
“You sure you want to run Windows 7 on an 8-year-old PC?”
“I wrote the book on running Windows on older PCs. Literally. It’ll be fine.”
I hate calling rank like that, but sometimes it’s what you have to do.
And really, for $99, it’s awfully good. Web browsing is plenty fast, Libre Office runs fine on it, and think about it. Windows 7 retails for $100-$109. So it’s like getting the hardware for free. Or Windows for free, however you want to look at it.
I spent some time over the weekend playing with Pfsense, and I can’t say much about it other than it does what it says. I didn’t throw a ton of hardware at it–the best motherboard I have laying around is a late P4-era Celeron board, and the best network card I could find was, believe it or not, an ancient Netgear 10/100 card with the late, lamented DEC Tulip chipset on it. Great card for its time, but, yeah, nice 100-megabit throughput, hipster.
If you actually configure your routers rather than just plugging them in, you can do this. Plug in a couple of network cards, plug in a hard drive that you don’t mind getting overwritten, download Pfsense, write the image file to a USB stick, boot off the USB stick, and follow the prompts. Then, to add wireless, plug in a well-supported card like a TP-Link and follow the howto. Read more
Today I found an article in PC World that gives a somber assessment of the state of consumer routers, like the device that probably sits between you and the Internet.
I’m glad this is getting attention. There’s a lot more to it than what’s in the PC World article, but I’ve droned enough about what’s bad about consumer routers. It’s bad now, and it’s going to get worse before it gets better. Kudos to PC World for providing a bit of an action plan.
What if you want to go beyond what PC World is talking about? I’m glad both of you asked. Read more
Many routers, notably Belkins, have a feature in them to schedule an automatic reboot periodically, usually once a week. Frequently this “feature” is there as a workaround, because something about the router’s software gets unreliable if it’s been running longer than a week. So it’s a kludge, but it keeps the thing working without a lot of effort, so the feature is there.
The respectably rock-solid DD-WRT also has the ability to schedule a reboot built in. I don’t know if it’s there to make life easier for developers, or if it’s there to deal with second-rate hardware, or if there was a time when it was necessary and they just never took the feature back out. Regardless, it’s there, though many DD-WRT stalwarts brag about never needing it because their router’s uptime is more than six years.
It’s fun to get into uptime contests, but it’s poor security. If you have a router, it’s a good idea to be rebooting it every so often, so you might as well turn on that feature, even if it costs you some pride. Read more
The TP-Link TL-WR841N (and the similar TL-WR841ND) is a lower-mid range router that routinely sells in the $20-$25 range. Although many people consider it an off-brand, TP-Link has had a following in the enthusiast community for a couple of years. I’ve been prone to recommend them because they have a better track record than many of the bigger-name brands of continuing to release firmware upgrades that fix security vulnerabilities. If you’re going to buy a router and leave it stock, you’re better off with a TP-Link than anything else.
I only used the stock firmware to load DD-WRT on it though, so about all I can say is that the TL-WR841N runs DD-WRT really well. Read more