Dangers of public wifi — and how to stay safe

When it comes to the dangers of public wifi, many people tend to take one of two extreme approaches. Some don’t give it a thought at all. Some refuse to use it at all. Neither approach is completely practical. So what are the dangers of public wifi, and how can you avoid them?

Here are the dangers and the precautions to take against them.

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Linksys EA6200 DD-WRT installation

Linksys EA6200 DD-WRT installation

I picked up a couple of refurbished Linksys EA6200 routers this past weekend. For whatever reason, DD-WRT isn’t officially supported on them, though it does seem to be a popular DD-WRT router. A lot of people make the upgrade far more difficult than they need to. With some simple hacks, Linksys EA6200 DD-WRT installation is pretty straightforward.

I came up with an 18-step process that I simplified just as much as I could. Unlike some methods I’ve seen, I don’t have you editing any binary files or creating custom startup scripts.

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TP-Link TL-WR840n vs TL-WR841n

TP-Link TL-WR840n vs TL-WR841n

If you need an inexpensive DD-WRT compatible router, TP-Link is probably your best choice. But there are some big differences when you compare the TL-WR840n vs the TL-WR841n.

I’ve been running the TL-WR841n for more than two years, so I’m familiar with it. I’ve considered supplementing it with a secondary router, and the TL-WR840n was one I looked at.

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HP Compaq 6910p upgrades

HP Compaq 6910p upgrades

I spent some time exploring HP Compaq 6910p upgrades because used HP Compaq 6910p laptops are dirt cheap these days. I picked one up for $75 as an alternative to a Black Friday cheapie.

If you look for one yourself, either look for one with a valid Windows 7 or Windows 10 license on it, or get one at a deep enough discount to make it worth your while.

Here’s what I did to turn an outmoded laptop from 2008 into something better than what I could have bought on Black Friday.

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Lenovo and Best Buy team up for a $149 laptop this year

Cheap laptops are nothing new this time of year–they’ve been practically a holiday tradition since 2002 when Sotec released a decent laptop for $900, which was jaw-droppingly low for the time–but this year, Best Buy is selling a Lenovo Ideapad 100s for $149.99, which, while not jaw-droppingly low given the number of $199 laptops that were available last year, is still the cheapest name-brand laptop I’ve seen. Note: Best Buy has since raised the price to $199, but Ebay has limited stock of the same item for $129.

I’ve seen some reviews, but there is one thing I haven’t seen anyone bring up yet: This is a netbook in every way, except I think we’re supposed to call them cloudbooks now. So keep that in mind. The machine is probably worth $149.99, but it made some compromises to reach that price point.

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You might need a new router

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.

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The difference between the TP-Link TL-WR841N and TL-WR841ND

The difference between the TP-Link TL-WR841N and TL-WR841ND

I see people asking about the difference between the TP-Link TL-WR841N and TL-WR841ND (sometimes they just ask TP-Link TL-WR841N vs TL-WR841ND). Since nobody else seems to have answered, I’ll take the question.

TP-Link TL-WR841n
This is the TP-Link TL-WR841n.

Here’s how to decode TP-Link model numbers. This is true of the 841 series, which is my go-to for the moment when I need a capable yet inexpensive router, but also other TP-Link models.

“TL” stands for TP-Link. “WR” stands for wireless router. The numbers tell you where the model stands in the product line. Beefier routers have larger numbers. “N” stands for the type of networking, which, in this case, is 802.11N. “D” stands for detachable antennae.

If you don’t need to be able to detach the antennae to replace them with bigger, longer-range models, you can save some money by buying the N-model. Otherwise, the TL-WR841N and TL-WR841ND are functionally identical. They both use the same DD-WRT build.

How to find inexpensive routers to run DD-WRT

How to find inexpensive routers to run DD-WRT

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.

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What to look for in a wireless access point

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.

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