NETGEAR Powerline AV Adapter Kit Review

Arthur C. Clarke’s 3rd law states that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. I suspect Arthur might have felt somewhat vindicated if he ever played with NETGEAR’s powerline ethernet kits. There’s something uncanny about having a router work with one missing wire. I expected someone in a bad suit to run in and pass a metal hoop over the router to prove it wasn’t connected to a network.

There’s some satisfaction for me that these Powerline devices make a secondary use of existing cabling. They somehow cram their signal straight down the power cables, so anywhere you have a wall socket, you can have networking. Our current house has plenty of crawl space for running Cat6 (and I have), but the rigmarole I conducted at previous dwellings would have been unnecessary with this kit.

The downside is these devices can be a bit slower than a standard wired network, and are susceptible to electrical noise (like that caused by large appliances turning on and off). I didn’t notice any issue with this. I had no problem shuffling big files around and streaming video across the powerlines within my house. This particular kit comes with a four-port router on one end, so you can plug multiple devices in. To cater for the noise issue, the router has priorities on each port, so if the signal is degraded, the lowest-priority ports lose their speed first. The idea being that you plug your important media streaming device into the high priority port, and it should keep on working even if other devices are slowing down.

Mood: pleasantly surprised. If you need wired networking and aren’t a cable guy, grab your magic wand and a NETGEAR Powerline Ethernet Kit.

Whoops! After Rob’s comment below, I realised I have completely omitted the security facility in these devices. Each unit has a “security” button, and if pressed within a few seconds of each other, they automatically pair up with a unique code, prohibiting other devices from connecting. This would be especially useful in an apartment environment.

Linksys WRT54GL Custom Firmware is Essential

My previous posts on how to set up ADSL routing and bittorrent support with the Linksys WRT54GL have generated a fair bit of interest.? One of the most common questions seems to be people having problems with their WRT54GL running stock firmware.? To make myself completely and utterly clear:

The stock WRT54GL firmware is complete, unmitigated garbage.

I’m not sure what Linksys/Cisco were thinking, but the stock firmware is indeed totally horrible.? I can pretty much guarantee that if you start a P2P session on the stock firmware, you will be unable to browse the web soon afterwards.? This is because the NAT translation table fills up with about 200 entries from the P2P client, and no more connections can be made.

I highly recommend updating to the latest Tomato firmware.? DD-WRT is also ok, but Tomato is nice and clean and has really cool interactive bandwidth graphs.

XP Wireless Connection Weirdness

Check out the image to the right.  Click on it for a full-sized version.  Am I connected or not?  I can tell you that I’m posting this right now with the ‘connection’ in that state.  So very strange.

I really don’t know how people can live with WiFi as their main connection type.  Usually I only use wireless from my laptop, Nintendo Wii and cellphone.  We’ve moved house recently, and until I can dig out my RJ45 crimp tool from one of the myriad boxes, drill a hole in the floor, and run some Cat6, I have to use wireless from the main PC.  The WiFi connection is just way too flakey to have it as my primary connection.  Anecdotal evidence from friends is the same: regular dropouts, trouble reconnecting, random availability.

The upside of the new house is that the crawl-space under the floor is massive.  It’s easy to stand up at one end of the house, and the other end is accessible with no more than a crouch.  None of this commando-crawling like we had to do at the last place.  Also, there are a couple of power points in a workshop under the house, so the current plan is to grab an old cupboard to use as a server/network housing, and stick the ADSL/router gear down there.

I’ve been accepted into the Windows Home Server beta program, so I might just have to build a server box to jam down there too =).  I love owning a house again.  In my book, home improvement isn’t a 3rd bathroom, it’s coding in the workshop with the network cupboard fans blowing warm air over my knuckles.

[tags]wifi, networking, Windows Home Server[/tags]

ADSL Routing Solution in Detail

My previous posts on my ADSL setup have generated a great deal of interest, so I’m now adding a detailed writeup on how to set up this system.
First, here is a reference diagram of how everything fits together:

Bear in mind that you could replace any part of the system with something comparable. E.g. the RTA1320 could be replaced wtih any ADSL router that supports half-bridge mode, and the WRT54GL could be replaced with a dedicated PC runing Smoothwall or some other full-blown firewall package.

Continue reading “ADSL Routing Solution in Detail”

Router Addendum: Dynalink RTA1320

I forgot to mention the other piece of my epic ADSL Bittorrent setup: my modem.

I use a weeny little Dynalink RTA1320.  At first glance it probably looks a bit small and pathetic, but don’t be fooled.  It has a full-blown ADSL2+ compatible modem in it, and quite a nice router system, but I’m cold and hard and don’t care about the router system.  I only care that it supports PPP half bridge mode.

I’m gonna get a bit nerdy on you here.  Most sane countries use PPPoE (Point to Point Protocol over Ethernet) to authenticate their ADSL clients, meaning any device that can carry an ethernet signal can carry the encapsulated authentication packets.  Good idea.  This means you can set up an ADSL modem in raw bridge mode, and have your router pass the authentication information down the wire.  The modem only has to deal with modeming (modulating and demodulating)* the ADSL signal.

In silly old New Zealand, we use PPPoA (the A is for ATM, which is does not stand for Automated Teller Machine).  I believe this is because large parts of our backend infrastructure are, ummm, crap.  This causes issues because the modem has to setup the PPP connection (because routers without modems can’t talk ATM), and in most cases this means modems also have to be routers, and combined modem-routers are almost universally shite.

Enter our saviour: PPP half bridge mode.  If I understand correctly (and the chances of that are relatively low), then the modem/router running in PPP half bridge mode acts as follows:

  1. The modem sets up the PPPoA connection using the authentication information you give it.
  2. It then it grabs the MAC address from the internal connection (in my case the ‘internet’ port of the WRT54GL) and exposes it to the intertr0n. 
  3. Any packets received on that MAC address are forwarded without further consideration to the internal connection. 

So once the connection is established, the ‘true’ router effectively sees all the internet traffic, and the crappy modem-router doesn’t have to do any hard work dealing with NAT or firewalling.  Sweet!

So in summary, Ben’s recipe for ADSL Bittorrent successTM:

  • Dynalink RTA1320 in half-bridge mode
  • Linksys WRT54GL running DD-WRT, with config changes to NAT behaviour

*So why isn’t it a moddem then?  Eh?

[tags]bittorrent, networking, personal[/tags]