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The Toybox

people for the conservation of limited amounts of indignation


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you and your network - the art and science of expansion
children of dune - leto 1
seperis
Today we shall speak of networks again--because I'm awake and here--but first, a rant.

So I've mentioned DD-WRT, which is open-source firmware you can use to flash your router and use as the router OS. It's honestly awesome, except I just discovered something.



...once you login, there is no option for logout. At least, not in the latest builds. I mean literally, you can't logout and I have yet to find a way to make it ask me for a password without changing to a clean browser.

Here's the thing: at least with the TP-Link version, the (much) earlier build I was using did make me login every so often when I opened it and went from the default router tab to sys-info, though truthfully, even in that version I don't ever remember seeing a logout option.

(To clarify: I did not discover this as in 'first ever brilliant'. I was doing something and needed to logout and log back in and realized a.) no logout button and then googled to discover b.) it doesn't fucking logout ever.

On one hand, my primary router (Nighthawk x4s, yes, I really like the name) which is still using Netgear firmware makes me login every five minutes or every three times I change pages. Sure, it's passphrased too so it's easy to remember, but it's fucking long and boy that gets old when I'm doing maintenance or reading the logs or fucking with settings to see what they do.

(For the life of me, I can't work out Netgear's logic. Remote management is off; there is no goddamn reason within my own LAN when I login from a local machine with a local ip, it carries on like this. Urgh.)

On the other hand, DD-WRT combining Eternal Login with no ability to logout short of a.) clearing the cache or b.) taking it to a clean browser does not seem like a better option. And yeah, I tested this; the only way I can force it to ask for a login is a.) doing a factory reset, b.) re-flashing it, or c.) changing the password. Rebooting doesn't even do the trick.



Now back to you and your network!

Previous: you and your network - router and device limits.



So I upgraded my network.

My Network Shenanigans That Mysteriously Intersect with an Earlier Topic

My upgrade was not a whim and while I am having fun, unfortunately, it was due to problems, specifically in gaming and streaming with lots of dropping and what looked like internet outages. I'd narrowed down the possibilities to a.) router/Qos/devices and b.) the wiring in my walls. For obvious reasons, I took the non-sledgehammer-wall option first.

My theory was that I needed a router with sophisticated QoS (Quality of Service) rules. You've probably seen the acronym around or on your router. Some routers have it automated, some let you make detailed rules. Basically, QoS is how you tell your router what traffic to prioritize in your home network; the big three are your streaming devices (smart TV, FireTV, Roku), your gaming computer, and your gaming system(s) (X-Box, Playstation). QoS rules mean that any or all of those three take priority over anything else that needs bandwidth in your network; without QoS, basically a wifi lightbulb needing to check in with the router is equal to any game you're playing or netflix movie you're watching as far your router knows and all get an equal share all the time. One competing device isn't that big a deal; twenty all fighting for a share at the same time? Netflix lags.

So, the Nighthawks x4s was purchased. It isn't the newest, but it still tops out in speed and relability, and even more importantly, excellent QoS engine. I configured it to primary router, set it in place--and discovered irony; the latest Netgear firmware's QoS was buggy.

Before I could scream, however, I discovered about ninety percent of my problems were gone.

In my last entry, we talked about the importance of knowing device limits on routers and how even knowing the router's max didn't mean the router could actually handle that many. As it turns out, my primary problem was actually device limits; even with three routers handling my devices, devices were being dropped and re-added often enough on at least one of my routers to slow down my network and even interrupt streaming across the board.

So that happened.




All About Wireless Access Points and Wireless Repeaters

Last entry also talked about adding a second router and making it a wireless access point, but as we live in the future, you no longer have to make an wireless access point from a router; you can just buy them from amazon, frys, newegg, Best Buy, Target, Wal-Mart, wherever.

Wireless Access Point - literally a wifi access point in your home that your devices can connect to just like they can connect to your router's wifi. It is connected to the primary router with an ethernet cable.

Netgear Wireless Access Point - it was literally the first one that popped up in amazon so go with it.

Find your dead zone or place where you have a lot of devices, run an ethernet cable between the primary router and the Wireless Access Point, turn it on, and configure. As it was made to do this, it's like three steps and what I said is not actual literal directions for every wireless access point.

Wireless Repeater - Access point where you don't use an ethernet cable to connect to the primary router but instead connect to it with the wireless radios on both. Generally, this means the bandwidth available from that device is only half of that of an access point, because one radio is being used to both get wifi from the primary router and send it out to your devices.

Put it basically wherever you need wireless access.

Example repeater: Netgear Range Extender

Price Range(s): cheap to ridiculous

Pick your poison, buddy.





Which one do I buy?

Good question. Wireless access points are generally faster but you have to run ethernet cable to them from your router, which speaking as someone who does in fact do that, is a pain especially when you're talking in measurements that involve meters and yards. Repeaters are less mess and breathtakingly easy set up but do compromise bandwidth.

No, I mean there are a fucking billion of these in each category. Which one do I buy?

Right. That.

Normally this is where I say 'ask your friendly sales associate at an electronics store', but--no. Unless this is your home electronics store and you trust them....

Look, go to Reddit r/HomeNetworking or alternate community on reddit covering the subject. Tell them your router's name and model number, ask for recs; you'll get a lot but they'll be accurate and you can just sort through them by price or recommendation enthusiasm.

For the love of God do not google wireless whatever reviews. That is a hellscape.

But what if I want to pick it myself?

Christ. Saddle up and pick a safe word, masochistic friend; shit's about to get real.

First, we're taking this old school. Get the user guide for your router or modem/router combo and go down to the wifi section. Router's major bragging point is how fast they are.

There will be either one or two radios/bands:
- If one radio: 2.4 GHz band
- If two radios: 2.4 GHz and the 5 GHz

Generally, with very few exceptions, you will have two bands.

There will be two items for each you need to check:
1.) the wireless standard, aka letter salad
- for 2.4 GHz radio/band - b/g/n
- for the 5 GHz radio band - n/(a)/ac/ad/ax

2.) there will also be a hard number. Here are some examples.
- 2.4 GHz - up to 800 Mbps
- 5 GHZ - up to 1733 GHz

...you're fucking with me.

By that, I assume you want some context.

The letter salad refers to individual wireless standards aka 802.11[foo]. We are ignoring a and ah and other random letters because they really aren't relevant and who cares.

For the 2.4 GHz, there are generally going to be three
- Wireless B - top speed 11 Mbps. No device is this slow anymore. Appears for backward compatibility or to remind us things used to be very bleak indeed.
- Wireless G - top speed 54 Mbps. If you were alive in 2001, this was the shit
- Wireless N - top speed 450 Mbps. This was somewhat more recently the shit but is slowly becoming less so

For the 5 GHz, there are generally going to be these:
- Wireless N - top speed 450 Mbps. The shit but exiting stage left.
- Wireless AC - top speed* 1300** Mbps to 3.2** Gbps. Totally the shit.
- Wireless AD - top speed* 7** Gbps. Future shit.
- Wireless AX - top speed* 10-14** Gbps. Mythical shit.

* top speed is mostly theoretical and/or under ideal conditions and/or a very drunk scientist who thought it was funny.

** short version: we are now in Stream Country, beamforming, MIMO/MU-MIMO, and lots of theory. This will require an entirely separate entry and some drinking. For now, just go with it. These numbers change depending on website, time of day, and the quality of the LSD the writer took beforehand; I picked these because they appeared in greater than one reputable website.

Back to things that make sense!

In our example wireless access point, we can find this information on amazon, which is honestly a surprise:
- Dual band - that means it has two radios, one for the 2.4 GHz and one for the 5 GHz. Awesome.
- Wireless standards - 802.11.b, 802.11.g, 802.11.n, 802.11.ac
- Combined throughput of 1.2Gbps (300Mbps at 2.4GHz and 867Mbps at 5GHz).

Ignore the combined; it's there to make you think they're magic instead of doing basic addition. Look at individual.
- 2.4 GHz - 300 Mbps
- 5 GHz - 867 Mbps

Now, assume the following:
1.) The speed they give you for each band is the highest theoretically possible for this device to do.
2.) You will never get this speed in real life even by accident.

To take advantage of those (theoretical) speeds, your router needs to contain the wireless standard letters which we talked about above that are associated with these speeds. Using the information above, we can now decide if it's workable with your router.

Your router, at minimum, should have this in its specs:

1.) dual band - as in, it has two radios, one for the 2.4 GHz and one for the 5 GHz
2.) the wireless standard for each radio must at minimum have the following:
- 2.4 GHz MUST have the letter n in the letter salad. Why? Only n goes up to 300 Mbps (B and G are just sad), so that's our minimum
- 5 GHz MUST have ac in the letter salad. Why? N in the 5 GHz only goes to a max of 450, so to get higher, we gotta take it up a notch. AC, the next highest, can go up to at least 1300, so it's our minimum.
3.) the hard numbers for each band on your router should be equal to or greater than those listed for the wireless access point.
- 2.4 GHz - equal to or greater than 300 Mbps
- 5 GHz - equal to or greater than 867 Mbps

Go for it, tiger!





You're probably wondering why ad/ax are even mentioned here. Mostly to give me a moment to rant.

The fastest current standard (sort of) is the Wireless ax also known as Wireless 6, and routers brag about having Wireless ad, the second highest. Sounds awesome but here's the problem.

While in theory there are devices out there that use those super fast standards--I mean, they say they exist and who am I to call them liars--their main use right now is adding about $100 to $200 to the price of any given router, AP, or repeater and confusing the fuck out of buyers when they brag their routers can totally do double digit Gbps and technically claim they're not actually lying. While AD is--I guess--possible to actually use, AX, not so much. For AX, specs are still in development and all the hardware--based off incomplete specs--is first gen and that's before we get to the sheer lack of devices. This shit is future shit.

Do I sound bitter? A little.

My recent experience buying a router was--something. I am not a network admin, expert, or have a master's degree, but I have managed my home networks since I first got a cable modem, a router, and learned how they worked together, so we're talking roughly fourteen to fifteen years. I knew exactly what I wanted in detail and I knew my modem information, my internet speed, and my applicable wireless standards.

It still took me almost a month to wade through the all the reviews and incomplete information and really obvious misdirections and flat out nonsense about wireless ad and wireless ax which by the way do not have many or any goddamn devices to use them but act now and you can pay an extra $200 for something that you will not use in the next one to three years assuming you even have 14 Gbps internet at home.

After finally making a working list with no ad/ax, I was reduced to downloading user manuals to work out if they did what I wanted and went to SmallNetBuilder to read their charts on the hardware.

(By the way: very good site to get some raw data on hardware.)

End result: my Nighthawk had the best hardware stats and being over two years old, had already worked out all the hardware bugs. Though apparently not the firmware, but whatever, I'm satisfied. But having to spend quality time breaking down every goddamn review to find out if the router was compatible with our current timeline's technology got super old super fast.

And now you know why I am actively sending you to Reddit for advice if you're not sure.





Before you go, what's the deal with mesh networks?

Not today, Satan.



So other than reliving my router buying trauma, that was fun. Go forth and expand your network!

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