Home Networking

spaghetti network

This is a question I’ve been asked a couple of times.  What router should I buy for my home network?

Well… you need a couple of components to serve the function provided by a home broadband router - and you can either purchase one device to cover all bases - or buy a set of individual components. 

Buying individual units will be more expensive - but can be more flexible - because you can upgrade one component at a time - and place the wireless access point in the most beneficial location for wireless coverage, rather than having to situate it next to your phone jack (and probably next to your DECT wireless phone base-station - which it will no-doubt interfere with…)

Components

  • ADSL or cable modem - sometimes comes bundled with your broadband service
  • NAT Router with Firewall - protects you from a number of internet nasties
  • Wireless Access Point - provides wireless connectivity, and seperation from the router allows you to situate it in the most suitable place for WiFi coverage (high-up and in the center of your house)
  • 10/100 or Gig switch - optional, but provides faster local connections than the switch built into most consumer routers

As a NAT Router and Wireless Access Point I use the ASUS WL-500gP V2 with integrated 802.11b/g wireless (Amazon UK / US) but I’ve ‘improved’ it by re-flashing it with the open-source tomato firmware. This lets me make sure that downloading large files doesn’t get in the way of web, VoIP, or work (VPN) traffic.  It can be configured to ensure that you don’t need to worry about someone else in the house preventing you from browsing the web by stealing all of your bandwidth streaming video, or downloading files (because you can prioritize large downloads under web page requests).

This level of traffic prioritization is a capability that you can’t get on any consumer router - but it is a little more complex to install.  Once it’s up - it runs fine.

You can also install DD-WRT on this router.

As a network switch I’d suggest the HP ProCurve 1400-8G (Amazon UK/US) to link PCs and printers together.  Yes… you could use the switch ports on the back of your router - but these are generally powered by a software-based all-in-one network processor - so won’t be the fastest in the world for transferring files between PCs on your network.  If you purchase a real hardware-based switch such as the ProCurve - you’ll get the best speed possible on your local network. [Disclaimer… yes - I do work for HP ProCurve!]

All in one device

If you’re looking for a simple all-in-one box, and aren’t interested in firmware hacking, I’ve long been a fan of the Netgear kit. From a quick scan, the Netgear DGN2000 (Amazon UK/US) looks ok, although some reviewers on amazon.co.uk are saying it’s great - and some are saying it is terrible.  I suspect that Netgear are experiencing some having quality control (or PEBKAC) issues - so if you do go this path - then you’ll need to make sure it works, and be ready to return it if there are problems.

An interesting alternative I can’t ignore in this space is the latest generation FON router - the Fonera2.0N (YouTube overview video). This is a fully functional all-in-one box device, but it also has a couple of funky extras.  

You can use it to provide your own private secure network; and at the same time offer a public hotspot to the world - and you make money whenever someone logs on!  You can also send it photos and videos to upload to flickr, youtube, picasa - and it will take care of uploading these even if your main PC is off.  If you’re into downloading files from bittorrent, rapidshare or megaupload, it will allow you to grab files while your PC is off.  If you take it with you when you’re travelling, you can even connect a 3G wireless dongle, and have it use that as the network uplink.  It really is a geek’s delight of a router. 

Let me know if you’ve got any alternatives you’ve found to work well in the comments.