I’ve recently run into a few issues with my home networking setup. In pure overkill fashion, I’ve bought some new hardware to deal with it all and hopefully, in the process, learn a bit more about different network configurations.
One of my main problems at this point is related to location. After buying a house last year, I still have yet to make significant progress on the “Ethernet to every room” project. Wireless is great and has drastically improved since the early gear, but even the 802.11ac standard and equipment is no substitution for the reliability and consistent speed of a gigabit wired line. ac routers right now can push 180Mbps throughput at 1 meter, but quickly diminish based on additional distance, other devices and the wireless adapters involved in the whole fiasco.
For the wired setup, I have all of the means to complete the process – or at least think I do until moving to whatever the next phase of the process is. At that point there’s usually much cursing, an order or two to Monoprice, and even a trip to Home Depot. Over the year I’ve relocated my folding table of tech gear to the basement, and there’s already quite a convenient hole in the floor to run some wiring through. As a result, my main tech closet in the basement all runs Ethernet, and I’m less inclined to start sawing drywall and drilling holes to the second floor on a whim.
Another problem I was seeing was poor wireless and routing performance in general. I’ve had the Netgear WNDR3700 in place for about two years now, and it’s run both stock firmware and DD-WRT with various success. I’d highly recommend the router with stock firmware for most home configurations, but DD-WRT seems to occasionally stop sending and receiving traffic on the 5GHz wireless interface.
With a router replacement, there are three main components to be aware of:
- Router/NAT device, to handle Internet connection traffic and route it to the corresponding internal client
- Switching equipment – usually built in to the router, but additional capacity is generally needed down the line for more than four systems or avoiding lengthy cables
- Wireless radio interface – again, usually built into the router
I decided to split this up a bit into its logical components. For the router/NAT device, my friend Matt sold me on a Lanner FW-7540, which is essentially a small-form-factor box with four Intel gigabit Ethernet ports and a dual-core Intel Atom CPU. The machine easily runs software like pfSense, which is a FreeBSD distribution with a Web interface and some configuration utilities on top. It’s incredible software and very powerful.
For switching equipment, I turned off DHCP on the Netgear router and am not using the WAN (Internet) port, turning it into a wireless access point plus four-port gigabit switch. I believe there is an option to reassign the WAN port to a LAN port, but I am not entirely lacking for ports near the cable modem at this point. Other locations in the house utilize 8-port Monoprice gigabit switches and that’s probably what I’d put in if the Netgear died or started acting up.
The last part of the equation is wireless access, and I’m waiting for the Ubiquiti UniFi AP AC to become reasonably commercially available. For now, I’m expecting a UniFi AP Pro to start. Even in a residential neighbourhood, I typically see upwards of a dozen networks in range and would like a more powerful, better-located access point to serve the systems here.
So, what have I learned about this setup?
Serial access to the Lanner console is a bit of a fun time. The device includes an RJ-45 to DB-9 serial adapter, so I had to hunt for which devices around the house had a serial port. You’ll also want to have a basic understanding of how serial terminals work.
Installing pfSense – when picking the kernel, select the option that is not symmetric multiprocessing, or you’ll lose console access on the first boot. Initial configuration for making the device behave like a usual router/switch involves not only setting up “OPT1” and “OPT2” interfaces to be bridged to the LAN, but configuring the built-in firewall to allow all traffic between them. I accidentally set the firewall allow rules to only let TCP traffic pass between the network interfaces, and that basically ruined functionality for anything plugged into ports 3 and 4 on the Lanner.
IP range selection is a good thing to plan out completely, especially if you’re a moron and pick the same range that your office uses to assign to VPN clients and a number of internal systems. Stick to low-numbered 192.168.x.y subnets to interfere with the least amount of connectivity, and select the appropriate netmask. I picked 10.0.0.0/8 and was in a world of hurt reconfiguring the network the next time I had to work from home.
Don’t dual DHCP or you’ll end up with what looks like periodic packet loss. Running a continuous ping to the router showed maybe two “Request timed out” results every twenty minutes or so. This interrupted music mounted from another computer as well as the Internet connection. Make sure all other DHCP servers are turned off or locked down appropriately!
(Messages in the pfSense logs for this condition look like repeated instances of the following block)
Apr 15 01:18:02 pfsense kernel: arp: 192.168.1.100 moved from 00:1b:21:b0:7e:bb
to 34:bb:1f:bb:0a:f8 on em1
Apr 15 01:18:15 pfsense kernel: arp: 192.168.1.100 moved from 34:bb:1f:bb:0a:f8
to 00:1b:21:b0:7e:bb on em1
Update 1: Useful sites that helped sort this out were:
And finally, have a UPS on all critical parts of the network path. They’re reasonably inexpensive and it’s nice to be able to still have Internet access during a power outage situation.