Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Routers, lightning strikes and tech lessons

A few days ago, our router a reliable and long lasting Netgear DG834GT expired suddenly after being reduced to a lump of useless plastic by a lightning strike in close proximity to the house. There was no spectacular flash or pile of molten plastic, or anything else like that, it just died, no whimper, no anguished scream, just a total loss of connectivity. 

A quick phone call to my local friendly computer outlet, established them as principally a low cost supplier, as they only had stock of Billion routers, and at that, only the entry level Billion, as I was without a functional router, I bought one, probably against my better judgment. My level of doubt regarding the Billion, prompted me to ask the sales person to make a note, that if the Billion did not perform according to expectations, that he would replace it with a Netgear, this agreed on, I left the store, to go home to restore internet connectivity via the Billion router.

The router was connected to the network, and I used the web interface to access the router, I was expecting some differences in menu functionality, and spent a few minutes going through all the menus to familiarize myself with the functionality of the router. My initial impressions were of a product with poor interface design and inferior logic with regard to the menu layout. I however also accepted that after some ten years of using a variety of Netgear products, my familiarity with them would influence my opinion of other competing products, so I soldiered on.

I set up the internal network, added all the wireless stations in the house, after much searching through menus, whose language was as obtuse and the instruction manual. That being done I settled down to do some tests. From the outset, the Billion router was unable to maintain a connection for longer than about 15 minutes to the network. It was susceptible to all the spying scans the network does, and allows others to do on the network, the routers internal security was inadequate. The next day it was returned to the shop, which by now had a Netgear in stock. Unfortunately, it was also an entry level device, a DGN 1000-100E. feeling a bit stung by the Billion I was returning, I  immediately said to the salesperson that I would take the entry level Netgear router on the condition that if it did not perform I would return it.
Fast forward to testing phase,  as the setup only took a few minutes due to intense product familiarity. The internal wireless station control functions could not cope with my home network! Too many users! 4 laptops and 3 Wi-Fi enabled mobile devices could not all function on the network. Moved on to the next tests, which consisted of bandwidth speed measuring via various methods, including http, ftp and torrent downloads.
The routers once again could not cope with the network attacks once the torrent test was underway, and the ISP was able to jam the downloads. This resulted in systematic loss of connection to the ISP servers. Security was as poor as the Billion router’s. Although the Netgear was easily set up, due to its logical and easy to follow menu structure, it failed just as fast as the Billion when placed under stress. I repacked the router, returned it to the computer shop, and drove to the Incredible Corruption and paid an inflated price for a Netgear DGN2200 router with the alleged capability of 300 Mbs wireless connection speed on an internal network.

Fast forward to results! Everything works, the security is good, the ISP is kept at bay, with all the spy sweeps that they do, they are not able to pingflood the router, so the connection remains steady and live and has been uninterrupted for three days now. Most people who pay an ISP for internet connectivity don’t realize how much of the bandwidth they pay for is consumed by the ISP and other ISP’s in spying on the customers, good quality equipment and some knowledge will reduce that to a minimum. 

If you’re wondering about the WiFi speed on the Netgear, a simple file transfer test within 10 metres of the router resulted in transfer speeds of 95 Mbs, which I believe were limited by the bus speed on the external hard drive it was copying from. So it’s back to connectivity as usual, until the next lightning strike.

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