Upgrading My Home Wireless Network

A few weeks ago, I put out the call for advice on improving my home network. I got a bunch of responses, both for and against PowerLine. I ended up upgrading my wireless network because 1) I was having laptop connectivity issues and 2) wireless equipment is so fraking cheap. I might still go PowerLine later, though I’m thinking it’s “good enough” until I really bite the bullet and run Cat5 under my house.

Yesterday, I picked up a couple of Buffalo Wireless routers: a WHR-HP-G54 and a WHR-G125. The first one has a high-powered antenna, so I hoped that would solve my range problem. Both support Wireless Distribution System (aka WDS), so the plan was to use the WHR-G125 as a repeater and/or bridge. Also, both support 3rd party firmware, a la DD-WRT and OpenWrt. In fact, I chose these models specifically because they’re listed on DD-WRT’s Supported Devices page as best range and cheapest, respectively. Best Buy had them both on sale, so together they cost around $90 and I didn’t even have to wait for them to be shipped.

I also moved my cable modem from the loft to the living room. That way, the Xbox 360 – with all the large demo and video downloads – gets the best bandwidth, typically around 8Mbit (though SpeedTest.net has clocked my connection as high as 18Mbit).

Moving the cable modem meant putting my loft desktop machine on the wireless network. At first, I used the G125 as a bridge. Getting it setup as a bridge using WDS was fairly straightforward, except that these routers only support WEP in that configuration and WEP is essentially broken.

At this point, I figured I had to either live with WEP (*BUZZ* wrong answer) or upgrade both routers with DD-WRT firmware. According to their wiki, DD-WRT firmware supports WPA for WDS. Then I remembered a third option, detailed by Scott Hanselman a few weeks back. I had been using an Xbox MN-740 wireless bridge to get my Xbox 360 on the wireless network. However, since my Xbox is hardwired now, I didn’t need it anymore. Scott’s posted about flashing the MN-740 with the firmware from the D-Link 108AG gaming adapter (they’re the same hardware under the hood) that supports WPA. It took several tries before it worked, but eventually I was able to flash the device.

So now I am using the WHR-HP-G54 as my main router and access point in the living room and the flashed MN-740 to put my loft desktop machine on the wireless WPA-secured network. That desktop has all my media and is running Vista Ultimate, so I was able to get both media sharing and the Media Center Extender working. According to the network diagnostics on Vista, the connection is fast enough to stream SD video, but not HD. So I figure I’ll still need to run some Cat5. But for now, I’m not trying to stream HD video from the machine in the loft so I figure I can wait on the Cat5.

Plus, I have the G125 to experiment with. For $35, it was cheap enough that I can upgrade it with the latest DD-WRT firmware without worrying about losing my “investment” if I brick the thing. If I get it upgraded and working, I’ll do the HP-G54 too, and be able to use the G125 as a repeater and/or bridge. Maybe that will make the network fast enough to stream HD video, but I doubt it.

Thanks to those who offered me their advice. Any of you want to come over and help run a little Cat5 under my house, beer & BBQ is on me!