Zombie “Kill of the Week”

February 19, 2011

Entertainment, Wireless

There is a time and a place for everything.  This week was the time to upgrade my infrastructure.  I’ve had a wireless router since the beginning of the last decade.  My first WiFi router was a 3Com device.  It supported 802.11b.  My next router(s) was a Linksys WRT54G that supported 802.11g.  So now that the new wireless standard has finally been approved, it was time to upgrade to a device that supported802.11n – or whatever draft specification is currently under review/consideration/implementation.

I tend to be a thoughtful man when it comes to buying technology.  So I considered the following:

  • A desire to stream video content
  • A multimedia infrastructure that used Ethernet connections to the TV, the Blu Ray player, and a game console
  • A room location that did not have Ethernet but needed a wireless Ethernet bridge
  • A need to link the high-speed infrastructure and a low-speed camera infrastructure (featuring an 802.11b access point)
  • My past experience with firmware (which included three years of using DD-WRT)
  • A desire to use open source components wherever possible
  • A need to upgrade my broadband bandwidth to support simultaneous streaming and web browsing
  • A desire to switch ISP’s in order to save some money

This was a daunting list.  And I tried to meet every objective on the list.  I think that I may have succeeded – but not without paying a price.

My first choice was to replace the wireless gear that I had.  So I selected a Buffalo wireless router.  In particular, I chose the Buffalo WZR-HP-G300NH as my new router.  It uses the Atheros chipset for the radio.  So I knew that it would provide the signal coverage that we need.  It also ships from Amazon with DD-WRT.  At the same time, I was tired of running a home-built wireless Ethernet bridge for the entertainment center.  So I also purchased a Buffalo WLI-TX4-AG300N as a replacement bridge.

I installed that infrastructure last weekend.  And it worked flawlessly with my Time Warner cable connection.  But I still needed more bandwidth from my ISP – and I wanted to save a few bucks on my monthly cable expenses.  So on Tuesday, I worked from home while my “cable guy” switched my infrastructure from Time Warner to SureWest.  Why SureWest?  Because we had used them many years ago when they were Everest.  And now that I no longer needed any exclusive content from Time Warner,  it was time to change.

The change was not as simple as I would have liked.  First, SureWest needed to string new cable.  OK, I could live with that.  But then SureWest felt compelled to change the cable modem to a Cisco DPC-3010.  This is a fine device.  And I am sure that SureWest got quite a deal with Cisco.  And I know that the Cisco gear is very manageable for the provider.

But the customer experience was awful.

I went from a 15-30mbs service to something quite a bit less.  Yes, I had contracted for 25mbs.  But my experience (as measured by Speedtest.net and Speakeasy.net) was only about 11-12mbs.  I was horribly disappointed.  Indeed, I felt like the corporate zombies had stolen a good thing and replaced it with something less appetizing.

The cable guy had me test a direct connection between my new cable modem and my PC.  In that configuration, I could get ~25mbs.  Shoot!  That meant the issue was with the router when I put it between the cable modem and my PC.  I expected some performance loss.  But 50% is just plain unacceptable.

So I went off to the forums to seek information – and a little solace.  Based upon recommendations from forum gurus, I updated the router firmware to the latest DD-WRT versions.  I first tried build 16144.  I then moved on to build 16214.   But the results were always the same: I was seeing about a 50% bandwidth loss.

I thought the issue might be the cable modem.  So I contacted both SureWest, their outsourced technical support staff and I even checked with Cisco.  It seems that SureWest will not support any modem except their customized and re-branded Cisco.

Consequently, I had but one alternative: change the router.  But I didn’t want to get rid of my shiny new router.  And it had performed so well before the ISP change.  Therefore, I decided to switch to the default Buffalo firmware before I just swapped the whole thing out.  This meant that I would be abandoning one of my requirements: i.e., using DD-WRT.  But I had to test this in order to really determine where the problem was.

After a few minutes of downloading code and a few minutes of uploading the firmware to the router, I had the new/old Buffalo firmware running on the device.  And what was the result?  I started to see performance approaching 25mbs.  Conclusion: DD-WRT, the Buffalo router and the Cisco DPC-3010 don’t work well together.  It could be any number of things.  And I will still pursue a DD-WRT solution.  But for now, I have met all of my customer requirements – while compromising on one requirement from the infrastructure team.

In order to get what you want, you may need to abandon a well-worn rule or two.  For me, I decided to meet my family’s requirements – and defer my geek requirements.

And what was the first movie I streamed using the new infrastructure?  You guessed it: Zombieland.


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