Un-Unwire Your Home

I’ve been a wireless fan for years now; my home network is pretty much an AirPort Extreme Base Station and an AirPort Express in WDS mode. I have a 5-port hub in my office for a desktop PC and my networked printer. But most of the bits that fly here, fly over wireless. However, I started getting some hints that I might be pushing it to the limit:

  • AirTunes would constantly drop out whenever someone was moving large files across the network
  • My Xbox 360 told me that my network was not fast enough to run Media Center Extender

And just a few days ago, Andy Oram posted a link on an internal O’Reilly list to an article about the coming Internet traffic jam forwarded an interesting post from CAnet News titled Internet to (almost) die in 2007 that riffed on recent Forbes and WSJ opinion pieces about the imminent death of the Internet.Andy’s post made me realize I’m not alone in feeling the strain from video. I’d like to eventually get Apple TV, but I can’t do it with my existing infrastructure, and I don’t trust that 802.11n will be the answer to all my problems: the one HD TV show I bought on Xbox Live Marketplace was 2GB, so that’s a lot of data to move over the air. Plus, a lot of my machines are 802.11g-only.

I haven’t tried renting a movie yet, although it’s clear Microsoft is thinking about the delays that bandwidth problems introduce: you have 14 days to watch the rental, and the rental expires 24 hours after you view it. So I can pick out the movie during the week, Netflix-style, and watch it when the weekend comes. Now all they have to do is get some more movies. (You might be asking why, if the download takes as long as Netflix does to deliver, am I even bothering?; it’s really about the quality of HD video. With HD over the Internet, I don’t have to decide on Blu-Ray vs. HD-DVD). And if I get Apple TV, I can just buy the movies for a few dollars more than an Xbox Live Marketplace rental.

So over the past week, we’ve been punching holes in the walls, and my 1000ft spool of Cat5 cable arrived over the weekend. I never thought I’d be wiring my house, but here I am, doing just that. Now I understand why the Xbox 360 WiFi adapter is an optional item.

On the same internal mailing list, Ben Bangert had some great advice for anyone who wants to give this a try:

I hope that’s Cat5e cable, as Cat5 generally won’t do gigabit speeds, and if you’re installing new cable you definitely want to ensure its capable of gigabit. I’ve been wiring my house with gigabit, and it definitely keeps up with anything I can toss around the network. In fact, my home RAID server is faster over gigabit than the local hard-drive.

I also have an Xbox 360 on the network, as well as an old Xbox running Xbox Media Center to stream video (until the Apple TV gets a glowing review and I’m convinced to buy one). Generally, your computers will max out before a gigabit network, as the network is faster than a single hard drives read/write speed.
One thing that tripped me up when I was making my cables, was how sensitive gigabit is to the individual parts. Apparently my end connectors weren’t Cat 5e rated and only resulted in 100mb performance. I went through 5 connectors thinking I was crimping them wrong, before I ran out of connectors and went to Home Depot to get more. After picking up Cat 5e connectors, my cables gave me the full gigabit speed.

Given how cheap gigabit is nowadays, I’d highly recommend it.

I got the original set of connectors from the package that had the crimper/wire stripper. If you find yourself with connectors (of unknown origin and rating) it’s important to know that there is definitely a difference between generic non-Cat5e or better connectors, and Cat5e connectors. I know I wish I had known before wasting 5 connectors (granted I didn’t want them anyways since they weren’t Cat 5e) and 2 hours re-crimping over and over. :)

And of course, I made the same mistake; my jacks are only rated for Cat5. I figured I’d punch down the bare minimum number of jacks for the existing machines I have now and hold off on doing the rest later. So I’m treating the current set of jacks as punch-down practice, and when I re-install them, they’ll be that much cleaner!


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I'm a tinkerer and finally reached the point where I fix more things than I break. When I'm not tinkering, I'm probably editing a book for Maker Media.

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