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Saturday 14 April 2007

Home Networking Done Right [Muz]

So, Ser Gerald Amnesiah made a half arsed attempt at a home network blog some time back. However, being a bit of a woofter, he decided to go with 'ethernet over power cables' or some such shit. (Please also note that he's yet to actually do anything yet).

I've been giving this some thought, as we're going to be redoing the electrics in the house this summer, which presents a perfect opportunity for a blog: "Home networking for Real Men(TM)."

So, when it comes to home LANs, there's two main approaches. Wireless, and wired. Let's dispense with wireless first.

  • Lack of cable-age
  • Not being tied to a wall socket
  • Errrr....

  • Security
  • Performance (signal strength is variable based on location)
  • Subject to interference
  • Throughput
  • Potential costs: most lappies have onboard wireless - most desktops, however, don't.

Basically, fuck it off. No one cares. We're all geeks: we expect shit to work, we don't want to worry about nosy/leeching neighbours, we want to be able to stream HD por^H^H^H movies without worrying about the microwave causing interference.

The ups and downs of Ethernet using your mains has been discussed in Am's blog already, I won't bother going over it again.

Now, how someone would do a Real Network (TM). Firstly, it must be physical (i.e. wired). This means:

  • Future proof (ish). Cat5e cable is rated for 1Gbps Ethernet over short distances (100m). Unless you live in a castle, you're going to be fine.
  • No security concerns.
  • Spastic throughput (1Gbps = 1 gigabit per second = 125 megabytes per second).
  • No interference.

On the downside, you do need to run cable and shit. Now, this is either a big problem (for the average peon), or a minor annoyance (for the leet). Since the readership of this blog is exclusively the latter... errr.... never mind. I'll tell you how to do it anyway.

What you need is a reel of cat 5e (£25), a bunch of RJ45 plugs (£5 for 50) and a crimping tool (£13), at an absolute minimum. Total cost ~ £40. That will allow you to make cables up to the length you need. (There's stacks of guides out there relating to the actual construction of cables: here's the first one I found in Google.)

However, since most of EED are now married and such, having cable tacked to skirting and hanging from the ceiling a la {Hou|Am|Lurk}LAN probably isn't a goer. Loose cable coming out of the wall also sucks a bit. And finally, there needs to be some provisioning for messing around with your network topology.

All of this leads to... structured cabling. So, how I'm going to run things (assuming things go to plan).

Currently: single runs of Cat 5 from my room, sister's room, downstairs study, and by TV (for future media centre PC) all run to upstairs study, where the cable modem lives. This is a pain for various reasons. The two biggies are:
  • Router currently has to live in the study. So, if I want to start messing around with enterprise kit, or using a *NIX box as a router/firewall for learning purposes, we have a problem.
  • If I want more than one device at a given location (e.g. my desktop + lappy), I need to put a switch in at the end, which wastes a power socket.

So, new plan - clear out some room under the stairs (sister/mother have far too many shoes for their own good), stick a patch panel in there. Have two cable runs to each location (using a double keystone faceplate). This allows cable modem to stay in study where it is and makes upgrading to gigabit a bit easier. (No gigabit routers at the moment, so it'll have to be a router + gig switch. There's already a lot of tat in the study).

So, in total, we're talking 5 locations x2 runs of cable = 10 end points. Patch panels generally come in multiples of 12, so 24 seems reasonable. Why the excess, you ask? Since I'm making room under the stairs, I may as well plug in some extra shit like a server or two, a NAS, a Squeezebox and maybe some enterprise routers/switches. Who knows. This is probably overkill for most people; 12 ports will probably suffice in the majority of home cases.

So, additional cost, if you want to neaten things up a bit:

For me then (assuming I don't have the cable, plugs and tools already, which I do), the price works out something like this:
  • £40 for cable, RJ45 plugs and crimping tool.
  • £7 for punchdown tool
  • £37 for patch panel
  • £8 for the mounting boxes and face plates
  • £20 for the keystone jacks

Total = £112.

That's for potentially gigabit Ethernet to 5 locations (two endpoints per location), with proper wall sockets and structured cabling. If you're happy to have the cables hanging loose out of the wall, you can knock £70 off that price. Compare this to £60 per endpoint for powerline, which is only going to give you 200mbit if you're very lucky - you know it makes sense.

Is this for everyone? No. If all you do is browse the web, then wireless is clearly going to suffice. However, if you're going to use your network for shovelling lots of data back and forth (e.g. streaming HD video from a NAS, for example), then more bandwidth never hurt anyone. When I finally get around to doing this, there'll be another blog with an idiots guide to the execution. Watch this space readers.


  1. Who can be fucked? You'll be drilling and fucking channeling and shit to deliever gigabit ethernet to your sisters room? All she wants to do is tell people that her parents hate her on so why bother? Just wifi everything except your media centre, which is realistically the only thing that needs the speed of cable and go get fucking laid you saddo.
    PS, you dont need to run two cables to have two utp sockets..

  2. EDIT: Since that comment apparently isn't a troll... it's true, it's a lot of faff. I wouldn't be considering it but for the fact that we're going to be ripping up floorboards anyway, to redo the electrics. But if the opportunity presents itself, it's not that much more effort on top.

    How exactly can one cable be used for two UTP sockets? Unless you're suggesting only using four wires for each one, which would limit you to 100MBit, defeating the point of the exercise?

  3. Slim's right in that it's largely pointless to pipe gigabit ethernet to everything that needs it. Most things in your house are actually fine off Wi-Fi and of course it provides the additional flexibility of just moving your gear around with having to move your ports. I'd basically just run gigabit to your own gear, the server type stuff, media center, anything that is actually going to move lots of stuff.
    I actually never made the jump to gigabit and I lack a real reason for doing so. I download stuff directly to the box that plays the stuff. About the only cause to move large files is to install a downloaded ISO or something, which I do over the net and you know 100mb is pretty good for it anyway to be honest.

  4. Both links to my blog are misdirected to something else from Spiny this arvo..... However the view on powerline was to do with a requirement for one or two extra net-access points which wi-fi can't reach due to thickness of walls and size of gaff. The wi-fi vs wired is not really the point of that call as we are literally talking one or two points.
    I do think it's true that there's bugger all households who REALLY need gigabit lan round the shop; even your house (avoiding the obvious 'isn't it time you moved out' :) ).
    'Real LAN for real men' would seem to apply to me in a co-share rental of a lot of uni age blokes. There's really no general family house in our clanny type environment that isn't perfectly well suited as defined by the real user requirements by the giga-to-media-centre & wifi-for-everything-else setup. Wifi network pci cards are now extremely cheap in the 20 quid region. In a normal home running shit loads of cable all over the shop is just not necessary.

  5. "In a normal home running shit loads of cable all over the shop is just not necessary."
    Look at this. 'Normal home... not necessary'. This from the clan that brought forth Mugwum's law of fans, Jay's law of case bling, and Houmous' law of 'never let lurker near running water ever'. How the mighty have fallen. Lament with me brothers... our good crosshatch is dead.
    (PS: Fixed the links - SRI, I couldn't count)

  6. Muz, it's a fair blog and for a few folk it's probably worth a read for the information on 'how to do it' alone. However, practically speaking, it's a bit overkill I think.
    I've been looking at gigabit ethernet (replacing the full duplex 10/100 setup we have at the moment) for a while and came to the conclusion that it simply isn't worth the faff - unless you're moving huge (and I'm talking hundreds of GB and beyond) files around, a good 'standard' setup will do you fine.
    The other thing worth noting is that since nobody's internet connection will take advantage of gigabit in any meaningful way, it's possibly an extravagance.
    I've had to bin wireless because our flat is simply prohibitive in terms of build (no stud partition walls, just huge brick and concrete things) to allow a reliable signal all the time; lord only knows I'd get conn drops all over the place unless I was pretty much in the room with the access point in, and at the same time, the effort required to plumb in fixed cables was a no go.
    Instead I grabbed a couple of cheap ethernet-over-power adaptors, and I have to say, they absolutely rock - £38 from Maplin for a pair of no-brand max-14MB/s devices which required zero config, and have built in security (managed by the master controller which is accessible over the LAN) to prohibit anyone else using my connection should there be some weird power line configuration I'm not aware of.
    14MB/s might sound like an odd number and indeed it is, but 100MB/s devices were an extra £60 and the payoff didn't seem worth it. Indeed, it isn't when all I use my conn for is email/web and the occasional bout of WOW.
    My advice therefore would be either get yourself rock solid wireless, or have a look at ethernet-over-power devices if you can't get reliable wireless and tearing up your gaff just to lay cables seems like too much of an effort (which it is!)

  7. Brick shouldn't hinder wireless, in fact tin foil insulated stud walls are actually harder to penetrate very often. My neighbor shares my wifi, and they're a detached house away through two external double cavity walls and several good internal walls.

  8. Actually there's only one solution I would recommend steering free of for our audience and that's what Brit suggests :-) Those cheapy power-line adaptors are seriously sub 10mbit wire speed. They're desperately slow. Again okay for web browsing over but shovelling anything is a pain in the arse. If you're using those things, it's worth buying the full monty 200mb ones. Note the 200mb is blatant lies, a bit like Wi-Fi bitrates, but they are acceptably fast and getting on Ethernet speeds.
    There likes your problem really. That net-over-power stuff costs a proper packet for half decent performance. If you're prepared to put up with the desperately slow stuff, you're better off with Wi-Fi.