Router Fried – Time to Upgrade!

My super dependable Linksys WRT-54G (v1.1) finally gave in.  I spent an entire morning last week with my cable provider troubleshooting my Internet outage as I couldn’t believe that it could the one device that hasn’t caused me any issues for years.  I only upgraded the firmware once to version 2.2 and ran fine for a very very long time.  Strangely enough I think I may have cause the device to fail as two weeks before hand I had did decide to upgrade the firmware to 4.21.1. Don’t ask why – I really don’t know why I did it.  The latest firmware had QoS abilities, etc.  but nothing I really needed.

 

In any event, it ‘died’.  I did ‘argue’ with the cable companies tech support as they had me changing out the cables and splitters and whatnot.  C’mon! when was the last time a cable went bad on you?  whatever.

 

MB053 So it was time to upgrade.  Since I switched the entire household to Macs, I figure I’ll pay the extra premium, drink a little more kool-aid, and buy the Apple Airport Extreme Base Station.   Since I have a house filled with people who cannot live without the Internet, I had to run over to the local Apple store at the mall.  Pretty fast transaction – I like that they have those hand-held checkout devices so that you don’t have to live in that never-ending line at the Genius Bar.

 

So you can read all about the Airport Extreme Base Station in the link above.  I’ll just give you my impressions and why I bought it. 

Reasons to buy it:

1) it’s pretty –  since the device will be located in my office, I didn’t want/need to see a device that look technical like the old styled Linksys devices.  If Apple does one thing right it’s packaging.

2) 802.11n-level wireless – although it’s still yet to be passed as a standard, I really wanted to jump in on the 802.11n wagon.  I didn’t want to run into any problems with trying to use 802.11n-level wireless with the MacBooks and the new device.  If I go with Apple, chances are I won’t have a problem.  In addition, when the standard is passed and there are any updates, since I stuck with one vendor, I shouldn’t have any issues.

3) Gigabit switch and wan –  not too many vendors offer both a gigabit switch for the local area network AND a gigabit port for the WAN side.  I maybe dreaming here as I didn’t do a lot of research here, but I don’t recall seeing too many.

4) USB port – many routers have this.  However, the Apple version is rumored to allow you to use any harddrive connected to that port to be used as a Time Machine device.  Something I may do in the future if I don’t want to continue to run the Leopard Server.

At the end of the day, reason 1 and 2 are the big reason for me buying a much more expensive device than I needed to.

Here is something they don’t tell you about the device:  YOU CANNOT CONFIGURE THIS THING VIA A NETWORK CABLE.  or at least it’s not apparent. I had to use the MacBook Pro to set up the device.  Another nugget – you have to install the Airport utility in order to configure the device!  No built in web-server!  What a pain!

Since I was using a new wireless device, I decided to upgrade my security protocol to WPA2 Personal instead of WEP.  So I had to go to all the machines in the house and reconfigure them.  Wasn’t as bad as I thought.

What struck me as a surprise was the number of ways you can configure the device.  You can used it not only be your wireless network – but you can also configure it to extend an existing wireless network (provided you are using another AirPort Extreme.) You do have the ability to configure quite a lot of settings – more than I thought a company as controlling as Apple would let you do.  For instance, you can configure the strength of your wireless signal so that you can limit the range of the network.  At 100%, it doesn’t give me any more than my WRT did — but its cool to see that you limit the size of your broadcast.

Believe it or not, this router was the hardest thing I’ve ever bought from Apple to configure.  I guess because of the flexibility of the device and the huge variances of networks out there made the wizard-led configuration process more challenging.  I assume that it was the best that Apple could do – but I was actually wanting something more dumb-down that would allow me to manually make these changes rather than having being led through my choices.

Another thing that struck me as odd – the internal firewall on the device.  You don’t hear much about it.  Is it stateful? or what? How can I change it? etc.  Apple does mention on their website that the firewall is there – but I can’t find much information on it.  There is a configuration page in the Airport utility that allows you to change some of the firewall settings (port forwarding, etc.)  But I feel that I have to put my faith in Apple’s hands here and that Steve knows better than me.

In any event, the router works.  All the MacBooks are blazingly fast -even with the upgraded security protocols.  I’m pretty happy with the purchase.  I do want to get my hands on the Airport Express Basestation – I should be able to keep that one upstairs to further strengthen the network connections there – or take it on the road and make that hotel room wired access wireless.

 

-JT

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