Networks– Wire It!

If you want the best performance out of your home network, and the best possible streaming for your TV shows, movies, and games, then you really should bypass your wireless access and connect everything with ethernet cables.  But why, WHY would you use those yucky wires, when WiFi is just so easy and cool?

Because, even in the best of circumstances, there’s just more that can go wrong with wireless connections.  Interference, signal drops and even the walls themselves will try to get in the way of your wireless connections, whereas a wired connection works consistently every time.  This is particularly important if your internet connection isn’t that great, or you’re trying to make the most of an inexpensive bandwidth plan.  If you can’t get a better internet connection, get everything you can out of the one you have!

In a previous blog entry, I gave some tips on how to set up your router to keep it out of the way.  Now I’ll give you some tips on how to connect to it via ethernet.  Actually, compared to Wireless, setting up a wired connection is very easy… you just snap a Cat-6 cable into your device, and then into your router, and you’re done.  The only real problem is in making sure you don’t get ripped off buying the cables.

Don’t buy ethernet cables at places like Best Buy, Wal-Mart, or Target.  These things are sold at huge markups there.

Instead, do your shopping online.  What you need depends on how far your device is from your router, and remember to err on the side of length, so you can snake the cable around things if need be.  5-Foot cables are good for connecting devices nearby, 6-inch cables are good for connecting devices sitting on top of each other (great for connecting a modem to a router, for example), and 25-foot cables will do the job if the device is on the other end of the room.

Suppose you’re sold on the need to hard-wire everything, but still don’t want to deal with the cable mess, or your router is in a completely different part of the house?  Well, then what you’d want to do is actually install an ethernet wall jack.  Run the cable from Point A to Point B, fish it through the wall (or ceiling or floor) and slap a plate on it.  It looks really pretty when it’s all done, and then you just plug your device into the wall the way you used to connect a landline phone.

 

Things You’ll Need:

…notice that you can get everything on that list for well under $200.  If it’s a small project, you can probably score all this for under $150.  This does NOT have to be an expensive project!

Really, all you’re doing here is cutting open the cable, pushing the strands into the appropriately-colored pins, and then trimming them with the razor blade.  If you need some extra guidance, try this tutorial, or for the visual people, try the following video:

 

 

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Less is More

As a tech, it’s not in my nature to choose form over function.  Sometimes, however, they can be the same thing, if you just think about it.  Home networking can be an example.  It’s possible, with very little effort, to set up a high-speed network in your house.  That doesn’t mean your home should look like a Borg ship.  It’s one of my biggest pet peeves that people forget the “Home” part of home networking.

So, you want to set up a basic home network?  You’re going to get a modem (probably) and then some form of wireless router.  Those are the most basic network components there are.  And you’ll probably string them together, along with anything else that connects to them.  Congratulations!  You’ve done it!  And your desk probably looks like this:

IMG_3063

Ugh, you weren’t planning on that, huh?  When you sat down to try and connect your PC, Roku, and digital blender to the internetz, it didn’t sink in just how many wires were going to be involved, did it?  Well, maybe you get a bit OCD, and clean it up, so it looks like this:

rogers-bridging-mode

Oh, now that IS better!  Nice job!  But I’m going to suggest it could be better.  Would you like to see my router?  here it is:

IMG_3055

No, I’m not being a smartass.  That’s actually my modem and router.  Or rather, if you walked into my house and asked where they were, that’s where I’d point.  What you’re looking at is the ceiling of my home, right above which (in the attic) I have my networking equipment set up.  The point is, there’s no real reason for those devices to be visible.  Nobody wants to see them, and believe me, they won’t get lonely.  If I have an actual problem with the modem or router that requires me to actually touch them, it’s just a quick trip up the stairs to see them.  In the past year, that’s happened exactly once.  It’s time to stop treating routers like they’re an art object, and start treating them like you treat your hot water heater or breaker box.

Setting Up a Hidden Home Network

  1. Start early, preferably before you sign up with an ISP.  Think about where you could put a modem/router that would keep it out of the way.  Stop thinking in terms of desks, floors, and bookshelves.  Start thinking about attics, basements, and closets.  Remember, the only time you need to look at your equipment is when there’s a problem, so an out-of the way spot is ideal.  When the tech arrives at the house to install your service, YOU tell THEM where you want the equipment.  It’s their job to make it happen.  But of course, please be polite… their job can be a crappy one.
  2. If you’ve already had your modem installed, and made the mistake of having the modem on your desk or some other unsightly place, it’s not too late.  Lots of times, it’s really easy to pull the cable to another part of the house.  Or, if you don’t want to do that, call your ISP back and ask to have a “Cable Relocation” done.  They’ll probably charge you about $100, but the desk space you get back will be more than worth it.
  3. Don’t assume that having the router in an out-of-the-way spot will mean an over-reliance on WiFi.  You can (and should) install network jacks throughout the home and tie them back to the attic or closet that hides your router.  We’ll explore just how to do this in another blog entry.
  4. Although you do want the equipment out of sight, NEVER set it somewhere where it can’t be reached again without breaking something.  Putting the modem in a cabinet is okay, sealing it inside a wall is not.  Yes, people have done that.  No, the results were not pretty.