Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Three times better

I've worked out that my new router is precisely three times better than the last one. Exactly three. Not two. Not 4.2. Definitely three.

Why ?

It has 3 Pointy Things !
Actually, I can't see any Pointy Things on the last router, which makes the new one infinitely better.

Daftness aside, there is actually a good reason why More Pointy Things Are Good on stuff like this. But first ... I wanted to natter about buying techie stuff. The kind of procrastination I'll go through before parting with money. There is a dazzling array of choice out there for what to buy. Hopefully you'll find this useful and it'll save you money !

Who to buy from ?
Listen to people, check out the opinions of ordinary people. Don't go by what selling websites tell you or retail places. Or if you do, go by the opinions of places that are too massive to care. Personally, I look up what I want to buy on Amazon and check out the customer reviews. Ignore the high star ones, they usually say "This did exactly what it said on the tin". Go by the low star ones, these tell you about the shortcomings. Stuff it can't do. Whether you'll be buying a replacement in a few weeks.

Definitely whether you'll be buying a replacement.

Remember what you got before too. I personally will refuse to even look at anything Belkin* make because everything I've bought from them has been poor quality, sub par and just not very good. Things like an FM retransmitter for sending audio from MP3 player to car stereo which ... needed me to take the aerial off the car to work, got jammed very easily, didn't remember its settings because the battery backup failed. Asus are another company on my Bad Stuff list where you will see a lot of their gear on the shelves.

*(Other people's experiences with Belkin may vary - but I've had a few bits and pieces from them and they've all been poor).

Oh and never go by that "Relevance" thing when looking at places like PC World and their list of routers. The only "relevance" there is "what do we want to sell you", you should be going by "what do I want to buy". Buy the best kit, not what is clogging the shelves in the stock room because no one else will buy it.

This time around, I ignored everything else and just looked at TP-Link because I've had good experience with their Powerline networking kit. (Disclosure note - this is not an ad, TP-Link won't have a clue who I am and have definitely not offered me any compensation for saying they make Good Stuff, more's the pity - that cash could go on a Lego Millenium Falcon). Other people :

Philips - made a router which kept blocking the net.
Belkin - see earlier comments about their other stuff.
Netgear - make my Virgin Media Superhub and V+ box which .... aren't good. I would not choose to buy anything from these people (despite their reputation) given a choice.
Linksys - actually pretty good, no complaints with my last 2 routers from them.
D-Link - don't know them.
Asus - previous motherboards have been feature incomplete and unstable. A transformer pad and a laptop owned by the family broke. So that's all their kit that we've been exposed to failing in some way.

Shop around
My last two techie purchases have been from Argos, which amazes me because they were always behind the times with prices. I.e. they didn't keep up with the market, sold old kit at high prices. I bought the TP-Link Archer D5 device for £43, it costs £58 from Amazon, £95 from Maplin and an Archer D2 costs £60 at PC World (they don't do the D5). Admittedly that £43 was reduced from £90 but hey ! If it's discounted and you want/need it, grab it from the cheapest place.

Know what you're getting
If you are an ADSL subscriber (internet through the phoneline), don't get a cable router. Conversely, I could get an ADSL modem router because you can make it work with the cable internet.

What to get ?
The tech specs of these things are horrendously confusing. Ignore anything to do with speed, it's utterly irrelevant. Just done a little speed test on a 300MB file :
From desktop to laptop - 125Mbits/s. Other way - 90Mbits/s
That's actually pretty good and the file copied both ways in well under a minute. If your devices could go any quicker, you'll save ... seconds. And that's on a big file. How often will you handle files that size ? Not often. You need enough speed to handle the broadband connection (mine is 30Mbits/s which is good enough for streaming HD video). So ignore speed, it's irrelevant except when you're doing several things. It's good to be able to stream audio to the hifi and not have it interrupted by transferring photos from laptop to desktop etc.

How many Pointy Things ?
Yep. I started off with that as a joke but it is actually a serious consideration. The £40 price point is where routers with 3 Pointy Thing antennae start appearing. Why does this matter ? An antenna receives and transmits but can only do one of those at a time. It cannot listen while it shouts. So with my audio streaming, Antenna 1 listens, Antenna 2 tranmits it to the hifi, Antenna 3 listens for everything else. Like the wifi jammer that is in the neighbourhood. (Anything operating on the band can and will interfere, poorly made baby monitors and microwaves are notorious for it).

So more Pointy Things are something to look out for. They may not be what you want on display but you're going to hide the thing away aren't you ?

Dual Band
Wifi works off 2.4GHz (old stuff) and 5GHz (new stuff). Not all devices can talk at 5GHz, like my printer and camera. But pick up Dual Band if you can, because phones and laptops will really like it. It's away from all that white noise baby monitor and microwave interference.

Bigger is better - up to a point
The laws of physics are kinda boring but we all have to pay lip service to them. One of them is wave theory (indirectly related to good surfboarding). Every wave has a speed, frequency and wavelength. Speed = Frequency times Wavelength.
Wifi works at the speed of light : 300,000,000m/s.
Frequency : 2.4GHz or 5GHz (2,400,000,000Hz or 5,000,000,000Hz)
This makes the wavelength either 12.5cm or 6cm. To pick this up, the antenna has to be the same length. Or you can cheat and make a "dipole" that's a half or a quarter the length. More about dipoles (warning - it's geeky) at the link. This is why the Pointy Things attached to routers are about 12-13cm, it means they can send and receive the signals. "Folded" and "Short" dipoles are why you can get wifi adaptors smaller than the USB plug they're attached to. Not as strong but still do the job.

Some devices (like phones) hide the Pointy Things inside ... but they're still there.

Sockets - they look like new type phone sockets but are slightly bigger. Get a few of these, mine has four and they're all in use. One goes to the cable modem, one to the desktop, one to my Powerline widget and the other has a long lead to plug Random Stuff (like the work laptop) into.

Security - all devices will have WPA/PSK encryption which you MUST ACTIVATE AND CHANGE PASSWORD ! They will also have a firewall which you should turn on. There will be very little difference in the security offered by different systems but you must remember to use it.

Haven't had me dinner yet so my coherency is starting to escape me but ... Summary ?

Speed - irrelevant
Buy from people you trust
Buy from manufacturers you trust
Check out independent people's opinions
Discount opinions where you think someone's been paid to give it
More Pointy Things Are Good - science backs this up

I hope you've found this useful and not too geeky !
And ...
Cya !

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