The Gadget Bag: Wired for Wireless
Posted Nov 1, 2008

Now that I have had the chance to upgrade my wireless link in my studio network—as discussed in October’s edition of The Gadget Bag—I can report to you on how I did it and why.

Let’s begin with the why. Years ago, I set up a wireless system for my laptop. This worked great at the time, but now that the speeds of everything else have increased, I realized recently that the time had come to upgrade the wireless system.

When wireless systems first came out, you had to buy something called a "wireless access point," which was basically a transmitter/receiver that plugged into your existing cable or DSL modem or network router.

This was pretty straightforward and simple as there were few choices since wireless technology was in its infancy. Now, two or more generations later, there are dozens of choices: Wireless-G, Wireless-N, gigabit networks, integrated wireless/wired routers, and even combo modem/wireless/wired network boxes.

Obviously, a combo unit would simplify installation; but for people like me, who have several devices on the network and a router that has more ports than most all-in-one boxes, that won’t work.

I purchased a Netgear WNR854T (Figure 1), a 4-port wired and Wireless-N router for $45 (on sale), with the hopes of just installing it in the same way as my old access point since no one offers "just" an access point anymore.

Boy, was I wrong. These new devices are designed to be easy-to-install, integrated network solutions. They give you a high-speed combination of Wireless-N and four wired ports, all in one box.

Searching the web for solutions only turned up suggestions for a couple of older models. I tried these and found they worked with limited function. I was able to access the web but not the other devices on the main router; it was almost like a separate network.

A quick email to the Netgear tech support team got me detailed, step-by-step instructions on how to do exactly what I needed. It took me about 15 minutes to install it as an access point with full functionality.

One of the main issues is that you have to disable the "router" function. This prevents the unit from trying to assign the ports (giving each port its own IP number).

You also attach the unit to your current router by using one of the four ports designed for an output, leaving your other three ports for additional wired devices. There are a couple of other particular settings that must be made (mostly check boxes and a couple IP numbers that have to be changed) while running the setup software.

The best and easiest way to accomplish this task is to contact the manufacturer for specific instructions. This will ensure that your frustration level remains within a normal range.

You’re probably wondering why I didn’t just dump my old router for the new one. My "old" router has seven ports, a built-in parallel print server (yes, I still have a parallel printer), a backup phone modem, and a hardware firewall. So far, I haven’t found a combo unit that contains all of those features. But now I’m happy: I have my network. I have a new wireless access port with a lot more bandwidth (I went from 11Mbps to 136Mbps). I’ve also increased my range (the Wireless-N unit has a higher output that has eliminated dead spots) and added another three wired ports.

I did have to get a new PCMCIA card for my laptop, though. But that only ran me $25 for a Netgear WN511, and it installed without issue in about 3 minutes.

Here’s a word of caution for anyone installing a wireless network: Activate the security.

There are several methods of doing this, but the most common one is WEP, which requires you to create a numeric code that gets installed in both the computer interface and the wireless base unit. This sets an automatic password of sorts that will keep other people in your vicinity from accessing your network, your computer(s), and your data.

Network-Based Hard Drives
While we’re talking about networks, let me update you the network-based hard drive that I talked about in October’s installment of The Gadget Bag.

Not only does a network-based hard drive allow you to share data with every computer on the network, you can also use file transfer protocol (FTP) from remote locations to transfer large files and access your network via the internet, if it is attached to the web or a wide-area network (WAN). So if you are on the road and you need a file, letter, or video clip, you can access it by just logging onto your own network.

Another item that came across my computer recently is the Media Vault (Figure 2), a LAN-based hard drive unit from HP (MV2010). It comes with a 300GB drive and is expandable to 1.2TB. Plus, it contains USB ports that can be used on a print server—all for $160 (eCOST.com).

Keep it Green
I’ve had a lot of response to both the Being Green and Dealing With the Downturn topics addressed in recent Gadget Bag columns. I have some more tips on how to decrease your environmental footprint and maybe even save some bucks in the process.

Check your computers for their energy-saving functions. Most computers have options for shutting down the display and hard drives after inactivity for a predetermined time period (which you can set).

Some even have functions that actually put the whole computer into sleep mode (everything basically shuts down, except for minimal functions), and you can awaken your system by hitting the power button.

Unfortunately, this will cause issues with editing computers, especially when rendering, so they should not be set for sleep mode. But you can kill the monitor to solve that problem.

Other computers that are networked and have access from other machines should also not be programmed for sleep mode.

You can set these for "wake up on LAN," meaning that any inquiry from another computer received over the network will reactivate the computer that may be in sleep mode (Figure 3).

If you are still using a CRT monitor for your computer, consider replacing it with an LCD. The LCD units draw much less power and generate less heat, which means they are less taxing on air-conditioning systems.

And don’t toss the old monitors. For one thing, it’s illegal to just throw them out. There are several recycling companies and local events that will take the monitors, break them down, and recycle the components. You should also consider donating them to schools, assuming they still function properly. It puts them to good use, helps the school’s budget, and keeps their students supplied with decent computing equipment.

Something that I have been trying to figure out has to do with the plastic bags that most grocery and department stores use for you to tote your purchases home in. These bags are a "No. 2" plastic, which means they are recyclable. But the confusing part of this story is that most municipalities will not accept them for recycling. The good news is that most of the stores that use them will accept them for recycling. Some grocery stores will even deduct 5 cents per bag if you reuse or bring your own. This includes the reusable eco-friendly bags.

Talking about reusing things … we all buy product, but if you make purchases online or via mail order, save the packing material and reuse it. I’ve saved several hundred dollars (maybe more) by reusing cardboard boxes, those peanuts, Bubble Wrap, and air bags. For years, all I’ve had to buy for shipping product was packing tape!

The USPS offers free boxes for Priority and Express (next-day) mail services. The packages come in several sizes, and if you buy and print the postage/labels through its website, you get the confirmation service (valued at $1.30) for free and a discount on the shipping charge—all for something that you have to do anyway, from the comfort of you home/office.

Plus, they will come and pick up the package(s) for free!

Ed Wardyga (wardyga at kvimedia.com), owner of Keepsake Video and KVI Media in Rhode Island, has been producing event video since 1989, specializing in stage productions. He runs the website www.theGadgetBag.net and is the recipient of the WEVA Walter Bennett Service to Industry Award.