Readers of this blog may remember me mentioning my home setup and my plans on future upgrades..
Things have changed a bit and I thought I’d let you know my experiences so far..
I have a fair bit of IT kit.. salvaged IT kit (iBook G4, Apple iMac [2006 intel chipset]), my 5 year old Dell laptop, my iPhone 3GS, our Nintendo Wii, DSi & our iPad and My wife finally upgraded from her blackberry to a Samsung Galaxy Ace. My old router was one of the best available at the time, but with only 4x 10/100 network ports and the wireless G wifi it was struggling with all the devices competing to share the Virgin media connection.
I finally upgraded this to a Cisco / linksys router, the E4200 Wireless N-450 Dual Band Gigabit Cable router.
I believe that Cisco have upgraded the hardware since we purchased it but I assume that the firmware is not that different from the original version that I have.
The dual band allows the older systems to use the Wireless-G signal, whilst newer devices can use the Wireless-N signal for video streaming etc. Well that’s the theory but the signal strength doesn’t go far enough, dispite having 2 dedicated internal ariels in the unit, however finding a more central location may resolve this issue in the future.
The 4 Gigabit Ethernet ports would be great if Virgin’s Netgear router ( I had to get the original Motorola Surfboard modem replaced as it gave up the day the Cisco arrived) had gigabit ports on it. Luckily I only have my old iMac running on the ethernet ports at the moment so it’s not a massive deal breaker for just now.
The E4200 also has a USB port to allow for file storage using an external USB drive, not as good as a NAS, but space for storage and backup is always worth having. This was a struggle to get set up originally as the software for Apple OSX is focused on more modern versions (Snow Leopard & Lion). I have found that the best way to use the USB drive sharing feature on the the Mac is to format the disk on the mac ( as the router software only formats in Windows format) and then plug it in the USB port at the back. I have added the share to my startup items on the iMac and saved the account details so that it appears on the desktop on login and I can use it as a backup drive.
The original Firmware needed updated in order to get the file sharing working properly but it’s good that Cisco/linksys are putting out firmware upgrades quite regularly.
The USB port (unfortunately there is only one and it doesn’t appear that it will work with a USB hub) can be used to share out a printer over the LAN & WAN. during my testing it worked OK with the iMac, unfortunately I have a Canon Pixma device that has printer / Scanner and disk printer so it wasn’t really what the port was intended for so it’s back connected to my iMac. Also the sharing of the printer via the USB port doesn’t support Apple’s AirPrint so is no use of you want to use it with your iOS devices (use something like Fingerprint on an iMac instead).
The multimedia features of the router do not appear to be very Apple friendly and only work on the iPhone / iMac if you download apps such as MediaConnect and FlexPlayer which are a bit basic and I had trouble getting them to work properly with my test media content as the TwonkyMedia server appears to be more Windows media oriented? ( please see update below for update(s) on streaming media to/via Apple devices)
I have tried to use the FTP functions using my iOS devices but I have decided that it’s a lost cause and I don’t feel the security is strong enough on the router, just my feelings but I prefer my files to be safe and private.
The second ‘public’ wifi ( an option on the the E4200 ) is a good idea and I played about with it but unfortunately as Virgin replaced my ageing cable modem with a Netgear router I have had to set the Cisco to Bridge mode, which disables the guest network functions. When I did play with the guest network I was expecting to see something on my web browser like you see at a the local coffee shop but it was more basic than that, so it’s ok if a friend comes over and needs access [although if they were a friend or family I’d probably just set them up on the main WIFI] but it’s no good for anyone in the street that needs to have Urgent/emergency access to the Internet 😦 [guess I expect too much]
Overall it’s a nice small router and will serve us well for a while. The lack of Apple friendly options is very disappointing from such a large International company, but I guess if you want Apple features you have to buy Apple products?
One day technology will catch up with my expectations?
I have given the Twonky Media Server another try and I have had better results after a recent upgrade to the MediaConnect software (which worked well enough as a demo for me to upgrade to the full product using the in app option).
I have found that if I copy my music files from iTunes to the external USB drive they steam to my iPhone without any issue.
So far it’s early days and I tried playing a Handbrake ripped version of Family Guy (one of the StarWars special episodes – yeah I know it has a free digital copy, I was playing about with Handbrake ok!) and it ran without issue on my iPhone and on the iPod (2), however other TV content that was in my iTunes library (proper download) didn’t play, however that could be an signal issue rather than a router, compatibility or software issue.
I haven’t tried putting image files on the drive again as I’m not sure if it’s worthwhile or not, ( ie can I import to/ export from the photo library on my iOS devices?) possibly something for future testing when I have some spare time.
For those looking for some tech details about file compatibility the Twonky Server is compatible with the following file types (details from http://twonky.com/products/twonkymac/twonkyu.aspx )
Music: MP3, WMA, WAV, 3GP, M4A, MP4, LPCM, Ogg Vorbis, FLAC, MP2, AC3, MPA, MP1, AIF
Photo: JPEG, PNG, TIF, BMP
Video: MPEG1, MPEG2, MPEG2-TS, MPEG4, AVI, WMV, VOB, DivX, 3GP, VDR, ASF, MPE, DVR-MS, Xvid, M1V, M4V
Looking at the compatibility list it’s clear that my earlier statement about compatibility was misleading and I guess I’d just had a bad day when I ran my original testing – I apologise if anyone feels that I have mislead them but we all make mistakes. The compatible file formats make the software and therefor the Cisco router, compatible with a wide range of hardware and software that supports DLNA / uPnP.
I have downloaded the ‘Twonky Mobile’ app for iOS devices and will test it when I get a chance so keep an eye out for a posing about that.