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Cisco / Linksys E4200 router (Update)

For those of you who read my original posting on My home network setup and my upgrade to the Cisco Linksys E4200 may be wondering what has happened to my further testing?

Well I’m glad to say that I have some positive and negative news.

After purchasing a Virgin Super hub on e-bay and spending over an hour on the phone to them, only to find that Virgin Media won’t connect Virgin Super hub devices unless they supply them directly (some legal and technical reason that appears to me just to be a reason to try and force people to pay for an upgrade). I managed to get Virgin Media customer services to send out a super hub for free (which is better than the £20 they wanted to charge, better than the £4.50 per Month upgrade price and better than the £70 fee they wanted to charge only a few months ago.)

Now if you are thinking of getting a super hub (model VMDG480 [made by Netgear]) from Virgin Media I would warn you that it is very basic compared to Wireless routers that you can by online from Cisco/Linksys, Apple, Netgear and other related companies, but it is essential if you want to connect your own wireless router to Virgin’s network. The super hub supports the 802.11d, 802.11g and 802.11n standards but you must choose either the 2.4GHz (older, up to 42Megabits per second) or the 5GHz (more recent, up to 300 Megabits per second) frequencies, which may cause issues if you have a mix of old and new kit in your house (as we do). The router does allow ‘guest’ networks to be set up but these have to be on the same band as the normal network (so no chance of having both 2.4MHz and 5MHz).

After all this is said I would like to point out that in order to be able to use your own router (such as the Cisco Linksys E4200) that you need this (or it’s new upgraded Super hub 2), which can be switched into ‘modem’ mode to allow your own wireless router to be plugged onto virgin’s cable network without loosing some of the enhanced capabilities. In addition to that the Superhub has 4 Gigabit ports in the back which is essential for anyone looking to connect any network kit to the device (including a router), this is a big change from the old Virgin Hub (VMDG2800 By Netgear) which only acted as a 802.11b router and only had 4 10/100 Megabit connections which is, in my opinion, not sufficient nowadays. One big issue is that the LEDs at the front of the router are too bright, with no way to turn down or disable them. this has been such a issue that mine are now covered in electrical tape to make the device bearable.

Virgin do offer the newer Super hub 2, which appears to offer the ability to broadcast on both the 5GHz and 2.4GHz ranges at the same time and has 5 antenna (2 for the 2.4MHz range and 3 for the more recent 5MHz range, which is better than the Cisco Linksys E4200 2 [2.4GHz] and 2 [5GHz] combination) and it’s capable of up to 450MHz (comparable to the Cisco Linksys E4200) however the USB port on the back of the device has been disabled and there is no option to enable it ) *(details from expertreviews.co.uk). Saying all that, it does allow you to at least dim the LEDs at the front of the modem ( the Cisco Linksys allows you turn off the lights altogether, although I haven’t found them to be any issue).

So, this article was supposed to be about the Cosco Linksys E4200, so
lets get back on track.

Well now that I have a Virgin Media router that I can put into Modem mode, I can finally test the functions of the E4200.

Firstly The public wireless, this works at a basic level, where a secondary set of networks are created on the same frequencies that are enabled on the main network. The guest network
is given a different IP range from the main network (strangely it shows in the DHCP Client Table report as a ‘LAN’ connection instead of a ‘wireless’ connection ?), it’s probably best described as ‘temperamental’, this may be because my devices are usually connected to the router so it may be getting confused when I change the wireless to the Guest one (which starts with the same name but tags ‘-guest’ to the end). The settings allow you to restrict the number of uses on the guest WI-FI and you have to specify a password of between 4 to 11 characters. To access the guest network the user has to choose the network and then they should get an Web page prompting for the password.
All In all I don’t like this setup, if you have to have a password I’d prefer to be able to use a longer length ( to make it more secure) and I’d like
to be able to change the guest network
screen to something that welcomes and provides contact detail to friends, family and people that need emergency access (I believe that this is important in today’s connected world – More on this in a possible future post).

Now that I have that rant out of the road, What about the wireless it’s self. Well so far the router (acting in both router and bridge mode) has worked well with the wide range of devices connected to it. Now that I have a Virgin Media Router set up in ‘modem’ mode I can now connect it to my 1TerraByte USB drive, which I can now browse on my 13″ MacBook Pro (retina display) and saving files is easy, however best performance is when I’m connected to the 5GHz frequency (obviously).

The main issue I have is that, despite the drive being connected to the USB port and showing as USB2.0 and the MacBook Pro being on the 5MHz frequency, TimeMachine will not use the device as a backup. Numerous attempts see TimeMachine attempt a backup only to see it fail. Now since I’ve used this USB drive to perform TimeMachine backups when it is connected locally to the MacBook Pro, I suspect that the issue is with the Cisco Linksys router. My attempts
to resolve this issue have been futile as the support site advises that the firmware is the last supported and the software provided for Apple OSX only supports older versions of OSX (which is frustrating as my old imac couldn’t run the software as OSX was to old to be supported by the software ?) , these issues appear to be because I possess version 1.0 of the router. The later version of the router may support TimeMachine better, but I’m not in the position to be able to test this.

So what about the streaming media capabilities?
Well I’m glad to report these appear to be working better.

I can connect to the Streaming media capabilities of the Cisco router using my iPhone 5 ( using the Twonky app, Twonky Beam app, Media Connect or FlexPlayer apps ) which will play back M4V files created using iMovie (it still
has issues with movies ripped via handbrake, Apple iTunes purchased movies or TV shows all of which are considerably larger [?]), Music files (MP3 and M4A [iTunes]) and photos.

So, from my testing it looks like streaming works but is still buggy on Apple devices.

Since the router I have is the original V1 and CiscoLinksys

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Cisco / Linksys E4200 router

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?

Update 07/05/2012

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.

Safe and secure on Windows & OS X

For a few years now I have had to use a secure USB device for storing files ( drivers, installs, etc) as it’s company policy and the PCs have security software to prevent anyone (even us in IT) from using non secure devices.

My main issue with this has been that we support both Windows and Apple systems so have had to use Integral Crypto devices for the PCs and non secure devices for the Apple OS X machines.

I always thought it was a poor situation and I’m sure I ranted about it at the time.

I have just found that Integral now not only now produce a Mac version of the Crypto but have recently launched a Crypto Dual device, which works on both Windows and OS X!!

The device also has some handy extra features, including a unique code etched into the device for easy identification (something that was really needed in the original versions), The ability to have all the devices in your organisation to have a company hardware ID set on the devices ( allows security software to identify the devices that the company have purchased and which ones users have purchased and brought in ) and lastly, it allows for an administrator account password to be set in addition to a user password, allowing IT departments to recover data when the user has forgotten their password, so long as they have not exceeded the 5 allowed attempts which I believe still results in the data being deleted.

I have done a bit of checking and the devices are all available in the UK from Insight prices are roughly (Inc VAT) for the 32 GB versions..
PC basic version: £127
Mac 140 version: £147
Dual version: £132

Alternatively for PC users I have seen the PC only version as PC World in the past. For Mac users the Apple store sells the Mac only versions (well the on-line store does at time of writing this)

The Security level may vary slightly between these versions so I would suggest checking the prices on Insight and the specifications on Integral.

If anyone from Integral is reading this feel free to contact me with full details or to give me a review model so I can give the Dual version a try!! Hey if you don’t ask you don’t get!! 😉

Update:

For those unfortunate enough to have a Windows PC at work and an Apple at home and have been given one of the Windows only versions (ie you are in a Windows only workplace but have a Mac at home), I have tested a solution to your Issue.

On my Apple iMac ( Intel Duo circa 2006) at home I have installed the free VirtualBox software from Oracle (was Sun) and installed Microsoft Windows 7 onto the virtual PC created by the software. By installing the VirtualBox add-on pack into Windows 7 you can set it to allow access to the Secure pen drive. This works like a dream and I can copy files off and onto the device without any issues.

I assume that Bootcamp, Parallels etc will do a similar job, but I can not test this as my iMac uses an external
monitor due to a damaged LCD panel / controller so I can’t use it for bootcamp and I don’t have parallels or it’s competitors.

I assume that this will only work with Intel Macs (ie I suspect that older PPC apple devices won’t be able to get it to work as they don’t have the Intel chipset)

Of anyone wants to know more feel free to contact me.

Safe and secure on Windows & OS X

For a few years now I have had to use a secure USB device for storing files ( drivers, installs, etc) as it’s company policy and the PCs have security software to prevent anyone (even us in IT) from using non secure devices.

My main issue with this has been that we support both Windows and Apple systems so have had to use Integral Crypto devices for the PCs and non secure devices for the Apple OS X machines.

I always thought it was a poor situation and I’m sure I ranted about it at the time.

I have just found that Integral now not only now produce a Mac version of the Crypto but have recently launched a Crypto Dual device, which works on both Windows and OS X!!

The device also has some handy extra features, including a unique code etched into the device for easy identification (something that was really needed in the original versions), The ability to have all the devices in your organisation to have a company hardware ID set on the devices ( allows security software to identify the devices that the company have purchased and which ones users have purchased and brought in ) and lastly, it allows for an administrator account password to be set in addition to a user password, allowing IT departments to recover data when the user has forgotten their password, so long as they have not exceeded the 5 allowed attempts which I believe still results in the data being deleted.

I have done a bit of checking and the devices are all available in the UK from Insight prices are roughly (Inc VAT) for the 32 GB versions..
PC basic version: £127
Mac 140 version: £147
Dual version: £132

The Security level may vary slightly between these versions so I would suggest checking the prices on Insight and the specifications on Integral.

If anyone from Integral is reading this feel free to contact me with full details or to give me a review model so I can give the Dual version a try!! Hey if you don’t ask you don’t get!! 🙂

Serial killer

A few days ago, I was using my work Secure USB storage device ( stick / pen drive, whatever you want to call it) and I accidentally put it into a Window PC with a faulty USB port.

The PC in question was under a users desk and the user appears to have been kicking the front of the box, causing the plastic structure of the inside of the USB port to become broken, exposing the connectors and bending them out of shape.

When I connected the USB device to the PC it corrupted the device, I assume that the connectors passed incorrect voltages over pins that are not designed to accept such voltages.

After realising this, I tried the device on another Windows PC and received an error advising of a power surge on the USB port interface and that the device had been deactivated (at least there is some sort of integrity checking).

Interestingly I was asked a few days later to investigate a fault on an Intel iMac which was experiencing faults with an interactive whiteboard connected to it. A colleague had already looked at the issue and upgraded the firmware on the machine and I upgraded the drivers and the software for the interactive whiteboard but the iMac was showing an error on login “USB Over Current Notice: A USB device is currently drawing too much power. The hub it is attached to will be deactivated” .

Because of my earlier experience with the PC I checked the USB ports on the iMac and found a broken port where the connectors were touching the shielding surrounding the port. It appears that the power sent through the pins were being transferred to the other pins, and presumably the earth, causing the error. As the site did not have the funds to have the machine sent for repair, I carefully moved the pins using a watchmakers screwdriver so that they weren’t touching the shielding or each other and then taped off the faulty port.

The iMac is now running quicker ( which makes sense as it’s not having to deal with a hardware fault) and the users are now aware that they have to be more careful when connecting USB devices so as not to damage another port.

I hope this information helps someone else in a similar situation.