You are here

Goodbye DSL and Atheros, hello cable and Ralink

A couple of days ago, a Comcast technician came out and installed my brand new business Internet. I was promised 22mbps down 5mbps up. So far it usually is faster than that.

The next step was, as always, a reconfiguration adventure for my home network. I had a couple of really crazily busy days, but today I finally rolled up my sleeves and got to working on the new thing… I previously had Qwest DSL with a great local ISP, Spire. It was only the opportunity to get 5-10x more bandwidth that motivated the change. Our plan is to kill not only the DSL but our land line, which will mean that the cost difference will not be too terrible. The TOS for Comcast Business are surprisingly tolerable, in sharp contrast to their Home service, so I think I will be OK with it. But for now, we plan to keep the DSL running as a backup while we find out how the new network works—we have a 30-day trial.

To add an extra connection to my Linux firewall box, I needed another Ethernet port: I already had 3 in use. When I went to add a PCI card I had lying around, I discovered the sad truth: my current motherboard has only 3 PCI slots, the rest being PCI-Express. Two of those slots were filled with Ethernet cards, while the third held my poor old Atheros 802.11 card. Time for a trip to Fry's.

Aiee. A trip to Fry's. I hate to go there these days, but I didn't want to sit for another few days waiting for the Internet to deliver the hardware I needed. Since my main plan was to buy a PCI-Express Gigabit Ethernet card, it didn't seem like there would be much of a problem. While I was there, I thought I'd also look for a PCI-Express replacement for my Atheros card—something cheap that would do 802.11n, with either a Ralink or newer Atheros chipset. I'd heard good things about both with Linux.

Fry's had exactly one model of PCI-Express Gig-E card. One. They wanted $60 for it. I'm not kidding. I'm sure it was a very nice card, but really?

Fortunately, they had a small selection of reasonable 802.11n PCI-Express cards. I settled on the cheapest as I usually do, an ASUS PCE-N13 at $25.00. It has a Ralink RT2860 chipset, which is well-supported by Linux. I also bought a USB 10/100 Ethernet adapter for $15 in case I couldn't get the Ralink card working.

The good news is that with the latest Debian kernel (2.6.39-2) the stock drivers for the Ralink card work great. No more compat-wireless mess. The drivers are supposed to support multi-SSID mode for this card, but I couldn't get that to work. A huge amount of messing around later, I found that multi-BSSID mode works fine. I'm back to having two virtual APs on the same hardware. However, now the hardware does 802.11n, works with out-of-the box Linux, has attached MIMO antennas that don't need a bunch of aiming, and sits in a PCI-Express slot, freeing the PCI slot I needed for a cheap Ethernet card.

When I got home I ordered three IBM Gig-E PCI-Express cards from Computer Geeks via Amazon. $8 each plus $11 shipping. Go Fry's.

The next adventure was getting everything's IP address updated to match my new Comcast static IP. Actually, they sold me five static IPs; it was only $5/mo more than a single one, so why not? Anyway, I've done this adventure recently, so it only took me about 4 hours to get everything moved over and set up. Getting my iptables script right was a bit of an adventure; I also managed to update DNS for the 8 or so domains that were affected. I set up things in such a way that I should fail over to the DSL when the cable goes down.

Altogether it took me about 12 hours to get the new setup the way I want it. I learned a bunch of things along the way, and was only frustrated some. In short, a successful experience so far. Fob

Group/Project: