All the Graphics
Internet Sharing Solutions (Part 6)|
By Thiravudh Khoman
A year and a half ago, I started writing Part of 1 of this series on "internet sharing". At the time, I hadn't planned it as a "series", figuring that at best I would do a Part 2. Well, here we are now at Part 6 and again I'm going to insist that there won't be a Part 7. Anyway, in this part I'm going to talk about a marriage of convenience of a U.S.-style home network and a consumer-grade internet router.
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In Part 2, I screamed "I want my computer back!". Well, allow me to repeat that refrain again. Back in Thailand, I have a small room ("hong comp" we call it) filled with computers. The whole family (1 wife, 2 kids, little old me) often crams into this room to tickle the keyboards while watching another boob tube running UBC. It's a small room, so it was easy to network. In the beginning, I used thin Ethernet, but later got a 10Base-T hub and started using standard unshielded twisted pair (UTP) instead.
I'm in the U.S. now and things are a bit different here. I no longer have a "hong comp" or a den; rather, I have the usual living/dining room and some bedrooms. Life is simple though: 1 computer (located in my room of course) connected to a cable modem and 4 people sharing that 1 computer in a civilized manner. Then came catcha.co.th and their insidious online games. Now, half the family spends 6-8-10 hours a day playing online Reversi and Photo Hunt, while the other half plots to kick their behinds off the computer. (If you're familiar with WWF wrestling, this is analagous to a "Royal Rumble". By the way, I'm NOT one of the game players.)
Rather than getting a new family, I figured it was easier to just get another computer. I've spent the better part of my life making this kind of decision so it comes naturally to me. But while I've taken computers apart hundreds of times before, I've never actually built one from absolute ground zero before (i.e. I've never put/connected the core components - mainboard, CPU, power supply - in myself). Blame this partly on my friend Petch who feels sleighted if I don't give him that honour. Anyway, Petch is several thousand miles away from here and perhaps it's a good thing, since I can now build an Athlon-based computer behind his "Intel Inside"-only back.
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Despite some trepidation, that's done and I now have two computers. What remains is how to network the little buggers. Whatever I do, both MUST be able to share the cable modem/internet connection. To begin with, putting both computers in the same room was out of the question (no room); if it wasn't, this article would have been extremely short. Next, since 99.99% of apartments in the New Economy U.S. still don't come pre-wired with CAT 5 cabling, I'm faced with the dilemma shared by all aspiring home networkers: how to wire? Since I'm renting my apartment and my landlord would surely get agitated if I were to run CAT 5 cable through the walls and ceilings, the default options are:
a) Wireless. Before we get too far, let me say that I'm rather biased against wireless (I don't even have a cell phone). First off, I'm not terribly enthused about living in a soup of flying electrons. Second, most wireless solutions are too slow for my tastes. (If I wanted 1-2 Mbps speeds, I'd go back to ArcNet.) Granted, some 10Mbps solutions are now available (e.g. Intel's AnyPoint Wireless system), but they're too expensive! Nope, forget wireless.
b) Phoneline. One thing that can be said about the aformentioned 99.99% of U.S. apartments is that they all tend to be pre-wired with telephone outlets, and often cable as well. Such is the case with my apartment where every room has a telephone and a cable TV outlet. Forget the coax cable wiring though. Cable modems DON'T connect to computers that way; they connect using standard UTP. Phoneline, like wireless, used to be slow, but with the new Home PNA 2.0 specification, they can now run at 10Mbps on humble 4-wire telephone cable like the big boys.
To connect the two computers using Phoneline, I first need a Phoneline network card (NIC) in each computer. Several companies make these; e.g. D-Link (https://www.dlink.com), Linksys (https://www.linksys.com), and NetGear (https://www.netgear.com). Since these devices tend NOT to be terribly interoperable, I had to make a choice and stick with it. My choice was to go with NetGear which sells a so-called "Phoneline 10x" PCI NIC for about US$30. Reason: I already had a NetGear Fast Ethernet PCI NIC in one of the computers. Best to keep it all in the family.
Next, praise the Lord because Phoneline networking doesn't require any hubs. All you do is run a telephone "patch" cable between the computer and the phone wall plate and you're done, at least with the hardware. On the software side, you'll still need to install the requisite NIC drivers and network protocols (I use NetBEUI for Microsoft Workgroup networking and of course TCP/IP for internet communications) as you would any NIC. After this, the two computers should be able to "see" each other. On the computer connected to the cable modem, another regular Ethernet card is still needed, since that's how the cable modem connects to the computer.
Another blessing: Using Phoneline doesn't inhibit the use of a voice telephone - you can do both simultaneously. Nice.
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Having a second NIC to connect to the cable modem still won't provide you with internet sharing though, which is why NetGear bundles this functionality with its Phoneline kits. For some reason, though, I couldn't get this to work - or maybe I just didn't try hard enough. Presumably, I could have used AnalogX's proxy server to accomplish this as well (see "Internet Sharing Solutions, Part 2"), but I didn't do that either.
Actually, what I DID do was more complicated but also more flexible. And alas, a fair bit more expensive. First of all, I bought only ONE Phoneline NIC, not two, while retaining the UTP Ethernet card in the 2nd computer. To connect the now differently equipped computers, I relied on a "network bridge" (i.e. a "black box" designed to connect two networks, Phoneline and UTP) that NetGear also sells (model PE102), for in my opinion, a way too expensive US$150. This allows both computers to communicate with each other, although they still can't share an internet connection.
The internet sharing came courtesy of yet another piece of NetGear hardware, a so-called "gateway router" (model RT314) for the same US$150 price. Functionally, the RT314 is very similar to the WebRamp I discussed in "Internet Sharing Solutions, Part 1". It's slightly smaller but also comes with a built-in 4-port hub. Unlike the WebRamp though, these are 10/100 "switched" ports, a significant improvement over the WebRamp's "pooled" 10 Mbps ports. Also, the RT314 is designed for use with DSL/cable modems only (which connect to the unit via UTP Ethernet) rather than analog modems à la the WebRamp (which is equipped with serial DB-9 ports).
Setting up the RT314 is reminiscent of the WebRamp. Just fire up a web browser and point it to https://www.192.168.0.1 (the IP address of the router), at which point you'll be taken on a short but sweet graphical setup tour. I had to provide the fixed IP I use with my cable modem, as well as my ISP's domain name, DNS servers, and gateway IP address. Like the WebRamp, the RT314 comes with a DHCP server, so both of my computers are assigned IP addresses automatically when they boot up (i.e. 192.168.0.2 and up) and are notified what DNS servers and gateway to use.
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Why did I choose to configure my network in this fashion? Besides taking pity on tanking U.S. retailers, here are my reasons: