November 2nd, 2019

Tall ships (porthole)


Today's quiz of "decode-the-marketing-buzzword" is on wifi standards. Your starter for ten: what does "AC1600" actually mean?

I'll give you a hint: it's not 1600Mbps 802.11ac wifi. Because the marketroids have decreed that for dual-band access points the number is the sum of the 2.4GHz and 5GHz radio speeds. Which means that in some cases, smaller numbers are actually faster.

The point behind all of this is another round of computing upgrades. Having bought a new shiny toy, it occurred to me that the bottleneck in my networking is now my router. It's a fairly decent Netgear DGND3700v2, but is only an N600-class access point which decoded from marketing-speak is "802.11n, 2x2 TX/RX streams, 300Mbps 2.4GHz and 5GHz". I bought that back in 2013 and later in 2014 I added a N600-class PCI-e card for the desktop (and decoded from marketing-speak that means "802.11n, 2x2, 300Mbps 2.4GHz or 5GHz") - at the time that was a decent upgrade from 802.11g, but time marches on and there's much faster kit available. In particular, the laptop has an Intel Wireless-AC 9560 chip ("802.11ac, 2x2, 867Mbps 2.4GHz or 1.73Gbps 5Ghz") so it's worthwhile bringing both desktop and router up to 802.11ac.

Upgrading the desktop is an easy choice: Gigabyte do a 802.11ac PCI-e card which is really an Intel Wireless-AC 9260 M.2 card (basically the same as the 9560 in a different package) and a PCI-e and USB to M.2 E-key adapter to go with it. Being PCI-e I can drop it straight into the eventual replacement for Nyx, and being a M.2 adapter when 802.11ax becomes mainstream I can drop a newer module into it.

This just leaves the router, which is where all the marketing-buzzword hilarity starts. The ideal router would be capable of at least 802.11ac 2x2 1.73Gbps 5GHz, and that's where it gets complicated. There's two ways to reach 1.73Gbps: 2x2 streams in a 160MHz channel, or 4x4 streams in a 80MHz channel. Guess what most do? To make things more fun, some kit advertises 1.3Gbps which looks like a good compromise until you dig further into the specs and realise that's a 3x3 stream solution and so can only do 867Mbps to a 2x2 client. But in theory such a router can split the streams across multiple clients making it not completely pointless.

To make it even more fun I also need ADSL2+ support. I basically have three options here. Option 1: buy a ADSL wifi router. Option 2: buy a non-ADSL wifi router and drop my existing router into bridge mode (option 2a: replace the existing router with a ADSL modem - which simplifies configuration). Option 3: buy a wifi access point and disable the wifi radio on the existing router (which is gigabit-capable).

Option 1 is the simplest one but also the most limiting - ADSL wifi routers have gone out of fashion with the rise of fibre and ISP-supplied routers being "good enough" for most. Option 3 seems to mostly contain range extenders and commercial kit, so option 2 is the most likely path for me to take. I might pickup a standalone modem anyway depending on how well the old router handles being a bridge and what the total cost works out as.

There's a certain amusement in how my networking setup is going full circle, from separate modem/router/wifi to an all-in-one box and back to separate devices...

Anyway, overly-technical ramble aside an AC1200-class ("802.11ac, 2x2 streams, 300Mbps 2.4GHz and 867Mbps 5GHz") or better is probably a starting point, as it looks like true 160MHz-channel kit is hard to find (or at least hard to determine through the marketing buzzwords). Probably another Netgear box, as they've generally proven reliable and I know how to puzzle through the configuration on them.

And once I've decided on what to get, next on the list is the NAS, then a media centre experiment, and finally Nyx is long overdue an overhaul. It has occurred to me that I'm spending a fair bit on computing at the moment, but to put in perspective this is like a decade's worth of major upgrades all happening at once (the router dates to 2013, the NAS to probably 2012, Nyx was first commissioned in 2007, and the original laptop was bought way back in 2005 for university!).
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