Sunday, September 26, 2010

Netgear WNDR3700 and DD-WRT

- I've been using a Linksys wrt310n for the past two years. It has served me well. It run's DD-WRT and was easy to flash. It still works fine but I've been itching to upgrade to a simultaneous dual band wireless N router. Having just got uverse and a new macbook pro I felt it was time to upgrade the router.
- I was trying to decide between this model and the Linksys E3000. Both have very similar specs and are priced at $150. They both have DD-WRT support.
I was a bit tired of the Linksys flying saucer design which seems to trap a lot of heat. Also, I was interested in giving the atheros chipset a try instead of the usual broadcom based ones.
- If you look on the box label you can tell what revision the router is. I got an 01r18. I believe the latest one is r21. There is also a new red box vs the old blue/yellow box that is 02r1 which most people think is just a repackaged r21. I'm not sure how big of a difference the revision makes but I would recommend finding the latest one you can on the shelf. I picked up mine at frys, and r18 is all they had. Some say the revision is linked to quality control. Basically, if you get a good one that doesn't have any radio issues then you should probably hold on to it.
- I really like the look of this router. The vertical stand is nice too. Also, it has an on/off switch that so few routers have. There is also a button on the front to toggle wifi on/off.
- I flashed dd-wrt right out of the box. Just go to the router database and search on wndr3700 for the latest recommended images. It was a pretty painless process. Just follow the instructions in the wiki. It's kind of odd that you have to do a 30/30/30 reset twice back to back but I went ahead and did it following the instructions to the letter. I noticed this version of dd-wrt includes openvpn.
- Dual band is interesting. It's basically two complete wireless access points in one box. The 2.4ghz and 5ghz each has it's own set of settings like SSID and security. This wiki entry explains the wireless settings pretty well. For 2.4ghz I set it to NG mixed, channel auto, channel width turbo 40hz (channel bonding), and in advanced boosted tx power to maximum recommended of 22. On the 5ghz radio I made it N only, turbo 40hz, and tx power 24. I had to switch it off of mixed to NG mixed or N only and save settings before 40hz was available. You want the 40hz to get the maximum 300mbps link rate. Having simultaneous dual band is pretty important. You want the 2.4ghz for legacy g and n equipment like my iPhone 4 N is only 2.4. It's also good for guests. You want 5ghz for the latest N equipment like my MacBook Pros where the air waves are less crowded even though range is going to be shorter.
- I like how all the ports are gigabit not just on the LAN switch side but the WAN port too. Even with qos on and lots of traffic cpu stayed very very low at < 15% and most of the time it's even lower than that. I guess that atheros 680mhz cpu really helps. I noticed my old wrt310n would routinely get to over 50% on its 300mhz cpu. - Performance over wired seems fine with ample bandwidth all around including wan to lan (408Mbps according to this review). Wireless performance is pretty dependent on location of course.

The router is in my main computer room. With the macbook pro 15" mid 2010 next to it in the same room on windows 7 x64 bootcamp, wpa2, copying a large 4.5GB file using fastcopy and netpersec to determine the speed.
5ghz: 118 Mbps
2.4ghz: 64Mbps

In the master bedroom, two bedrooms down on the same floor:
5ghz: 72Mbps
2.4ghz: 40Mbps

Downstairs in the family room:
5ghz: 102Mbps
2.4ghz: 62Mbps

The best this router can do is around 120mbps which isn't too shabby. No router will ever actually do 300mbps no matter what the link speed says. Smallnetbuilders charts showing the fastest being around 92Mbps so I guess I'm doing pretty well.
- Temperature is very good and much cooler than my linksys. It was barely warm to the touch.
- I had no issues with the radios being really weak or the 2.4ghz dying after 2 hrs. It's been a few days now and both radios seem to work fine.
- I haven't tried the USB port yet. I really don't have a need for it since all my storage is shared off a pc that is on 24/7.

Recommended. The jump in price from dual band to simultaneous dual band is quite substantial (about $80 to $150) but I think it's worth it. I don't plan to upgrade routers that often and this top of the line one should last me many years.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

AT&T U-verse High Speed Internet

The at&t RG is massive!

Broadband Background
- My road to broadband has been a long journey. I started off way back before there was DSL and Cable modem with IDSL with a symmetrical 144 kbps in both directions. It wasn't cheap. It wasn't fast. But it was very reliable. Next, we got Time Warner road runner and things were now faster and cheaper but a bit shaky for the first couple of years. Then, evil horrible Comcast took over and things got much worse. By now cable modem was pretty stable but comcast's support was just horrible and their definition of unlimited was a joke. This was back before they even stated a 250GB/month limit. You had to just kind of guess what magical line in the sand you might cross before you got a phone call. It doesn't even matter if you ever hit the 250GB limit it's more of a principle thing with me. Plus, comcast powerboost shenanigans really messes with QoS so I couldn't really ever take advantage of it. I left comcsat and went to traditional DSL with a fantastic local ISP. Speeds were pretty slow at around 6mbps down / .55 mbps up (rated 6/768). Speeds weren't great but it was very stable, great pings for gaming, and super responsive support with me always getting a human here locally within a minute (or IM if I chose). I stayed with them for several years until uverse was finally available in my neighborhood. Having recently visited a cousin in law who had fios and becoming very envious of their speed I decided to wait out the remaining contract to avoid early termination fees and jump on the uverse bandwagon.

- Had no interest in their other services just the high speed internet.
- First, I had to disconnect my DSL before I could even get an install date for uverse. This was going to leave me with a short outage which was unacceptable. I guess we could have gotten by with the mifi but still I decided to go back to comcast. I picked up the cable modem and signed up for the $20/month plan. I was only going to keep it a few weeks just to cover my gap anyways. And of course when I got home I couldn't get an IP. I go back to my dsl and chat with a support person. After handing over the modem information they provisioned it and I was up and running. Why is it after all these years EVERY SINGLE TIME I HAVE TO CONTACT SUPPORT TO PROVISION THE MODEM before it would work. They HAVE NEVER done it right at the counter in all the previous years when I swapped out modems. I see nothing has really changed at comcast. I felt dirty and had to shower. The day the DSL went down I gave a quick call back to uverse. They said it can take up to a week before the lines are shown as cleared. Lucky for me the lines did show as cleared, and I even got an appointment the next day!
- Unfortunately I wasn't present during the install but my wife was. So the only information I have is what she told me. He came out and noticed my old IDSL jack which I told him he could re-purpose which he did. I guess it was a dedicated pair that ran through my house and it was good enough for uverse. So my AT&T 2wire 3800HGV-B RG is actually hooked up through a standard phone cable RJ-11. What pisses me off is the tech steamrolled my wife a bit. I had told the wife to use the laptop directly hooking it up to the RG to do a run but the tech just disconnect my main server off my home network and plugged it directly into the RG. Then he installed all this at&t support tool crap on my pc which was a bit difficult to gut since it didn't uninstall properly and even installs 3 windows services. I think I got it all off but that still pisses me off. The wife told him he can't be doing that, and he did it anyways. So I highly recommend you be present during the install. You'll have to create an account and register and all that but don't let them install anything!
- There are several different plans you can get but I went for the highest Max Turbo (24mbps/3mbps) since it was available. It's $65/month plus $3/month equipment fee. You also get stuck with a $150 install fee since I didn't bundle with any of their other services. This chart shows not only downstream but upstream speeds too. I was most interested in the increased upstream speed and the only way to get 3mbps up was with the Max Turbo plan. I stream a lot of media especially to my iPhone. Also, I was planning to work from home more often since my company just moved offices and was now 40 miles away (hour commute each way)!

- results are amazing to say the least. This is with QoS turned off so this is the full raw speed:

The best part these are real numbers, sustained throughput, not traffic shapped powerboost crap. It's also unmetered and truly unlimited.

Using uverse realtime my numbers looked really good:

I was an estimated 700ft from the vrad and on the highest profile 32/5. The bitloading graph looks good too with bits loaded pretty much across the entire spectrum.
Read the manual for a more detailed description.

Pings look good with 27ms to google using pingplotter.

Using your own wireless router with the AT&T RG
- There are many reasons why you would want to use your own router. For me is once you go DD-WRT you really can't go back to anything else. There are lots of features missing on the RG compared to most modern routers like upnp and wireless N.
- So reading around it seemed an easy enough task to daisy chain your router off of the att RG. Basically, you plug the wan port of your router into a LAN ethernet port on the RG. Make sure your router is on a different network segment than the RG. So if your RG is your router should be You let your router get it's WAN IP using dhcp from the RG. On the RG side you need to find the IP that was assigned to your router, select it, and mark it as dmzplus. RG password is printed on a sticker on the actual device. Disable wireless on the RG. Go back and reboot your router and the RG for good measure. You should notice that your router now has the external WAN IP that the RG has. All traffic should be just passed through the RG to your router where you can do all your static mappings, port forwards, QoS, upnp, and wireless N. Somebody else already wrote up a pretty nice guide so I'll just point you in that direction. I got all this working just fine in about 10 min. Then the real problems began....
- About every 5 min I would lose connectivity for a split second and then it would be restored. You would notice this in long downloads where it would all of a sudden stop. In games like wow, mw2, halo reach it would causes slight pauses once in a while or kick me out of my xbox live party. It can sometimes interrupt your netflix streaming. It was very annoying and took me over a week to track down. First thoughts were it was something with my dd-wrt router (linksys wrt310n). I tried adjusting TCP Timeout values and disabling QoS. I flashed with the latest ddwrt recommended version doing all the proper 30/30/30 resets. Nothing seemed to help. I next eliminated cabling, switches, the pc, etc. Finally, I took my macbook and plugged it directly into the RG and all was fine. The connection was rock solid. So the problem wasn't upstream from the RG out to the vrad. At least it was something I had direct control over. After lots of research and even buying a new router (Netgear WNDR3700. OK this was really just an excuse for me to finally upgrade to a simultaneous dual band wireless N router) I was at my wits end. I was trying to think of what else was different between daisy chaining the routers and going directly to the RG. Then it hit me: dmz plus. When connecting directly to the RG I'm under that RG's nat and firewall, and it was NOT dmz'd. So for kicks I took my router's IP off of dmz and treated it like a normal dhcp client. All the issues went away. The 5 min disconnects were gone. Of course this wasn't an acceptable solution since I need my router in dmzplus so upnp would work properly. I wanted all traffic just passed through the RG to my router. At least I now narrowed it down to something specific with dmzplus.
- What is happening is dmzplus mode fails on DHCP renewal. For dmzplus to work the ip has to be assigned by dhcp, it is also forced into a 10 minute lease. The dhcp client (your router's wan port) renews at 50% lease time. There is that magical 5 min I was seeing. Apparently the dhcp offer comes from a different IP than what was requested by your router so your router's firewall blocks it. This causes a connection reset and the momentary drop in internet connectivity. You can see this happen like clock work on the ddwrt Status | WAN page where remaining lease time counts down from 10 min until it gets to 5 min and then it is renewed back to 10 min. This is pretty well explained in this thread. The solution is in this thread. On ddwrt go to administration | Commands. Enter:
iptables -I INPUT -p udp --dport 68 -j ACCEPT
Click on "save firewall"
Reboot the router.
That allows all dhcp offers through the firewall. PROBLEM SOLVED. The connection no longer resets and everything works smoothly. I have no idea if this is a dd-wrt specific issue or if it would affect any SPI firewall router. Either way I hope this little nugget of information saves you some time because this was probably the most frustrating network issue I've ever had to solve.

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED if you can get uverse with a clean connection. Just watch that installer like a hawk, fix that dmzplus issue, and you are good to go. The pings are fine for gaming. Interleave seemed to have little to no impact. I didn't notice pings being any worse than comcast. Being able to finally stream netflix on my 360 in hd at maximum quality is awesome. I would say it looks as good as atsc. Streaming via air video to iPhone looks significantly better too. Now the bottleneck is att 3G instead of my upstream bandwidth. The connection has been very stable and fast for the two weeks I've had it so far.

Monday, September 13, 2010

MacBook Pro 15-inch 2.4ghz (mid 2010)

- So with the wife having recently gone back to school and pretty much using the macbook pro 13-inch all the time now I really missed having a modern laptop to use. The Dell Inspiron 8600 has served me well for many years but it was time to trickle that down to the kids and look for a new laptop for myself. The macbook pro 13-inch we got last year has been overall a good experience so I was considering just getting another one. What bugs me is the refresh for 2010 didn't seem all that hot. I mean it still used a c2d cpu (no core i5) and the nvidia 320m is a pretty nice bump up from the ion but still its performance isn't what you would call exciting. I really like the 13 inch form factor though. I think it's a great compromise between size, weight, and usability. I considered the alienware m11x which has a really nice gpu (nvidia 335m) but I think 11 inches might be a tad too small to play world of warcraft on. The asus n82j, a 335m optimus based laptop, also looked interesting but is still not released in the US. In the same boat is the acer timelinex 3820tg which I really wanted but is also not released in the US. It has an ati 5650 in a 13 inch laptop. Finally, there was the HP Envy 14 which is very MBPish. It's a 14" laptop with a slower clocked ati 5650. It's also pretty pricey. I came really close to getting the envy. Then, I started looking at the macbook 15". It had the core i5 (turbo boost + hyperthreading ftw), a nvidia 330m which is about 8-10% slower than some of the other options I looked at, had good battery life, and has the advantage of being able to run osx and windows 7. My thoughts were I plan to do more coding on this laptop. With bootcamp I can have a full .net development environment setup and maybe finally get serious about iPhone development. Of course a bit of Modern Warfare 2 or wow would be nicer on a 15" screen too. I figure it might even be fast enough to use at LAN parties.
- OK, these macbooks are EXPENSIVE for what you get. I felt the apple tax even more this time around. I really felt the competition was offering quite a bit more hardware for quite a bit less money. Even with the educational discount and ebaying the the free iPod Touch to help offset the cost, the cheapest mbp 15" still ran me about $1580. After reading a bunch of reviews it seemed like you go either 2.4 or the top of the line core i7. The i7 was quite a bit more than I wanted to spend on the laptop so the core i5 2.4ghz it was. This was only $80 more than what I spent on the mbp 13" I got last year. I guess if I look at it that way it wasn't that bad of a deal.
- I LOVE the keyboard on this thing. I'm not sure how different it is from the 13". Maybe there is more space between the keys. Either way I found it a joy to type on. There's no flex of course. The keys just felt right size and spacing wise. I can type really fast with very few errors. I liked the keyboard just fine on the 13" but this one is noticeably better.
- I forgot how much bigger and heavier a 15" is compared to a 13". It might not seem like much but after a few hours of use you really start to notice. The display and keyboard might be worth the trade off. Besides, we still have the 13" which we would bring on trips and leave the 15" at home. The extra 1.1 lbs might not sound like much but you do kind of notice it after long periods of use.
- The inertial scrolling is quite nice.
- Apple has it's own version of optimus with the seamless switching between integrated graphics and the 330m. It's great having good enough performance for wow and starcraft II while still getting great battery life when you are just surfing.
- I stuck with the default 1440X900 screen not just because of cost but because I wanted better game performance at native resolutions.
- I love how on first boot osx comes up nice and clean with ZERO crapware installed.

Yeah, about that apple "premium" experience that you pay for....
- I think I had more quirks with this laptop than the mbp 13" I bought last year.
- First, I had the freezing issue. It happened during wow, in 5 man instances, and even when I'm just riding around Stormwind. The computer would just freeze up for 5 seconds or so. I also noticed quite a bit of spinning beach ball. This happened more when vmware fusion was running. It seemed like it was hard drive related. Disabling spotlight using snow leopard cache cleaner seemed to fix the issue. Later, I re-enabled spotlight, and things still seemed ok. It's all moot because I swapped out the hard drive and now things run great. You pay for premium and what do you get? A POS 5400 rpm Hitachi. I mean they couldn't even spring for a 7200rpm drive. Sheesh!
- I installed steam next and got the dreaded "Could not connect to steam network." OK, this more of a steam issue than a mac one but it was still frustrating. After uninstalling and re-installing steam, it started working and I was able to download my games.
- In bootcamp I ran into a sound issue. The sound kept cutting out. I finally went into control panel | sound and noticed it kept flipping between speakers and headphones all on its own. No, it wasn't a drive issue like it was last year. This time it was a physical issue. I have no idea why this works but I took a toothpick, broke off one one of the pointy ends, cleaned off all splinters, and gently inserted it into the headphone jack and ran it around the inside edge. Do not jam it in there. I read about this from here:

It sounds totally crazy but it worked! I hope it stays fixed but so far so good.
- So I pared my Razor Orochi bluetooth mouse just fine in osx. After installing bootcamp I had issues pairing it with windows 7. It would just hang on connecting. I found this interesting thread where it discussed how you have to unpair the mouse from osx first. Delete it from bluetooth devices. Then, boot back into windows and pair it there. After it is successfully paired in windows you should power down and cold boot into osx and pair it there again. Now it should work in both environment. This is another big WTF. I mean how are settings in one os affecting the other os? It makes no sense to me.
- Mouse Speed Switcher is a nice windows utility to let you switch between different mouse settings quickly. This is useful if you have different sensitivity settings between the trackpad and a mouse. I still wish 3 finger gestures worked in windows. Maybe trackpad++ will add it someday.

- SSD sounds so tempting but I need at least 500gb of space since I plan to bootcamp and dual boot. A 500gb SSD is like $1300. I'm not going to spend almost as much as the laptop itself on just the hard drive. Instead, I picked up one of those new hybrid drives: Seagate Momentus XT ST95005620AS 500GB 7200 RPM. It shipped with the latest firmware SD23 so there was no need to flash it. It's basically a 500gb 7200 rpm drive with a 32mb cache and a 4gb ssd. Also, it's only $130. You pay a bit of a premium for a hybrid but it's still a fraction of the cost of an SSD. At worst it performs no worse than a good 7200 rpm drive, and at best it can significantly speed up often loaded programs. Someday I'll make the jump to a true SSD but not today. Swapping the hard drive was exactly like the mbp 13 which you can read about in my mbp 13 review. Make sure you have a torx 6 screwdriver. First, I attached the new hdd via usb. I partitioned as guid and then imaged the current hdd to the new one using carbon copy cloner. Next, I swapped the hard drives. It booted up just fine so I went ahead and did the bootcamp thing with a 300/200 split (osx/win7). The drive is quiet and fast and NO MORE FREEZING. I have no complaints. Now, I have the original 320gb hdd which I'll slap into an external enclosure and use it as my time machine backup drive. Never buy the way over priced apple upgrades for this kind of stuff. It's much cheaper and better to do it yourself.
- G.SKILL 8GB (2 x 4GB) 204-Pin DDR3 SO-DIMM DDR3 1066 (PC3 8500). 8 GB of ram for $180 isn't too bad now. I think I can ebay the old memory for around $60-70 so that should help offset the cost a bit. I went ahead and bought two of these so both macbooks are now upgraded to 8gb. We run vmware fusion with win 7 32bit quite a bit so it's nice having 5 gb for osx and 3gb for win 7. Running the latest memtest86+ on the mbp 13" came out clean. When I tried it on the mbp 15" It immediately threw up a ton of errors. Apparently it's due to buggy EFI and the errors are false. Instead, I ran Remember which tested most of my memory and came out clean. I guess there's more of that apple premium experience.
- I picked up some extra magsafe 85w power supplies from the ebay seller sib-usa for around $20 shipped which worked just fine.

Gaming Performance
- All games are run at native resolution 1440X900

OSX Snow Leopard:

-World of Warcraft: video settings - good, multisample = x1, Vsync off,
riding around stormwind: 55-75 fps
riding around Dalaran: 35 fps
Played about 30 min in a 25 man Sunwell raid with about 18 people. I forgot to look at the fps but it felt fine. No problems raiding on this laptop.

- Starcraft II: 28-30 fps. A tad low but playable.
Textur: med
Shader:. H
Lighting: L
Shadows: M
Terrain: H
Reflection: Off
Effects: H
Post processing: M
Physics: H
Models: H
Unit portraits: 3d
Movies: H

Windows 7 x64 ultimate, 8gb ram, bootcamp 3.1;
- 3dmark 06

overall: 6707
sm2.0: 2690
gt1: 23.448
gt2: 21.383
hdr/sm3: 2615
hdr1: 22.360
hdr2: 29.938
cpu: 2865
cpu1: .928
cpu2: 1.414

overall: 6061
sm2: 2448
gt1: 21.555
gt2: 19.649
hdr/sm3: 2283
hdr1: 20.003
hdr2: 25.653
cpu: 2824
cpu1: .921
cpu2: 1.386

- Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2
Frames Time (ms) Min Max Avg
fraps benchmark for 60 seconds during multiplayer team deathmatch on Crash
AA: off
Sync: off
Shadows: Y
Specular map: Y
Depth of field: Off
Soften smoke edges: N
Ragdoll: y
Bullet impacts: Y
Texture quality: Automatic

Overall, I'm satisfied with the purchase. Once you spend way too much time researching and working around all the quirks in the system it's actually a very nice laptop. Is it me or is Apple getting more and more sloppy lately? Anyways, recommended if you don't mind the sticker shock or getting your hands a bit dirty to get things tweaked and working the way you want it to. Honestly though if you don't do any osx/iOS development, I would probably not recommend a macbook. There are perfectly good alternatives out there for a lot less money.