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Living the Mesh Life
Mesh networking is the current hot topic when it comes to Wi-Fi. Breaking from the trend of increasingly powerful standalone Wi-Fi routers that has dominated the home networking scene over the past few years, mesh networking solutions aim to provide wider and more even Wi-Fi coverage in your home or office through a system of multiple self-configuring and self-managing hotspots. In theory, this approach not only provides better wireless coverage overall, it also makes the setup and maintenance of a Wi-Fi network easier for novice and experienced users alike.
Multiple companies have recently launched Wi-Fi mesh systems, including familiar names such as Google, Netgear, and Linksys. But this new approach to networking has also attracted newcomers, including San Francisco-based eero, one of the first companies to launch a consumer-targeted Wi-Fi mesh platform. eero loaned us their primary product, the 3-piece eero Home WiFi System, and we've spent a few weeks testing it as our home router.
This review is the first part of a series of articles looking at Wi-Fi mesh systems, and it will focus on the capabilities and user experience of the eero Home WiFi System. Future articles will compare eero to other mesh platforms and traditional standalone routers, and look at comparative wireless performance and coverage.
Box Contents & Technical Specifications
As mentioned, we're looking at the 3-pack eero Home WiFi System (hereafter referred to simply as "eero"), a bundle that gives you everything you need to get your home or office up and running with a Wi-Fi mesh system. The box includes three eeros, three power adapters, and a 2-foot Ethernet cable.
Each eero device is identical in terms of design and capability, measuring in at 4.75 inches wide, 4.75 inches deep, and 1.34 inches tall. They each feature two Gigabit Ethernet ports, a single USB 2.0 port (currently restricted to diagnostic use only), and are powered by two 2x2 MIMO Wi-Fi radios capable of supporting 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac. In addition, an eero network supports WPA2 Personal encryption, static IPs, manual DNS, IP reservations and port forwarding, and Universal Plug and Play (UPnP).
Actiontec MoCA WCB6200Q and ECB6200 Review
Occasionally we’ll get some gear rolling through the PCPer offices that are a bit off the beaten path. The pair of devices on tap today are something you may not come across often, and could very well be something you may not have even heard of. They are niche products serving a niche need, and that niche is “MoCA.” Today we’re looking at the Actiontec WCB6200Q 802.11ac MoCA 2.0 Wireless Network Extender and its partner in crime the Actiontec ECB6200 Bonded MoCA 2.0 Network Adapter.
Even before the formulation of the term "Internet of things", Steve Gibson proposed home networking topology changes designed to deal with this new looming security threat. Unfortunately, little or no thought is given to the security aspects of the devices in this rapidly growing market.
One of Steve's proposed network topology adjustments involved daisy-chaining two routers together. The WAN port of an IOT-purposed router would be attached to the LAN port of the Border/root router.
In this arrangement, only IOT/Smart devices are connected to the internal (or IOT-purposed) router. The idea was to isolate insecure or poorly implemented devices from the more valuable personal local data devices such as a NAS with important files and or backups. Unfortunately this clever arrangement leaves any device directly connected to the “border” router open to attack by infected devices running on the internal/IOT router. Said devices could perform a simple trace-route and identify that an intermediate network exists between it and the public Internet. Any device running under the border router with known (or worse - unknown!) vulnerabilities can be immediately exploited.
Gibson's alternative formula reversed the positioning of the IOT and border router. Unfortunately, this solution also came with a nasty side-effect. The border router (now used as the "secure" or internal router) became subject to all manner of man-in-the-middle attacks. Since the local Ethernet network basically trusts all traffic within its domain, an infected device on the IOT router (now between the internal router and the public Internet) can manipulate or eavesdrop on any traffic emerging from the internal router. The potential consequences of this flaw are obvious.
The third time really is the charm for Steve! On February 2nd of this year (Episode #545 of Security Now!) Gibson presented us with his third (and hopefully final) foray into the magical land of theory-crafting as it related to securing our home networks against the Internet of Things.
The Killer 1535 Wi-Fi adapter was the first 2x2 MU-MIMO compatible adapter on the market when it launched earlier this year, and is only found in a few products right now. We had a chance to test it out with the recently reviewed MSI G72 Dominator Pro G-Sync laptop, using the new Linksys EA8500 MU-MIMO router. How did it perform, and just what is MU-MIMO? Read on to find out!
Killer networks certainly haven’t skimped on the hardware with their new wireless adapter, as the Wireless-AC 1535 features two external 5 GHz signal amplifiers and is 802.11ac Wave 2 compliant with its support for MU-MIMO and Transmit Beamforming. And while the adapter itself certainly sounds impressive the real star here – besides the MU-MIMO support – is the Killer software. With these two technologies Killer has a unique product on the market, and if it works as advertised it would create an attractive alternative to the typical Wi-Fi solution.
MU-MIMO: What is it?
With an increasing number of devices using Wi-Fi in the average connected home the strain on a wireless network can often be felt. Just as one download can bring your internet connection to a crawl, one computer can hog nearly all available bandwidth from your router. MU-MIMO offers a solution to the network limitations of a typical multi-user home, and in fact the MU in MU-MIMO stands for Multi-User. The technology is part of the Wave 2 spec for 802.11ac, and it works differently than standard MIMO (multiple input, multiple output) technology. What’s the difference?
With standard MIMO (also known as Single-User MIMO) compatible devices take advantage of multiple data streams that are propagated to provide faster data than would otherwise be available for a single device. Multiple antennas on both base station and the client device are used to create the multiple transmit/receive streams needed for the added bandwidth. The multiple antennas used in MIMO systems create multiple channels, allowing for those separate data streams, and the number of streams is equal to the number of antennas (1x1 supports one stream, 2x2 supports two streams, etc.).
Introduction: This Is Not a NAS
The new WSS NAS series from Thecus contains some very interesting devices, and particularly so at the entry-level price with the unit we’re looking at today. WSS is the abbreviation for Windows Storage Server (in this case it’s 2012 R2), and this provides a huge increase in functionality compared to a standard NAS, as you might imagine.
Need a server? Just add a keyboard, mouse, and monitor
It’s really quite remarkable what Thecus is doing in partnership with Microsoft here in terms of value, as this entry 2-bay unit costs just $350. While this may seem high for a dual-bay NAS, we really aren’t talking about a NAS at all with this - which will be readily apparent to the user upon first powering it up. We are talking about a full-scale server here, replete with Windows Server 2012 R2 Essentials goodness. Of course a savvy user could easily deploy a small server in a home or office, and there are many advantages to managed solutions beyond the simple NAS appliances. But the advantage of a NAS is just that: it is significantly less complex and accessible for a consumer. The W2000 presents a very interesting option due to one particular aspect of its own accessibility: price. At $350 you are getting a very compact server with internal hardware much more akin to a standard desktop than you might imagine, and it ships installed with Microsoft's Windows Storage Server 2012 R2 Essentials.
What is “Storage” Server Essentials?
Ok, so I was a little confused as to the specific difference with the Storage version of the Server OS, unless it was simply a licensing distinction. My research first brought me to this quote from Microsoft:
“Windows Storage Server 2012 R2 Essentials is based on Windows Server 2012 R2. In fact, when it comes to functionality, you get key some features that aren’t included in these first two editions.”
After looking through the available documentation it appears as though Storage Server Essentials is, essentially, just Server Essentials with the distinction of being licensed differently. Microsoft TechNet defines it further:
“A computer that runs Windows Storage Server is referred to as a storage appliance. Windows Storage Server is based on the Windows Server operating system, and it is specifically optimized for use with network-attached storage devices. Windows Storage Server offers you a platform to build storage appliances that are customized for your hardware.”
ASUS RT-N56U Wireless Router Review
On deck for review today is the ASUS RT-N56U “Black Diamond” Dual-band Gigabit Wireless-N Router. ASUS has a broad stable of networking equipment including wireless adapters, wireless routers, wired networking gear and even some power line networking gear. Released in late 2010, the RT-N56U is one of the lower cost offerings in ASUS’ Dual Band N series and can be found online for around $99.
ASUS RT-N56U Wireless-N Router Overview
The media review information supplied to us by ASUS claims the ASUS RT-N56U “Black Diamond” offers “Extreme performance in style.” The router’s “Aesthetic design” has a “Sexy and stylish approach with streamlined, meticulously designed and well-rounded appearance, just like diamonds sparkling and twinkling in the dark.” Now I don’t know about you, but if it’s dark, I’m not sure how you see diamond’s twinkling? But I digress; the RT-N56U is a great looking router, with the black cross hatched lattice surface we liked from previous ASUS routers.
Amped Wireless R20000G and UA2000 Introduction
Continuing with our networking adapter and router reviews, today we have a pair of devices on tap from a relative newcomer to the home and office networking field, Amped Wireless. Founded in 2007, they began selling Wi-Fi products in 2010. In those 2 years they’ve already pushed out a wide array of Routers, Range Extenders, Access Points, USB Adapters and Antennas/Boosters. While they don’t have the history of Cisco, Netgear or D-Link, it’s great to see new companies entering the fray as more competition can only benefit the consumer.
Today we’re looking at their flagship High Power Router, the Wireless-N 600mw Gigabit Dual Band R20000G as well as one of their leading USB adapters, the High Power Wireless-N Directional Dual Band UA2000. List price for the router and adapter is $169 and $99 respectively, but the router and adapter can be found online for about $10 less each at Newegg.
Some computer components get all the glory. Your normal lineup of FPS crushing GPU’s, Handbrake dominating CPU’s, and super-fast Memory end up with most of the headlines. Yet behind the scenes, there are some computer components we use that are pivotal in our use and enjoyment of computers and receive very little fanfare. Without networking we wouldn’t have file sharing, LAN parties or even the Internet itself. Without routers and network adapters, we wouldn’t have networking.
ASUS recently sent a whole slew of networking components our way and we’ve decided to take them for a spin and see if they’re worth your hard earned dollars. Our box of ASUS goodies included:
- ASUS RT-N66U Gigabit Router – Dual Band Wireless-N900
- ASUS PCE-N10 - Wireless N PCI-E Adapter Wireless-N
- ASUS PCE-N15 - Wireless N PCI-E Adapter Wireless-N
- ASUS USB-N53 - Dual Band Wireless N Adapter
- ASUS USB-N66 - Dual Band Wireless-N900 Adapter
Without further ado, let’s jump in and tackle each one.
ASUS RT-N66U Gigabit Router – Dual Band Wireless-N900
Routers are one of those components that most of us don’t really think about unless something goes horribly wrong. Most people will buy one they find on a big box store shelf (or even worse, just use their ISP’s router), pull it out of the box, plug a few cables into it and then forget about it in a closet for a few years.