Updated: Mar 3
In March of 2020, I wisely upgraded my entire home networking setup as I instinctively knew the so called 2 week respite for PPE restocking was a state of California red herring like none other.
As we are heading into our second year of lock-down insanity and associated antics of power crazed bureaucrats it has been an investment worth the time and $$.
Back in February of 2020, it had became appallingly apparent to the wife and I that we could not conference call at the same time on the home network, so I embarked on mission "work from home happy" as I had a strong suspicion this was going to be the "new normal"..
I hit the bullseye on that one....
Our home networking setup has been pretty stable after Comcast initially limited our bandwidth while coping with the new COVID-19 work from home loads they were dealing with.
I now also have a SONIC 1 GB service as well as two Hughes Satellite links.
Speed tests deliver a consistent 821GB down and 42GB up on the Comcast Xfinity link.
Not too shabby!
In January of 2020 we had in fact abandoned our 1 GB AT&T internet service because it kept resetting more times than a yoyo doing "walk the dog" while on the finest quality magic mushroom LSD trip.
Our AT&T internet service was actually so unstable it was about as useful as tits on a bull as they say in the old country.
We called AT&T support a dozen times before we decided ok, that's it!! Now we gotta do something.
The something was switching to Comcast Xfinity.
Something we were not overly thrilled with I can tell you.
My wife and I previously lived in Danville CA for 18 years in the Eugene O'Neill national historic site gated community on Kuss road.
The problem there with Comcast was the distance to the Central Office junction connection which was so bad the TV looked like grainy static broadcast from the moon but the internet on their DOCSIS 3.0 cable was weirdly pretty ok.
We opted for business internet service there because that way they attended to our connectivity issues if we were ever down and we used DirecTV satellite TV services on a Satellite dish for the TV side of the equation with zero problems so that cable was all for internet.
Our community here in the converge point of Brentwood/Oakley/Antioch was a new KB homes development and our house was built in 2016 to our spec and we moved in just before the Christmas of 2016.
We were hoping for fiber optic cable to the kerb because the area was new and that is in fact what they pulled in here but for some reason AT&T just could not provide a stable service that we needed for conference calls or even normal internet and TV service which was switched by us to DirecTV satellite services because their over the cable TV service just did not cut the mustard so to speak.
It sucked snot cakes in fact!
My wife works for Delta Dental and she had worked from home a good few days of the week and is now working full time from home like me.
I had hoped Comcast would see that our internet was not optimal and connect my office upstairs with an Ethernet wireless extender device like AT&T had done but of course once it was installed they then proceeded to worm out of what they said they would do to make it good.
We had told them about our challenges when we started talking to them about our setup and they had in fact come to our home see how many devices we have that use the internet.
They had of course initially said that this was not going to be a problem but when we started to have dropped calls and the Zoom, Skype and Webex conferencing software all started reporting the network was unstable, we just had to do something.
This was no different to AT&T...👎🚫😳
So we got on the old Graham Bell to Comcast and they sent a technician out to look and see what's what the very same day.
He was a very nice guy actually.
Unsurprisingly, after he counted the devices on the network, he informed me with zero hesitation that the Poxy gateway device Comcast had issued us with, which also doubles as a wireless AP was totally overwhelmed and just not up to the job for more than 5 devices.
I have a Samsung Glaxay Note 9, an iPad, two Macbook Pro's, six AMD workstations, a NAS and a Huawei MateBook X Pro that was laptop of the year for 2018.
My wife has her iPhone, an iPad, a Macbook Pro and her work Lenovo Laptop.
Then there is the AppleTV, Xbox, Nintendo Switch and SmartTV...oh and the Solar and the Ring Door bell and the other ring devices out front and out back...
Anyway, he gave me a few tips to make things better and I hauled out my brand new never used before old school Apple Wireless router that was now a good 5 years old and plugged that in as he had suggested to the above pictured poxy Comcast Gateway in the hope it would solve the problem.
This did not make things faster and it was in fact significantly slower but the network was much more stable.
This situation changed when the wife and I were on Zoom conference calls the next day.
I did not have an issue until she VPN-Zoomed in.
I have told her you can use video on these Zoom sessions for the first few minutes and do intro's, then turn off the video conferencing but she just ignores me.
If you are using VPN plus Video you are making the voice and video packets traverse the network twice which is not sustainable to the WiFi network stability and the conference call will repeatedly drop while in session.
You should NOT use Zoom or any video conference call meeting software in video mode while on any VPN session on your home WiFi, keep to voice only and the shared screen format for presentations.
As such I decided to do what the Comcast guy had told me was the choice option which was getting my own Cable Modem that was fully DOCSIS 3.1 compatible and which had 32 channels to cope with the data.
This would also save us $14 a month which paid for the new Gateway by the way.
The new Gateway was the Netgear NightHawk CM1200 without the voice component.
The box tells you the voice situation by the way.
The Gateway with the voice components is the CM1200CV modem which is $55 more.
So I shot off to Best Buy and I asked them for some advice as the Mesh Networks WiFi the Comcast tech told me about seemed to be the way to go and he mentioned I should consult with their resident WiFi Guru.
After I researched the matter myself for some 4 hours on that interwebs thingy and found concurrence with that sentiment, the sole surviving synapse made an executive decision to go for it given we were in home networking realities for the next God knows how long and I was right on that score as well.
I did not want a Cable Modem Gateway that also included a normal WiFi router as when I was in college studying electronics, RF frequency issues with digital chips were stuff nightmare legends are made of and when I dived into it I found RF is a truly weird and dark art.
Then there was the stark evidence the Comcast gateway was not working well to mull over and contemplate as well.
In Best Buy I noticed that some of the ORBI Network gear had a router and a Satellite device that both sported 4 x 1GbE Ethernet ports.
They bridge between each other on MESH WiFi and offer awesome network connectivity.
This meant I could do what AT&T had set me up with in my home office and I could stick all my computers on 1 GbE Ethernet again!!
The bonus was wireless signal strength upstairs as well, even if the Orbi RBS50 Satellite device did break my RF and digital mix mantra on that device.
The setup of the Gateway was a problem because my wife had been force bundled by the Comcast sales leprechaun with voice services which she was told by said sales leprechaun was "free" when she got the Comcast service bundle and the new Gateway did not work with said "free" voice services.
We did not want them anyway.
We told Comcast that from the beginning. They ignored us completely on that score.
However, when I tried to activate the CM1200 Gateway the instructions provided with the Netgear device and the Comcast experience did not tally.
In fact those Netgear guides are completely useless for both the Orbi and the NightHawk FYI.
You have to call Comcast and give them the MAC address and serial number of your device before you can get it going, its not automatic self activation capable as the logic free guidebook claims it is.
I marveled in wonder that someone got paid money to produce that garbage "manual".
Fortunately, I know how they sync the devices at Comcast with the Mac address and serial no so I hopped on the old Graham Bell and called Comcast tech support to aid my efforts to make it happen.
The lady I ended up working with in Houston took the Mac address and serial number after I told her the plot and she then realized my new CM1200 device was not going to work with the Comcast bundled voice services.
She went away for two lengthy breaks and put me on hold then made some excuse her system needed a reboot and promised to call me back in 15 minutes when it had.
She did not.
30 minutes later I called back and this time some nice older guy gave me the short and curly's of it all.
5 minutes later he kaiboshed the voice services I did not want, sent a sync signal to my new device and my computer got an IP address and we were away to the races.
Then it was on to the WiFi piece of the equation.
At first I tried to get the Old Apple AP to work but it went green once sans an IP address and I gave up deciding deep level six was better served with the final gear if I was going to go there.
This Orbi stuff informed me in the quick start doc that I was going to need the Android App to make it happen.
I had downloaded it 2 hours prior and was ready for action.
However the RBR50 was having none of it for some reason so I plugged my Huawei laptop into the Nighthawk Gateway Ethernet port again to verify sanity and instantly got an IP address and the internet.
I was now puzzled and actually had to RTFM.
Surprisingly that made zero sense so I fired up the App and it instantly recognized what was what and activated WiFi at the same time searching for the Satellite that I swiftly nipped upstairs to power on and we wuz away to the internet races on the WiFi.
The original gear Comcast had installed speed tested at 522 Mbps max with a 25 Mbps upload speed.
The new Orbi and Gateway gear was reporting 822 Mbps sustained and 40 Mbps upload.
That was more like it!!
My conference calls that Friday the 13th were all stable and not one dropped.
My wife had one drop but she was using Zoom with VPN and I was amazed it even worked at all.
I have noticed though that when the TV goes on (Huge ass 120 inch Sony 4K Smart TV) that network performance drops to 22/10 Mbps. I resolved this issue with a boot and something Comcast did but won't own up to.
Now with the TV on 4K I get 821/40
We never work with the TV on though so this is sorta OK, but do bear that in mind if you have COX or some similar Cable service that uses DOCSIS 3.1.
Now my mission is to make my wife understand that VPN and video conferencing = poop cakes.....I can report success with this aspect!!
That Sanskrit chant worked!!
Actually many people have called me for advice and I have found that many of them needed to throw their old wireless gateways away and also pair their NIGHTHAWK 1200 device with one of the many ORBI devices they offer.
I have seen many COX setups in SoCal not work well with just the CM1200 replaced in their home networking schema.
I'm afraid those old Wifi devices have to be replaced by newer mesh networks gear.
On diving into it deeper, I saw on my Wildpackets wireless sniffer that there was some sort of sync going on between the CM1200 and the Orbi devices that I do not see with any older wireless AP, be it Apple, Cisco or any other old technology wireless networking AP.
The multi frequency capability of the newer mesh gear is huge compared with the old radio's in use on these older AP's.
It's using all the channels and frequencies to maximise throughput.
Most have been very happy purchasing the same pairing I have as they also have double story houses with an upstairs and no ethernet cables in the walls.
Just be aware Microwaves and these new multi-spectrum multi-channel networking rigs are not fans....
Don't warm up a steak pie in microwave while on a Zoom conference call and expect sane communications you can actually understand to ensue...
Early September of 2020 I did a network test on my Ethernet, WAN and Wi-Fi components and was pretty impressed.
The Cray is gone and I have to say it's departure brought much enhanced network stability to our home network.
I have four threadripper rigs now and twin X570 desktops armed with Ryzen 7 3800X CPU and the latest PCIe 4.0 AMD GPU in each rig.
The Chess AI work bench has visitors from lenovo, HP and Dell in the 1U AMD EPYC range with dual or single EPYC setups.
That also also has its own Juniper Q10K switch setup. All ruining 10/25 GbE.
The other day lenovo sent me an SR665 with dual EPYC 7742's and get this, 8TB RAM in it.
My Chess AI won 600 straight games on it. Watson can't touch it....😉🙅💯
SSD in these is all Samsung EVO 970 and Intel Optane combos that each sport SSD read and write IOPS stats too frightening to publish.
Those new PCIe 4.0 Radeon rigs on X570 are the cats cream screamers.
I'm now looking for 8K monitors in the Affordable spectrum.
Might be a bit of a wait....
I am after all a bit of a Hebrew.
In any event, in review a year later it has all been well worth the effort.
Upstairs we are all on one GbE to my force 10 switches and conference calling is a pretty slick and smooth experience.
Resetting the modem is a rare experience and the benchmarking is a steady 821/42 experience.
I got some new office chairs and curved monitors to go with the new setup to reduce the screen count a tad.
I'm struggling with keyboards though.
Hopefully 2021 will show me the way on that one!