Epic Networking Fail: D-Link, 2Wire, Belkin, Netgear AT&T and Fry’s

It seemed like a simple problem.  My friend had a DirecTV DVR in the bedroom, and a PC in the kitchen.  She’d just loaded up DirecTV2PC, and wanted to stream HD from the DVR to a new Sony PC.

The PC was beefy, more than capable.  But the network was weak.  No problem I thought, just throw in some fast powerline networking and she’d be watching the DIY channel on her PC in a snap.

I’d been around technology too long to know that nothing is ever a snap, but I’m too much of an optimist.  A snap, alas, it was not.

So I picked up a pair of Belkin Powerline adapters that claim to deliver 85 megabits over standard AC power plugs.  The HD video probably topped out at 6-10 megabits, so it should have worked just fine.  So I thought.

Setup was easy.  But the results were dismal.  Stuttering and dropped frames made the stream unwatchable.   I should have asked Patrick Norton – he railed on powerline in a recent Tekzilla, and it appeared that I had the same problems.

Or was I?  Was it the network, the DVR, the beta version of DirecTVPC, or perhaps the PC’s video drivers.  I needed to isolate the problem.  So off I went to Fry’s (a local high-tech shopping bazaar) to pick up a 50 foot Ethernet cable, to isolate the network out. 

I was again reminded of the power of copper – and why I’d retrofitted my home with Cat6.  Wires solve problems.  Once I’d hooked the DVR directly to the switch, the video looked great.  Full on HD, no stuttering, no drop outs, no problems. 

Belkin Fail.

I wasn’t about to run twisted pair from the kitchen to the bedroom, though.  That would have been way too expensive, and involved wires, permits, electricians and more.  Instead, I trundled off to Fry’s to find a wireless solution.  Wireless N claims to moving HD signals around the house with ease, and I’m sure I’d find an N solution to bridge from the DVR to the PC.

Over at Fry’s, a nice clerk steered me towards the Netgear WNHDE111-100NAS, a wireless bridge that promised, according to the clerk and the box, to "Connect any Ethernet-enabled media or gaming device", to any "existing router/gateway."

I needed N on both sides, and the clerk pointed me to a D-Link DIR-628, a decently priced N router and hub that he insisted would easily connect to the Netgear bridge.

So I took them home, and the fun began.

My friend has a DSL router/modem combination made by 2Wire and sold by AT&T.  I was leery of having two routers, with NAT and DHCP daisychained together, so I attempted to put the 2Wire into modem mode, disabling the wireless and DHCP. 

Welcome to my first fail.  I could easily disable the wireless, but there was no obvious way to put it into modem mode.  A search of the internet, and 2Wire’s site failed to deliver guidance.  So I opted to install the D-Link router, and tweak settings.

2Wire Fail.

I ran D-Link’s nicely imagined installation wizard, which included an option to install along with an existing router.  Just what I needed!  I let the configuration program do its magic.

Black magic, apparently.  After an eternity of configuring, checking, setting and rechecking, the entire process failed.  Completely.  It’s advice was to shut the system down, and try again.  I did.  Another 15 minutes of configuring, checking, setting, etc, and it failed again. 

EPIC FAIL D-Link

It lifted my hopes so high, only to quash them miserably.

Still, after an hour of tweaking, I got things mostly working between the reticent 2 Wire and the lying pile of poop D-Link.   Time, finally, to set up the Netgear bridge.

I opened the box, and started reading the quick-start guide.  My hopes turned quickly to ashes, as I realized that the Netgear would work in only two modes – as a wireless bridge when paired up with another WNHDE111-100NAS, or when plugged in, WITH A PHYSICAL CABLE, to a router.  It reminded me of that old punchline, "If I could walk that way, I wouldnta needed the talcum powder."

If you’re counting, that’s two fails in one device.  First to Netgear for implying on the box that you could create a wireless bridge with just one box.  At least Belkin put two powerline-units in a single SKU.  And finally to Fry’s for putting such a brain-dead clerk out on the floor.  And you wonder why retail is dying.

EPIC FAIL NETGEAR

EPIC FAIL FRY’S

I made a half-hearted attempt to connect the Netgear to the D-Link using each device’s "Push ‘N’ Connect" WiFi Protected Setup (WPS) mode, but that, too failed miserably – neither device discovered the other, leaving each lonely, deaf, dumb and blind to the other.

FAIL NETGEAR

FAIL D-LINK

Sure, I could have gone back to Frys, returned everything, and picked up another Netgear Bridge.  But frankly, I’d lost patience with the whole thing, my friend said that she was planning on moving the PC within wired-up distance to the DVR later this year, and if I didn’t have a glass of wine immediately, someone at Fry’s was going to get hurt. 

So all that’s left, now, is to return everything to Fry’s when I’ve calmed down a bit. 

The moral of the story is clear.  First, 802.11N still isn’t ready for prime-time.  WPS might be sold as a panacea, but don’t count on it working across different vendors’ equipment.  And if you are considering getting a combo router and DSL or cable modem from your ISP, think again.  Your upgrade choices will likely be limited down the road.

WiFi and networking have been integral parts of our lives for more than ten years.  Yet it’s still too hard to get this crap to work together – and HD just makes it worse.  I still believe that wires, not waves, are the best way to go.

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