Tag Archives: Netgear

Getting BT fibre-optic broadband

BT Home Hub 3
Don't use one of these...

Hint for anyone planning on moving to BT‘s fibre optic broadband – forget the packaged HomeHub3 and go for a router capable of 300Mbps throughput on the wifi. We’ve gone for a NetGear though there are plenty of alternatives.

Reason being that most areas have 40Mbps (max) broadband speed with a quoted rise to 80Mbps within a few months, peaking at 300Mbps. Some areas already have 300Mbps.

The HomeHub3 is only capable of transmitting a wifi signal of 130Mbps. Therefore, even though it could theoretically be yanking 300Mbps up the “pipe” from the internet, it can only get it to your computer at less than half that speed. In other words, the kit BT are shipping is already out of date.

The WNR2200 we went for is small, white (therefore colour-coordinated to please my other half) and sits perfectly on top of the supplied BT fibre modem. It’s also only about £50 if you pre-purchase via PCWorld’s (*spit*) website and collect it in store – saving you £60! Though there was another option, even cheaper – £25, from a manufacturer I’ve not heard of before.

If you have an existing ADSL modem router… pass it on to someone else. It’s useless with fibre. You need a cable modem, i.e. one with a “WAN” input socket on the back, not an ADSL one. OK, technically you don’t need the “modem” part of it as BT supply that, but that’s what to look for on the boxes.

Confusingly, lots of retailers started labelling all of their ADSL kit as appropriate for “BT Connections”. Obviously, this is no longer the case as it depends on whether you’re using ADSL or fibre now.

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Problem with random web pages failing to load?

A standard RJ45 Ethernet connector.
RJ45 - preferable to USB

Here’s one that’s bizarre but does make some sense eventually.

My boss had this issue originally and we never resolved it, I’m ashamed to say. We (erm… I) effectively blamed it on France Telecom / Orange and therefore not anything we could to something about. The problem was that some websites would pretty much always fail to load while others would pop up no problem at all. It just seemed less than coincidental that orange.fr worked fine every time whereas – fo instance plus.net failed. Tesco would work, but Boots wouldn’t. Every Google page (mail, documents, calendar) was fine, but forget getting into Hotmail. Outlook would receive, but not send when connecting to our own mailserver.

All the pages connected, but resulted in the browser just saying “Waiting for…” and never loading the pages, except for very rare flashes when one would work… but the same problem re-occuring if we refreshed or clicked on an internal link.

He was/is using a NetGear DG834G wireless router and the problem occurred via wi-fi and via direct cable connection. I took my laptop over, and had the same issue.

I left France, the problem remained unresolved but he had internet access in the office anyway.

I got back to France in January and two of the child care managers had the exact same problem in their flat. Again, they were using a DG834G. Again, we blamed France Telecom who checked the line and told us “C’est bon!” Then pretty much whatever French for “fuck off” is. Their customer service is actually worse than BT, which is impressive.

So I went over to prove that it was the line. Armed with another NetGear, a Thompson SpeedTouch 330 and a Sagem 800, plus a handful of microfilters and my laptop with XP and Ubuntu on it, my aim was to remove every common factor and leave the line as the only possible fault.

Laptop first. XP and Ubuntu both failed on the same websites wired up and wireless. I then updated the firmware in the router to the latest version. No joy.

Next step, I installed the drivers for the Sagem on Lydia’s machine, plugged it in, configured a “dial-up” connection and … blow me. Everything worked.

It was slower than the router connection, I assume because of the speed of the USB cable compared to CAT-5 (I think the modem uses USB1.1), but every site loaded.

Hum.

The problem was, this meant the line was fine. And the only equipment we had that would get it to work was a single-user USB router. Options started to flood in – get a router (not a router/modem) and a USB to RJ45 adaptor. Put the drivers on Lou and Lyd’s machines, give them a hub and share the connection on both PCs. That way whoever was home first would connect and the next one could share it.

What a lot of work.

But if the router’s faulty, then another one will solve the problem, surely?

So the next morning, Louise picked up a new DG834G (this one happened to be a v4 – the others were v3) and brought it up to where I was working. I configured it and, on a whim, tested the old one on someone else’s connection.

It worked. No problems.

So, more information. The issue was a result of some combination of that router and that line. Technically, the line was partially at fault. It had to be. Louise left with the new router and would call me once she got home and tested it.

Where it didn’t work. Same problem as the old one.

What. The. F…?

Armed with all the info to hand, I did a dig on Google. I can’t remember the terms I used, but after filtering through a lot of posts on various forums, a pattern developed. The issue isn’t ISP-dependant (I saw problems with AOL, PlusNet, Orange and several others) or with particular routers (a handful of Netgears, rebadged Thompsons, Linksys, etc.) but the solution was simple and it worked:

Reduce the MTU value on the router.

I can’t give you details for others, but on the NetGears just log on as the administrator to the web interface and locate the WAN settings down the left. In there, it defaults to 1500 or something. Reduce this to 1400. Click Apply. Wait a minute.

And the internet starts working again as if by magic.

Here comes the science:

An MTU is a Maximum Transmission Unit – the size of the largest packet of data that a communications protocol can forward. A higher MTU increases bandwidth efficiency, but large packets can block slower connections. It seems the 1500 default size (which, incidentally, is the largest allowed by Ethernet standards) was too much for the “fully working” France Telecom internet connection. By reducing this to smaller chunks, the blockages vanished and the connection started to work again.

I’m just glad we sorted it. Not as glad as Lou and Lyds, though. I believe I’m getting drinks out of this!

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Geekiest post ever

Installing Microsoft Windows Vista

Well, geekiest post from me at any rate. Probably.

My last two work days have been hectic to say the least. It was a relief when I handed my mobile in (then got it back and instructed to turn it off before putting it in the box) so I knew I wouldn’t be getting any more calls.

So what have I done? Out of the goodness of my heart, I fixed one of the child care worker’s laptops. It was stuck in an endless loop after downloading some updates. Yes. Vista. A quick Google came up with countless people with the same issue. And the only solution from Microsoft was to not let it happen in the first place. Well done, Bill.

In fairness, they did have three fixes on the website but none of them were any use as they all essentially led you to different paths to use the rollback function in Windows. Which wouldn’t work. Every time I tried it, it fell over. I think one of the files was corrupt.

I eventually ended up hacking together several fixes I found on the web. First off, booting to a Vista DVD allowed to be get on via a command prompt, run a disc scan and patch the registry as per some instructions I found on a Technet bulletin.

This allowed me to actually get into Windows “normally”. However, as several critical system files (a whole three that I was told about whenever I tried to run anything) were buggered, nothing would start. I couldn’t repair Vista with an install from the DVD as it was from Business edition and the laptop had one of the multitude of Home editions on it.

Besides, and here’s a clever thing, you can’t run a repair install (i.e. a restore-over-the-top of the system files) from a DVD boot as you can with XP. And 2000. And NT. And 95. And ME. And 98. YOu can only run this “upgrade” as it’s called from within Windows. So if you can’t get into Vista, or Vista is pooched to the point where you can’t run anything within it, you’re screwed.

Thankfully, it was recognising some devices shoved into the USB ports including my memory stick. So via a command prompt, I copied over versions of the files it was whinging about from Dave’s laptop (also running Home Premium) which allowed me to run the “Upgrade” option from the DVD he had for his machine. Not before copying all his files sideways and off the C: partition, of course. Can’t be too careful. That was a memory test in itself, trying to remember how to use xcopy.

Bloody hell, Vista takes a long time to install. I ended up leaving it overnight.

Finally, ta-da, bootable laptop. I then put SP1 on. Another overnighter. Then the 30-ish patches that sit on top of it. That ran most of the day.

After approximately 20 hours of processing (rough guess as I was asleep for a lot of it) we had a working laptop. Well, working and crippled by Vista.

I know I bash Vista a lot. And after this experience it honestly does deserve it. Every time you want to do something system-y it asks if you’re sure. Only the prompt doesn’t always appear at the front of the screen – it lurks behind other windows so you don’t know what’s holding up the whole process.

Oh, and I installed OpenOffice on Ben’s laptop as well. On an old 2000 box it takes less than 5 minutes. On Ben’s pretty new Vista laptop it was over 20. W…T…F?!

Another lad had less luck. His new Sony Vaio demonstrated its magnificence… by displaying a small green LED and making a quiet “whirr” when powered on. And that was it. And it wouldn’t switch off. That one’s heading back to the UK for a warranty repair.

Incidentally, what’s happened to Vaios? They used to be sleak and sexy. Now they’re chuggy big things in flexible, cheap-looking cases.

Next big job was to supply the hotel with a second PC. It would have to be an old clunker, but the child care manager was happy enough with that. Anything so she didn’t have to engage in armed combat with the hotel manager to get onto the main PC. Where he is usually busy playing Space Invaders or shooting zombies.

Allegedly.

This took ages. I picked an old Windows 2000 box at random and set it up. Thankfully it still had an Office license on (version 2000), so no need to explain to another person that OpenOffice is just the same. The only hiccups were in getting the data off the main PC onto it, and converting her emails. The main PC runs XP and Office 2003.

Now there is a conversion utility for going 2003 -> 2000. But you don’t need it. Simply create a new PST file (File… New) in 2003, and select the option to make it Office 2000 compatible. Copy all your existing mail into this new set of folders, copy the new PST file onto the Office 2000 machine and run a simple Import.

Oh, yeah. The copying. The second PC wasn’t in a convenient place to have a network cable draped to it so I dug out one of the handy-dandy wi-fi dongles that Netgear include with their wireless routers. We’ve got a ton of them kicking about. I ran the disc, it installed, no problems. Nice little gadgets.

Problem 1 – no wi-fi. Someone had “knocked the router off the stool or something, I think” according to the hotel manager. Which reads to me that he did it… unless he happened to find it on the floor in which case I’ll believe him. Either way, this came with a weird symptom – the wi-fi broke.

OK, that’s not what’s weird. What’s weird is that when I logged onto the router it told me it was a Netgear DW834. When clearly on the case it says it’s a DW834G. The only difference between these models is that the G has wi-fi capability. There were no options in the menu for wi-fi or anything. Bizarre.

A quick scan on the internet told me that one problem is the wi-fi card inside the router being knocked loose. This isn’t an issue with v3 upwards, as it’s built onto the same board. But the v1 and v2 have a separate little daughter card.

So, easy. Open it up.

Not so easy. In their infinite wisdom, Netgear decided to use stupid little bevelled star-shaped screws instead of something nice and simple. No tool I’ve ever found will get these damn things open.

So I resorted to a subtle blend of psychology… and extreme violence (points for spotting the reference if you’ve got this far through the post!). I got one of the staff to help me rip the bottom off. Then clipped off the spare plastic and undid the screws with a pair of pliers.

Sure enough, the daughter board was loose. A quick shove and all was wi-fi with the world.

Next, to transfer files. I found out the hard way that even though the 2000 box pretended to install my USB stick, it crapped itself when I tried to access it. So dragging them from a share on the old machine… nope. Same problem. Open folder, no icons, machine craps out.

Next option, push files using shared folders over the network. Nope again. Every couple of meg (and I had slightly over 200 of them to shift… zipped) I got an error that the network location was no longer connected. Maybe I was overloading the wi-fi, or 2000 just couldn’t keep up. I don’t know.

Final solution (no, I didn’t gas the PC) – memory stick into XP box, copy data, walk through the snow to office, copy data to CD, back to hotel, load from there.

*Phew*

In amongst all this, I also sorted out a fax for one resort, fixed an Outlook error elsewhere, reconfigured email in Switzerland, had a printer delivered to an area child care manager, tested a phone line in Les Gets (it was broken), configured and sent out three routers, sorted remote desktop access on a contract manager’s PC, repaired a damaged Word install, flattened my desktop PC and passed it on to a colleague, got Twhirl running under Ubuntu on my laptop using the now non-beta Adobe AIR, documented far too much stuff…

…and developed a cold. Just in time for heading home.

Bugger.

As ever, I’m glad to be popping home for a short while. I’m definitely glad to be getting a rest. It’s been a lot of work here. But never boring! And it looks good on the CV.

Yes, I still have some stuff that’s not done, but it’s nothing too important and a lot can be done from the UK. Still, I’m out of time and no need to worry. In 12 hours from now I’ll be in a minibus heading for Geneva Airport.

And I’m really looking forward to it. I need a comfy bed to curl up in and someone to feed me hot fruit juice!

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