ROUTER AND STORAGE SOLUTIONS – How to make the most of your network
All 802.11n routers are the same, right? Guess again, Charley. We’ve tested a crapload of them lately and found, well, a lot of crap. Our current favorite is Netgear’s WNDR3700. This is a concurrent dual-band model, which means it can operate two discrete networks simultaneously, one on the 2.4GHz frequency band and a second on the 5GHz band. Attach a USB hard drive we’ve tested it with drives as large as 500GB and you can stream music and movies without having to deploy a NAS box or home server. Netgear discovered a fi rmware bug that caused periodic lockups when a USB storage device was attached, but the company told us it would have a fi x available long before you read this.
For whatever reason, wireless router manufacturers haven’t seen fi t to move beyond off ering four-port switches on their products. Better models are equipped with gigabit switches, and that’s the type you want. If four ports aren’t enough, you can add a stand-alone gigabit switch without losing any appreciable bandwidth, much like you can plug a power strip into a single AC outlet. By the same token, you can run a single Ethernet cable from your router or switch into your entertainment center and add a multiport switch there to service multiple clients.
The typical home-theater PC enclosure doesn’t allocate a lot of room for hard drives, and you’ll need the bulk of whatever local storage you do have for recording TV programming. (While you could store this content remotely by mapping a folder on a NAS box drive or server to a drive letter on your HTPC, we don’t recommend it.) You should store all your other types of media (movies and music ripped from disc, digital photographs, and so on) on a remote serveror NAS box.
You can buy a NAS or home-server product or even roll your own using either a free or commercial operating system. If you buy a NAS box, make sure it has a gigabit Ethernet port and that it’s compatible with the DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance) standard. ADLNA server can stream media (music, movies, photos, and so on) to a DLNA-compliant player (such as a PC running Windows Media Center, an A/V receiver, PlayStation 3, Xbox, and even some network-connected TVs).
ACHIEVING DLNA COMPLIANCE
All the major NAS box manufacturers Buffalo, QNAP, Seagate, Synology, Western Digital—offer DLNA-compliant products. Microsoft’s Windows Home Server OS does not support DLNA natively, but some of the companies building Windows Home Server machines—including HP and Acer go the extra mile and add a DLNA stack to the OS.
If you’re building your own WHS machine (or if you’ve purchased a retail box that isn’t DLNA-compliant), installing the TwonkyMedia Server ($30, www.twonkymedia.com) will accomplish the same goal. Twonky also builds versions of its server software for a raft of NAS boxes (including Linux, if you’re building your own), but these are provided “as is” and there is no official technical support.