Monday, April 7, 2014

Farewelling old tech - Router + ADSL Modem

On Friday, I finally retired our old ADSL Modem and wireless router...

They've served us well for close to a decade, but the increasing frequency of downtimes and flakiness had been causing issues and a bit of frustration for the last few years. Last week, things finally came to a head: for a few days in a row, the modem would suddenly "die" (i.e. sometimes it'd be left with just the power + status light, but occasionally, it would be just the power light, and always sometime between 8pm and 10pm) - nearly once every 8-12 hours. On Thursday night, it "died" as usual, and never managed to reconnect to the internet again. It just kept searching/attempting to connect, again and again and again... even after being completely unplugged (power, cables, everything - left alone to sit for a few hours like that between attempts) multiple times, and resetted (using the recessed button on the back).

(On a side note: Coincidentally or not, it conspired that Telecom had been performing some "scheduled network maintenance" on Thursday evening - work that wasn't completed until early on Friday)

I'd always expected the wifi to actually give up the ghost first, since it's power cord had started to partially melt, becoming a bit sticky around the grip-part of the end that connects to the router. Following that discovery, we started paying a bit more attention to the amount of the heat these things were generating, and looked into getting a replacement unit (more on this in a sec).  Then again, the modem had been serving us for much longer -- approximately since we first got broadband around 2005/6, staying on practically all day, every day during that time (apart from downtimes, and when we were away for a few days).

Actually, we had considered/tried replacing parts of this setup in the past, but we ended up running into various network compatibility problems with the replacement Belkin router (N150 IIRC) we tried to use. Specifically, the stupid thing's security/config settings could not be set in such a way that all the machines in our house to reliably connect to it - WPA2 worked for my Toshiba (Vista) but not dad's old XP netbook, while the WEP (ugh!) worked for the XP netbook but not for the Toshiba, and then eventually, neither computer to could connect at all using either security setting. The store wouldn't take the sorry bugger back. And that's not to mention the crapware that they bundled with that thing, which would pop up a great honking configuration helper screen on startup if it couldn't find the offending router (fortunately, I knew better than to go anywhere near it, but still...). Fortunately though, the thing did redeem itself a bit by playing an integral role in helping our (G6's) software engineering group project's presentation go off without a hitch - that is, after a few of us spent a few hours fiddling and hacking its settings (i.e. disabling all security and a tweaking a few other settings) so that our software could still be used after the university unceremoniously and abruptly started blocking UDP on the campus wifi just under a fortnight before the final reveal + release.

So, understandably, I wasn't too keen on replacing our core networking infrastructure for a while, even if it meant putting up with things like having to reset them if we did a few "bandwidth intensive" things (*), for example:
  • Watching more than a dozen or so YouTube clips (or more than a few hours or so),
  • Downloading some big files > 200-300mb in a sitting, 
  • or Uploading more than 80mb at a time,
or if the weather did anything funky:
  • Bringing a moderate heatwave - the devices already generate enough heat as it is (often being warm to the touch). Adding a bit more just pushes them over.
  • Extreme cold (i.e. during a snowstorm day, when the temperature stays around 0) was usually enough to cause them to quit working by about 2-3pm that afternoon, and refuse to work again until at least 5pm - and then rather sporadically for the rest of the night. 

(*) On a side note, I'm still not sure whether they'd give up in these cases for simply having gone past some kind of internal "stability threshold" for number of transactions/amount of data these devices can handle per day (given that they were from a time when even several MB's of data was a big deal), or whether Telecom was sending us special "stand-down throttling packets" which result in the modem committing suicide. This latter option isn't entirely implausible (at least given my limited familiarity with low-level networking stuff), given that they can and did use to be able to tell the modem to throttle the speed of our connection - by basically randomly dropping or timing out connections, back in the days when data caps were like 1GB at over $90 per month or so... yeah it sucked).

Nevertheless, let's hope that the newer hardware now in place holds up much better. I've yet to test it on my Linux setup yet (*shudders*  even with the experimental/patched drivers I'm now using - which seem to have introduced a 5 second delay on startup before the desktop will properly draw - things are still quite spotty/unreliable at times) or my old Toshiba, but it seems that with the current batch of hardware we have in the house nowadays, it seems to hold.

Anyways, a big thank you to this pair of hardworking messengers, who have worked hard over the past few years to successfully deliver many Blender features and fixes. We salute you!

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