Upgrading Windows Home Server to a gigabit network on a Friday night

Upgrading Windows Home Server to a gigabit network on a Friday night

Equipment required:

Gigabit capable Windows Home Server and at least one other gigabit capable computer

Gigabit router and switches

Cat 6 Cables of various lengths

4 Beers (2 of which are optional)

Windows Media Center playing your favorite party mix

7,246 zip ties

Background

In my home office for the last six years I have been growing a 100 Mbps network. I water half an inch twice a week in partial shade for best results . The current network is comprised of a cable modem connected to a WRT54G Linksys wireless router with two Netgear 100 Mbps switches. I have four Dell laptops on docking stations, two Dell desktops, a fax, multiple NAS devices, a HP3600 printer, one beer (as shown in the picture) and WHS running on a Dell SC440 PowerEdge. One office, two people, seven computers and nine LCD screens. The ratio sounds about right.

DSC_0023_stitch

I would like to say thank you to my wife for always letting me go free range and another thank you to Microsoft and the Image Composite Editor for creating the above panoramic.

http://research.microsoft.com/en-us/um/redmond/groups/ivm/ICE/

Mental Note: That little girl on the MS commercial totally smoked me on the quality of the panoramic picture of her fort. Loser.

Why am I upgrading to Gigabit?

In the last few months I have expanded my network out of the office to the living room with a HP Media Connect and Netflix Roku. In addition, five of the seven Dells have underutilized gigabit controllers and my Roku and HP are just screaming to get off of wireless G. Now, while I only get 10 Mbps from Charter out of the modem, I am constantly battling slow speeds inside the house during file transfer, streaming and backup. I like HD content through Miro downloads and WMC and have been waiting for 1000 Mbps to come down in price. Apparently, this week was the price point for which I have been waiting. Sorry wife, this might hurt a little. Remember prom?

My shopping list was the following:

  • D-link DGS-2205 5-Port Switch for $24.99 after rebate
  • D-link DGS-2208 8-Port Switch for $34.99 after rebate
  • D-link DIR-655 Wireless-N Router for $92.99
  • 15 Cat 6 patch cables ranging from 1-50 feet for $58.00
  • 12 pack of Taurino from Fresh and Easy for $6.99

Total for this upgrade is $217.96 plus tax.

100_2561

I have always been a Linksys man but the latest performance statistics for a new gigabit network led me down a different path. You should choose your own equipment based on need, price point and coolness factor. All of my network is hidden under the desk so I do not care what it looks like. For performance I referenced the site below to get speed ratings for all of the equipment I purchased.

http://www.smallnetbuilder.com/

This website tests almost every piece of network hardware you can imagine. The menu bar at the top of their website directs you to all of their tests. This website also did a review of the HP MSS a few weeks ago that was very comprehensive. There are other sites out there so find at least one to research before you shop.

So back to my Friday night…

Installation

Every installation will be different and I will suggest one thing: Replace your router/wireless (gateway) first, and then the rest of the cables and switches. I changed my router first and once everything was working again I started on the remaining network changeover. The last thing you want to do is gut your network, have a problem and then try and troubleshoot the whole system. Do not do it. Seriously.

I upgraded from the WRT54G to the new DIR-655 and it is working well. I will have to adjust the settings and reconnect all of the wireless devices after the install.

I am going to skip the narration of the equipment change out and cabling runs. I will say that all of my existing 100 Mbps Cat 5 cable is blue and I went out of my way to order yellow Cat 6. The color change will always keep me from mixing up cables in the future. I have also finished running the cables and everything looks good.

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This is the underside of my IKEA desk. The one white cable is the one that I used to connect to the other switch in the server closet. The router LEDs change color based on 100 or 1000 Mbps speed.

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I have my printer and server on the switch shown above.

While I was down on the floor I cleaned up the APC for each of my five power groups and moved the NAS boxes (will hook up again someday) to the closet. NAS? Oh really? I mentioned that earlier. I, probably like you, started out with an external hard drive, then moved up to a NAS (or two or three) and then realized that I could have spent the same amount I paid for multiple NAS boxes on a home-built WHS. Lets join together and stop others from making our mistakes. Seriously. Viva WHS. Viva WHS. Viva WHS.

Testing

Now that everything is connected, and the network is up and running again, let’s see if it was worth the $217.96 plus tax. I will need a significant increase in speed if I am going to continue to justify future expenses to the wife.

For testing the new network speed I am going to do two tests. I am going to copy the first episode of Star Trek Voyager which is 952MB to the server and one folder with 973 MB (240 SLR pictures) from our hiking trip last weekend. My purely scientific timing method goes like this:

  1. Right eye looking at the sidebar clock through the bottom of my full Taurino bottle. Left eye on the progress bar.
  2. Start file upload and start drinking.
  3. If I complete the file transfer before I finish the beer then we have a successful test.
  4. Document the results in Windows Live Writer (to qualify these results as “scientific”).

Let’s set this pig on fire…

Download Before

Download After

Upload Before

Upload After

952 MB Video File

1:37

:55

1:31

:44

973 MB Picture Folder

2:12

1:16

2:52

1:04

What the heck? What happened to my pig? Where are my superfast increased speeds?  If I did the math right, I think I went from 78 Mbps to 138 Mbps on the download of Voyager? How can this be? Double the speed is good but I was expecting more. Crap². My upload is 173 Mbps? I was expecting like 600 Mbps. Crap³.

Well, after an hour of searching around to see if I had made some massive mistake, I found an article that I wish I had read before I started this endeavor.

http://on10.net/Blogs/EnglishBloke/how-can-i-speed-up-my-windows-home-server-file-copies/

After reading this article I realize that my speeds were not too bad considering I am using folder duplication, full sharing and have a Seagate Desktop Pro USB drive as part of my WHS storage. Should I be thankful for my transfer speeds? I would not mind a few comments from the readers about their file transfer times. Please make me feel better about this people. Seriously.

Your Mileage Will Vary

I have left out some topics that you might want to address for your specific installation.

  • I am not going to use Jumbo frames (4K or 9K) since I still have some older computers on my network.
  • Flow control should also be researched to see if it can help your network speed (My WHS Flow Control was already disabled and I adjusted each gigabit card accordingly)
  • I did not talk about managed switches and segmenting your network or VLAN. Maybe I can talk about that later in the Friday night series.

You can find detailed information on these topics at:

http://www.smallnetbuilder.com/content/blogcategory/22/54/

In addition, if you have VoIP, integrated home security or home automation you may have additional concerns. Our alarm backup plugged back in without any issues.

Conclusion

If you have an existing 100 Mbps network you may want to do you own research and time trials before moving up to gigabit. Upgrading the router was worth it since my extenders use Wireless N. For the switches and cabling, although I did see increases in speed, it was somewhat costly compared to the net change.

See you next Friday.

  • Alex

    You probably could have saved some money by making the cables yourself. In any case, I think you put together a good writeup. I've been debating on whether or not I want to upgrade my network to GigE.

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  • http://www.homeserverhacks.com/ Donavon West

    Dude, welcome to the 2000's! :)

  • Timothy Daleo

    You mean welcome to the 1000's.

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  • Esoriva

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  • Unforoblalf

    nice, really nice!

  • Briyad

    use managed switch like cisco switchs you will see the deference you were looking for the crapy home focused switches dont help much you get what you paid for even less