A closer look at my home (and office) network

Over the past couple weeks, I’ve been upgrading, rearranging, cleaning, and labeling all the PCs in our home and office. As part of the process, I’ve been cleaning up the network layout too. I thought you might be interested in seeing how things are laid out. Here’s a diagram I prepared to help me understand how things are arranged:

EB home-office network

This diagram doesn’t include one desktop PC and a handful of notebooks that make only wireless connections. It also doesn’t count the three or four virtual machines—servers and desktops—that are in operation at any given time.

As you can see, we are diehard Media Center users here, with two working systems doing full-time duty in that role, each with at least two TV tuners attached. That’s not something I necessarily recommend. It’s important for me, though, because I need the freedom to tinker with one Media Center setup—typically the one in my office—without jeopardizing the family’s main entertainment center in the living room. The dual setup did come in particularly handy earlier this month, when the HTPC system in the living room failed because of a faulty power supply. I was able to move the second Media Center setup out of my office and have it working in less than 30 minutes.

Our house is relatively new (five years old). We’re fortunate that the builder had the foresight to run Cat5 cable to every room in the house, which means every PC that’s connected to a TV is also connected to a wired Ethernet connection. For that matter, every wired connection runs at Gigabit speeds. Wireless technology is way better today than it was five years ago, but it’s still touchy enough that I try to avoid it for anything involving high-definition programming. And being able to swap HD video and lossless music files at wired speeds is a convenience I only notice when I use one of the wireless connections for the same task.

Over the next few weeks I’m going to go into some more detail about the equipment I use and why I chose it. If there are any questions you want me to cover along the way, leave them in the comments.

20 thoughts on “A closer look at my home (and office) network

  1. I’m interested what DSL modem/router you have if you have any trouble with it. My DSL modem seems to randomly lock up after periods of high usage. We have a moderate amount of traffic here at home, with 5 computers, Tivo, a couple of iPod Touches. Usually once a week I’m down in the basement unplugging it and plugging it back in, which always fixed the issue, but I’m curious if you have any recommendations as well.

  2. MS continues to improve Media Center even though only Windows tech writers use it. They sure must like you guys. But seriously, back when it launched, did MS seed the market via tech columnists? It’s hard to believe that all of you happened to fall deeply in love with it by coincidence.

  3. Rick,

    If you actually followed this site for the past 7-8 years you would know I have tried every alternative, including Tivo, DirecTV, cable-company boxes, Sage, even MythTV. Maybe the reason I like and use Media Center is because it’s pretty awesome.

    And there are many, many more users than just Windows tech writers.

  4. Count me in as one of those Media Center enthusiasts that is not a tech writer. It is the hub of my home entertainment environment with one Media Center desktop in my office and four Xbox 360s acting as Media Center Extenders in the living room, kitchen/dining area, master bedroom, and guest bedroom. I’ve tested Windows Home Server, but I just wish it would incorporate Media Center and feed Extenders. If it did, it would be perfect. Ed, have you ever heard if they are planning on doing that?

  5. Cat 5e! I’ve been telling EVERY builder I’ve met over the past 2 decades to run Cat 5 in every house they build. Still they just don’t get it. Or, they daisy chain it as if it were a phone line. Or, they home run it to a very hot place where you can’t install equipment. When will all builders get it on Cat 5?

    1. Yes, seriously. Ubuntu adds nothing to any of these rooms. It’s on a virtual machine, but I get absolutely zero requests from readers for anything about Ubuntu. I’ve worked with it in the past but got poor readr response to the stories I did.

  6. Ben: If you use BitTorrent at all, you should set it to access-point mode and then put a better router in front of it. A lot of low-grade routers run terrible firmware that has trouble when you max out the NAT routing table. Rebooting the router causes you to start off with a fresh table.

    If this doesn’t solve the problem, then at least it allows you to separate the router from the modem, so you can figure out which part is broken.

  7. Great article. I look forward to more of the same. I, too, use Windows Media Center. My software includes MyMovies, integrated into WMC, which I’d be lost without.

  8. wow, look at all of those cascaded switches. Network performance and manageability will be measurably better if Ed spends around $100 and gets himself a 24 port managed switch. If he really, really needs to segment things out, spend another $25 and get a managed switch that can do vlans.

    That network diagram shows just about every noob nome networking mistake and misconfig imaginable. Hardly complimentary to Eds reputation……

    1. Gee, Sparky, thanks for the compliment. I would love to have a 24-port managed switch, Of course, that would cost about $400, not $100. And I would have to upgrade the wiring closet too, at a cost of about $1000. Are you volunteering to do the work for free?

      Meanwhile, you have no idea about the actual physical layout or performace needs here. Do you always offer consulting advice without talking to the client?

  9. Nope, just ‘assuming’ that a well advertised MVP would have a better handle on things…… Perhaps not.

    1. Well, “Sparky,” if you were really such an expert, you’d ask a few questions. And you’d use a real name and address.

      Anyway, as to your criticism… There is exactly one level of cascading, from the main wiring closet to the main work space. No workstation is more than two hops from a server and three hops to the Internet. Three of the four cascaded switches are in isolated locations that are used for specific tasks. Most of them are offline 90-98% of the time. So investing a lot of equipment into optimizing traffic for those segments would be a little foolish, don’t you think?

      If this were an office with high-traffic workstations at every desk, then it would make sense to do some traffic analysis and some reconfiguration. But honestly, what do I have to gain from spending another thousand bucks in this configuration? Except, of course, to earn the respect of some anonymous dude on the Internet?

      PS: Let me know where you get those $100 (or is it $125? I couldn’t follow you) 24-port managed Gigabit switches. I’m just dying to find.

    1. Eli, the primary role of the Windows Server 2008 R2 box is as a Hyper-V host for virtual machines. One of those virtual machines is a domain controller for testing domain-based scenarios, and another is a SharePoint host.

  10. Thanks for sharing your setup Ed, and I agree that I prefer machines to be wired connected than wireless. As you mentioned wireless has improved a lot but I still prefer the Cat5 wired connections for optimum efficiency.

  11. Maybe Sparky means a 24-port Patch Panel? I’ve got a new one (picked up at a thrift) that I ought to offload. Even a patch panel is creeping more towards $100. A 24-port switch for $125…well, I wouldn’t turn that down.

    Good deal on the CAT5 networking. This house is 15 years old and CAT5 cabling would have been an amazing innovation. There are some benefits to notebook users on having a wireless setup, but I get the feeling I ought to lose more sleep over it. It’s good for laptops; I don’t like laptops. I would love to just have a simple wired router and get rid of the wireless. Nobody uses passwords – nobody wants to remember them, nobody wants to try to get even the basic security working – and I recently discovered the router was acting up, probably got hijacked by a trojan (had isolated the behavior from actual OS installs after a fresh one, still got bad redirects – to be fair this can happen to a non-wireless router as well).

  12. Thanks for a look at your setup!

    As I’m in the cabling business, my builder let me run cabling in my house (2001). So I flooded the place with Cat5e cabling. Cat6 was available at the time, but I thought it might be overkill. I do regret that now.

    However, just like yourself I’m reaping the benefits of having a built in cabled network. All PC’s, extenders, printer and ‘fixed’ devices have a wired connection back to a Mini LAN cabinet, which houses patch panels, router and switch.

    All laptops and handhelds are wireless.

    Wireless is great for convience and freedom, but you just can’t beat a proper wired connection for reliability and performance.

  13. hey, Ed,
    Thanks for posting your setup. What do you use for extenders/ All xbox 360s? How are you handling dvds in your setup? Rip n’ convert?

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