Whether you’re setting up a new home network or overhauling the one you’ve got, planning and mapping out your devices and intended uses can save you a lot of headaches.
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Count Your Devices and Plan
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When setting up your home network, take a tally of what kinds of devices will be on your network. I’ve got two desktops, three laptops, five phones/PMPs, a printer, an XBOX 360, and a Wii to keep track of. Of course, when we have guests over, I want to make their setup as painless as possible. I also use a repeater to expand my wireless range. Things can get pretty complicated, but knowing what you have and anticipating special cases makes it significantly easier to map out your network. It also helps you decide what kind of networking equipment you need.
Consider Your Router
Let’s start at the top, and work our way down. Your router is arguably the most important device in your home network. Your router’s job is three-fold:
- Joining your network to the internet.
- Managing your network’s traffic.
- Providing basic security.
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Whether you’ve got DSL, cable, or satellite, your broadband really only hooks up to one device. If you make that device a router, then any number of other devices can connect and disconnect as they come and go. This allows you to share you internet connection over a wide area.
Now, since you’ve got a bunch of devices that are thirsty for the internet-juice, they need a way to connect. Not only that, but they need their traffic properly directed. Streaming a movie to your gigantic TV only to have it show up on your phone doesn’t work. Your router handles everything appropriately by assigning devices an IP address and forwarding ports and so on.
Lastly, if you’re worried about people stealing your personal information – and you SHOULD be – then you’ll have some sort of security in place. If you’re wireless, then this means requiring a password to connect. In addition, you can enable blocking of ActiveX scripts and other things in your router’s settings. This acts as a basic firewall.
You can see why your routers are an integral component of any home network. Consider turning yours into a Super-Powered Router with DD-WRT.
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How many wired devices do you have? If you have more than four, then you’ll exceed what most routers are equipped with. That means you’ll need to buy a switch so you can plug in more ethernet cables.
Where are your devices and where is your router? Will you need to run ethernet wires across your house to make sure everything gets online? Could you move the router so it’s closer to your devices?
Where will your wireless devices see the most activity? If your router is on one side of the house but your bedroom is on the other, then you’ll likely have trouble getting decent speeds when browsing in bed. Can you move your router to a more central location? If you really need a range boost, consider buying a wireless access point. This can be set up to repeat your main router’s signal, and as a bonus you can tether other devices via ethernet, too. If you have an old router lying around, you can put DD-WRT on it and turn it into a repeater for free.
Map It Out
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Draw a map of your home and try to fit everything. Consider where things should be placed for best range, fastest speeds, and so on. Physically doing a tour and drawing as you go can really make the difference up-front. Believe me, there’s little worse than having everything configured and wired only to find that you forgot your HTPC in the living room. Wireless streaming 1080P from across the house didn’t cut it for me, and I had to redo a good portion of my network.
Plugging in wired devices is easy enough, but what about wireless devices? Before we can connect, we need to consider how IP addresses will be assigned to your devices.
Dynamic and Static IPs
DHCP – Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol – is easy. You set up parameters on your router – how many IPs can be given out, what range these addresses should be in, etc. – and your devices will automagically connect and work. The downside? Your computer can have one IP address, but after a restart (or after power-cycling the router), it can be totally different. This makes it difficult to route traffic from outside of the web. If you use Subsonic or Plex while out and about to stream your home music and video, you’ll have to reconfigure your port forwarding settings.
Static IP routing is really tedious on your devices. You basically tell every device which IP it should use, what gateway to go through (HINT: it’s your router’s IP), and what subnet mask to use (again, look at your router’s configuration). This is a time-consuming hassle, but you won’t have worry about shifting IPs.
So which is better? Well, in my experience, it’s both. Yes, that’s right, you can use both simultaneously. What I do is set up DHCP for everything, but manually configure the IP of the two computers that stream or need to be accessed from outside of the network. Odds are, these are going to be devices that are connected to your router via ethernet – the speed of wireless for stuff like this can be ridiculously slow. I also use static IPs with printers, just in case using the printer-name or searching for it over the network takes too long or gets wonky. These manually assigned IPs can be outside of the DHCP’s range of IPs. Devices in my “server” list usually start at 192.168.1.200.
Your laptops and phones will connect as they need and work without hassle. My DHCP range of IPs is between 192.168.1.100-150. The router, itself, is 192.168.1.1, and my repeaters are 192.168.1.10 and 20. My printer is manually assigned 192.168.1.255 – the last available IP because printing is the last thing I want to do, and it’s easy to remember.
DD-WRT, as well as newer router firmwares, can actually do “Static DHCP” or “DHCP reserving,” negating the need to go through this tedious process. What this means is that you can assign devices (based on their MAC addresses) to certain IPs in your router, without worry of changes. All of your devices can connect via DHCP, but their IPs won’t change because the router knows which devices are connecting. Definitely look into this and take the time to set it up.
An Address Book
Draw a table of all of your devices, splitting them up into one of two categories: clients and servers.
If something is going to be sending information – like your desktop packed with 2 TB hard drives full of movie and music – then stick it in the “server” column. Everything else goes in the “client” column. The one exception to this is wireless printers. They can finicky, so it’s best to treat them as a server, at least when assigning IPs.
Now consider which of you computers you may want to access from outside of the house. If you’ve got a web server or a Linux computer that you remotely control, then make note of it. In the end, write up an address book of all of your devices and which IPs they’ll use (or if they’ll use DHCP) and what ports you need to forward. It’s also a good idea to list each device’s MAC address, in case you need it during configuration or when checking your router’s logs.
(Above image credit: k0a1a.net)
What kind of security should you use for your home network? I get asked this question a lot, and I almost always say WPA2.
(Image credit: k0a1a.net)
It only takes a matter of minutes to crack a WEP-secured wireless network. Now, while the odds of someone doing this to get access to your network are low – especially if your neighbor’s is wide open – WEP is also more restrictive to what passcodes you can use. Most people I know use their home telephone number – it’s 10 digits, which fits the length and hexadecimal requirement, and is easy to remember. If you don’t know the person’s phone number, odds are you shouldn’t be on their network anyway.
WPA is also fairly easy to crack, but as not all devices are compatible yet with WPA2 (I’m looking at you, old gaming consoles!), WPA can work. You can create long alpha-numeric passwords to make it difficult for others to guess and get in, though it doesn’t help against those who may crack your network.
One of my favorite things to do is name my wireless network something specific, so it’s a clue to my password. Inside jokes work the best, but you may decide to use a geeky reference instead. For example, my wireless SSID could be “AnswerToLifeUniverseAndEverything” and the password would be “fortytwo.” If someone gets the reference, then they get to be on my network, but that’s just out of my benevolence. Just remember, security risks, no matter how minor, are still risks.
For more information, check out Debunking Myths: Is Hiding Your Wireless SSID Really More Secure?
Naming Schemes and File Sharing
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Speaking of naming things, a lot of geeks come up with clever schemes to name the computers and devices on their network. At a previous job, all of the office workstations were named after sci-fi AI: Hal, Skynet, WOPR, etc. One friend of mine names his network devices after Greek gods, another after language families. Coming up with a scheme and fitting computers to it is not only fun, but practical. By naming my devices based on their characteristics, I know exactly which computer I’m connecting to. When I see “sarasvati,” I know that’s the computer that has my eBook and music collections. When I connect to “indra,” I know it’s my quad-core rig. When I need to add a new ringtone to my iPhone, I can SSH into “narad”. It’s as much a mnemonic device as it is geek pride.
Lastly, consider what operating systems you have in your home. If all of them run one OS, you probably don’t need to worry about anything. If you’re mixing and matching, however, you’ll have to think of how to share files properly. If you’re using Linux to download and serve files, this means using NFS or Samba. Windows 7 has the new Homegroup setup as well, and Macs can work with Samba as well as their own native AFP.
Planning and putting together a network is big project. Planning and mapping things out in advance can help make it easier to avoid gaffes, and using geeky references can make working the details a lot less tedious.
How many devices are in your home network? What’s your favorite naming scheme? Share your home networking experience and your geekiness with us in the comments!
Tuesday, June 28, 2011
Monday, June 27, 2011
Adam Dachis — We've shown you how to build a Hackintosh with enough power to rival a Mac Pro, but for those of you who want a still powerful Mac on a budget you can build a Hack Mini. We'll show you what you need to build it and walk you through the entire OS X installation.
Hackintoshing used to be a complicated process, but since Hackintosh expert tonymacx86 came around it's gotten a lot easier. While I've been hackintoshing netbooks for awhile, I always shied away from building a machine because I was concerned about stability issues. After seeing how well Pash's and Whitson's Hackintoshes ran, and seeing how slow my less-than-a-year-old iMac had become, I decided it was time to do it. I've had one week with the Hack Mini and so far it's actually more stable than my iMac. It's also twice as fast (according to benchmarks) and cost half as much (if you already have an extra monitor). The whole process was very easy and produced a better machine. While I had Whitson around to help me out, if you have some knowledge of how to build a computer this is likely something you can do. I am still surprised that the process was so easy and that the machine is so fast for so little money. Now it seems silly to ever buy a Mac desktop again.
What You'll NeedTonyMac's CustoMac Mini build, using only a few parts that are a little different (but work all the same). We built this one ourselves, adding a few extras like an SSD (which is optional, to keep the build under $600), and it runs beautifully. Here's what you'll need:
- Gigabyte GA-H55N-USB3 Motherboard $104.99
- Intel Core i3 Processor i3-540 3.06GHz 4MB LGA1156 CPU $110.00
- ZOTAC nVidia GeForce GT240 512 MB DDR3 DVI/HDMI PCI-Express Video Card $84.99
- 2x2GB Corsair PC3-10666 1333Mhz Dual Chanel 240-pin DDR3 Desktop RAM $43.99
- Western Digital 1TB SATA III 7200 RPM 32MB Cache Desktop Hard Drive $59.99
- SilverStone SG05BB-450 ALL Black Plastic/SECC Mini-ITX Computer Case with SFX 450W 80+ Bronze Certified/Single +12V rail Power Supply $119.99
- Sony Optiarc 8X SATA DVD+/-RW Slim Drive $34.99
- StarTech.com MCSATAADAP Micro SATA to SATA Adapter Cable with Power $11.71
- Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard $29.00
- OPTIONAL: OCZ Agility 120GB SSD $199.99 (note: this is optional and not included in the total cost of the machine)
Note: If you're like me and don't need an optical drive, don't try to build this machine without one. You need an internal optical drive or you will not be able to complete the entire process.
Another note: The VGA port on your video card isn't going to work. DVI and HDMI will work just fine, but don't plug anything in to the VGA port or you will be disappointed.
Total cost: $599.65
Once you've got all the hardware in hand, you'll need to assemble your computer. Building a Hackintosh isn't any different than building a regular PC. You'll need to mount the motherboard to your case, install all the components listed above, and plug in all the necessary cables. If you're not sure of anything, read the manual for the motherboard. It's worth noting that the GA-H55N (the motherboard used in this build) uses some less-than-usual names when labeling everything, but you won't have any trouble figuring out what's what. If you're new(-ish) to the computer building process, have a look at our guide to building a computer from scratch.
Once you've finished putting it all together, turn on the machine and make sure you see your BIOS screen, which will include its firmware version (3, 4, or 5). Write down the firmware version now. You will need it later. If everything looks good, it's time to start hackintoshing.
Installing Mac OS X 10.6
Now we need to install OS X, which is where things get a little trickier and much more specific. Read these instructions carefully and follow them in the exact order they are written. If you do something out of order you may have to start again from scratch. With that in mind, here's what you're going to need for a successful installation:
- A Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard Install DVD (the same one you'd buy from Apple for a real Mac)
- iBoot (which you get from tonymacx86, but you'll need to register for the forums in order to download it)
- MultiBeast 3.1.0 or later (also from tonymacx86, and also requires forum registration for download)
- Mac OS X 10.6.8 Combo Update (direct download from Apple)
- Lnx2Mac's Realtek 81XX Installer (so your Ethernet card will work)
- The relevant DSDT file for the GA-H55N motherboard
To get the DSDT file you need, go here and choose the following from the "Choose your Motherboard" drop-down menu:
- Socket 1156
From there you'll see options for F3, F4, and F5. These numbers correspond to the firmware versions on your motherboard. Assuming you did, indeed, write down the firmware version in your BIOS when you test-booted the machine earlier, you'll know which one of these options to pick. If not, test boot again and look for the firmware version on the BIOS boot screen. It's most likely F5, but don't guess. Guessing wrong means your Hackintosh will not work properly.
Prep Your Tools
First, take the iBoot.iso image you downloaded and burn it to a CD. It has to run on a CD. It will not work from a thumb drive. You can also burn a CD with MultiBeast, Lnx2Mac's Realtek driver installer, and the DSDT file you just downloaded, but I prefer to just toss all of these files on a Mac-friendly thumb drive.
Once all of that's ready, insert your iBoot CD and plug in your USB thumb drive (or external optical drive with the Snow Leopard install DVD inside). Also plug a USB keyboard into one of the frontside USB ports on your Hack Mini. (While the ports in the back should work during boot time they didn't for me, but there were no issues with the ones up front.) Next, turn on your Hack Mini and hold the delete key while it boots. This will let you edit your BIOS settings and select a boot order. Once the edit screen loads, follow these steps:
- Choose "Advanced BIOS Settings."
- If "Quick Boot" is enabled, disable it.
- Set the "First Boot Device" to CDROM.
- Set the "Second Boot Device" to Hard Disk. (The third can be set to whatever you want.)
- If you have more than one hard drive installed, go up to "Hard Disk Boot Priority" and hit enter. Make certain that the hard disk you're going to use for Mac OS X is up at the top. If not, move it to the top by selecting it with the arrow keys and pressing the Page Up key until it gets there. Note: this is just for hard disks—your optical drive is still first on the list from the change you made earlier.
- Press the escape key until you get to the main BIOS settings page (where you started).
- Press F10 to save your changes. You'll be asked if you're sure you want to do this. Type Y if there isn't already a Y typed for you and press enter.
If you haven't already inserted your iBoot disc into your optical drive, now's that time to do it. Your Hack Mini should now (slowly) boot using iBoot and provide you with any startup discs it sees. What you'll need to do now is eject the iBoot disc, insert your Snow Leopard DVD, and boot from it (by selecting it, if necessary, and pressing enter). You should now see the grey Apple boot screen and, soon, the OS X installer.
Run the OS X installation just like you would on any other Mac. In order to do this, you may need to format your internal hard drive first. If you do, just open the Utilities menu and choose Disk Utility. You'll be able to format your hard drive (or SSD) from there.
Once the installer finishes it may say it failed to install OS X. This did not happen with me but it's a common quirk with Hackintosh installations. If it happens to you, don't panic—everything is just fine. Go ahead and restart your machine and leave your iBoot CD in the optical drive. When you boot this time, you'll have a new option: your hard drive. Boot from it and you'll be on your new OS X desktop in minutes.
Configure Your New Hack Mini
Note: It may look like things are missing here, as we're not checking any boxes to install bootloaders or graphics drives, but don't worry—MultiBeast will take care of it all for you.
- Copy the DSDT file you downloaded to the desktop.
- Open up MultiBeast and Lnx2Mac's Realtek driver installer but do not install anything
- Open the Mac OS X 10.6.8 Combo Installer and run it. When it finishes, do not restart.
- With MultiBeast open, choose check the following boxes:
- UserDSDT Install
- System Utilities
- Drivers & Bootloaders -> Kexts & Enablers -> Audio -> Realtek ALC8xx -> ALC8xxHDA
- Drivers & Bootloaders -> Kexts & Enablers -> Audio -> Realtek ALC8xx -> AppleHDA Rollback
- Drivers & Bootloaders -> Kexts & Enablers -> Disk -> JMicron36x (AKA GSATA) -> JMicron36x SATA
- Drivers & Bootloaders -> Kexts & Enablers -> Miscellaneous -> FakeSMC Plugins
- Drivers & Bootloaders -> Kexts & Enablers -> Miscellaneous -> USB 3.0 - NEC/Renesas
- Anything in the OSx86 Software category you want to install (but none of it is required)
- Click the Install button on MultiBeast and wait for the installer to finish.
- Install Lnx2Mac's Realtek 81XX driver (make sure you check the release version and not the debug version during installation).
- Eject the iBoot CD and click the Restart button on your Mac OS X 10.6.8 Combo Update's installer window.
- Make sure your sound and Ethernet are working. If not, you may have done something wrong and will need to run MultiBeast again to install those drivers. Once you've got all of that working, there's one last thing to do.
- Re-run MultiBeast and select just one option: Customization -> Boot Options -> 64-Bit Apple Boot Screen. This will make your graphic's card run at full capacity, utilize OS X's 64-bit capabilities, and a bunch of other little nice enhancements as well. Once you've installed this option, reboot and you're done.
The only thing that won't work after a successful installation is HDMI audio, but there is a way to get this working. Tonymacx86 has posted a process to get functional HDMI audio on most Hackintoshes, including this one. Since it isn't vital we're not going to cover it here, but if HDMI audio is important to you then you will want to read those instructions.
Congratulations, you now have your very own Hack Mini!
The nice thing about putting together this Hack Mini right now is that you'll end up with OS X 10.6.8—likely the final update to Snow Leopard. This means that so long as you stick with Snow Leopard your machine will run fine. If you want to update to Lion in the future, keep an eye on tonymacx86.com for updates. We'll also be building a Lion-based machine later this Summer, so stay tuned.