In my quest for continually improving my quality of life, I decided it was time to revisit my internet situation and entire home office. I have had the same internet and networking scenario for the last 6 years and a recent bill from Comcast prompted me to make some changes.
I had several goals for my tasks ahead, in this order:
- Reduce my Internet bill
- Faster speeds
- Upgrade equipment
- Consider energy usage
- Everything should work easily and seamlessly.
The Phone Call(s)
I first called Comcast 2 months ago. My area had an outstanding deal, getting me 200 Mbps for [redacted]. I was paying $20 more for 100 Mbps. Yes, please. In true Comcast fashion, I was billed the wrong amount for 2 months, and it took me way too many phone calls to get it fixed. Your results may vary.
Results: $240 less per year and my speed doubled.
Buy Your Own Cable Modem
Now that I am on a 200 Mbps plan with Comcast, I need a modem that can handle the speed as well as a household full of devices. Renting a modem from Comcast costs between $8 to $10 per month, or $96 to $120 per year. My previous modem (Arris SB6121) lasted about 6 years before it was time to upgrade – it still worked perfectly, but technology had caught up to it. The old modem saved me about $516 over the lifetime of using it. With this new faster plan and the need for a new modem, I sought out a device which could handle a ton of bandwidth, speed, and last for a while before I needed to replace it again. If I had to replace it too soon, I’d lose out on the potential savings. I ended up with the Motorola MB8600. This modem has a couple things which makes this choice much more appealing than other options. The breakdown:
- DOCSIS 3.1
- 32×8 channels
- Supports cable plans up to 1 Gbps
- Bonding for up to 4 ethernet ports (3.8 Gbps upstream and downstream) – this isn’t widespread yet, but could be beneficial for a future router upgrade.
- Active Queue Management – reduces latency like crazy.
- DoE-compliant Level VI energy-saving – this means much less energy use than most other modems.
- Built in resistance to power surges
- 2 year warranty – guarantees money saving
Edit: If you have VOIP and want a built in router, this is a great modem/router combo.
Router and Range Extender
With the best cable modem for Comcast selected, I wanted to make sure my networking equipment took advantage of the speeds and capabilities.
The ultimate router is the Netgear Nighthawk X10. The router includes aggregate ethernet ports, which is perfect for my uses. The processor can handle loads of 4K streaming and VR gaming amongst other things, with speeds up to 7.2 Gbps. The 10 Gigabit ethernet connection is great if you’re a blogger with a NAS holding all your photos and videos. If you clicked the link above and have price-shock, the Nighthawk R7 is a very acceptable alternative.
All the fun routers are 5 Ghz, which has a lot less range than the 2.4 Ghz, so an Extender is needed. I used an app on my phone, Wi-Fi Sweet Spot, which allows me to walk around the house and figure out where my weak points are with the WiFi connections. Once I figured out ideal placement, I ran an ethernet cable from my office to the Extender. I went with the Netgear AC1200 EX6200. It supports extending without an ethernet cable, but I am aiming to reduce latency as much as possible. Depending on your devices, the Netgear Nighthawk X4 AC2200 is an even better choice.
So why didn’t I go with the best choice on Extenders? The EX6200 includes 4 extra ethernet ports which I used to plug in the TV and stereo receiver for better streaming capabilities. The more devices on WiFi, the slower it is for everyone, so putting some of the heavier streams on ethernet would help my overall network more. In theory. I’ll probably have to revisit Extender-land when new things come out to match the Nighthawk X10 router above.
In regards to energy consumption – routers are not known for becoming more efficient over time – so I didn’t even use this metric for my consideration.
Network Attached Storage
Having a decent NAS system means I can put all of my work related documents, which include massive amounts of photos and video, in a central location and access from multiple devices at home or around the world. This also allows for easy collaboration. With a router that supports 10 GbE connections, I wanted to take full advantage of the speed. I ended up with the QNAP TS-431X. It holds 4 hard drives, SSD caching, and encryption, which will keep my transfers lightning fast. This one also includes the ability to keep attaching additional NAS units if I decide to go crazy. As a blogger whom frequently travels, the most important feature is to be able to manage my photos/videos from anywhere in the world quickly and securely. As a bonus, QNAP allows for backing up to Amazon Glacier, in case I ever need to recover data.
The other advantage of using a NAS for storing all my data: future laptop upgrades don’t require a larger hard drive. For example, the 256GB SSD vs the 1TB SSD is an $800 difference.
The home network is only as fast and strong as its weakest link. With the expensive stuff out of the way – there are a lot of tiny yet important components which need evaluating and possibly upgrading.
Ethernet cables – I went through and squinted my eyes at the hard to read text on the cables to make sure they were either Cat 6a or Cat 5e.
The Cat 6a were for the NAS and modem to router, which could handle 10 Gbps speeds. The Cat 5e were for the other devices at up to 1 Gbps – these should be standard with any device purchase, but it was worth verifying in case I had older cables plugged in somewhere. I had already run Cat 5e through my house, so I didn’t bother getting all Cat 6a – my weakest link was in place for now and a pain to change out.
Surge Protectors – In addition to the surge protector power strip protecting devices, plugs should be arranged in a way that allow for multiple annoyingly sized plugs to be plugged in. I have 4 of these surge protectors and love them. Spacing is great and I keep them mounted on the wall right next to my power outlets and desk for cable organization.
Charging Devices – You may not have noticed, but charging capabilities for phones and accessories has been changing rapidly. Different quick charge technologies are out, and I want to be able to quickly charge and take advantage of these. In addition, I wanted to ensure my cables and chargers were from reputable brands to decrease risk of spontaneous fires. Anker and Aukey are both reputable third party sellers of tons of cell phone and tablet accessories.
Quick Charge 3.0 is currently the latest for charging devices. Okay you fanatics, technically 4.0 is out, but not enough companies use it yet. I opted for some wall chargers that had 2 outlets. Same thing for my car – a car charger with 2 quick charge 3.0 outlets for the passenger and I works very nicely.
Next up were to make sure my USB cables were USB 3 capable. Unfortunately, I have both Micro and USB-C devices now, which means I have more cables than I really want. I can’t wait to all be on the same type of cable and reduce some of the clutter.
Wireless Printing and Scanning – I don’t actually do much printing, however I scan a lot of documents. Having a wireless scanner is handy so I can store the device in my closet and out of sight for when its not in use. Brother Laser Printers and Scanners are the way to go for low-use budget users such as myself. I had an inkjet before and I was constantly buying ink that would simply dry out without me ever printing.
Power backup – A Universal Power Supply or UPS is essential in case of a brownout or some other electrical issue. If power goes out, my devices will safely shut themselves down. When selecting, a critical feature to ensure the UPS has is “pure sine wave”. I went for this one which is fairly budget friendly with enough features to keep my equipment more than adequately protected.
Priority of Purchases
All of these upgrades add up, so decided it might be helpful to order which is most important for the sake of your own upgrades and prioritizing.
Total cost of my upgrades:
- Motorola MB8600 – $160
- Netgear Nighthawk X10 – $440
- Netgear AC1200 EX6200 – $85
- QNAP TS-431X – $446
- Western Digital Red 3TB hard drives x4 – $440
- Cat 6a Ethernet cables x3 – $50
- APC Surge Protector x4 – $132
- Aukey Quick Charge 3.0 Wall Charger x3 – $60
- Aukey Quick Charge 3.0 Car Charger – $20
- USB 3.0 cables USB-A to USB-C x3 – $48
- USB 3.0 cables USB-A to Micro USB x3 – $24
- Brother MFCL2700DW Printer – $130
- CyberPower CP1500PFCLCD Universal Power Supply – $215
- Total: $2250
For a complete office upgrade aimed at reducing pain points and increasing efficiency, the price is very much worth it. The equipment selected is meant to have a lifespan of at least 5 years before I need to upgrade again, which breaks down to $450 per year or $38 per month for the perfect setup. Considering the modem and internet speed changes save quite a bit of money as well, this becomes even cheaper. The expensive router is the only thing which would be considered extravagant, but that is the price for cutting edge technology.
Despite it never being fun to spend several thousand dollars of extremely hard earned money, I am incredibly happy with the upgrades once it is all said and done. The ease of everything working seamlessly together and incredibly quickly makes for an incredible difference. Just because I am technically adept at troubleshooting this stuff doesn’t mean I actually want to do it.