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mar2k

Network gurus please help me...

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mar2k

Hi guys, bear with me. Networking is not my best tech skill. I have a few questions regarding network topography and equipment. I have been using powerline networking for a while but seized an opportunity to add some CAT 5E cabling to the home, hopefully the start of something better.

 

I have a 3 story home (basement, main level, and upstairs level). There has never been a clear path from the attic to the basement to pull wires. An opportunity presented itself last week during some remodeling work where the chimney chase walls were opened up and I asked the electrician doing other work if he would be willing to pull network cables from the basement up through the chimney chase all the way up to the attic. The idea being that I could hopefully drop ethernet cables into 3 upstairs rooms with a possibility of doing 2 more upstairs later on. On the main level, one cable pulled up from the basement to the TV area on this level, and then a couple of ports in my unfinished basement where I tinker with computers and have a home server. He did not have time to run everything where I wanted it but I knew this would be the only time I could ever do this cable pull from the top to bottom level, a backbone I guess you would call it. It was really difficult but he got it done.

 

This is where I need help and advice. I now have a bundle of four CAT 5E cables sitting in my basement and my attic. These are just raw uncut cables on both ends. I asked why four cables instead of one and the answer was something to the effect of he was trained to always pull multiple on a difficult wire pull like this for both backup and future use. I am confused as to what I should do next. Should there be a panel as a junction point in both the basement and attic or in one or the other? Some kind of switch? The attic really needs a passive solution, nothing powered up there as I'm in Georgia and its deadly hot up there in the summer. Should only one cable be attached or all four? For the runs to the individual locations what are these connected to on each end. The idea here is to have a single home LAN where I can plug a router/modem into any one of the ports and every port can see it. Sorry but I'm a little confused as to my next step and what to say I want done when the time comes.

 

Any help and advice is greatly appreciated!!!

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jmwills

The guy did you a favor.

 

Where is the router you currently use? Ideally, you would make single runs from those four to individual rooms elsewhere in the house, sometimes called "home runs". You want to avoid as many junction points (secondary switches) as possible.

 

Most all here would agree that you should come from the router into a main switch and let that switch serve as the main distribution point for the house. it's really not that hard and you now have the hard work out of the way.

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ikon

You should have had the guy pull at least 6 cables. The issue isn't how many rooms you're connecting; it's how many devices. Will you have more than 4 devices upstairs? If so, you don't have enough cables.

 

As jmwills said, you want to 'home run' all cables from the end device (computer, tv, etc.) to a single main switch. Most people put the switch in the basement, but it can go anywhere that all the cables can reach.

 

The electrician really did do you a big favour pulling 4 cables - too bad he didn't pull even more.

 

Do you know if the electrician anchored the cables along the way, or are they just 'freerun'? If they're freerun, it might be possible to attach 2 cables to one of the existing ones and pull it down from the attic, giving you 5. This process could be repeated to get even more. The main constraint usually is that there's a spot where the opening is too small to get many more cables through.

 

You also have another choice for running cables. In most houses, the toilet waste stack is normally completely clear from the basement to the 2nd floor. You do have to get a little creative to get cables from the 2nd floor to the attic, but it's doable (I did it in my house by pulling back the carpet, cutting a section of subfloor out, drilling a hole from the attic into the inside of the wall where the waste stack comes up, dropping a line down, attaching my new cables, and pulling them up to the attic). If you're not comfortable doing 'handy work', you could get someone in to pull cables up the waste stack.

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mar2k

Thanks for the responses guys. Let me see if I understand better. I think based on the responses the bottom line is I need a home run from the basement to each of the wall ports I would want on the top level of the home. So if he had only run one cable my plans would have been seriously watered down.

 

I was under the false impression that a single run could be somehow 'split' at a panel in the attic and then each of the rooms needing a port upstairs would have runs on the other side of this panel with the single run feeding in up from the basement. This would require a switch I take it (which I don't want being hot in the attic). This raises a related question: I haven't studied the length of wires left in the attic so if there isn't enough to run to the rooms and drop them, what kind of punch panel/pass through should be used to extend the cable length and maintain the signal, and is this how it should be done? I am hoping this isn't an issue.

 

I think all I will need is 3 ports upstairs - master bedroom, spare bedroom/office and a loft area where one day I am sure we will put a TV when my kids (3 and 7) are older. I would like an option to add ports in the kids rooms but I think the bottom line is by the time they are old enough to care, things will have advanced so far that a wired connection will be pretty old fashioned. Plus cutting into the chimney chase could be done from the other side if it became really important to run more wires. Good point about the plumbing though. I do know they were pulled freeform/unattached. So 4 wires upstairs should be OK for me for the immediate future I think. If one of the cables in the attic is not connected to any wall port (using 3 out of 4) how should it be terminated, is just attaching it to a patch panel OK?

 

So in the basement this is where I will locate the switch/router/modem and I will connect the wires coming down from the attic to a patch panel and then run a short cable from each port to a switch. Running cables in the basement to the panel and up to the main level (one level up) to any ports on that level will be easy compared to getting the runs to the attic since the basement is unfinished, but every port on these two lower levels also needs a dedicated line. Is all this correct? Just want to make sure I am getting this.

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pcdoc

Just to add to what ikon is saying, it actually is how many devices and what kind of bandwidth do they use. If you are running 4 HTPC's streaming BD, you may want to limit the devices on a run, however if they are just connected as they need connections such as home automation, cameras, Blu Ray players that need firmware updates, receivers etc, you can more devices. On my downstairs run, I have 4 devices (apple tv, HTPC, DirecTV, and a slingbox), and an access point for 3 IP security cameras and have no issues at all even running at the same time. Adding a decent switch in each room should not be an issue as rarely do all devices in single room max out at the same time.

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ikon

I was under the false impression that a single run could be somehow 'split' at a panel in the attic and then each of the rooms needing a port upstairs would have runs on the other side of this panel with the single run feeding in up from the basement. This would require a switch I take it (which I don't want being hot in the attic). This raises a related question: I haven't studied the length of wires left in the attic so if there isn't enough to run to the rooms and drop them, what kind of punch panel/pass through should be used to extend the cable length and maintain the signal, and is this how it should be done? I am hoping this isn't an issue.

 

Technically, it is possible to have a single run to the attic and make it work. This kind of architecture is used for enterprise cabling all the time. In fact, I would say it is definitely the norm. However, it comes with some serious caveats.

 

A cabling system is very much like a plumbing system. So, for example, to get water to your street, your city probably runs a 6 inch pipe from it's water treatment plant. Then, to each house, there is a 1 or 2 inch line. Inside your house the piping is further reduced, some to 3/4 inch and most to 1/2 inch. The point is that the pipes needed to feed your house overall get bigger and bigger as you get further away from your house.

 

The same is true for network cabling. Let's say you put a switch on your 2nd floor. Then you run 3 gigabit cables from the switch, one to each of 3 devices on the 2nd floor. In theory, you now need a single link from that switch to the basement that can handle 3 gigabit. Otherwise, you could have bottlenecks when all 3 devices are each using their full bandwidth. The odds of that are slim, so you probably don't truly require a full 3 gigabit downlink. However, you do need more than a 1 gigabit downlink, let's make it 2 gigabit. Well, you can't get a 2 gigabit link - it doesn't exist. It might be possible to using port trunking to the basement to get 2 gigabit, but that would require more than 1 cable to the basement.

 

Enterprises use several techniques to mitigate the bandwidth issues. They will use 1 gigabit copper links to the desktops, but the switches will have 10 gigabit fiber links to the network core (bigger pipes). If needed, they can even multi-trunk more than 1 fiber uplink (riser) to get 20, 30, or more gigabit.

They also use much more sophisticated switches than what most consumers can afford (thousands of $ each). These switches have ways of categorizing network traffic to give certain types priority over others (QoS).

They will also use VLANing to control traffic.

One last point regarding enterprise networks. They usually have dedicated staff who design, implement, configure, and monitor their networks. It requires specialized knowledge and skills to do it properly and is beyond most home network users.

 

but I think the bottom line is by the time they are old enough to care, things will have advanced so far that a wired connection will be pretty old fashioned.

 

I wouldn't bet on that one. It's likely that wired connections will remain much faster than wireless for the forseeable future. It's also likely that demand will grow to use that bandwidth (think 4K movies/TV).

 

If one of the cables in the attic is not connected to any wall port (using 3 out of 4) how should it be terminated, is just attaching it to a patch panel OK?

 

It doesn't have to be terminated at all, until you want to use it. There is also nothing wrong with terminating it on a patch panel. Either is good.

 

So in the basement this is where I will locate the switch/router/modem and I will connect the wires coming down from the attic to a patch panel and then run a short cable from each port to a switch. Running cables in the basement to the panel and up to the main level (one level up) to any ports on that level will be easy compared to getting the runs to the attic since the basement is unfinished, but every port on these two lower levels also needs a dedicated line. Is all this correct? Just want to make sure I am getting this.

 

This all sounds good. One small point. Be sure to get a 'real' Ethernet switch. I recommend getting one with twice as many ports as you think you need.

 

Don't use the LAN ports on a router. Consumer level routers don't have the horsepower to be effective LAN switches. Instead, connect your internet router to the 'real' switch just like you would connect any other device.

 

And, yes, I do believe you are 'getting it' :)

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mar2k

Thanks for all the great info guys. Great points all around. I do plan to spend some money on the switch and router. Any recommendations here? $250 and under on each would be the budget. A couple of the routers (small business type)I looked at have 4 LAN ports and 1 WAN. I know the WAN goes to the modem, but only 1 of the LAN ports would get used in my case I guess, is this correct?

 

Addressing my attic situation, its been too hot to get in the attic the last few days so again I don't know the actual length of the cables the electrician left up there. I'm hoping I'll find it spooled up with sufficient length on each line to run anywhere I need upstairs.. If this is not the case and the cables are not long enough to make drops into the rooms where I need the ports is it acceptable to install a patch panel in the attic and punch in the wires and then plug in lines that are long enough to reach the wall ports? If this is done correctly would I have any issues as far as signal degradation etc? Thanks again.

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jmwills

If you catch the right deal you could do both for around $150. A lot of the folks here use the D-Link DIR 755 however a fair number also use homemade solutions such as unTangle and pfSense.

 

I bought a 16 port TrendMet switch a couple of months ago and it suits me just fine. Both items, the DIR855 and that switch were less than the $150 total I mentioned.

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ikon

I know the WAN goes to the modem, but only 1 of the LAN ports would get used in my case I guess, is this correct?

 

correct

 

Thanks for all the great info guys. Great points all around. I do plan to spend some money on the switch and router. Any recommendations here? $250 and under on each would be the budget

 

I'm using an old PC running Untangle as my UTM (Unified Threat Manager/Mitigator) - basically router, gateway, and firewall all in one. I'm using a Netgear GS116e switch on the core of my home LAN.

 

Addressing my attic situation, its been too hot to get in the attic the last few days so again I don't know the actual length of the cables the electrician left up there. I'm hoping I'll find it spooled up with sufficient length on each line to run anywhere I need upstairs.

 

Given that he ran 4 cables when you only asked for one, I would be fairly hopeful that he ran a good length of cable to the attic.

 

If this is not the case and the cables are not long enough to make drops into the rooms where I need the ports is it acceptable to install a patch panel in the attic and punch in the wires and then plug in lines that are long enough to reach the wall ports? If this is done correctly would I have any issues as far as signal degradation etc? Thanks again.

 

This could work, although you have to be careful about how many connection points you have along the path. To me, your biggest issue will be testing. Some in these forums disagree, but my experience is that there is just no substitute for having a decent tester available and testing each cable run from end to end. Mind you, some who disagree are talking about how they used to do cable runs without testing, but they were doing 10 megabit, or maybe 100 megabit, links. Moving up to gigabit changes the game IMHO. These higher speeds are significantly more demanding. I absolutely do not do cable runs without testing/certifying each one afterward - too many niggling problems can crop up that get blamed on NICs, mobos, switches, etc. when it's really the cable link all along.

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mar2k

I explored the attic this weekend and it looks like he ran enough length of cable to reach all 3 drops I had planned for the upstairs so I won't have to extend the cable lengths, they should run all the way to the wall ports without a break. Hurray!

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