August 23, 2018

The streaming chronicles (3/4)

In which I upgrade my cable modem and router.

So I got an Arris Surfboard SB6183 DOCSIS 3.0 cable modem. Xfinity has bugged me about it for years. I'd procrastinated because a faster Internet connection wouldn't speed up the Pentium M processor in my ancient ThinkPad laptop and its poky b/g Wi-Fi.

Getting into streaming was sufficient motivation to upgrade my home network. Streaming at a good data rate looks great. Not to mention that the way Xfinity stairsteps the "default" service level, I was paying for bandwidth my router and cable modem couldn't deliver.

Yeah, that's dumb. But whatever can be put off until tomorrow I will put off until tomorrow. The old stuff still works. It's always best to upgrade while the old stuff still works. Well, tomorrow has arrived!

The new router is a TP-Link TL-WR841N. It's gotten decent reviews for a very affordable class of wireless router. Common objections, like it only having 10/100 Ethernet and not supporting 802.11ac, are mostly irrelevant to my current setup. And did I mention that it's affordable? Twenty bucks!


I averaged a dozen or so samples with Fast and the Speedtest app for each hardware setup. Though the ThinkPad reports a 54 Mbps connection, neither it nor the Belkin could handle that data rate. Download speeds increased 20-30 percent with the TP-Link. The DOCSIS 3.0 router made little difference.

The Fire 7, on the other hand, has dual-band b/g/n. The specs for the DOCSIS 2.0 SB5101 claim a maximum transfer rate of 30 Mbps. The 802.11n protocol on the TP-Link and Fire 7 appear to be delivering every bit of it. Now I'm tempted to experiment with an 802.11n USB Wi-Fi adapter for the ThinkPad.

I'm paying for a maximum 70 Mbps down. The fine print doesn't guarantee it and I'd have to string an Ethernet cable to set a baseline. Using 802.11n, the DOCSIS 2.0 modem gave me half that. The DOCSIS 3.0 router delivers two-thirds. Considering the ageing infrastructure in this part of town, not bad.

BelkinTP-LinkDOCSIS 3
ThinkPad  (g)8.3  (g)11.2  (g)11.3 
Fire 7  (g)11.1  (n)33.2  (n)43.2 

DOCSIS 2.0 upload speeds averaged 5.1 Mbps with both the Belkin and TP-Link. DOCSIS 3.0 kicked it up to 6.2 Mbps, even on the ThinkPad. That extra 20 percent is handy when backing up data to the cloud.

The Roku Express supports 802.11b/g/n but not dual-band. Getting precise numbers is tricky because of the adaptive bit-rate streaming. According to the playback screen (HOME x5, RW, RW, RW, FF, FF), using the TP-Link with the DOCSIS 2.0 modem increased throughput from 1-5 Mbps to 10-15 Mbps.

The DOCSIS 3.0 modem upped network throughput to 15-40 Mbps at the high end. I'm assuming this screen reports the bandwidth provided by a given CDN stream and not the connection with the router, which shouldn't otherwise change. Though this could be a product of the glitches I discussed previously.

So far, the upgrade has done what I wanted it to do—eliminate buffering. Granted, it only ever happened with Crunchyroll, probably because Crunchyroll is migrating its CDN to AWS CloudFront. Occasional bouts of buffering since are more likely due to normal WAN hiccups than to LAN flakiness.

Oh, the Roku logging functions are still definitely flaky. The Network > About screen randomly reports signal strength as anything from "Poor" to "Excellent." The "secret" Wi-Fi screen (HOME x5, Up, Down, Up, Down, Up) still lists the signal strength as -80 dBm. Effectively zero. But it works fine.

Related posts

The streaming chronicles (1)
The streaming chronicles (2)
The streaming chronicles (4)
Anime's streaming solution

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