New Hardware Setup

19 Jul, 2006 | ComputersScience And TechnologyTdp

I've been splashing out on some new hardware to help get me away from my desk. I have a laptop as my main machine, but's plugged into so many external devices that it's become stationary, because I can't be bothered fighting the cables, rearing like snakes to try and entangle me (although the benefit of a bigger screen -- my laptop is 13.3" -- and a full-size keyboard and mouse (someone must have done a study somewhere, but mice must quadruple productivity, any company owners out there really should invest in some for any of their laptop users) probably have something to do with it). The two main functions I wanted were the ability to print and to access some of my stored files with the aid of wires.

I think the idea was planted seeing some of those nifty NAS (Network Attached Storage) devices that Buffalo are offering. Cheap, network capable, print server built-in, you can even hang other USB HDDs off them. After hunting about, and looking at their competitors, I decided that it came down to the fact that none of the NAS machines offered exactly what I wanted. They were either too loud, lacked functionality, or got bad reports from other users. So, I settled on separate devices.

First up was making my laser printer wireless and allow printing to it without switching on the PC it was attached to (which, as I said, is my laptop, as I wanted to roam with it, it kind of took out that option if I wanted to print). As it's the only laser in the building it also made sense to open it up to everyone else. To that end I set about finding a print server.

It had to be wireless, as there's no LAN connection near this machine, and as we have an existing wireless network it made sense. There were a number of options available, most of which won't support multi-function printers incidentally (or will support printing but nothing else). They all seemed to be around the £50-55 mark, for either one- or two-port options. I would stress that it's worth checking to see if your printer is explicitly supported for that model, because some seemed to be a bit hit and miss.

I decided on the WGPS606 from Netgear. Partly because we have a Netgear wireless router already (and it's been flawless), partly because, although slightly more expensive, it came with two printer ports, and a four-port hub, which worked out nicely for the external storage I was after.

After unpacking it and getting to work I was somewhat dismayed at have a wizard sort everything for me. While very easy, I like seeing config pages on the router (you can get to them later if you wish so it's little bother). Anyway, it setup fine. Then I setup the printer using another wizard. Again, no problems, very easy. Then I printed a test page, and got pages of scrambled junk.

Although my printer (an HP LaserJet 1010) wasn't actually listed as a supported model, I presumed this had been an omission and other printers in the same range were there, so I went ahead anyway. Big mistake. As I began to rue my purchase, I thought I'd try a few other things. I downloaded the latest drivers, uninstalled and reinstalled everything, rebooted the printer and tried again. Test page was fine. So I opened up Notepad and tried that. No printout, but the printer was flashing a warning, so I got it to print an error page. Only one line came out on the page: "Unsupported Personality: PCL" and that was it. I tried a few other things, no luck. On to Google. No luck. Then I saw something about manually installing the printer using the port, but it was a totally different printer. I tried their method. No good. I tried again as they had a weird custom port setup. In the end, this got it working:

  1. Start the Add Printer wizard in the Control Panel (Windows XP)

  2. Click Next, the select Local printer attached to this computer, but make sure the automatically detect option is unticked, click Next

  3. From the Use the following port dropdown select IP_yourprintersipaddressP1 (Standard TCP/IP Port), click Next

  4. Select your printer from the list or install drivers with the Have Disk option, click Next

  5. Follow the rest through, select as your default and share as you wish

  6. Print a test page to make sure it's working and click Finish

  7. Voila, all done, working printer, do the same for your other PCs

Next was wireless storage. As I mentioned, I separated this out. I already had two external HDDs, one a standard 3.5" drive in an IcyBox enclosure (which is very quiet), the other a Freecom FHD-3, which only sounds quiet if you happen to be standing on an aircraft carrier as an F-18 takes off. It also has no on/off switch, so it spends most of it's time unplugged (it was this that steered me away from the Freecom FSG-3, which did pretty much everything I wanted in one box). So, as I was after separate items, I wanted a storage gateway I could link normal USB HDDs to. The Linksys NSLU2 fit the bill, allowing me to add two HDDs, but, as it's based on Linux, the source code has been hacked and with the addition of some new firmware allows you to do things like turn it into a media gateway, add USB hubs so you could attach numerous devices, turn it into a print server, and iTunes server, add two devices and turn them into a RAID setup, I could even link up my Topfield PVR to make it network capable. I haven't done that yet (I've only had it a week), but the possibility's there. The NSLU2 was very easy to setup, out the box, plug it in, add the network settings, voila. It even has backup capabilities built-in to enable you to run scheduled services and user administration.

I wasn't all the impressed with my current HDDs, even the external enclosure id too loud to leave on overnight, so I hunted around and the Western Digital drives seems to be getting good press, especially for noise. I preferred the look of their standard drive over the new My Books, but they were getting better silent reviews (it powers down when not in use for 10 minutes, cutting the noise output to zero), not to mention I could get it slightly cheaper.

That was as easy to setup as unpacking and attaching to the NSLU2, although I did format it (it comes FAT32, but the NSLU2 prefers Ext3).

I got most of this at Amazon because, despite the prices being cheaper elsewhere, when you took postage into consideration, Amazon was actually cheaper, and they obviously watch their competitors because one product came in less by 10 pence.

Now I'm just trying to figure out how to get all the other wires out. I would have liked to get hold of a port replicator/docking station for it, but they're nearly impossible to get (the last place I tried ordering from took my money, did nothing for a month, then gave it back when I asked). Oh well, the search continues.

I might also add a media player to the TV setup so I can play some of my ripped DVDs and MP3s too, for when there's nothing on the box.