Pogoplug Problem

I was hoping to be writing a review praising my recently acquired Pogoplug, but I’m sad to report that the device was faulty on arrival and so after a brief encounter with Pogoplug Support, it’s on it’s way back.

There have been occasions recently when I’ve been at a friend’s house and wished I had access to a certain file back home. Setting up a Pogoplug and hooking it up to an external USB drive containing all the stuff I’m ever likely to need access to sounded like a good idea, and this is squarely what the Pogoplug is aimed at. In essence it’s a little Linux server that connects to your home network via ethernet and shares whatever USB drives are attached to it. It’s all done via the Pogoplug website and it’s up to you to choose what you share and who can access it, so you can share those embarrassing pictures with your mates while hiding them from your folks, you know the drill.

Pogoplug

I hope pink is your thing!

First impressions are that the device is a lot larger than the pictures on Amazon lead you to believe and that in the looks department it’s a bit of a marmite device – you’ll either love it or hate it! Set up is pretty straightforward – plug in a USB drive with some data on it , plug in the ethernet cable and plug in the power.  Then you create an account on the Pogoplug website and work through a few easy installation steps, well that was the theory. The device has three USB ports on the back and I found that plugging a 500Gb Freecom USB (2.0) FAT32 formatted external drive into the lowest of the 3 ports gave me … absolutely nothing. The device refused to recognise the drive at all, so I went through the usual troubleshooting steps. I checked the drive on my Mac using both Disk Utility and Drive Genius and it was fine, but nothing would persuade the Pogoplug to recognise it. I reformatted as FAT32, reformatted it as HFS, tried a FAT32 16Gb USB stick in the port, powered everything off, disconnected everything, powered everything on again, all to no avail.

Plugging the Freecom drive into to top USB port similarly produced nothing, it was only when I plugged TWO devices into the Pogoplug at the same time using the top two USB sockets that it started to play ball. After a long afternoon experimenting I found that port 3 was dead and that ports 1 and 2 would only seem to work when each had something plugged into it simultaneously.

My next problem was accessing the data. I had copied 50 photos onto each USB drive and figured that would be an easy test for the Pogoplug software. Ok the Pogoplug website is a bit clunky but I could live with that… if only it would show me some thumbnails! After an hour it had still not managed to index my handful of photos. Sure I could click on the placeholder icon and see the photo, but all I had to go on were the names of the photos themselves – not very helpful. I also tried adding a PDF file and found that when viewing it on the Pogoplug website it gets reformatted, and not for the better. In this situation I found it was a better bet to download the PDF and view it locally. I also briefly experimented with streaming a video file which you’re also supposed to be able to do via the Pogoplug website. I got about the first 3 seconds of the video before it stopped and would go no further.

At this point I decided that the whole experience was not particularly good. Pogoplug Support had been pretty responsive to the USB port problem, but other than the obvious troubleshooting steps (unplug everything, check your drives, etc.), they weren’t able to help. If it was just the clumsy interface then I might have lived with it, but the suspect USB ports tipped the balance and it’s now on its way back for a refund. It’s a shame, the Pogoplug is a great idea, and would be marvelous for non-techie people who want to share a few photos etc., assuming the indexing works eventually. Unfortunately the execution seems a bit of a way behind the idea, and I subsequently found when reading the Pogoplug forums that I’m not the only one to experience these problems. Perhaps Pogoplug v2 (if there is one) will be worth investigating? Just please offer it in a choice of pink or something NOT pink!

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Another Netgear device dies… My GS605 Gigabit Switch

I’m paranoid about backups (in case you hadn’t noticed)! I have a LaCie d2 Quadra attached to my Mac Pro via firewire 800 for daily backups. Then I do weekly backups to a D-Link DNS-323 NAS box, monthly backups to a Synology DS210j and ad hoc backups to a Synology DS108j across my home network. Oh and let’s not forget my photos stored in Flickr and other stuff stored in DropBox

Netgear_GS605

Netgear lasted just 10 months...

Now since I started backing up to NAS devices about ten months ago, I decided to go with gigabit for my home network. So the Mac is connected to an Airport Extreme base station and from there a Cat 6 cable runs to a Netgear GS605 5 port gigabit switch in my loft where the three NAS devices are. So far so good and everything was working well, until ten months later the Netgear switch decided it wasn’t going to play gigabit speeds. Despite the lights still showing green (to indicate a gigabit connection), my network transfer rates dropped to pitifully slow speeds. I tried everything I could to persuade the GS605 to behave but it was having none of it. What was also interesting was that removing the switch altogether and connecting the devices directly using the same cabling, everything was normal. There was no doubt about it – the switch was slowing my network speeds to less than a tenth of what they were before. So after mucking around trying everything for a whole afternoon I decided to call Netgear.

Oh dear. Contacting Netgear support very quickly became an exercise in frustration, so I decided that it would be quicker, cheaper and much less

TL-SG1005D

Same features, half the price.

stressful to replace the switch with something else. I checked out Amazon UK and plumped for a TP-Link TL-SG1005D for just £13.67 with free delivery – less than half the cost of the Netgear offering. A couple of days later it arrived and was installed within ten minutes and everything is back to normal. Like the Netgear GS605 the TP-Link TL-SG1005D is a 5 port non-blocking gigabit switch. Like the Netgear it’s a small desktop/home device. Like the Netgear it has a power light plus a light for each port that glows orange for a 10/100 connection, green for a gigabit connection and which flickers to indicate traffic. Unlike the Netgear, the TP-Link has a sensibly small transformer built into the plug, runs very cool indeed and costs under £15.

Aside from this little exercise probably saving me some money, effort and a fair amount of stress, it has reminded me that in some cases there’s little point in paying a premium for the big name brands when the budget ones will work just as well.

Getting ADSL to your Airport Extreme

Apple is famed for it’s “it just works” technology, and for the most part that’s true. However, when it comes to the Apple Airport Extreme Base Station, it’s lack of a built-in DSL modem means you have a little figuring out to do if you want to use the Airport Extreme as part of an ‘internet connected’ network.

When my Netgear DGN2000 DSL wireless router expired a short time ago I decided to replace it with a Linksys WAG120N DSL wireless router. Great little device (so far) but it’s one drawback is that unlike the Airport Express which has three Gigabit Ethernet ports (1,000Mbps), the Linksys only has Fast Ethernet ports (100Mbps). Now I do large backups every day to two Synology NAS devices and they, like my Mac Pro are equipped with Gigabit Ethernet ports. Connecting them via the Linksys alone would just create a bottleneck and slow down my data transfers ten fold! Enter the Airport Extreme – the objective is to use the Airport Extreme as the centre of my wired network, but to also have internet access at the same time. Sure, I’m lucky enough to have two ethernet ports on the Mac Pro so I could connect one to the Airport Extreme and the other to the Linksys, but that’s messy plus not all Macs have two network ports. At it’s simplest, what I wanted was this…

AE Config 00

Basic Network Configuration

The first step is to set up the Linksys DSL router as normal, so connect the Mac to it via a cable and log in to it as per the manufacturers instructions. Give the DSL router your ISP details and configure it with an IP address of 192.168.1.1 and a subnet mask of 255.255.255.0. Next it’s a case of configuring the network settings on your Mac to talk directly to the DSL router, so enter System Preferences, choose Network and make sure that your Mac has an IP address (e.g. 192.168.1.4) on the same subnet as the DSL router, and tell it that the router it should talk to is at address 192.168.1.1. At this point you should have a simple network of your Mac and the DSL router and you should be able to surf the internet. Next I connected an ethernet cable to one of the Linksys routers four ports with the other end going to the ‘WAN” port on the Airport Extreme. Now it was a case of firing up the Airport Utility and manually configuring the Airport Extreme.

AE Config 05

Connect your Airport to your modem/router

In the Airport Utility, once it finds your Airport Extreme Base Station, highlight it and click on the Manual Setup button. Now click on the Ethernet tab at the top ans select Internet Connection. You should set Connect Using to Ethernet, and Connection Sharing to Off (Bridge Mode).

AE Config 01

Internet Connection settings

Now click on the TCP/IP button and choose to configure IPv4 Manually. Now it’s time to gve the Airport Extreme an IP address and tell it how to talk to the outside world.

Give the Airport Extreme an IP address of 192.168.1.2 and a subnet mask of 255.255.255.0 (same as the Linksys). For the Router entry, enter the address of the Linksys, i.e. 192.168.1.1, and for the DNS Server(s) do the same. Here you are telling the Airport Extreme that any traffic that is not for something on your home/local network (e.g. internet traffic), send it to the Linksys router.

AE Config 02

TCP/IP settings

At this point you should be able to save the settings and apply them to your Airport Extreme. The next step is to disconnect the network cable from your Mac to the DSL router, and instead connect the Mac directly to one of the ethernet ports on your Airport Extreme. Now you should find that you can still surf the web but your Mac is only connected to your Airport Extreme. You can then add devices (in my case the two NAS boxes) directly to the Airport Extreme so that they can talk to your Mac at gigabit speeds, rather than just the ‘fast’ speeds of the DSL router.

If you want to use a service like OpenDNS then there’s no reason why you can’t and it’s simply a case of adding the IP addresses of the two OpenDNS servers to your Network settings on your Mac, like so:

AE Config 03

OpenDNS settings on the Mac

I have since extended this setup with wireless and I currently have an XBox 360, a PS 3 Slim, a Nintendo Wii, a Mac Mini, an iPad WiFi and iPhone 3G, plus my Panasonic Viera TV all talking to the internet via this little network. The Linksys DSL router is currently providing the (802.11n) wireless service, but I’m looking at ways to use the Airport Extreme’s ability to provide 5Ghz wirelss to enhance this setup (i.e. avoid interference from my neighbours on the 2.4Ghz band).

More on that in another post…