Holiday project: Redesign the domestic infastructure. Looking for: Network and storage gear. Got any advice?

Our current setup, a Mac Pro and Apple Airport, work fine. But their combined age is approaching 20 years, disks are getting full, and I’m losing faith that Apple really wants that part of my business.

Requirements · The Internet comes in through a cable modem in the basement in a horrible spot for networking. It’s rated at 150M and measures a little faster than that. The modem has dorky wireless feature which we’ve turned off, and there’s Cat5 coming upstairs to a nice central-but-unobtrusive spot for broadcasting Wifi from. Our house is not that big, an Arts&Crafts box not a suburban rambler, and built of wood. So Wifi should be easy. Having said that, our neighborhood is dense and my Mac can see a total of ten WiFi networks. Is that a lot?

We could upgrade the Cat5 to Cat6 at the cost of a few hours from our friendly family electrician.

Given that, here’s what we want:

  1. WiFi everywhere at whatever speed modern WiFi runs at.

  2. An out-of-the-way box in the basement that can grow to hold a few dozen terabytes of storage with really high reliability (presumably RAID something?)

  3. Auto-backup to the cloud would be nice.

  4. Supports Plex.

  5. Supports Time Machine, because while the future may not be all-Apple, the present pretty well is.

  6. All the iTunes media can go on it, for similar reasons.

First question: Should that list have a #7 and #8?

I’m massively unconvinced we need mesh networking. The Wirecutter seems to like the Netgear Orbi router (damn, it’s ugly) and the QNAP Turbo NAS.

The minimum-effort thing would be to just go out and buy those. Here’s your chance to convince me I should do something else.

Ideally next week, while the sales are on.


Comment feed for ongoing:Comments feed

From: Bradley (Dec 18 2016, at 12:08)

Mikrotik for me has been great for stability, performance, and price in WiFi access points. I’m using them with an aging SMC enterprise router, which I’ll probably replace with more Mikrotik gear once it kicks the bucket and I’ve exhausted my backup hardware.

The web configuration interface (or WinBox, I run that as a Wineskin .app) includes some handy presets to get things started, but it’s mainly aimed at experienced network folks. Good hardware and solid mostly (completely?) open source software that can do almost anything you want.

Not for the non-technical, but that shouldn’t be a problem for you. Great set-it-and-forget-it solution for me.


From: pjz (Dec 18 2016, at 12:11)

I'm a fan of building my own NAS; that has plusses (can build to whatever specs I want) and minuses (another machine to administer).

I think the 'another machine to administer' thing is pretty well solved by running stable versions of Debian or Ubuntu, but you may disagree.

If you do, you might like the super-NAS I built for running Plex and transcoding or ripping my own videos:

Even if you don't like the CPU/motherboard/RAM, the case is really nice (8 drive bays in a short tower!).

Also, philosophically, I'm coming to believe a little less in integrated devices and more in componentization, when designing for the long haul. So: Get an embedded firewall that can live in the basement and dedicated meshing APs that can spread wifi everywhere. There should be no wifi on the firewall and no firewalling on the wifi.

YMMV, just my thoughs,



From: stephen o'grady (Dec 18 2016, at 12:25)

I can't speak to the networking side, but for our local storage needs we've run a Synology box for ~five years now and it fits the requirements for #2. It's extremely reliable, patches and restarts itself, abstracts RAID setup from you and mirrors drives, can be integrated with B2 (what we use)/ Glacier/etc backup, supports Plex, and my only support experience with it has been good. Basically, it sits under a cabinet, does it thing and I never have to worry about it, which is all I can ask for. Whenever this has come up as well, most of the other people I know run Synology over alternatives, FWIW.


From: Cole Maclean (Dec 18 2016, at 12:35)

I'd consider the Ubiquiti line of wireless access points - depending on the size of your house, one might be enough, or you could have one in the basement and one upstairs. We have a Unifi AP Lite (although in an apartment) and it's well designed, unobtrusive (you could run power over ethernet from the basement), and has been completely reliable so far. Most people don't consider these as they are "enterprise", but they're pretty easy to setup. They do require that you use proprietary software, but it's pretty good compared with most.

The Wirecutter agrees (pretty much):


From: Michael Weisman (Dec 18 2016, at 12:35)

I recently moved from an Apple Airport to a Ubiquity EdgeRouter X with a UniFi AP. If you're willing to do some light "real" IT work a few times a year this setup gives you enterprise grade equipment for the same price as a mid to high end home router. It also allows you to place your WiFi AP anywhere you can run cat5/6, rather than being tethered to your Cable jacks.


From: eerie quark doll (Dec 18 2016, at 12:59)

We have cable delivering the Internet to our place; at the ingress point [to our one floor ~1400 sq ft condo] we have our own cable modem (Motorola SurfBoard SB6141) because i feel dumb paying a monthly rent fee on hardware that is so cheap to buy; if you do purchase your own modem and are using your ISP for VoIP, make sure the modem supports it (there are a surprisingly relatively few number that do.) Cat6 goes from the modem a Netgear WNDR4500.

From the WNDR4500, via Cat6 again, we have a Drobo FS as the house storage system (it has TimeMachine mounts for the Macs that backup to it, as well as mounts for individuals and the house media libraries.) The plus on the Drobo is their ZFS-esque implementation that allows for dynamic size increasing (e.g pop out a 2 TB drive and in a 4 TB drive, wait for the ~rebuild, and now you have more space.) The minus is the rebuild time - losing a 2 TB drive in a dual-redundant ~6.75TB system has a rebuild time of about 25 hours.

The house video volume is no longer touched given changes in life, but were it in daily use, i would consider making sure that the device Plex-ing to the TV were Cat6 connected as opposed to WiFi; blowing some of the limited bandwidth on sending video around the house when there is only one endpoint would seem wasteful unless i just couldn't get an aesthetically clean ethernet solution supporting it.


From: Dirkjan Ochtman (Dec 18 2016, at 13:08)

Not a lot of input on the NAS side, except I'd investigate running Syncthing (or something like it -- but so far I've found nothing as good) on it; not quite backup, but an open source Dropbox-like, quite painless to keep running.

As for wifi, I've been eyeing eero, or Ubiquiti if you want to spend more $$$ (see


From: Chris Adams (Dec 18 2016, at 14:41)

For WiFi, I would consider the Google WiFi line for one reason alone: the devices run Chrome OS (see and get security updates on the same fast-and-automatic schedule. It's always a gamble as to whether Google will drop support but until they do you shouldn't be in the situation of needing to spend time on home sysadmin duties than you want to.


From: Sam Bierwagen (Dec 18 2016, at 17:39)

Another vote for the Ubiquity gear. Been using their stuff for at least 5 years, no problems. It's a pretty good intermediate step between consumer garbage, and real enterprise wifi gear-- in AP shootouts the ubnt stuff tends to fall over at more than 5 simultaneous clients; but it's not $2000 per AP like enterprise stuff.

If you can wait, you might want to. The next thing to come down the pipe is 802.11ad: 5 gigabit, 60GHz line-of-sight networking. It can't penetrate drywall, so you have to put an AP in every room, which also requires running cable to every room. (Unless you want to do wireless backhaul, which has its own downsides)

TP-Link has already shipped an 11ad AP. It looks about as stupid as you'd expect from TP-Link:


From: James Clark (Dec 18 2016, at 17:46)

I got a NAS a couple of years ago and spent some time evaluating the alternatives then. It came down to Synology vs QNAP. I came to the conclusion that QNAP was the right choice if the NAS box is in your living room hooked up to your TV, but Synology was the better choice if you had a remote box in your basement. My situation was the latter so I went for Synology, and have been happy with my choice. It has been completely trouble free. The software is very smooth and well thought through. I would buy Synology again without hesitation.


From: Mike M (Dec 18 2016, at 21:09)

You say you're unconvinced that you need mesh networking, but then link to The Wirecutter page about mesh networking instead of the page for best wifi router ( It sounds like you're looking for an easy upgrade to the existing Apple Airport you've got in which case your options are:

1) Whatever the link above suggests

2) A more recent Apple Airport device with 802.11ac/n support

Personally, I went with a modern Time Capsule which takes care of both 802.11ac/n and Time Machine. I use it only as an access point - I have a separate router handling internet and NAT.

On the NAS front, the QNAP devices do offer Time Machine support, but I haven't found it to be super reliable. The use netatalk (, so all issues related to netatalk enabled Time Machine services apply. They also use mdadm RAID, not any of the new fancy ZFS-on-linux based coolness. But lots of people get lots of use out of QNAP devices, and they are often recommended.

Personally, I built my own NAS. More effort than an off the shelf kit, but the flexibility and performance for the price can't be beat. And basic NAS functions tend to be pretty solid on LTS debian or ubuntu - I don't often have to tinker with it.


From: Fernando Pereira (Dec 18 2016, at 21:16)

The following has done well for me: Ubiquiti EdgeRouter PoE 5 between cable modem and home network. UniFi AC AP in the middle of the house powered by EdgeRouter over Cat 6, Cat 6 extended from AP to Netgear ProSAFE switch in study that connects to Synology NAS, Intel NUC, and other (mostly streaming audio) gear. Had one of the smallest, very quiet ARM-based Synology models, DS411slim, but replaced by an Intel DS216+II because the 411slim was struggling with all the media files I move around my home network.


From: Marian (Dec 18 2016, at 22:07)

I absolutely recommend Synology for the NAS. Have been running one for 4 or 5 years without a glitch. Only had to stop it because of a disk failure. Put back in a brand new disk and it's purring again. Although I would recommend getting a more beefed up model than the basic 2-bay I have.

As for the networking, I am also in the process of redesigning my home network, and seriously considering Ubiquiti gear (router, switch and AP, + wireless bridges to expand the network to a secondary house) + cat6a wiring.


From: Erik (Dec 18 2016, at 23:09)

On the storage side, it's worth looking into the FreeNAS stuff. IXsystems has prebuilt systems that can be configured to be highly reliable ( and the latest beta incorporates the basics for Docker management so as a backend server/storage solution, this looks like a good place to be.

If you go somewhat upscale (dual controllers), you're getting enterprise-level reliability and availability. Trevor's a pretty reliable reviewer on this kind of thing:

Having ZFS under the hood also opens many doors for off-site replication possibilities to VMs in Amazon to native ZFS replication at, to another cheap white box at a friend/family member's house.


From: Chris Swan (Dec 18 2016, at 23:50)

I've had a four bay Synology for five years, which has included a spindle upgrade, and I'm still happy with it.

Ubiqui seems to be the way to go on network gear these days, and Troy Hunt recently did a comprehensive post on his set up


From: Chris (Dec 19 2016, at 00:10)

I'm using a small server (HP Microserver Gen 8) running SmartOS, which provides me with ZFS safety and reliability. It can run Linux bare metal in a zone, and Plex runs *just fine* in an Ubuntu zone, all accessing my ZFS data.


From: Santiago Gala (Dec 19 2016, at 03:34)

I am very much in the same process. I bought a Synology 416 and 4 2TB HDs, which gets me 5.8TB of disk using the Synology RAID solution. I'm happy with it for the moment, though I have not played enough time to be conclusive.

While I get my fiber internet with symmetric 300Mbps or so, I am using temporarily a collective Wifi in my building, which has a nasty Symmetric NAT. The DS 416 got connected through and old USB wifi card I had lying around (it is able to use it as both client and AP). It is still able to get accessible from the outside with a clever use of OpenVPN and cloud servers by Synology (they call the feature quickconnect).

On the wifi side I'm for the moment using an old TP-link router I had around, connected straight to the DS and using it to get to the internet. I have also connected to it my old laptop hooked to the TV.

So the network is taking shape. When I return to Madrid in 3 weeks or so I'll keep playing with the hw side, for the moment I'm restricted to ssh to both machines or use the synology web UI, usable enough.


From: James (Dec 19 2016, at 05:41)

Consider how you want to do online backups. If the backup service you use can't run on the NAS, you'll have to arrange to do the backup from another computer. For this reason, I decided to build my own NAS and install CrashPlan. Since CrashPlan runs on the NAS, I don't have to remember to start backups at a particular time from another machine. Trade one hassle for another. Pick the one you want to deal with. I used an HP Microserver as the base box. HP is a pain with their fee based firmware updates though. They have a variety of CPU options so you can buy something appropriate to your transcode needs.


From: Chris (Dec 19 2016, at 05:44)

Not sure if you've looked at the offings from your current employer, but the Storage Gateway might work.

I believe it is possible to run the Gateway VM in EC2, and mount the exported iscsi volume on a local server. You can then expose that to your local network.


From: Sebastian (Dec 19 2016, at 06:54)

Another vote for the Ubiquiti Combo (UniFi AP + Edgerouter PoE... AP Lite should be enough, if you want to save some $). Rock solid, and with room to grow.

And a vote for Synology too.

Both companies keep updating their software year after year, unlike some consumer brands that only care about their latest generation or two.


From: André (Dec 19 2016, at 09:54)

Why not take a look at ? I run it on a centos based machine. But it runs on whatever you have. It's like having a Dropbox in your house (and more). It has client for about every os and webdav. It's maybe not the answer for the media file but you can write your own plugins to nextcloud.

My 2 cent.


From: Ken Kennedy (Jan 06 2017, at 19:11)

Adding another vote for Ubiquiti...I've got the EdgeMax EdgeRouter and a Ubiquiti UAP-AC-LR, but any similar (probably newer) combination should work. I've had mine for about a year, and it has changed my wireless experience. There have been simply no "reboot and see if that helps", no wifi falling over with lots of clients, no nothing. It is *rock solid*; I've basically forgotten that wifi used to be a PITA.


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