Things aren’t always as they seem – my router story

  • Author:xnite
  • Date:2017/01/10

With a home network of 29+ devices a standard router from the store just doesn’t cut it for me. We have smart TV’s, game systems, phones, tablets, laptops, desktops, you name it and it’s probably connected to our wired or wireless network. Many standard routers can handle roughly 4-5 active devices concurrently before they start having issues. Even when devices are idly connected to the network they are still doing things in the background like checking for/performing updates for example.

The devices in my house have absolutely crippled standard routers! So about 2 years ago I started using solutions such as PFSense & IPFire to build my own router, and serve my network from a more powerful machine. In my case I chose to use a Dell Dimension E520 (Intel Core2 Duo, 4GB memory) and it worked wonderfully up until Friday. This is when the trouble began.

On Friday morning I woke up to find that the router had locked up for no particular reason. I didn’t check system logs or anything like that, just thinking it was a one-off fluke. After a reboot everything worked perfectly fine up until Saturday afternoon when the router locked up again. At this point it was obvious something was wrong, but I simply rebooted the router and things went back to normal. Within 15 minutes of rebooting the router and as I’m logging in to check out the system it locks up again. Of course I go to reboot the machine once more, but this time when I rebooted it would get to GRUB, then the disk started clicking and grinding.

At this point I make the assumption the hard disk is dying/dead and run out to Best Buy to buy a new hard drive (yes they sell internal Seagate drives at Best Buy). I get home, all excited to put the new drive in and get the network back up and running, only to find that now the computer was completely unable to boot. The diagnostic lights on the machine traded off on indicating 1 of 2 things: The PSU was failing, or the memory was failing.

I did, I think, what anyone would do and went ahead and checked out the memory (even though in the back of my mind I felt it was the PSU). After determining there were no errors with memory, I narrowed it down to the power supply failure. It would seem the HDD being underpowered could have caused the clicking/grinding noises it was making. Having no spare power supply, I bought a new(used) computer to replace the router today, a Dell Optiplex 755. The new computer worked great in the shop, and the gentleman behind the counter was even kind enough to open it up for me to make sure it had the PCI, PCI-E & PCI-E 16 slots that I needed. As it would have it, it was a perfect fit.

I got the new computer home, and got everything all plugged in and ready to go. The computer booted up the first time but couldn’t detect the on board video, or the on board network card. After having added a 2nd dedicated network card to handle the network’s WAN connection the computer started repeatedly beeping right before the end of the BIOS boot screen. The diagnostic lights on the machine indicated expansion card (PCI) failure. I ripped everything out of it, taking it back down to it’s original configuration from when I got it… the beeping and diagnostics failure still persisted.

I took the computer back to the shop, casually acting as if I hadn’t already opened it up and had my way with it. They wanted to check out what was going on before doing any sort of return, and seemed rather concerned whether or not I had opened up the computer’s casing but I continued to lie and say that I didn’t do anything. Of course in the shop the computer boots right up and into Windows as it was originally configured to do so. The shop keep and I started putting the parts back into the computer one by one, booting it up after each one without any problems until I had a fully functional router again.

So what happened to cause all the commotion at home? Simple! My roommates vacuum cleaner causes small brown-outs which draw power away from the computer and surge protector. Over time this caused long term damage to the surge protector which in turn undervolted the computer causing long term damage to it. After replacing the surge protector we were able to make our new router work just fine. Unfortunately the power supply on the old one is still shot. The computer can now be plugged into a UPS, as well, to avoid the potential damage of brown-outs.

Robert Whitney
I'm a geek, gamer and breaker of things.
Opinions expressed here, even 💩 ones, are my own and do not represent those of my employer or associates.
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