multiple Airport AP’s; improving coverage

I’ve been a proponent of using separate devices for wireless home access and general purpose firewall/networking.  I’ve deployed a VPN/firewall and a 24 port gigabit green switch as the foundation of our home network.  For the past few years we have cycled through three sets of access points, starting with a set of D-Link wireless G devices, then moving to cheap-but-somewhat-reliable TrendNet G devices followed a year later by a set of TrendNet N devices.

Everything worked fairly well until we made the big move ditching our Windows laptops for Macs.  For whatever reason, our Macs had a hard time maintaining a consistent connection to the TrendNet access points when the Macs would wake from power saving mode.  I wrote scripts to auto-mount our smb shares when our network connections would reconnect, but that still prevented us from consistently running Rsync or Time Machine.

Once we deployed a new FreeNAS server with AFP support, stabilizing our fast wireless access became important for our routine Time Machine backups.  I picked up an Apple Airport Express, hooked it up, and what do you know – success – persistent wireless connections and flawless Time Machine performance over N.

The next challenge was getting coverage across the house in our key living areas.  True, you can browse easily on a single AP anywhere in the house, but high throughput Time Machine updates, pushing large video files and managing our music and photo libraries can easily tax our wireless bandwidth, especially when your a few walls away from the AP.

So, I picked up two more Airports.  OK – not cheap, but man these units are breeze to setup (can’t vouch for the non-Mac setup, but it’s simple with the built in support on a Mac) and now we have distributed coverage throughout the house.  Initial transfer tests demonstrated a 2x improvement in throughput rates by eliminating a wall and a floor between the laptop and AP.  Here are the key configuration changes we rolled with: