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.comment: Going Broadband With a Cable Modem - page 3

Bye-bye Telco

  • September 27, 2000
  • By Dennis E. Powell

Next day, I phoned Earthlink (their web page having failed miserably to provide the service, even though it claimed to have succeeded) to set up email accounts and the like; Earthlink provides the Internet part of Charter's cablemodem service. Then I started visiting every graphics-intensive web page I knew of, marveling at the sheer speed of this new connection. It was breathtakingly fast.

And then the computer rebooted. A page was loading, then black screen, then power-on self test.

Anyone who has used Linux for any length of time knows how serious this is. It just doesn't happen. Fscking a 20-gig IDE drive takes awhile, especially when everything in the Netscape cache is now unowned and needs to be cleared by running e2fsck manually.

Once it was all done, I looked in /var/log/messages and was unsurprised to find no evidence of any causative factor. So I fired up Netscape again, and within a half hour it had happened again. This kind of thing is a limiting feature.

Thus began four days of seat-of-the-pants diagnostics. I spent time in the ill-documented Award bios (typical help file entry--"Options: Enabled, Disabled") and found that the network card's IRQ, 12, was assigned by the bios to a PS/2 mouse that I don't have but for which there's a port on the motherboard. I exercised my option ("Disabled") and booted, fired up Netscape, and was rebooted against my will within 15 minutes. And again I had to do the manual e2fsck thing on my /home partition.

I tried a different network card (I'd gotten three identical ones). No joy. I set the bios to force IRQ 12 to the slot occupied by the NIC. No joy. I replaced every piece of Cat 5 cable in the whole chain. No joy. At the end of four days, I'd rebooted more times than I had in the previous year--and I burn a lot of kernels.

Then, late one night, I got email from Bob. He'd found a site with a new version of the 8139too.o kernel module used by the D-Link network card. I downloaded, compiled, and installed it.

As I write this, it's 30 hours later. I've spent lots of time online (doing stuff; a cable modem is always online) and so far I haven't had anything unexpected (I've grown to expect the loss of horizontal sync with my vid card, and I hardly notice anymore the headaches it causes).

Of course, most users won't encounter the kind of trouble I did. Most users have a largely unaltered distribution, with tools that make setting up things like network cards and nameservers simple. In those circumstances, a cable modem is probably going to go in pretty painlessly. I think that a hub is a good idea--why make a one-node network?--and because of that, a gateway/firewall that does NAT becomes absolutely necessary. (I think it's absolutely necessary for security reasons, anyway. The D-Link model lets you telnet in to configure the thing, which is easy. Almost every company that makes networking equipment offers a similar device, at prices hovering around $100, though I do not know how Linux-friendly they are.)

And even if you encounter the bumps I did, you'll still find a cable modem worth the trouble, especially if you live someplace that doesn't have DSL service. The thing is really, really fast. Big downloads are no longer a matter of late-night scheduling. Waiting for a page to load is mostly gone (though there are sites that have slow servers, and there are times when the Internet is really busy, and no trick connection will help you with those).

I figure that I've already amortized the time spent on installation, just by the difference in page load and ftp times. This thing is cool.

For the first time in years, I've unplugged and stored my beloved USR Courier. I'll keep it, and I'll miss it. But I doubt I'll use it again.

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