As many of you know, Lee and I recently moved to Puerto Rico, and with that move, we are having to completely redesign our new studio space. In today's video, we tackle our in-home network and wireless Internet connection. Surely the limitations in Puerto Rico will prove to give us trouble... or will it?
If you remember a few years ago, we decided to upgrade the network in our photo and video studio to include 10GbE connectivity. Because we often need multiple users to be able to pull large files from our Synology NAS all at the same time, we wanted to see if switching from a common 1 GbE system to a much faster 10 GbE system would actually make a difference when editing in Adobe Premiere. As you can see in the older article titled “How to Upgrade Your Network to 10 Gb/s and Speed Up Your Workflow,” not only were we able to achieve nearly 10 times the transfer speeds, but we were also able to greatly improve the overall editing experience for everyone in the Fstoppers office.
Since we have moved out of the Fstoppers office in Charleston, not only do we need a Network Attached Storage that is capable of transferring our files at this higher bandwidth, we also need to build an entire 10 GbE home network from scratch. Luckily the house we are renting already has Cat 5e cable installed throughout the entire building, but trying to understand the home's existing switches and installation wasn't easy.
The Home Network
Before we even considered getting Wi-Fi and our NAS installed, we first had to setup the main 10 GbE network in the home. Over the years we have bought our fair share of switches, routers, and all-in-one wireless routers from a variety of popular manufactures. We even at one point switched over to Apple's Airport Extreme Base Station in the quest to find the most powerful yet easy to use hardware. Back in 2016 I decided to get rid of nearly everything and build a completely new system using only components from the highly recommend company Ubiquiti. Ubiquiti offers amazing enterprise-grade products that can be used for big commercial clients but they are still easy enough to setup for less technical customers like me. I first noticed Ubiquiti's UniFi systems in major hotels and restaurants that required multiple access points. I figured if their systems were good enough for these types of applications, they would certainly be perfect for Fstoppers.
Unlike other basic "all-in-one" systems I have used, the UniFi system comes in individual components that allow you to customize your network to fit your exact needs. In some ways, an all-in-one wireless router is sort of like a boombox whereas a UniFi system is like a highly-tailored home stereo made up of your favorite individual components. That being said, I can easily wire up a home stereo in my sleep whereas I almost always run into issues when installing anything network related. Luckily the UniFi Cloud Key made my life easy, but more on that later.
The main three components we wound up using were the UniFi Security Gateway Pro 4, three UniFi US-XG - 6POE switches, and Ubiquiti's newest UniFi Cloud Key Gen 2 Plus. The gateway offers advanced routing and a reliable firewall, the switches give us full 10 GbE POE connections in the more common RJ45 jacks, and the Cloud Key not only makes setting up and monitoring the whole system extremely easy but it also has a 1 TB hard drive for storing video from the UniFi G3 security cameras (which we are installing at the moment).
If you are like me and are a bit overwhelmed by all the options Ubiquiti offers, or if you just want to know how all of this stuff works together, definitely check out the video below. Tony Hunt has an amazingly thorough video showing what each piece of equipment does and why having a modular system is better than your typical all-in-one wireless router.
Once I wired everything together, I found out that although the entire house had fairly modern cat 5e cable, all of these cables were running through an older TP-Link switch that was only 10/100 Mbps. Without buying two new 24-port switches, we decided to keep these switches in place for 90 percent of the house and only tap into very specific connections for our newer 10 GbE connections. All in all, we currently have about eight connections in the house running at 10 GbE while the others are still connected at 100 Mbps.
As you can see from the speed test below, all of the wired computers and devices are getting around 250 Mbps download and between 15 and 26 Mbps upload (and our Liberty Internet bill is around $100 for those curious).
The Wireless Network
Once we had the main brains of the server up and running, it was time to get high-speed Wi-Fi throughout the house. As I mentioned in the video, most of the homes in Puerto Rico are built with poured concrete which offers a much more sturdy construction compared to wood-framed homes found in the continental U.S. However, these concrete structures make it near impossible to get a strong Wi-Fi signal if you are far from your main wireless router. This is where multiple access points come to the rescue.
For this system, we decided to place a UniFi nanoHD Access Point (AP) on each floor of the building so that we could have the strongest Wi-Fi signal possible. Unlike other systems that rely on extending existing networks, assigning new IPs that much be handed off, or building complicated mesh networks that depend on Wi-Fi signals in order to mesh, the UniFi system creates a truly seamless integration. Because each access point is hardwired into the network, each AP has the strongest signal possible. These small nanoHD APs allow smooth handoff between devices as you move from floor to floor and allow Wi-Fi heavy applications like FaceTime and video streaming to continue without interruption.
Back in our office in Charleston we had three of the older UniFi APs and they were able to give the entire property fast Internet. Because of the size of this house and the concrete, we opted for four APs which has allowed us to have fast Wi-Fi anywhere we connect. Also because our home's 5e cable is capable of supplying each AP with power over Ethernet (POE), we didn't have to run extra power plugs to each unit. This allowed for a much cleaner install while keeping all our ac outlets free for other devices.
I'm not sure what the limits are on Wi-Fi speeds especially when connected with an iPhone, but as you can see in the video, I am reliably able to get around 150–250 Mbps download speeds and 15–25 Mbps upload speeds straight from my cell phone. Even though I was paying for high-speed 250 Mbps Internet with Xfinity in Charleston, I don't think my cell phone ever was able to get speeds as fast as we are getting down here in Puerto Rico. In every way, our Internet experience here is better than it was in the states. As a side note, even our AT&T service is faster whereas our cell service in the U.S. always seemed to be throttled or maybe the bandwidth was just oversaturated in most major cities.
The Network Attached Storage
Now that we got fast wired and wireless Internet running throughout the new studio, we needed a way to store all our files locally. Lee and I have both been using Synology's NAS boxes for years now, and just like the Unifi system, these NAS devices are super reliable and extremely easy to use.
When we travel, we often bring along the small Synology DS416slim. We love this NAS because it's small, has two RJ45 jacks which allows you to directly connect up to two computers, and it holds four SSDs for extremely quick read and write speeds. Back in 2017, we upgraded our beloved Synology DS1817+ NAS to our first 10 GbE rack NAS, the Synology rs18017xs+ (which is $6,000). We did a full article about that process if you want to check it out.
With this new build, the kind folks over at Synology sent us their new DS1819+ DiskStation. Just like the other NAS in this series, the DS1819+ comes with four 1GbE RJ45 connections that can be bonded into one 4 GbE connection. While you aren't going to get a true 4 Gbps with this native configuration, you do gain some extra bandwidth and redundancy if one of the connections stops working. Since we were looking for massive speed to help pull files into multiple computers running Adobe Premiere, Photoshop, and Lightroom, we opted to upgrade our DS1819+ with the Synology E10G18-T2 Dual 10 GB PCI card. This PCI card gives you two 10 GbE RJ45 jacks which offers, in theory, ten times the speed of a single 1 GbE connection.
With all NAS enclosures, you still have to install your array of RAID hard drives. We have a great relationship with Seagate, and Lee somehow was able to get eight brand new Seagate 14TB IronWolf Pro HDDs sent to our new office. We both didn't even know hard drives had even gotten up to 14 TB yet, and shockingly, with this configuration, our much smaller and quieter DS1819+ NAS actually has more storage space than our rs18017xs+ that we left back in Charleston.
Once everything was connected and setup, the final test was to see how fast we could transfer files to and from our new Synology NAS through our fast 10 GbE connection. Many people warned us that our computers would never recognize a 10 GbE connection through Cat 5e cable but we were pleasantly surprised to see that each of our 10 GbE capable desktops was in fact registering the full connection. With a few speed tests, we found that we were regularly able to obtain write speeds around 300–450 Mbps and read speeds of up to 700 Mbps! Somehow, even with similar equipment, our new server in Puerto Rico is actually faster than our rack system back in Charleston.
Overall, we could not be happier with our new home network. Having converted over to a 10 GbE network a few years ago, we knew we had to build a similar system in our new studio space. Building a 10 GbE system is by no means cheap and not every photographer or videographer will immediately notice the difference between a standard 1 GbE system and a 10 GbE system. However, if you are like us and have a team of editors that need access to the same files in the same location, having a network with even a few 10 GbE connections can make a big difference. The nice thing with the Synology NAS is that you can plug up to two computers directly into their 10 GbE PCI slot and immediately experience lightning fast access to your files without the need of a separate 10 GbE switch. But if you want multiple users or if you are simply future-proofing your own house or studio, I highly recommend building a simple, yet powerful 10 GbE system from Ubiquiti.
If you have any questions about our new network build, how we use our NAS system with our individual workstations, or even other topics you would like us to cover as we transition into our new studio space, please feel free to leave your comments below.