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A LinkSys WRT54G wireless/wired routerYes, your home router could indeed be letting your Second Life experience down, and a couple quite common series of routers are among the most culpable.

I’ll start by pointing out that the IEEE 802.11 networking standards aren’t the easiest set of networking protocols to implement correctly in device firmware. It’s all too easy to get them almost right, resulting in wireless access points and routers that work just fine for some kinds of workloads and that fall down spectacularly for others. As a bonus, RFC-2663 IPv4 Network Address Translation is also a commonly poorly-implemented feature in many network devices.

In my experiences from 2000 to 2005, the vast majority of wireless access-points/routers of that period – while just fine for Aunt Tilley and her Facebook habit – turned out to be duds (ranging from extraordinary failure to far more subtle symptoms) once you hooked up a power-user or a small three or four person office. They might choke and die, they might toss stations off at random, they might just run some connections very slowly, or some might unpredictably stall, leaving you wondering.

Finding good hardware during that period was a chore, and it hasn’t gotten that much better since, in my opinion. Often the best you can hope for is “just good enough” (if you’re lucky) unless you use something like a dedicated Linux system as a firewall and router.

Even such networking giants as Cisco Systems has gotten them wrong on occasion. Few (if any) manufacturers seem to be entirely exempt from glitches in these particular standards implementations.

All that said, Linden Lab has recently been performing somewhat extensive testing of consumer routers as a part of Project Shining, and come up with two common series that are already problematic with Second Life.

The problem units identified by Linden Lab as problems for Second Life users are the Belkin G series of routers, and the LinkSys WRT series (that’s a picture of mine up at the top, by the way – yes, I’m one of those affected, and don’t think I haven’t noticed already) among others. The problem extends to both the wired and wireless side – that is it isn’t just deficiencies in the wireless protocol implementation, but in the Network Address Translation portions of the router, through which all connections must pass going to (or coming from) the rest off the world.

Peter Gray, Linden Lab’s spokesperson told me, “The Viewer can be hard on some home routers – a single Viewer instance can look like dozens of browser sessions (e.g. a small office) in certain aspects all by itself. In the worst cases, it can sometimes crash home routers or cause them to drop packets, which the user experiences as a brief network interruption while the router reboots or poor network performance.

There is nothing about Second Life that is intrinsically incompatible with any router, but we are working to make our network usage less hard on all routers; that’s a central element of the HTTP Library component of the Project Shining that we announced in our recent Tools & Technology post.”

In the meantime, I’m going to set up a new router. I’ve already been aware that the current one isn’t handling things – notably Second Life – as well as it could (and we don’t even use the wireless side of it for the most part). Rather than messing with consumer network appliances, I’m going to grab an old PC and a Linux install disk and throw my own router together. It’s really what I should have been doing already.

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