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Point-to-point Wi-Fi bridging between buildings—the cheap and easy way

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Enlarge / We tested these TP-Link outdoor Wi-Fi bridges—both 2.4GHz and 5GHz versions—across 80 meters of partially-wooded terrain, with great success.

Jim Salter

Extending your Wi-Fi properly from one building to another is, unfortunately, a bit of a secret art—but it doesn’t need to be either difficult or expensive. The secret lies mostly in knowing the right tools for the job. This is a job that shouldn’t involve range extenders or rely on standard Wi-Fi mesh pieces. The good news is, with the right gear, you can connect your home to an outbuilding without either professional expertise or a ditch witch and a spool of burial-grade cable.

Although the Salter household (current generation) is planted firmly in suburbia, my parents stayed rural when they moved closer to their grandkids. Their place is beautiful, but it’s the kind of home where a riding lawn mower is optional—a tractor with bush hog is a necessity. Said tractor lives in a barn about 80 meters from the house, much of which is a moderately wooded grove. And that made it an excellent test candidate for a little DIY networking experiment.

Our goal in this exercise is not to geek out as hard as possible by mounting and aiming everything with millimeter precision. Instead, we’re simply out to demonstrate that wirelessly connecting two buildings quickly, cheaply, and easily is possible for anyone. In fact, you can even enjoy more-than-acceptable results in the end.

Wireless point-to-point bridging

TP-Link Outdoor Wi-Fi Bridges

(Ars Technica may earn compensation for sales from links on this post through affiliate programs.)

When you want to wirelessly extend a network from one building to another, the best answer is almost always a cable—preferably a burial-grade cable, either Ethernet or fiber, laid in a conduit and buried several feet underground. But that’s expensive. If all you need is good Internet access in a nearby pool house or barn, it’s almost certainly overkill.

On the other hand, solutions involving omnidirectional Wi-Fi almost never work well. We’ve seen people try it with everything from range extenders to just splitting Wi-Fi mesh kits up between buildings. The correct answer here is, instead, point-to-point, directional Wi-Fi like a pair of kits we recently tested—TP-Link’s inexpensive 2.4GHz CPE210 and 5GHz CPE510 outdoor bridges.

Self-install is fine for short distances

The marketing and documentation on these and other point-to-point kits is aimed squarely at professional installers, not homeowners. Phrases like “professional installation only,” “tower mount,” and “completely clear line of sight” crop up frequently. If you’re trying to bridge a distance of several kilometers, this guidance is pretty reasonable. But for shorter differences, you can get a whole lot sloppier.

I’ve deliberately kept things as sloppy and simple here as I could. Instead of mounting the house’s Access Point device to the roofline, I zip-tied it to a “cat tree” in the living room and aimed it loosely at the barn through a picture window. On the barn side, I just set the Client down on a utility shelf—and I deliberately aimed it a few degrees off-center from the unit in the house.

2.4 GHz vs. 5 GHz vs. fast Ethernet

These two TP-Link kits—and many competing directional Wi-Fi bridges—run on the older 802.11n (Wi-Fi 4) protocol and use a single radio only. You can purchase either a 2.4 GHz version or a 5 GHz version. And while it’s tempting to think, “Oh, 5 GHz will be faster,” that’s rarely going to be the case.

Although 5 GHz Wi-Fi is technically capable of higher throughput than 2.4 GHz, it offers less range and penetration. These are important factors if you need to punch through several walls or a small patch of woods. When it comes to this and many other cheap Wi-Fi bridges, the limiting factor usually isn’t the Wi-Fi anyway—it’s the wired Ethernet interface.

Both CPE210 and CPE510 have Fast Ethernet (100Mbps) wired interfaces, not gigabit. That means anything more than 100Mbps is effectively wasted. Most people in rural areas should use 2.4 GHz for its greater range and penetration. People in densely packed suburban areas may want to choose 5 GHz instead, specifically for its lower range and penetration—especially if other neighbors’ houses are directly in line with the bridge being created.

TP-Link also offers a newer, fancier point-to-point AP. I did not have the chance to test that particular device, but it features 802.11ac (Wi-Fi 5) and a gigabit interface—if you need more than 100Mbps, it may be worth considering. But in addition to some added cost, the CPE710 will require more effort to properly mount due to its physical complexity.

How it all works

These simple point-to-point APs only have one port on them: a 100Mbps Ethernet interface, hidden behind a weather-resistant access panel. That single interface provides the access point with both power and data.

If you have a Power over Ethernet (PoE) switch already, you can use it to feed your AP just like you would a camera or other device. If you don’t have a PoE switch, you can just use the PoE injector included with the CPE210/CPE510 instead—the injector has one AC power plug, one “Data” Ethernet port which you plug into your network, and one Power + Data Ethernet port which goes to the AP.

On the remote side, things work just the same. You use either a PoE switch or the included injector to power and feed the access point. If you’re using the injector, the “Data” port can be plugged into a single device directly or plugged into a switch to feed a whole network.

Although TP-Link’s bridges support connecting client devices—e.g., laptops, phones, and tablets—to them directly, I don’t recommend doing so. Configuring multiple devices to use the same Wi-Fi band and channel as the bridge APs do will have a severe impact on the point-to-point link quality.

If you’re wondering how to get “whole barn Wi-Fi,” it’s simple—connect a Wi-Fi Access Point like TP-Link’s EAP-225 to the output of the bridge. If you configure it to have the same SSID (network name) and password you’d use to connect at your house, your devices will even automatically roam to either side of the link.

If you’re using Wi-Fi mesh such as Eero in your main house, you may not want to use the standalone access point approach outlined above. Instead, bring one of your mesh kit’s nodes out to the barn or guest house and plug its Ethernet interface into the CPE210/CPE510. The Eero node will consider itself connected directly to its mesh siblings by wire, and everything will “just work” as though the barn Eero was still a house Eero.

Configuration

The TP-Link bridges I tested use TP-Link’s “Pharos” configuration interface. To log in to a brand-new Pharos-powered bridge AP, you will need a laptop or PC with Ethernet interface, which you’ll plug into the same network as the bridge unit. (On the remote side, you’ll plug directly into the “Data” port of the AP’s power injector.)

After temporarily giving your PC a static IP address in the 192.168.0.x subnet—for example, 192.168.0.10—you browse to the AP’s factory default IP address at http://192.168.0.254/. After a default admin:admin login, you’ll be prompted to select a new username and password, then led into a Quick Setup wizard.

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The MacBook Pro will soon get a resolution bump, macOS beta suggests

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Enlarge / The 2019 16-inch MacBook Pro.

Samuel Axon

The seventh beta of macOS Monterey contains what appear to be references to new screen resolutions suitable for the MacBook Pro line, as discovered by MacRumors.

In a list of supported graphics resolutions within macOS, there are two new resolutions: 3,456 by 2,234 and 3,024 by 1,964. Each carries a “Retina” marker, which Apple typically only applies to its own devices’ screens.

The aspect ratio for these new resolutions is very close to the current aspect ratios on the MacBook Pro computers sold today, but they’re lower than what we currently see in the iMac line, suggesting that they aren’t for Apple’s desktops. Further, the numbers fit nicely with a move to true 2x Retina, as opposed to the scaling approach presently used for Retina displays.

It is possible that this is a mistake, but the timing is convenient. macOS Monterey is expected to launch this fall alongside new MacBook Pro models featuring custom-designed Apple silicon that would be faster successors to Apple’s much-lauded M1 chips found in lower-end Macs and the most recent refresh of the iPad Pro.

If reports in Bloomberg and elsewhere are to be believed, the new laptops would also include Mini LED displays, which provide better contrast than the display technology currently used in Mac laptops, as well as additional ports like HDMI or an SD card slot. These devices would also drop the Touch Bar, which some users like but others hate, in favor of a return to physical function keys. The 13-inch MacBook Pro would probably see reduced bezels, making it a 14-inch MacBook Pro. (A similar change replaced the 15-inch MacBook Pro with a 16-inch model a couple of years ago.)

So increased screen resolutions join a plethora of other likely changes that would make for the most significant redesign of the MacBook Pro since the first Touch Bar models in 2016.

Leaks have also pointed to an upcoming MacBook Air redesign, but that laptop is unlikely to come until later.

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The Surface Duo’s two-year-old Android OS will be updated sometime this year

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If Microsoft wants to be taken seriously as an Android manufacturer, one of the things it will need to establish is a track record of reliable, on-time software updates. But as the company launches a second generation of the Surface Duo and the company’s first Android phone turns a year old, so far Microsoft has failed to impress.

The Surface Duo 1 shipped in September 2020 with Android 10, which was a full year old at the time, and Android 11 had already launched. The hope was that Microsoft would quickly update the Duo to the latest version of Android, but that never happened. Today the device is still running Android 10, which is now two years old, and Android 12 is about to ship. Microsoft has finally broken its silence about Surface Duo 1 updates, and the company tells The Verge it plans to update the device to Android 11 “before the end of this year.”

Assuming Microsoft follows through on its promise, the company’s $1,400 flagship device will be updated from a two-year-old operating system to a one-year-old operating system. Microsoft committed to three years of updates, and it has been delivering monthly security updates. But this is still worst-in-class update support, especially for the price. Samsung usually rolls out Android to its latest flagship three months after Google’s release, while OnePlus usually takes around a month—Microsoft’s one-year timeframe is really bad.

Microsoft is, at least, communicating. Before, it never really let its customers know when Android 11 would be arriving on the Surface Duo until this latest report, leaving the rumor mill to fill in the gaps. It would be nice to get a timeframe for Android 12 releases, given the latest update will be out any day now. Perhaps Microsoft’s lack of communication was due to the company just not knowing when Android 11 would be done. The Android 10 build that shipped on the original Duo had all sorts of bugs, and the company is clearly having a hard time transitioning to Android.

Perhaps some of Microsoft’s update problems were caused by the Duo 1 originally being designed for a now-canceled mobile resurrection of Windows; Microsoft was essentially forced to switch to Android later in that product’s development life. Unsurprisingly, the Windows-maker didn’t have a lot of Android OS engineers on staff at the time, and Microsoft ended up outsourcing the Duo’s OS development to a company called “Movial.” Microsoft ended up acquiring Movial just two months before the Duo’s release date, which doesn’t sound like ideal timing.

The Duo 1’s Windows DNA resulted in a device with very different underpinnings from a normal Android phone, like a “custom engineered” Microsoft UEFI instead of the normal Qualcomm one. The Duo 2 should have been designed from the start with Android as the target, so maybe things will be better for the sequel?

Listing image by Ron Amadeo

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Windows 11 hits the Release Preview Insider channel as official release nears

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Enlarge / The “official” Windows 11 update, complete with the UI that regular people will see, is now available in the Release Preview channel for Windows Insiders.

Andrew Cunningham

Yesterday, Microsoft released a near-final build of Windows 11 to Windows Insiders in the Release Preview channel, which (as the name implies) is generally the last stop for a major new Windows version ahead of its release to the general public. The official release date for Windows 11 is October 5, but Microsoft is planning to roll it out gradually over the next few months to prevent widespread problems.

The build number in the Release Preview channel is 22000.194, the same version released to the Beta channel on September 16.

While Beta- and Dev-channel builds of Windows 11 are simply downloaded and installed like regular Windows Updates, the version in the Release Preview channel gives you the same upgrade message that will be offered to the public when Microsoft offers the Windows 11 upgrade for their PCs. This includes a system notification that users can click through to learn more about Windows 11’s new features and a special update message in Windows Update that will give you the opportunity to waive the Windows 11 upgrade and stay on Windows 10 (seen above).

Windows 10 can run on pretty much any PC that could run Windows 7 or Windows 8, but Windows 11 comes with stringent new processor and security hardware requirements that severely limit its compatibility. The most important is the CPU requirement, which generally mandates an 8th-generation Intel Core processor (introduced in late 2017) or newer or a 2nd-generation AMD Ryzen processor (introduced in mid 2018) or newer. There are only a handful of exceptions for older processors, including for Microsoft’s own Surface Studio desktop—Microsoft has the full list of Intel and AMD processors available on its documentation site.

If your PC can run it, Windows 11 includes a refreshed user interface, rescued from Microsoft’s failed “Windows 10X” project. The redesign overhauls the taskbar, Start menu, system tray, the Settings app, and Windows Explorer, as well as right-click menus and built-in apps throughout the OS. It also adds some gaming features and improvements to the Windows Subsystem for Linux, though some of these will be backported to Windows 10.

Listing image by Microsoft

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