Help w/ redesign of home network -- topology & equipment (longish)

As part of an upcoming remodel, I'd like to re-think our existing home network and how its laid out and whatnot.. I've currently got an outside line to the internet via a cable modem.. The cable modem currently plugs into an Apple Airport Extreme basestation (802.11g) which in turn has a (cheap) 4 port

10/100 switch plugged into it for getting more equipment on the physically wired network plugged in (the Airport only has a single "intranet" port) -- which consists of the following :

Hard-Wired items on network ===============================

1) Apple airport extreme basestation working as a firewall/router/WAP 2) one older Compaq Proliant server used as a file-server 3) Vonage VOIP connectivity box (Motorola ATA186) for phone service 4) one Powermac G5 desktop 5) one lone Mini-ITX PC used occasionally for various tasks

Wifi items on network ===============================

1) Apple powerbook G4 using 802.11b 2) Compaq laptop using 802.11g 3) HP all-in-one printer/fax/scanner/copier using 802.11g

Problems with the existing network configuration: ==================================================

1) Proliant server in garage houses anything important that needs to be backed up (to tape) and is somewhat slow in moving data to it or from it via the existing 100baseT connection. 2) Apple Airport Extreme basestation -- works fine, but doesn't allow more esoteric exceptions to NAT rules or other configuration abilities. Also doesn't provide much feedback if someone is trying to hack into the network -- it's more like a true blackbox and provides little feedback on what's going on. 3) Too many 4 port switches strewn throughout the house and attic to get the proper connectivity -- which occasionally hiccup and won't route packets which then require power-cycling to fix.

Some design changes I've been pondering over : ================================================================

1) support gigabit ethernet whenever possible -- upgrade all ethernet boards to support gigabit.. This includes the above mentioned server and the Powermac G5 desktop (I think it already does gigabit) and all points inbetween. 2) move to a more centralized setup instead of switches strewn throughout the house and cables running all over the attic in a hap hazard fashion 3) install home-run wiring for all ethernet drops out to the garage where #4 below is to be located (in a small wall-mount rack) using CAT5e/CAT6 or better cabling 4) 19" rack mount for all equipment where possible 5) ditch Apple Airport Extreme basestation at least for the firewall/NAT portion.. Perhaps only use it for the Wifi feature...?

So.. With that all in mind, what I'm pondering over is to have a network laid out similar to the following -- flowing from where the network comes in the house and how it flows from that point :

1) Keep existing cable modem, but use a "real" rackmountable router that allows easy to customize NAT filtering and configuration.. I'm not sure I want a Cisco even though I know they'll do everything -- perhaps there's some sort of middle ground between a (very configurable) Cisco and something cheap like a Netgear? I'd like whatever I get to be upgradable to newer firmware, etc.

2) Use a 16 or 24 port managed (or unmanaged) switch to work as a go-between with the router and the individual end-points in the local network.. Perhaps if I were to find a "real" router as mentioned in #1 above that is rack-mountable (e.g. 1U or 2U) it could also do the work of a switch as well? Whichever way, the switch is where all hard-wired equipment would be tied hopefully allowing (for instance) a VOIP call to take place (between the cable-modem and one of the ports on the switch) over the Internet but to also allow fast file transfers between two machines in the house (without going out on the Internet) on the local network w/o interfering with the VOIP packets.

3) Plug a wifi router into the router or switch to provide the wireless portion of the network but to not use any other features of the router such as NAT, etc.

One question I've got specifically is whether CAT5E or CAT6 is good enough for Gigabit ethernet and beyond for now (or is anyone using CAT7)? I'll probably have to toss out my existing vanilla CAT5 during the remodel..

Hopefully the above paints a good enough picture of what I'm after and I'm preferring to go on the cheap side to a point (e.g. I'm not going to buy that $5K slick-as-snot do everything router), but won't mind spending somewhere in the $1k or so range for everything figuring that the router/switches+ rack are the expensive parts. I'll be doing the wiring myself so that's no problem.. Anyway if you've got any better ideas for network topology, suggestions of particular brands or whatever, I'd like to hear about it.. Thanks much!

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Rick F.
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