When is a 1000Mb/s router the same as a 100Mb/s router?

When you buy it on AliExpress.

Partaker I4 Industrial Mini Pc with 6 COM 2 HDMI 2 Lan Black Color Intel i3 i3 4005u 4010u Processor
Nice body. Shame about the BIOS.

I’ve been researching gigabit routers for a while now. I’m moving soon to a fiber neighbourhood, and want a router that’s more than capable of handling serious speeds. More than anything, I want a router that’s future proof.

So a while back I read an interesting article on Ars Technica on the performance gains to be had by building your own router. The author used a fanless Mini PC made by AliExpress seller Shenzhen Inctel Technology Company [website].

I’m someone who likes to dabble and hack my own gear, so this approach appealed to me. Although I’d never used AliExpress before, the seller appeared to have a good rep, so I decided on a fanless Parataker Industrial Mini PC with an Intel i3-4010u with 4gb ram and 32gb SSD for just under US$300 inc shipping. Most importantly, this unit had dual Intel 82574L 1Gb/s lan ports, which play nice with Linux, my OS of choice.

A week later the unit arrived. Physically the unit was well built with the top of it a massive heatsink. I loaded FreeBSD onto a USB drive and installed. That’s when I noticed something wasn’t quite right with the LAN ports.

By “not quite right” I mean I pretty much unable to connect to anything, with upwards of 50% ping reply drops, and trouble connecting at 1000Mb/s speeds. I swapped out my CAT5E for some new CAT6 and tested with two identical Netgear 8 port Gigibit switches – but the problem still remained. One port was only able to connect at 100Mb/s and the other was able to connect at 1000Mb/s, but dropped packets like it was going out of style.

I also installed FreeBSD to check with another OS, and sure enough I was seeing the same. As a final test, I installed Windows 7. Same again.

I sent a nice note to the seller explaining the troubleshooting I’d done and requested they send another unit to swap over. I got no reply.

It was then that I opened up an AliExpress Dispute.

The Dispute process asks that you submit “evidence”, so I put together a video showing how the LAN port lights on the faulty port failed to show 1000Mb/s. In the video I use a new uncoiled 50cm CAT6 cable connected between the PC, with the gigabit switch sitting on top. Pretty simple really. There’s two lights above each port, if they both light up, you have gigabit speed. If only the left one lights, you have 100Mb/s, if only the right one lights, you have 10Mb/s.

Ethernet Speeds for Dummies
Ethernet Speeds for Dummies

But no, that was too complex for the AliExpress dispute team to understand, so they decided my “evidence” was not good enough and they refused my claim.

Luckily, I had another three days to submit more evidence. How lucky was that!

In the meantime, the seller finally replied to my initial message. First off they asked me reinstall Windows 7 (sigh). They then said there was a problem with the BIOS and to try a new one. So they emailed me a couple of links – one to some driver management software for Windows 7, and the other to Windows 7 drivers for the WLAN port. What, no BIOS update?

So I then headed into the PC’s BIOS to find that even though the correct hardware was listed, if you went into the speed settings for each port, the listed speeds in the select input maxed out at 100Mb/s. There was no 1000Mb/s listed. What I was potentially dealing with was a BIOS that hadn’t been properly paired to the motherboard.

Look, no gigabit setting.
Look, no gigabit setting.

So I made another video of the BIOS, added images of the sellers email and uploaded them into the AliExpress dispute portal.

I finally got a reply saying that yes, they agreed the port only ran at 100Mb/s, and they offered me a $75.79 refund if I kept the device, or a full refund if I paid for return shipping to the seller.

Now, call me cynical – but at this point in the process, the seller (and AliExpress) hadn’t exactly endeared me to them, so I didn’t exactly trust them “receive” my return shipment had I have done so. Plus I was pissed that I’d have to pay for the return shipping to China! So I replied to the AliExpress team asking why I had to pay for return shipping when the goods are faulty?

The reply from AliExpress?

Status of case: Complaint Closed
Refund amount: AUD 75.79    (without returning goods)
Reason: As buyer and seller couldn’t reach an agreement, refund is issued.

Yes, WTF.

But lucky me, I did have one final move – to file an appeal. So I did. And I repeated my previous question just in case they didn’t quite understand me. But alas no, the AliExpress reply was:

Appeal Rejected
Reason for rejection:As the goods still have certain value, we can only give you partial refund 75.79 AUD, hope you can understand. (Please kindly note the amount of partial refund depends on the defective and unmatched degree of the received product.)
We sincerely feel sorry that you did not choose the second solution: return the goods for full refund. That’s why we closed the dispute with only partial refund of 20% to you.

Yep. I was dealing with mother flippin muppets.

Mother flippin muppets

But thankfully, as a first and last time AliExpress customer, the T&C of my credit card has a special muppet clause under Transaction Disputes called “Goods not as described”. So I’ll leave it with my bank to sort this one out.

My photojournalism pivot

A six year journey.

The year 2012 seems such a long time ago, but it was the year I decided to end my six year photojournalism pivot.

But what a journey it was. I worked with some amazing journalists, and saw and documented some incredible things. As someone who’s predominantly visual, those six years were pretty up there in terms of life experience.

But my true passion was calling me back. Responsive design had hit the scene, and design was finally being recongnized as a proper profession in it’s own right.

And so the time has come to give credence to those years. And being an Automattician, I couldn’t think of a better way to do it than with a site. So, here it is:

This thing I discovered

The last time I flew on a jet was when I was 12.

Fast forward 35 years, and what almost seems a lifetime of web design and development, I finally landed my dream job – User Interface Designer at Automattic, the company behind

Automattic is known as being “the” distributed company. Based in San Fransisco, yet with almost 400 employees all over the world. Being an Automattician means every once in while (~4 times a year) you need to get on a jet and fly to somewhere remote for a “meet up”.

My first meetup was six weeks after I started. The Grand Meetup. The meet up where Automatticans from all over the planet hop on a plane and gather in one place for a week of awesomeness. I was so stoked and so looking forward. My first Grand Meetup was in Park City, Utah, over 20 hours flying from my hometown in Melbourne Australia.

I’ll admit I was nervous about flying. In the lead to my trip I read up everything I possibly could about the planes I’d be flying on. I researched everything to the nth degree. I upgraded my seats for extra leg seem (I’m 6 foot 2). Would there be Wifi? (Yes there was). How do I pack to get through security?

My “nervousness” first came to head one week before the the flight when I got seriously “nervous”. In hindsight, I got seriously anxious.

So I researched and booked a doctors appointment.

I read that the drug of choice for anxious flyers was Xanax. I read about a U.S. sportscaster who hated flying and only overcame his anxiousness after being prescribed it. I explained this to my GP and she agreed it’d be the thing to do.

On my GP’s suggestion, I gave the Xanax a shot four days before my flight.

Wow. I was in flight-dream-love-land! This was going to no problem. What so ever.

Unfortunately, four days later, on the morning of my flight, on the drive to the airport, after having taken the suggested dose, I lost the fucking plot.

I was going to die.

My breathing was shallow.

I was going to die.

I would never see my wife and two boys again.

I was going to die.

I was going to die.

I was going to die.

I didn’t know it, but I was having a panic attack.

In hindsight, I had all the symptoms. I was completely freaking out. I was irrational. Everything was blown out of proportion. It was flight or die.

The problem was, my body was correctly responding correctly. It was running as fast as it could away from the threat. Unfortunately there was no threat. The threat was all in my head.

And so I didn’t catch my flight.

I missed my very first Automattic Grand Meetup. 🙁

My checkin luggage only contained gifts. Tim Tams. Twenty five packs.

The following week was difficult. As a distributed company, we all use Slack (and Twitter). Seeing my colleagues having so much fun was so painful I largely switched off. Plus I was embarrassed. I was so embarrassed.

Fortunately flight anxiety is a treatable condition and it’s nothing to be embarrassed about. Apparently roughly 20% of the population have some sort of anxiety/fear of flying.

I’ve now found a psychologist who specialises in fear of flying, so combined with some work on my part, I hope to kick this soon.

I might have missed out on my first Autommatic Meetup (the Grand Meetup of all things!), but I’m definitely aiming to not miss anymore.

All packed for the a8cgm

The Automattic Grand Meetup is the annual get together of Automatticians from around the world. This year the GM is at Park City, Utah.

It’s my first GM since starting at Automattic in August, and I’m sure to have a ball!