Accessing a Remote Network with a TP-Link SafeStream TL-ER604W Router

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Back in December I started using a TP-Link SafeStream TL-R600VPN Gigabit Broadband Desktop VPN Router to be able to login to the network at a remote property. It provided most of the functions I needed but unfortunately the client/server mode of the VPN service only supported PPTP. While not every secure it would have been fine for my purposes but unfortunately Apple dropped support for PPTP VPN connections from the newer Mac OS and iOS versions. I was able to purchase a program called Shimo to use PPTP from the Mac but there wasn’t really a good solution for iOS and being able to access the network from my phone was a critical need.

Frustrated that I couldn’t use my phone to connect to the network I eventually purchased a TP-Link SafeStream TL-ER604W Wireless N300 Gigabit Broadband Desktop VPN Router, which provides PPTP, L2TP and IPSEC client/server connections and so far it has worked great.

Both routers have, on at least one or two occasions, each hung up and required a manual power reset. The NetReset device I purchased recently seems to have eliminated that infrequent problem.

Updated 04/18/2018: I continue to be very pleased with this device. Combined with the NetReset device I’ve had zero problems connecting to to this VPN.

Linksys Smart Wi-Fi Router N900 Media Stream (EA4500)

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Linksys-EA4500

A while back I purchased an Apple Airport Extreme Base Station to serve as our primary router and wireless access point. Though initially impressed, I learned that this expensive device wasn’t capable of fully permitting incoming PPTP VPN connections. In addition, it didn’t provide many configuration options. To work around this problem I purchased an ASUS wireless router and instead used the Airport as a wireless access point.

The final work-around resulted in two network devices where one could have worked just fine (I continued to use the Apple Extreme instead of only the ASUS wireless router because the Apple device offered better wireless range). I wasn’t thrilled with this setup and wireless covered was still lacking so I added a new device to my wishlist for Christmas, which I received.

We’re now using a Linksys Smart Wi-Fi Router N900 Media Stream (EA4500). I was impressed with this model beforehand when my in-laws changed their router to one of these and I had a chance to work with it a bit. Since setting up our router I’ve removed the ASUS wireless router and the Apple Airport Extreme Base Station.

There are several features I haven’t used yet such as the ability to connect an external hard drive. The following are a few things I’ve learned about this router since installing it.

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My Airport Extreme Base Station Cost Me Another $45 (Because It Couldn’t Do One Thing)

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<rant>

Before I go into the rant I need to state that overall, the Apple Airport Extreme Base Station is a very good residential router, in most cases. In my experience, it’s very stable and most of the features work very well.

But not all of the features… and this one’s a real pain to work with and could be a deal-breaker for many considering purchasing this device. If you plan to use Microsoft VPN PPTP to connect to a system within your network then I suggest that you do not purchase an AEBS.

The description states that it supports VPN PPTP pass-through. Well, I guess that’s only guaranteed for outgoing connections (not specified) or it’s an incompatibility with Microsoft PPTP connections. It would take too long to describe the various forum posts, support documents, and other resources I’ve combed through trying to figure out how to make this work. I’ve spent countless hours trying to find a work-around but I just can’t make it work.

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AirPort Extreme Base Station and VPN over PPTP

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Updated 06/17/2011: Before you get too far into this post I wanted to point out that I didn’t find a solution to getting a PPTP VPN connection to work with my AirPort Extreme Base Station. I switched over to using L2TP instead.

Updated: 08/03/2011: I’m moving to a different solution to bring PPTP back to my network setup, but you won’t like it. The step I’ve taken illustrates how inconvenient this problem can be.

Overall, I really like the new Airport Extreme Base Station that I purchased recently. The only problem I’ve had, and unfortunately it’s a major problem, is a loss of the ability to connect back into my network remotely over PPTP  via Windows 7 (I prefer to connect to my VPN when staying in a hotel).  I forwarded the appropriate ports but I was only able to use my network for about 20 seconds at a time. After that time was up I could no longer do anything on the network and the connection would usually close within a minute or two.

Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find a true solution to this problem but I did find an acceptable work-around. I suspect this is a problem with the Extreme not properly passing the PPTP connection, though I don’t know for certain.

I started looking at using other VPN servers. Previously, I just had Windows 7 configured to accept VPN connections. I tried OpenVPN via a VMWare appliance in Fusion, but aside from configuration issues the larger problem was that I could not connect to the VPN using my iPhone or iPad.

My solution, which seems to have worked, was to purchase a copy of MacServe’s iVPN and move the VPN handling directly into OS X. Cost in USD was around $25. It hooks into existing OS X software but provides a simple GUI for management. This option turned out to be very easy to manage and works with all of my devices. Rather than using PPTP I moved over to L2TP.

On the Airport Extreme I setup three UDP ports to forward to a specific system within my network: 500, 1701, 4500

Currently, it sounds like OS X Lion may include similar capabilities, but I simply could not wait until the release of Lion.