Wake-on-LAN isn’t a new technology, but with the increasing number of smartphones making their way to the market, it’s high time we looked at how you can make a home theater PC, or any hard-wired system in your house, wake up from anywhere with free tools and bit of tinkering. Here’s how to get started.
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Why would you want to wake up your computer when you’re nowhere near it? Remote control BitTorrent downloads, for one good reason. If you’re running your own FTP server, or even your own Dropbox-like sync/backup service, you can make your data, entertainment, and other files always available on a moment’s notice. Put simply: Wake-on-LAN is a great complement to any service that allows for remote access, because it allows you to not keep a computer constantly running.
Wake-on-LAN technology hasn’t actually changed all that much in the three years since we first tackled it. It’s still a bit different on every system: where the setting is in your BIOS, how your router supports it, and whether everything will play nicely together. In most cases, though, you’ll be able to set everything up and get each component talking, with a bit of effort.
What You’ll Need
- Computer connected by cable to your main router: Wake-on-LAN doesn’t work over Wi-Fi. We hope it will, some day, but for now, you can only wake up devices that have a “hard connection.” That makes it most suitable for office PCs, home theater units, and home/media servers.
- Access to your router: You’ll need a browser and your router username/password. If you have no idea, you can likely pull the default off of RouterPasswords.com. If your cable/DSL firm set your router’s password, you’ll need to call and get access.
- A DynDNS.com account: Gina detailed the process of setting up your DynDNS “domain name” for a home web/wiki server, but it’s the same process (mostly) for making it possible to find your computer at home while you’re not on the home Wi-Fi anymore.
- A smartphone Wake-on-LAN client: Optional, but usually way more convenient than sending a ping from a laptop or web site.
The most important caveat in Wake-on-LAN is that it in the vast majority of cases, it can only wake a system up from a sleep/suspend state, or potentially hibernation. Most of the time, you won’t be able to shut down your system entirely—but, then again, sleep/suspend is what most computer makers are expecting users to do these days. It draws very little power to leaves a system suspended, and you can choose to do it only when you think you might need access to your system while away.
Set Up Your BIOS and OS for Wake-on-LAN
BIOS, the most root-level, bare-bones system you can access on your (non-Mac) system, is where the ultimate control switch for Wake-on-LAN functionality is found. So boot up the hard-wired system you want to be able to wake up, then watch for the message on thelow-fi screen: “Press F1 to enter Setup,” maybe, or “Press the ThinkVantage Key for startup options.” Press whatever key you’re offered, choose to enter BIOS/Setup, and look around for the network settings, or potentially power management settings. Enable Wake-on-LAN, then look along the bottom of your BIOS screen for the “Save & Exit” shortcut (sometimes F10). Hit it, and you’ll reboot.
The setup steps for Windows 7 and Mac OS X are shown in the video up top. If you’re using Windows Vista or XP, our older Wake-on-LAN guide has a step-by-step guide.
Set Up Your Router
There’s a chance your router may have really good Wake-on-LAN abilities baked into it. In the case of my Buffalo router, with a custom DD-WRT firmware, that’s certainly the case: I can just check off connected devices for Wake-on-LAN, and they’re set up to receive packets that I can always send to the same IP address when I’m inside the house. In fact, setting up DD-WRT on your router isn’t a bad idea, as it gives you similarly robust remote-control powers.
But if you’re looking to avoid sinking even more nerdy energy and time into this, I’d recommend simply Google-ing your router model and “set up wake-on-lan,” as each model will be a bit different. Need help getting into your router through the web browser? Here’s how to find and access your router’s IP address. On the standard Linksys “Blue box” models (with names starting with “WRT”), you’ll usually need to head into the “Port Forwarding” section of your setup, then enter port 9, as a UDP, to be forwarded to port 9 on the IP address of your to-be-woken system. So, as you might gather from the sound of that last sentence, getting specific help with your router is recommended.
Set Up DynDNS
This is, oddly enough, the easiest portion of the whole setup. Head to DynDNS.com, create an account if you don’t have one, and gather your username and password. Head back into your router, enter the details in a “DDNS” field (usually under the “Administration” or “Setup” tabs), and wait a bit for your router and DynDNS to communicate. Now you can send a “magic packet” to wake up your home system from anywhere. You send it to
.dyndns.org, DynDNS connects the username to the IP address where your ISP currently has you locked in, and your router picks up the packet. With your router configured correctly, it sends that packet onto the computer you specified, and it wakes up.
Set Up Your Smartphone and Browser
Almost every web-connected phone has a wake-on-LAN tool, usually for free, in its apps marketplace. I’ve used iWOL on iPhones, and “Wake on Lan” for Android, and both do the trick. The main pain in setting up these tools, along with browser wake-up tools like DSLReports’ offering, is that you’ll need to have the MAC address of the system you’re waking up. A governmental lab offers a comprehensive guide to finding your MAC address, but you can usually find it pretty quickly on your router’s “Status” page.
Test It Out
Your wake-up call might not work at first try, and it’s a pretty sad feeling. But don’t despair. Check your router settings again. If you’re failing to wake it up over the broader DynDNS network, try waking the system up inside your home Wi-Fi with a direct IP address. Then you’ll know it’s at least responding to a packet when it arrives, and you can work on fixing your packet-routing.
Questions? Comments? Success stories? We know you have them. Leave them in the comments, and we’l move through them.