Dad dropped by real quick on his way back to work and dropped off some more gear I'd left at his place - an old P4 box which I probably won't hook up, but which should have a compatible batch of RAM that I can put into the Windows 2008 machine I set up the other day, but more importantly he also brought the old TP-Link WAP/Router I bought ages ago (but apparently neglected to blog about, despite the fact it's design is rage-inducing). Specifically, it's a TP-Link TL-WR841N V8, and I think it cost something like $30 at Aldi once upon a time.
Why'd I want this steaming piece of cheap shit? Because it's the only WAP I own that's capable of acting like a WDS bridge. I did a factory reset, then configured it so, and (once I configured an appropriate IP address for the WAP and turned off DHCP) managed to connect to our existing WLAN through an ethernet cable to the WAP while sitting at my dining room table.
I tried it in the spare bedroom at the other end of the house, the "worst case scenario" of where the aforementioned haxlab will go, and had surprisingly good performance, so I decided to brave the 8pm night air and stick it out in the shed. Even with the door closed, throughput is still plenty (~6mbps to Netflix's fast.com) and very little packet loss:
Ping statistics for 192.168.0.1: Packets: Sent = 587, Received = 587, Lost = 0 (0% loss), Approximate round trip times in milli-seconds: Minimum = 1ms, Maximum = 112ms, Average = 4ms
So I moved all the excess PCs out there. I don't fancy paying for the power to run a Pentium 4 machine 24/7 that I hardly use, so I'll still have to go out there to turn it off and on (unless I can find a good deal on a mains switch I can control via IP) but at least there's not an ugly Dell desktop sitting in the common area now.
One thing I will need to investigate is whether WDS bridging will affect throughput on our wireless network inside the house - WDS has a tendency to halve the available bandwidth on a network, and I'm not sure whether that will cause headaches. One thing I have thought about investigating, since this particular unit is apparently supported by dd-wrt et al, is if I can configure it to just use the radio as an 802.11n client instead of a WDS-enabled WAP, as I don't intend to use the wireless out there.
If over the next few days the wireless performance inside the house seems to have suffered I'll look into it.