How to Network Your Computersby Contributor
It's not surprising that home networking is hot: Nearly 70 percent of U.S. households with broadband connections have more than one computer. If you want all your computers to share one Internet connection, this information will help you make the right choices.
Learn the jargon
A router relays data between your broadband Internet connection and your individual computers.
A network adapter connects to each computer. It sends data from the computer to the router.
An Internet protocol (IP) address is your computer's unique identification on the Internet. When you have a home network, all your computers share one IP address.
A print server is a special network adapter that's used to connect a printer to a network. With a print server, several computers can share one printer.
Choose a network type
Network your computers wirelessly over radio waves using a special type of router called an access point. One access point can serve most average-sized homes. The trade name for this technology is Wi-Fi or 802.11b, or its faster cousin, 802.11g. Wi-Fi products should be compatible with each other regardless of brand. Wireless networks work for people who move from room to room with their laptops, or want to use them in cafe's, airports and other places with wireless service.
Use your home's electrical wiring to connect the router to each computer with a powerline network. The trade name for this technology is HomePlug. HomePlug networks are more secure than Wi-Fi networks and don't require special wiring. However, it's the newest technology and tends to be the most expensive.
Hook up with the most secure home network, a wired network, sometimes called Ethernet, 10-Base-T or 100-Base-T. If your broadband connection, router and all computers are in one room, it's the best choice. But because of its special wiring, it's also the least flexible if your needs change.
Buy the equipment
Get one router. If you're going wireless, this router is called an access point or base station.
Get a network adapter for each computer. The simplest ones plug into the computer's universal serial bus (USB) port. If you're using a wired network, your computer probably already has an Ethernet network interface card (NIC) in it.
Purchase extra-long Ethernet cables (also called Category 5 or Cat5 cables) if you're using a wired network.
Buy a print server if you want to put a printer on your network. Make sure the connectors on your print server and printer match.
Set it up
Start reading and experimenting. Many products have surprisingly good manuals and online support, and many Web sites are packed with good advice, such as HomeNetHelp.com, PracticallyNetworked.com and compnetworking.about.com. Many manufacturers offer online advice. Good technical support can make a huge difference in your installation, especially if you're not particularly patient or computer savvy.
If you're putting in a wired network, run cables to your stereo or home theater. Many new home entertainment components including digital video recorders and game systems are Internet-enabled.
- check Hybrid networks are very popular. For example, you can have wired Ethernet going to a desktop computer and printer in your home office, and a wireless access point for a roaming laptop and a desktop in a bedroom.
- check Microwave ovens and some cordless phones can interfere with wireless networks. If you have problems, move the access point and experiment with different channels.
- check Competing network technologies brag about their speed differences, but if you're sharing a broadband Internet connection, the claims are probably irrelevant. Most broadband connections to homes run considerably slower than any home network's rated speed.
- close When you first fire up a router, change its password. Every hacker and mischiefmaker on the Internet knows default passwords. Wireless network owners should also enable wireless encryption protocol (WEP) to keep information private.