Question: How do I set up a home network? –B.A.
Answer: More and more people want a home network because they have two or more computers and/or they sometimes bring a notebook computer from work and want to take advantage of the printer and Internet connection at home.
Several years ago I would have said: go get a diploma from an IT school. Today anyone with a little determination can set up a network.
The great thing about them is that they allow the sharing of data between computers. This is very useful for moving files between machines. Backups also become easier because, instead of saving your work to a CD or floppy disk, you can simply copy your data to another computer on the network.
Better yet, a network also allows you to share high-speed a Internet connection and hardware devices such as printers, CD drives and even floppy drives.
Be aware, however, that the upsides that come with a network also have a downside. Because there are so many components that can go wrong, both on the software and hardware end, network setup and maintenance can seem like voodoo.
The good news is that there’s a new category of device called a router that makes creating a network relatively simple. Accomplished (and even ambitious intermediate) computer users can now set up their own home network with relative ease. A small network using a router can be put together in about a day and in some cases a few hours. It can also be done for under $600 US or $1000 Canadian. In fact, the connection of four computers to a router shouldn’t cost you more than $350 to $500 US / $500 to $700 Canadian.
So here’s what you need to know to set up your own small office network.
First, acquire a router. They cost about $140 to $250 US / $200 to $400 Canadian, and are made by companies such as DLink, Linksys, Actiontec, Belkin, and 3Com . (I’ve linked each company name to a site on the Net where you can buy that company’s router).
The router is actually a little Kraft Dinner sized box that connects to your high-speed Internet connection — either a cable modem or digital subscriber line (DSL) modem. Also of note, some companies offer Internet gateways — these gateways combine both a cable modem/DSL modem and a router into one device, eliminating the need for two separate devices.
In the back of the box are Ethernet ports that look like oversized phone jacks. For each computer you want to connect to the network, you will need a CAT-5 network cable (it costs about 50 cents to $1 a foot and is available at any computer supply store). This will be connected between each computer and the router. All computers on the network require a network card to connect to the cable. Most newer computers come with one of these built-in. (For a picture of a network card’s connector please see: Ethernet (or Network) Port.) If one of your computers doesn’t have one of these, you’ll need to install one. They cost about $35 US or $50 Canadian.
Next, you connect the router to the high-speed modem and the computers to the router with the CAT-5 cables.
Once this is set up, you need to sit at one of the connected computers and run the install disk that comes with the router. This will walk you through the setup of the network. It will configure each computer with the correct settings to communicate with the router. It will also configure the router to work with your high-speed modem.
This setup procedure takes a few minutes for each computer on the network. When you first configure the router to the high speed modem, you will need the setup sheet provided by your high-speed provider. The router will ask for some specific information from that sheet including DNS (domain name server) settings. Cable modems and DSL modems are set up slightly differently, but the setup information from the Internet provider should have the requisite settings that you need.
Some routers also offer wireless connectivity. This means that a computer or laptop computer can be connected to the network without cables.
The wireless setup is slightly more complex than the wired procedure, but the manual that comes with the routers mentioned above all have fairly clear instructions on how to do this.
In the case of a notebook computer, you will need a wireless PC Card (Wireless Home Network Equipment) which costs about $100 to $150 US or $150 to $200 Canadian. If you want a wireless connection for a desktop computer, then you need to buy a wireless PCI card (Wireless Home Network Equipment) that is installed into a desktop computer. Belkin also offers a network card that uses a USB connector (here is a picture of a USB Connector).
The wireless networking technology uses a few standards called 802.11a, 802.11b, 802.11g & in development 802.11n. These provide varying connection speeds to the network of at least 10 MBps, although real world connections can drop to about 6 or 7 Mbps.
The 802.11 standards provide wireless connections at a range of up to 300 feet. When there are walls and floor between your wireless computer and the wireless router, however, this diminishes to about 100 feet or less depending on how much wood, brick, and metal is between the computer and the router.
In urban areas, interference from other radio transmissions can interfere with this wireless connection. In suburban or rural areas this is generally not a problem.
Note, though, that interference can be generated by things you might not think of — wireless baby monitors, 2.4 GHz cordless phones, microwaves, and garage door openers, to name some.
Wireless networking can be a great boon to the home computer user because you can roam the house with a wireless laptop and work from anywhere that is in range of the wireless router – including your deck.
Note that a wireless connection does make your network less secure. It is advisable to turn on wireless encryption on the network, which will make sure the data moving through the airwaves is scrambled, so no one snooping within range of your network can see it or log-on to your network.
Enabling encryption it is a matter of changing a few settings on both the router and wireless computers that access the network. Most wireless router manuals outline the procedure in fairly straightforward steps.
This Wikipedia entry provides additional information on the different variations of 802.11.