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Introduction To Home Networking
BY STEPHEN DYE
Today many homes have more than one computer. One common goal owners of several computers have is getting them all connected to the internet together. This guide is a brief introduction to you on how small home networks operate and how to install, configure, and secure a home network.
While it is technically possible to share a dial-up internet connection among several computers, it would be a very slow connection by today's standards. The scope of this article will only include broadband internet connections (for example, cable or DSL). By having a broadband connection you will ensure that all computers on the network have a high speed connection. Plus, you will eliminate the need for a dial-up account and a phone line for use while connected to the internet.
Cable vs. DSL
Which one is right for you? If you are just looking to share an internet connection with two or three computers, DSL would be a good choice. However, if you want to connect multiple devices, such as a video game system or multiple computers and media center PCs, I would suggest a cable internet connection. If you are in a crowded living environment such as an apartment complex, it may be wise to stay away from cable though, as everyone will be sharing the same main connection (which will result in a lower potential max speed). Keep in mind that most ISPs (Internet Service Providers) will require you to pay an upfront installation fee OR sign a service contract (a two year contract is usual). If you are uncomfortable signing a contract for that long or think you may move within the next few years, you might want to consider paying the fees upfront. Also, the ISP may want to rent a modem to you. This is actually a good choice for you as a consumer: if the modem ever breaks, they will replace it.
When you sign up for broadband internet service, you will be provided with a "modem," usually a small box. If you sign up for DSL service, your telephone line will connect to this; if you get cable service, naturally your cable line will be connected to the modem. Typically, the modem will connect to a computer with a USB cable or an ethernet cable. Hooking a single computer up to a broadband modem is generally not a good idea as this puts your machine in direct connection to the outside world. This is where the router comes in...
A router is a network device that provides a means for sharing an internet connection. Basically, the easiest way to describe the use of a router is by comparing it to a cable television line splitter. To get cable to multiple televisions in your home, you would connect the main line to the splitter, and then run a cable to each television. A router works in much the same way. Your modem connects to the router, and then each computer is connected to the router (either with a network cable or through a wireless adapter).
Most people choose to have their modems located by the main computer in the home. Many routers come with a short lenth of network cable which can be used to connect this computer to the router. Therefore, connecting your first computer is very easy. Other desktop computers in the house can be connected by running a network cable to them. Most routers come with a built in 4 port switch that will allow you to connect 4 computer or video game systems to it. Of course, you will have to buy the cables you need. A great place to get cable for cheap is at www.newegg.com. Most modern laptops come with wireless adapters built in. Desktop computers usually never include a wireless adapter. So, if you choose to go wireless with everything, you may need to buy adapters for each computer. These adapters can get expensive, so use them only if you have to. For a laptop, if you need to get a wireless adapter it is best to choose a PCMCIA, or PC-Card for short. These are easy to travel with. Desktop computers can have a USB adapter that just plugs in to any available USB port, or a PCI-adapter. PCI-adapters need to be installed. This is an easy task, but not everyone will be comfortable in performing the installation.
A good piece of advice is to draw out a map of your home, with symbols that represent where each computer or video game system will be. Then you can decide how to connect everything. If you need to get cables, be sure to accurately measure. It is a good idea to allow for 10 feet of slack in addition to what you measure for, in case you decide to move the computer later on.
Setting up home networking equipment is much easier than it seems. Before you begin, make sure you have all the equipment you need. Keep the network map you made handy as a reference guide. Start by turning off all of your computers. If you already have your broadband modem installed, turn it off also (you may need to just unplug it). Coming from the wall you should have your telephone or cable line connected to your modem. Use the network cable that came with your modem and plug it into the router in the port that says internet. Then connect your computers to the router by using network cables. If you are using USB wireless adapters, it is best to set up the modem and router first before setting up the adapters on the computer. That way, when you are installing the wireless USB adapters, they will automatically find and connect to your home network.
Please note that many routers today come with a "setup cd." It is not necessary to run this disc when following the steps I am presenting here. Keep in mind that this is not the same with any wireless USB adapters you may be using -- you will need to run the setup disc for those.
Once you have everything connected, turn the modem on first. Once the modem has powered up, turn on the router. Once the router has powered up, go ahead and turn on one computer. When using Windows XP, you should automatically receive network settings without having to configure anything. If everything went well you should be able to open up your web browser and connect to a website.
If you previously had your modem connected to an individual computer and are now setting up a home network, you may need to call your ISP (Internet Service Provider) and have them "reset" your modem on their side. I won't go into the details of this here, but lets just say that if you are sure you set everything up properly and you have double checked that everything is plugged in, and you still don't have an internet connection, call your ISP and see if they can help. Usually its just a simple adjustment on their side and you are good to go.
Congratulations! If you've done everything properly you now have a fully functional home network. Besides the obvious use of sharing an internet connection, a home network can be used for many cool things. You can play network games, share music and video, and share devices like printers.
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