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Networking – A Basic Introduction

Some people think that setting up a network in their home is a painstaking, agonizing, troublesome, technical task that they would rather not partake in. This simply is not the case anymore.

There are many reasons why a person would like to setup a basic network. These reasons range from sharing multimedia, playing games, sharing a single printer, or most commonly, sharing a high speed internet connection.

Most homes nowadays have more than one PC, and sharing your high speed internet connection gives you the most bang for your buck. Setting up a network will allow all computers in one house to share and use the internet at the same time.

Now, if you are going to tackle the task of setting up a basic network, you have to ask yourself one question first; do you want a wired or wireless network? Each have their benefits and choosing between the two may be harder than setting up the network itself, but their still might be some light at the end of the tunnel for all of you.

A wireless network allows you more freedom; after all, you are no longer bound by wires. Also, being wireless means that you don’t have to string wires through your floors or walls, allowing you to possible set up a network across the house a little easier. Although wireless networks can typically cost twice as much as wired networks, it is becoming more and more common among home users. Especially for those who enjoy surfing the internet on their laptop while basking in the sun by the pool.

Wired networks offer much more in the way of speed and security than their counterpart. With wired networks you can reach speeds of up to 1 gigabit while the current champ in wireless is G and rated at 54 megabits (108 if you spend tons of cheddar). Wired networks are more common among businesses and those of us who are speed freaks. If you need to transfer large files from computer to computer, a wired network would definitely be the way to go.

The wireless way
If you have decided that you definitely want to setup your network wirelessly, you can purchase a wireless router or ask your high speed internet provider to equip you with one. Making the choice can be as difficult as shopping for a car. Although most brands equip you with similar features, it might benefit you to buy a brand that has good customer support and is relatively inexpensive. Your local computer geeks can help you pick a brand. I am not going to give you my opinion on brands right now, as I am trying to remain unbiased, in this article anyway.

Some things to consider right off the bat are what kind of wireless network you are going to go with. There are two major standards at the current time, with some on the horizon. The two big boys are 802.11b and 802.11g. There are some differences between the two that might wreak havoc on your brain trying to decide between them.

First, 802.11b is the most common standard right now simply because it’s the cheapest. It can transfer at speeds up to 11Mbps (megabits per second), works on the 2.4GHz band, and gives you approximately 100-150 feet of range (theoretical).

802.11g isn’t much different. 802.11g offers all the same features but weighs in at a heavier 54Mbps.

The features isn’t what is going to drive you crazy, it’s your sales person. Most sales people will tell you to buy the G standard “just because”, but I think more has to be considered; price and usage. The fastest of broadband connections are rated at up to 4Mbps (that’s the highest I have seen), and if you are not sharing huge files (100MB or larger) across your network, the B standard will be more than enough for you. It will also save you some cheddar as the B equipment is typically 20-25% cheaper than their G counterparts.

G will give you an advantage if you are sharing a lot of files across your wireless network (not typical in a small home network), playing NETWORK games (not online, but with other computers inside your network), or streaming multimedia to another PC (Home Theatre PC). G can be easily equated to buying a car that can do 125 MPH in 5 seconds, when the only road you will ever drive on is 15 feet and has a speed limit of 25 MPH.

The key to a wireless network is SECURITY and planning. Too many times consumers are misinformed, or don’t take the time to read about the requirements to secure your new wireless network. If you don’t take the proper steps to secure your wireless network you are inviting every one around with wireless capabilities to surf your wireless network, snatching up bandwidth, files, information, and anything else you might leave around.

Securing your network is pretty simple. I must preface all this with saying that all brands are different and any tips you see here, are just that, tips. To accomplish these, please consult your documentation.

There are a few key things to do right off the bat. The first is to change your SSID. SSID is an acronym for “service set identifier”. The SSID differentiates one wireless network from another. Most brands come with some kind of default SSID and changing this is as important as changing your underwear. Most of us know these default names and will use them to access your network. With that being said; you should also no longer broadcast your SSID. This is like wearing your underwear outside of your pants for all to see. Broadcasting sends your network name out so wireless capable computers can “pick up the scent.”

Changing your settings password might be a good idea too. If you have a wireless network and you have not changed the default setup password; a simple few default password guesses can allow someone to take control of your wireless network. Passwords should never be something set from the manufacturer like: linksys, dell, god, admin, or something like that.

If you want to take security a step further, consult your product’s documentation about MAC address filtering. MAC is an acronym for “media access control”. To go in more depth would be stepping outside the realm of simple networking; so the rest is up to you here. (Either that, or I could promise to write another article “Simple Networking II”, but that would end up being like “A Beginner’s Guide to RAID (Part 2)” – see our articles section to understand.)

The Wired Way
Wired networks are by far the fastest networks a home user can setup, but not necessarily the easiest. This is evident when there are two computers that you want to network on different side of the house. This is where wireless is by far easier then running network cable throughout your home. Wired networks are more secure and best for use in a small office or a situation where the PC’s you want to network are in the same room.

This type of network offers more in the way of security because they are open to only the PC’s that are connected to it. There is no broadcasting, or access outside of being wired. Data speeds are in the range of 10Mbps up to 1000Mbps, but most commonly 100Mbps.

Wired networks are perfect for situations where files will be transferred regularly, security is of the utmost importance, streaming multimedia, and my favorite; gaming.

A significant amount of money can be saved when using a wired network because equipment is much cheaper, and most PC’s already have a NIC (network interface card) installed.

The rest
So there you have it, the two most common ways people set up a home network. Whatever your flavor, remember that a small amount of planning should be used to accommodate your needs. Don’t get hung up on “what’s coming out soon” cause your needs are most likely immediate, and playing that game always ends up in more waiting. Enjoy your network, and if you have any questions, we will be glad to help you in our FORUMS (http://forums.computingondemand.com).

About Joe DiFiglia

I have always had a passion for everything computing. In early 2000, I decided to take my passion to the web. Thus, C.O.D. was born. Through the years we have made many great friends at C.O.D. and hope to continue our journey for years to come.

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