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* Downtime – a well design and documented infrastructure leads to less computer and network problems.
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How Home Networking Works
Once, home networks were primarily the realm of technophiles -- most families either didn't need or couldn't afford more than one computer. But now, in addition to using computers for e-mail, people use them for schoolwork, shopping, instant messaging, downloading music and videos, and playing games. For many families, one computer is no longer enough to go around. In a household with multiple computers, a home network often becomes a necessity rather than a technical toy.
A home network is simply a method of allowing computers to communicate with one another. If you have two or more computers in your home, a network can let them share:
* Files and documents
* An Internet connection
* Printers, print servers and scanners
* Stereos, TVs and game systems
* CD burners
The different network types use different hardware, but they all have the same essential components:
The different network types use different hardware, but they all have the same essential components:
* More than one computer
* Hardware (such as a router) and software (either built in to the operating system or as a separate application) to coordinate the exchange of information
* A path for the information to follow from one computer to another
* How Wifi Works
* Home Network Quiz
* TreeHugger.com: Energy Saving Router
If you're thinking of networking the computers in your home, you have several options to explore. In this article, you'll learn about the different types of home computer networks, how they work and what to keep in mind if you're considering creating one.We'll look at the hardware that creates and protects home networks in the next section.
Extend your home network
Wall sockets beat Wi-Fi
If your wireless network has trouble reaching far-flung parts of your house, you might be considering one of the new routers that use the latest wireless protocol, known as 802.11n. They're sometimes labeled "draft N compliant." Their manufacturers claim that they will communicate 12 to 15 times faster than older models (a speed few consumers need) and cover an area 4 to 10 times larger than 802.11g-based routers.
When we tested several of those new routers under real conditions, they did not live up to those claims. They beamed data two to three times faster, far less than promised, but fast enough to speed up transfer of large files and even high-definition media between computers. And they offered only a few more feet of coverage, so areas of the house might still be cut off.
Despite those limitations, 802.11n networks are better than the older standard for tasks that would benefit from more speed, such as beaming movies to a set-top box. If you're shopping for a new router, consider one that conforms to 802.11n. A router plus a wireless card (required for most computers you want to connect) costs $225 to $250, compared with $80 to $110 for products based on the old standard. The best pair we tested was the Netgear WNR834B RangeMax Next Wireless N Router and WN511b PC Card, $225 for both.
802.11n uses a technology called channel bonding to speed up data transmission. In our tests, a device using channel bonding was five times faster than an 802.11g device. But channel bonding should be turned off in most cases because it can cause more interference with cordless phones, baby monitors, Bluetooth devices, and microwave ovens than setups without channel bonding. Conversely, those appliances can interfere more frequently with your wireless network when channel bonding is turned on. Complicating matters more, the devices can keep your neighbors' 802.11 devices from working at all. Channel bonding will be handled differently in the next version of 802.11n, but for the time being we recommend not using it unless you live in a rural area and can control other devices that might cause interference.
Fortunately, you don't need to resort to channel bonding to create a quicker, less expensive network. Power-line adapters that use your home's electrical lines to transfer data can extend your network to any room with a power outlet, though they don't permit you as much mobility as a wireless network does because your computers must be plugged in.
You need an adapter for the router and each computer; a pair costs $160 to $200. Of the four models we tested, D-Link, Linksys, and Netgear adapters were about as fast as 802.11n products.
Whether you choose a power-line adapter or an 802.11n device, we recommend that you take extra security measures. We found the default settings on the wireless networks we tested left security features disabled, potentially allowing people outside of your house to take a free ride on your Internet connection or even gain unauthorized access to your computer. Power-line adapters encrypt data that is being transferred, and encryption on those devices is turned on by default. But you will need to set a new password for your device.
Give you the ability to share any file you want with other computers on your network. Files such as mp3’s, photographs, spreadsheets, business documents and more. Beyond that, you’ll also …
* Have the ability to share your printer, fax and scanner with all of your computers
* Connect your desktop PC to your laptop with an "ad hoc" wireless connection
* Save money by sharing one Internet connection, whether it's broadband or dialup, with or without a router
* Have a blast with multiple player games – you can have players on each computer playing the same game together!
* How to network a Windows Vista PC with an XP machine … and do it without frustration!
* How to make your wireless network secure
* Connecting “wired” machines to machines that are wireless
* You will maximize your work potential … slash work time … end frustration … and accomplish more - faster, easier and better than you do now!
* Plus … there’s MORE!
Do this 10 second excercise, and you'll find out how easy it is to follow my guide.
It's time for you to find out what it means to follow along step by step, and the reason why my guide is a perfect fit for you if you're a do-it-yourselfer.
We'll run through a quick excercise that you can do right now. Note that this isn't a meaningless task - there's a what, why and how:
What is an IP address?
It's a unique number that each device on a network has, be it a PC, router, or a network printer. Of course, it has to follow certain rules and numerical format.
Why is it important?
The IP address is the core value of any computer on a home network, small office network, or even a corporate network. If the IP address is wrong, your PC isn't getting anywhere.
How can I use it?
Knowing the IP address, you can determine if your computers are on the same network (this is called a "subnet"), properly configure firewalls to allow file/printer sharing, and perhaps most importantly, run a "direct access" command to attempt to access another computer's shared folders and printers.
Ready? Find out your IP address. I'll use Vista as an example (XP is also covered in the guide).
On Vista, click on the Vista logo, and then type cmd in the white search box, shown here. Then press Enter - you are running the cmd command.
A common mistake is to click on "see all results" or "search the Internet". You are NOT SEARCHING HERE. You are entering a command, so PRESS ENTER!
In the resulting black command window, type ipconfig and press enter. That's right - you can type right where the prompt is, in my case, it's c:\Users\ed.
Vista with throw a lot of garbage output at you - what you're after is the "IPv4" address, and you'll need to scroll to the top to get it - use the side bar on the right side of the window. Here, my IP address is 192.168.2.103, and it's my wireless card. I also have a "Local Area Connection", which is my wired network card, but it's not being used.
Ignore all references to "IPv6" and "Tunnel" adapters. It's only IPv4 you want.
Don't despair if you got the "path not found" error. This happens all the time. You just need to configure your firewall to allow file/printer sharing. With most of them, this means configuring IP addresses in the firewall as "safe" or "allowed". In my guide, I have examples for Norton 360 and Norton Internet Protection, ZoneAlarm, and AVG. Once you know the concept, you can configure most any firewall.
Congratulations are in order. What you've just done has brought your networking knowledge miles (kilometers for my European and Australian friends!) ahead of where you were before you came to my site. You've just used a powerful networking command that cuts through the "network browsing" overhead and gets you straight to an error message that you can troubleshoot from.
UNC Path. IP addresses. See how easy it is when you have screenshots - and me?
Besides real world settings, you’ll also find that
New Home Network Technology
New developments in home networks affect more than just home offices and entertainment systems. Some of the most exciting advances are in healthcare and housing.
In healthcare, Wireless Sensor Networks (WSNs) let doctors monitor patients wirelessly. Patients wear wireless sensors that transmit data through specialized channels. These signals contain information about vital signs, body functions, patient behavior and their environments. In the case of an unusual data transmission -- like a sudden spike in blood pressure or a report that an active patient has become suddenly still -- an emergency channel picks up the signal and sends medical services to the patient's home.
The housing industry is another important field for home network technology development. Bill Gates owns one of the few smart houses in existence, but someday, we might all live in one. A smart house is a fully networked structure with functions that can be controlled from a central computer, making it an ideal technology for homeowners who travel frequently or for homeowners who simply want it all.
Builders are beginning to offer home network options for their customers that range from the primitive -- installing Ethernet cables in the walls -- to the cutting-edge -- managing the ambient temperature from a laptop hundreds of miles from home. In one trial experiment called Laundry Time, Microsoft, Hewlett Packard, Panasonic, Proctor & Gamble and Whirlpool demonstrated the power of interfacing home appliances. The experiment networked a washing machine and clothes dryer with a TV, PC and cell phone. This unheard-of combination of networked devices let homeowners know when their laundry loads were finished washing or drying by sending alerts to their TV screens, instant messaging systems or cell phones. Research and development also continues for systems that perform a wide variety of functions -- data and voice recognition might change the way we enter, exit and secure our homes, while service appliances could prepare our food, control indoor temperatures and keep our homes clean.
This technology is promising, but it's not quite ready for the consumer market yet. The average consumer can't afford a WSN or a smart house, and if he could, there's a good chance he or she wouldn't be able to operate these sophisticated systems. Another issue is security -- until developers find a way to secure these networks, consumers risk sharing medical information and leaving their homes open to attack.
For lots more information about home networks, installation and technology, see the links on the next page.
The easiest, least expensive way to connect the computers in your home is to use a wireless network, which uses radio waves instead of wires. The absence of physical wires makes this kind of network very flexible. For example, you can move a laptop from room to room without fiddling with network cables and without losing your connection. The downside is that wireless connections are generally slower than Ethernet connections and they are less secure unless you take measures to protect your network.
Most home wireless networks use 802.11g wireless networking, which transmits data at 2.4 GHz with a speed of 54 megabits. A newer wireless standard is 802.11n, which is designed to be faster and offer a longer range than 802.11g. However, the 802.11n standard isn't yet final, and early 802.11n hardware has failed to meet expectations in tests. The ratification date by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) is expected to be in March 2009.
If you want to build a wireless network, you'll need a wireless router. Signals from a wireless router extend about 100 feet (30.5 meters) in all directions, but walls can interrupt the signal. Depending on the size and shape of your home and the range of the router, you may need to purchase a range extender or repeater to get enough coverage.
You'll also need a wireless adapter in each computer you plan to connect to the network. You can add printers and other devices to the network as well. Some new models have built-in wireless communication capabilities, and you can use a wireless Ethernet bridge to add wireless capabilities to devices that don't. Any devices that use the Bluetooth standard can also connect easily to each other within a range of about 10 meters (32 feet), and most computers, printers, cell phones, home entertainment systems and other gadgets come installed with the technology.
If you decide to build a wireless network, you'll need to take steps to protect it -- you don't want your neighbors hitchhiking on your wireless signal. Wireless security options include:
* Wired Equivalency Privacy (WEP)
* WiFi Protected Access (WPA)
* Media Access Control (MAC) address filtering
You can choose which method (or combination of methods) you want to use when you set up your wireless router. The IEEE has approved each of these security standards, but studies have proven that WEP can be broken into very easily. If you use WEP, you may consider adding Temporal Key Integrity Protocol (TKIP) to your operating system. TKIP is a wrapper with backward compatibility, which means you can add it to your existing security option without interfering with its activity. Think of it like wrapping a bandage around a cut finger -- the bandage protects the finger without preventing it from carrying out its normal functions.
In the next section, we'll learn about some innovative home network technologies on the rise.
Ethernet and wireless networks each have advantages and disadvantages; depending on your needs, one may serve you better than the other. Wired networks provide users with plenty of security and the ability to move lots of data very quickly. Wired networks are typically faster than wireless networks, and they can be very affordable. However, the cost of Ethernet cable can add up -- the more computers on your network and the farther apart they are, the more expensive your network will be. In addition, unless you're building a new house and installing Ethernet cable in the walls, you'll be able to see the cables running from place to place around your home, and wires can greatly limit your mobility. A laptop owner, for example, won't be able to move around easily if his computer is tethered to the wall.
How much you know about home networks and what they do? Test your knowledge with our Home Networking Quiz!
There are three basic systems people use to set up wired networks. An Ethernet system uses either a twisted copper-pair or coaxial-based transport system. The most commonly used cable for Ethernet is a category 5 unshielded twisted pair (UTP) cable -- it's useful for businesses who want to connect several devices together, such as computers and printers, but it's bulky and expensive, making it less practical for home use. A phone line, on the other hand, simply uses existing phone wiring found in most homes, and can provide fast services such as DSL. Finally, broadband systems provide cable Internet and use the same type of coaxial cable that gives us cable television.
If you plan to connect only two computers, all you'll need is a network interface card (NIC) in each computer and a cable to run between them. If you want to connect several computers or other devices, you'll need an additional piece of equipment: an Ethernet router. You'll also need a cable to connect each computer or device to the router.
Once you have all of your equipment, all you need to do is install it and configure your computers so they can talk to one another. Exactly what you need to do depends on the type of network and your existing hardware. For example, if your computers came with network cards already installed, all you'll need to do is buy a router and cables and configure your computers to use them. Regardless of which type you select, the routers, adapters and other hardware you buy should come with complete setup instructions.
The steps you'll need to take to configure your computers will also vary based on your hardware and your operating system. User manuals usually provide the necessary information, and Web sites dedicated to specific operating systems often have helpful tips on getting several different computers to talk to each other.
Nervous about Networking?
Most people who have a basic familiarity with computers can set up a network without much help. But the idea of installing cards and making connections makes some people nervous. Many Internet service providers (ISPs) offer home networking packages. For a monthly fee (and sometimes an initial setup cost), the ISP will provide you with the hardware and support you need to build and maintain your network.
Next, we'll examine the advantages and disadvantages of wireless networks.
Building a Home Network
The two most popular home network types are wireless and Ethernet networks. In both of these types, the router does most of the work by directing the traffic between the connected devices. By connecting a router to your dial-up, DSL or cable modem, you can also allow multiple computers to share one connection to the Internet.
If you're going to connect your network to the Internet, you'll need a firewall. A firewall is simply a hardware device or software program that protects your network from malicious users and offensive Web sites, keeping hackers from accessing or destroying your data. Although they're essential for businesses looking to protect large amounts of information, they're just as necessary for someone setting up a home network, since a firewall will secure transactions that might include Social Security numbers, addresses, phone numbers and credit card numbers. Most routers combine wireless and Ethernet technology and also include a hardware firewall.
Many software firewalls installed onto your computer block all incoming information by default and prompt you for permission to allow the information to pass. In this way, a software firewall can learn which types of information you want to allow into your network. Symantec, McAfee and ZoneAlarm are popular companies that produce software-based firewalls. These companies usually offer some free firewall protection as well as advanced security that you can buy.
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