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1. How to set up a home network

By Mark Alberstat

WITH PCs becoming more affordable all the time, many families are now able to have more than one. With this in mind, in-home networks are becoming more popular and their benefits more evident. With a network, your computers will be able to share resources, such as a printer or an Internet connection, and the old sneaker-net used to transfer files and programs between your PCs will be a thing of the past.

There are several kinds of network models available. Generally the two most prevalent are client-server and peer-to-peer. Large companies and computer installations use the client-server model while most home networks can use the simpler and easier to establish peer-to-peer system.

The first step in creating your network is deciding whether you will follow the older, more tried and true method of a wire cable running from PC to PC or fly through the airwaves like a radio station and use the newer technology of home wireless networking.

If you go with wires, you will need Ethernet cable. It looks like heavy-duty telephone wire with similar connectors on each end. When figuring out how much to buy, remember that you might have to snake the cable around desks or cabinets, so buy plenty. Nothing beats the agony of running cable behind wall units, under carpets and around tables only to find you're a few centimetres too short.

In addition to cabling, each computer will also need a Network Interface Card (NIC). A wide variety of companies make NICs and a general rule of thumb is that you get what you pay for. Better NICs cost more but they are more configurable, have more updated drivers, and in the end will cause less frustration to establish on the network.

If you are connecting more than two computers on your network, you will need a hub. This is a device into which your network cables feed. They are relatively cheap and come in two speeds - 10Mb and 10/100. The 10Mb is adequate for most home networks but is becoming harder to find as the 10/100 works at both faster and slower speeds. A bit of advanced planning is required at this stage as hubs come with a set number of ports. If you think you may expand your network, getting an eight or ten port hub could save you money down the road.

With the cabling, NICs and, if needed, a hub, you are ready to set up your own Ethernet network. All good quality NICs will come with installation instructions, which will discuss the settings you need in Windows for the computers to see and speak to each other.

Wireless setups have similar equipment. You will need a wireless adaptor, the wireless world's equivalent to a NIC, in each machine and an Access Point (AP) which is a wireless hub. APs allow multiple computers to share one broadband connection. If your network needs to cover a larger area than one AP will allow, you can buy more and place them in an overlapping pattern that will minimize dead spots where reception is poor.

Drivers and general installation instructions will be included in your AP or adapter package.

Because a wireless network can broadcast well beyond the limits of your house or apartment, a security level must be implemented or anyone nearby could access your network.

The first line of this defence is the SSID (Service Set Identifier). If you are security-conscious change the default SSID as soon as your network is operational. This can be up to 32 characters in length and is like a password on your wireless network.

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Originally published 26 January 2003


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