Why Network Your Computers?
If you have more than one computer in your house, chances are good that you will want to network them. While it is not a requirement to network your computers, setting up your computers on a home LAN (Local Area Network) can greatly increase your efficiency and allow for activities that require more than one computer (such as multi-player gaming).
When computers are placed on a network they are able to talk directly with each other. You are able to easily transfer data between one machine and the other without the use of physical media such as CDs or flash drives. If you want both computers to be able to access the internet through a broadband connection you can do so easily with a local network. Having a network can greatly simplify things in your home when it comes to your computers.
Computer Networking Options
There are several different ways to network your computers. In today’s world wireless is all the rage but depending on your situation wireless may not be the best solution for you. Wireless networks can be more expensive than other options and will often not provide as strong connections as wired solutions.
If you wish to network two computers that are in close proximity, for example, then you most likely will not want to go the wireless route. It will be more expensive and probably not as effective as a wired connection.
If you are looking for the simplest hardware setup, there is nothing easier than using a crossover cable to connect your computers. Assuming that both computers have ethernet networking capabilities (most computers do these days. You can check by looking for a port on the back of your computer that has the symbol of one computer connected to two others), then all you need to do is connect a crossover cable between the ethernet ports on both computers and voila! Your computers are connected.
It is important if you are using this option to make sure that you actually purchase a crossover cable. A regular ethernet cable does not allow direct connections of machines. In a crossover cable the wires are crossed inside the cable: when you look at the heads at either end, the wires are in opposite order on each end. This allows the signal to transfer between one computer and the other. A normal ethernet cable does not do this because it is meant to be used with a router or other middleman that switches the signal for the cable.
Advantages: Cheap and easy. You only have to buy one cable and connect it between the two computers. Connection speeds are fast (up to 100 Mb/s)
Disadvantages: Only works if you only have two computers in close proximity (unless you want to buy a really long cable). Also one computer will have to act as the hub for the internet connection, if you want internet on both computers that computer will have to be powered up and online for the other to work.
Ethernet Networking With Router
If you have more than one computer you want to set up on your network, a crossover cable isn’t going to work. You are going to need a router to serve as a centralized position through which you connect the rest of the computers.
If your computers are still in close proximity, you will be able to purchase just a basic router without wireless capabilities. You will also require normal ethernet cables, rather than the special crossover cables we discussed before.
Setup is still fairly simple, however. Your router connects to your dsl or cable modem, then all of the computers on the network connect to the router. Typical routers will have connection ports for 4 computers, although some offer capabilities to connect more computers together.
Advantages: Able to connect up to four computers together, unlike crossover cable. Connection speeds are fast (up to 100 Mb/s)
Disadvantages: There are a lot of wires involved. Probably won’t work over long distances unless your entire house is wired with ethernet cables.
The World of Wireless Networking
If you want to network your computers but don’t want to have your computers in the same room or in a relative close proximity but still want a strong broadband connection between them, then wireless networking is the way to go. Fortunately wireless networking technology has increased in power over the years as well as decreased in price. These days you can purchase a good, solid wireless router for as low as $50.
Like with the normal ethernet router you will need to connect the wireless router to your cable or dsl modem. Most wireless routers also come with wired connection ports, so you can connect your computers directly to the router if you want. (Usually you will set up the router next to your base computer and connect it with an ethernet cable in order to ensure the best connection).
In order for the other computers in your home to hook up to your wireless network, they will need to have a wireless receiver. In a notebook or laptop computer this will generally come in the form of a Wi-Fi card built into the computer, although external receivers also exist for laptops and for desktops. These generally connect to your computer through an ethernet or USB connection. Most new laptops and many new desktops come with wireless receivers as a standard feature.
Once you have a router and a receiver you will be able to connect the computers over your new wireless connection.
Wireless connections can be tricky, however, and you might find it difficult to always keep up signal strength between computers. If you’re having trouble with the connection, you might want to purchase an access point. This basically operates as an intermediary node that picks up the wireless signal somewhere between the router and your computer then redirects the signal and boosts the strength so that your computer can get a better connection.
Advantages: Wireless networks allow you to set up your computer station anywhere. No annoying cables in your way. Good speeds (up to 54 Mb/s)
Disadvantages: Not as dependable as wired networks. Connections can be wonky. More expensive than other methods.
Other Networking Options
Although ethernet and wireless connections are the most commonly used and for the most part best options these days, there are other alternatives. These include things like phone card networking, USB networking and power outlet networking.
Setting Up Your Computers on a Network Once Hardware is Installed
Setting up the hardware for your network is only half the battle. Once that has been done you will need to configure your computers to recognize each other on the network now that the physical roadways are in place for data to be transferred.
If you are using Windows XP, this is a simple process. Simply open up your Control Panel, click on Networking, then click on the Set Up a New Network Connection button. The Windows wizard will guide you through the process of creating your new network. Basically the process goes like this:
You set up a name for the network connection. All computers on the network must share the same network name or they won’t see each other.
You give a name for each individual computer. This allows the network to distinguish between individual machines.
Select internet sharing options. If you are connecting through a router (wired or wireless) you will not need to enable internet connection through any of the computers, simply state that each computer connects directly to the internet through a router. If you are on a direct connection one computer must serve as the hub (the one connected to the internet). Allow internet connection sharing on that machine.
Run the wizard on each of your computers separately, making sure to use the same network name for each one. You might also need to check the sharing status of anything that you want shared on the network on each computer. Once you have completed this, you’re done! You’ve just networked your computers.