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Home Networking Buying Guide

Home networking has taken off in recent years both because of the growth of the broadband Internet market, and because many families are now buying their second computer. However many people are not comfortable or familiar with the decisions that need to be made before networking your home. These decisions will be outlined in this article.

Wired or Wireless?

The first major decision is to decide whether you want to use a wireless network, or a wired network. There are major differences between the two options, and the largest one is price. Wireless networks are probably around three times as expensive as wired ones. Most new computers come with adapters for wired networks, but not wireless ones, and the cost for a wired router (a traffic cop for your network) is roughly half as much as a wireless router.

Another issue is that wired networks need wiring, so if your computers are at opposite ends of your house you might not want to choose wired networking. Additionally if you're trying to hookup to a broadband connection, and neither of your computers are near your cable or DSL outlet, you will again run into wiring issues and wireless may be the choice for you.

A final bonus of wireless networking is that if you have a laptop you can basically carry it around your house and remain connected. You will be able to surf the net in bed or at the breakfast table.

My recommendation is that you stick with a wired network if everything you need to wire together is in the same room. Otherwise go wireless.

Hardware Decisions

After you have decided on a type of network, you need to buy the hardware. If you decided on a wired network you probably won't need to buy network cards, as they should already be in your computer. If your computer didn't come with a network card you will need to buy one. What you're looking for is an Ethernet card, and you should be able to find one for $10 or $15. You can also find USB Ethernet adapters, which are nice because you will not need to open your computer to install them. These typically run for $20 or $30 and can also work with laptops. You will then need a router. A router is like a traffic cop or a traffic light for your network. All of your computers plug into the router and so does your broadband connection. The router reads the incoming and outgoing Internet traffic and makes sure that the information is sent to the correct person. You can now find Ethernet routers for as little as $50 or $60.

If you're taking the wireless route your choices are a little more complicated. First of all you can have both a wireless and a wired network. For instance if all of your desktops are in one room, but you want to be able to roam with your laptop, you can buy a wireless router that also accepts wired connections and hardwire your desktops to it.

In any case you will need a wireless router. These typically go for $120 but you might be able to find them for as low as $99. There are also different kinds of wireless networks. One kind uses the 802.11a protocol, another uses the 802.11b protocol, and a new third one uses the 802.11g protocol. Most people recommend buying the 802.11b protocol because there is more support for it in the industry. Additionally 802.11g, which runs much faster than 802.11b, is backwards compatible with it. That means that you can use both 802.11b and 802.11g protocols with an 802.11g router, which means it will be less painful to upgrade in the future. The only downside with 802.11b is that it uses the 2.4ghz frequency, which could potentially be a problem if you have a lot of wireless phones. However, changing the channel on the phone usually resolves any such issues.

Like a wired network you will also need an adapter for each computer you wish to network, for a wireless network the adapters usually run around $50.

The bottom line is that you should go with 802.11g if you can afford it, if not go for 802.11b.

One final concern you need to be aware of is security. Most people do not secure their wireless networks and so your neighbors or people driving down the road could pick up on your network and if you share files or printers without authentication they could use those resources. You should look for a router that offers encryption and use it. This will in effect password protect your network and only the systems you allow will be able to access it. If you cannot do this the very least you should do is place your access point at the center of your house, so that the signal will not stretch very far beyond the exterior walls.

You should also have a firewall installed, but because both Windows XP and almost every router on the market comes with a built in firewall this really shouldn't be a concern.

Recommended Merchants

Amazon.com

We recommend Amazon.com for most consumer electronics. Amazon often runs sales on their Linksys home networking products and so you can usually find a great deal there.
Links: Home Networking at Amazon.com, Amazon.com Coupons




This article was written by Chris Beasley.