|By Mark Toft
Imagine sharing the same Internet connection,
hardware and software applications with your family members or
co-workers. You'd save money and cut down on time spent waiting to use
the one printer or Internet connection, but wouldn't it be too high-tech
to grasp? Not in the least.
Networking your home, home office, or small business is easy and
affordable. All you need to do is choose a networking option (wireless,
phone line, or Ethernet) and gather the necessary equipment.
This convenient networking method is rising in popularity for homes and
SOHOs (small and home offices). That's because wireless networking is
fast (11 or 55 Mbps — the first speed comes with 802.11b wireless
networking equipment, and the second, faster rate comes with 54g
wireless networking equipment). Wireless networks also require few
pieces of equipment and hassle-free mobility. Another bonus: you don't
have to poke holes in the walls or run cable along the floor.
What you need to network wirelessly
- Desktop computers: To network two computers,
you'll need either a wireless PCI card or a
wireless USB adapter (which plugs into any available USB port
via a USB cable, but only works if you're running
Windows® 98 or above) for each computer. If you're networking three or
more computers, you'll also need a wireless access point.
If you want to use an always-on Internet connection (such as DSL or
cable) then you may prefer to use a wireless cable/DSL router
instead of an access point.
- Laptop computers: For two laptops, either a
wireless PC card or, for laptops equipped with
Windows® 98 or above, a wireless USB adapter (which
connects via a USB cable). To network three or more
laptops wirelessly, then you'll also need a wireless access
point or a wireless cable/DSL router.
Phone line networking
Phone line networking is inexpensive and doesn't require much in the way
of new equipment. What's more, it's easy to install and uses your
existing phone lines to share information across PCs. Like wireless,
phone line networking is popular for homes/home offices and for small
offices. At 10 Mbps, it is a little slower than wireless. As long as
you're not dialing out to the Internet, you can still use the phone. To
network via phone line and connect to the Internet simultaneously, you
need a router and DSL/cable Internet access.
What you need to network by phone lines
- Desktop computers: Each computer being networked
must be connected to a phone jack. All you need to add from there is a
Phoneline PCI card or a Phoneline USB network
adapter. This simple arrangement will allow you to network as
many as 25 computers without a router. If you want to dial into the
Internet using one IP address or to network more than 25 computers,
you'll need to add a phone line router. Your cable/DSL modem will plug
directly into the router, which will then plug into the nearest phone
- Laptop computers: Each laptop needs to be
connected to a phone jack through a Phoneline PC card
or a Phoneline USB network adapter. You'll need a
router under the same conditions described above for desktop
This is the most popular networking choice, in part because it's
inexpensive while also being the fastest form (at up to 100 Mbps) of
networking. The only downside to Ethernet networks are that they require
cable, which means you'll either have to run cable along the walls
between rooms or spend the money required to run them through the walls.
Running cable through walls usually costs anywhere from $100 to $200 per
What you need to network by Ethernet
The Ethernet requirements for laptops
are the same as for desktop computers, except that you would use a
PC card instead of a PCI card.
- Desktop computers: You need a PCI card
or, for computers running Windows® 98 or above, a USB adapter
(with USB cable) for each computer. You also need a peer-to-peer cable
— either an RJ 45 or Category 5 cable — running
between each computer. To network three or more computers, you also
need a switch or router, into which
all of the computers need to be connected via cable. Since a router
can behave as a firewall to protect your network, you might choose a
router instead of a switch if you plan to connect your network to a
DSL or cable Internet connection.