How to Wire Your Home

How to Wire Your Home

Winn L. Rosch

Why pay for more than one home Internet connection when broadband services are fast enough to be shared among several computers? Set up a home network with two or more PCs, and you can split your connection while paying just one monthly charge. You have many choices for home networking. If you choose wisely, you’ll find easy setup and trouble-free operation.

.01 Pick Your Technology

In basic terms, you can go wireless, semi-wireless, or wired. If you want to roam around the house with a laptop and share files and printers among PCs with no strings attached (sounds nice, doesn’t it?), then choose between an 11Mbps wireless network (called 802.11b or WiFi) and a blazingly fast 54Mbps wireless network (called 802.11a or WiFi5). Semiwireless networking uses existing phone wires (HomePNA) or power wires (HomePlug) to eliminate the wiring hassle, but it locks you in to only a few manufacturers. A conventional wired network (100Base-T) is fastest and most secure, but it’s not a do-it-yourself installation. In all cases, you can buy components by the piece or pick up a starter kit that covers several systems. Our suggestion: Go wireless and surf from the couch.

.02 Plan Your Network

The centerpiece of a home network is the computer you designate as the hub (or server). This is where the Internet links to the system and is sent around the house. Wireless networks accomplish this with an “access point” that includes a small antenna, which for best coverage should go in a central location. All the PCs in a phone-line network need to be near phone lines, and power-line networks plug into your power jacks. A wired network requires you to run special cable around your house—again, it’s better suited to the advanced user or a professional installation.

.03 Install the Hardware

Every PC you attach to your network will need a Network Interface Card (NIC) installed in it. With a notebook, simply plug in a PC card. While some new desktops come with built-in network adapters, usually you’ll have to pop open the case and slide in an expansion board. If that sounds intimidating, external network cards can make the job easier. One end plugs into a USB port, the other into your network. USB adapters are now available for all network technologies. (Keep in mind that they have a speed limit of 12Mbps, which may be slower than your network’s top speed but works just fine for most Web browsing and file transfers.) Many new notebook PCs have WiFi wireless networking built right in, so ask before you buy. One last concern: To share a broadband connection you’ll need two NICs in the server PC (one to connect to the network, the other to connect to the Internet).

.04 Install the Software

Turn on the PCs; install the drivers for the network hardware and software into each of them. Most of the time, Windows will guide you through the process, demanding driver disks when it boots up and discovers the new NIC. It’s easy. In fact, the biggest challenge should be choosing the names that you’re required to give each PC on the network. Have fun and be creative, or use the names of colors, countries, or anything else. For the required work group name, however, stick with Microsoft’s default choice, MSHOME.

.05 Get the Net

Of course, before sharing an Internet connection, you must have a…connection. Make sure your Net connection goes into the PC you designated as the server, and that the server can connect, access e-mail, and browse the Web. If you connect to the Net via modem, tell Windows this and enable the autodialer so other computers in your network can dial out.

.06 Share the Net

Install the extra software you’ll need for sharing your Net connection. If you’re running Windows 98 Second Edition or Windows ME, install Internet Connection Sharing, which is included on your Windows CD. If you have Windows ME or XP, just use the Home Networking Wizard or Network Setup Wizard. If you’re installing ICS, first do it on the designated server PC, and then on the other systems. In the Properties dialogue box for your Net connection, enable sharing only on your server PC. On the other PCs, use the Internet Options/Connections menu.

.07 Share the Works

Don’t stop with your Internet connection—share printers and files, too. Enable this by clicking the File and Printer Sharing box in Network Properties. You’ll have to individually enable sharing for each disk drive being shared (right-click on the drive icon in My Computer, then choose the Sharing option). Then you’ll need to install your shared printer on each individual PC. The Add Printer wizard has Networking as the first option.

We Suggest…

Netgear WB302 Multimedia Wireless Starter Kit

Try this budget solution if you’re unsure of your needs. It’s one of the least expensive ways to put two computers on a wireless network using one Internet account. $79.99 [netgear.com]

Agere Systems Orinoco Broadband Gateway RG-1100

As with most WiFi starter kits, this one provides just one card for a notebook PC, so consider getting a second wireless card, which you can add to either a desktop or a second notebook system. $250 (plus $73 to $83 for the other adapter) [agere.com]

D-Link DHN-910 10MB Home Phoneline Network

Get everything you need to build a two-PC network using your existing telephone wires and your PCs’ PCI ports. Just make sure the PCs are located near phone lines. $70 [dlink.com]

Intel Pro/Wireless 5000 LAN Starter Kit

It’s just about the highest-end home networking solution around, using the WiFi5 standard for high-speed (54 Mbps) data transfer. The accompanying software makes setup about as easy as it gets, given the inherent complications. Intel also offers WiFi startup kits that are less expensive but have slower data transfer rates. $749 [intel.com]

Copyright © 2002 Ziff Davis Media Inc. All Rights Reserved. Originally appearing in Yahoo! Internet Life.