Networking

Read our updated guide to home networking

Earlier this year, TechRepublic published a how-to for beginners on home networking. Since then, the technology used for home networking has evolved. Check out our updated version of this guide.


Earlier this year, I wrote an article on home networking for novice network users. Amazingly, TechRepublic members are still sending e-mails about this particular piece, asking questions on topics ranging from setting up a specific home network and sharing an Internet connection to using specific protocols.

This article will address some of your questions. In addition, I’ve compiled an updated list of the latest hardware that may be useful for home and office networks alike.

Updated equipment list
In the original article, the following equipment was presented as necessary in order to put your home network together:
  • A minimum of two computers
  • A Phillips screwdriver
  • Windows 95 or Windows 98 installed on both computers
  • An NE2000-compatible RJ-45 10BaseT NIC
  • A small network hub
  • Two RJ-45 cables

While this list was up to par less than a year ago, many items have since become outdated or obsolete. Below, you will find a new list of equipment that you should have before building your network:
  • A minimum of two computers (more can be added later as needed)
  • A nonmagnetic Phillips screwdriver
  • Windows Me or Windows 2000 on all machines that are networked (Linux will not be covered in this article)
  • An NE2000 compatible RJ-45 10/100BaseT NIC
  • A small network switch (replaces the hub)
  • A minimum of two RJ-45 cables (crossover cables are not used in this article)

The network cards
In my original article, I recommended some network cards. I still stand by my original recommendations, but I’ve also added one other vendor:
  • 3COM
    I only use 3COM in my personal machine at home because it offers compatibility. I know that any 3COM NIC will work in my machine no matter what Microsoft OS I’m running.
  • Linksys
    I’ve always had great luck with Linksys products. I highly recommend Linksys products if you don’t have the cash to spend on 3COM NICs.
  • SMC
    My first NIC was an SMC, and I am still using some in my home network today. While these cards are a bit older, they still work like a charm and have yet to fail.
  • Xircom
    Xircom is the new kid in town in my personal network. I’m currently using a Xircom RealPort PC Card in my laptop at home, and I’ve found that many operating systems detect this little NIC with little to no problem. When you also consider that you can use this PC card to connect not only to your network, but to a home phone line and wireless phone as well, it’s almost the perfect all-around network card.

Hub no longer used in the network
I’m no longer using a hub in my network. But that doesn’t mean I’m using a crossover cable, either. Instead, I have chosen a Linksys switch to replace my old and outdated D-Link Hubby.

So why did I decide to do this? It’s all a matter of network speed and intelligence. While a hub generally allows all data to travel throughout a network, a switch is smart enough to know where incoming traffic needs to be directed. So instead of broadcasting a signal to every machine on the network, the switch simply tells the data packet to “go to this machine and this machine only.” Thanks to this switch, a lot of bandwidth is saved and packet collision is avoided.

Why use these protocols?
One of the most common questions from the e-mails about my home networking article is, “Why did you recommend using TCP/IP, NetBEUI, and IPX/SPX when setting up a home network?”

I’ve seen people try to set up TCP/IP before and not be able to get their machines to speak to one another. Generally, when it comes down to it, a person has to be able to understand how TCP/IP works before he or she can begin to integrate it into their system. Unfortunately, not everyone knows how to use the TCP/IP protocol.

NetBEUI, on the other hand, makes life a little bit simpler for those individuals getting into networking for the first time. It requires that all machines you want to connect to the network have NetBEUI installed, and that’s it. There’s no configuration and no IP addresses to remember. If you want to be connected to the Internet, however, TCP/IP must be installed.

Lastly, IPX/SPX is required for networking some older games. If you don’t have IPX/SPX installed, the games on the network will not be able to see one another.

Life has gotten easier (for broadband users, at least)
Lastly, many of you wrote in to tell me that my original article left out an important piece of information: how to share an Internet connection over a home network.

Again, many things have changed since the original article. There are now more options available for you to use to connect your home network to the Internet. Internet connectivity has grown by leaps and bounds, with most users across the United States having access to cable modems and DSL services. The best part is that if you have a cable modem or DSL, all you need is a simple piece of hardware to connect all of your machines to the Internet.

If you have a cable modem or DSL connection, you can purchase a router for your home, which can make setting up your home network a breeze. I’m going to use the Linksys EtherFast Cable/DSL Router, which runs for $120-$170 depending on the number of ports available, as an example.

The router supports DHCP and can act as a firewall for security on your home network, thus making it much easier to set up your home network to connect to the Internet. You simply plug your computer into the router, and not only are you assigned an IP address within your own home network, but you also have access to the Internet. This, of course, assumes that you have DHCP services enabled on your home machines.

How has the network setup changed?
When you finally get around to setting up your network, you’re not going to notice much (if any) difference during the process. The biggest difference from the network setup in the original article is the replacement of the hub with a switch. While at first this change may seem like a big one, it really isn’t. You won’t notice much of a change at all, except for possibly decreased network traffic and increased bandwidth.

Also, don’t feel obligated to use the IP address that I provided in the previous article. You actually have many choices, but I personally prefer the 192.168.x.x route. I chose these addresses because they are substantially different from the IP addresses used on my office’s private network. I have had problems using our VPN to transfer data between my home machines and the office servers because of an IP address conflict. I have found, however, that if I keep my internal network IP address different from those at the office, I’m able to access the network without any difficulty.

Wrapping up
This concludes my updated guide to home networking. Good luck getting your own network up and running. As always, I’m interested in hearing from TechRepublic members about their home networks and any questions you might have about this guide, so let me hear from you.
Is your home wired? Do you have a home network with a computer in every room? Let us know if home networking is your passion or if you’re just getting started. Post a comment below or send us a note.

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