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Home Networking Explained

Computer networking allows you to browse the internet, stream music from one location to another and much more. Save yourself the pain of weak wireless signals, slow internet browsing and other problems through these useful tips.

Cables are still useful

With all the talk about wireless networking you might assume that cables are ancient. Not true. If two computers are in the same room it's easy to use network cables to attach them to one another. Networking cable, commonly called "Cat-5" or "Ethernet" is reliable and cheap and it offers very high speeds. Put simply, use cables if you can.

Don't expect a wireless network to have the advertised range or speed

True wireless range and speed can vary widely depending on the system you purchase and how much interference is present in and near your home. Wireless devices can potentially conflict with neighbors' wireless networks and can even be knocked out by cordless phones or microwave ovens.

Use wireless security

A wireless network without security potentially offers your neighbors access to sensitive files on your home network or gives them free web browsing, potentially slowing your internet access. Additionally, someone near your home could use your insecure wireless network to do bad stuff on the internet and guess whose door the authorities will show up at. If you're concerned about security forget about using "WEP", no matter how long your password is.

Use switches and routers properly

A switch essentially takes data on one network cable in your home and transfers it to another. For example, if you're using a network music player in the den to listen to music from your computer in your home office the switch directs the data around your home. If you run into a situation where you have one network cable and multiple devices you want to connect to it, use a switch.

A router essentially separates and protects your home network from the internet. Many routers also include a built-in switch so they can not only connect you to the internet but also direct traffic between computers within your home.

Think beyond cables and wireless

Cables and wireless aren't the only ways to move data around your home. Believe it or not, you can turn the electrical wiring in your home into a giant network, called Powerline Networking. A major advantage of powerline networking is the fact that you have a network jack at every plug in your home and you get reasonably fast speeds. However, powerline networking still doesn't give you the freedom of a wireless network and requires a small adapter at each outlet you'd like to use for networking.

Separate your home network from the internet

Don't just plug your computer directly into your cable or DSL modem. You want a router, preferably one with a firewall, between you and the internet to prevent someone from breaking into your computer or using it maliciously.

Share your printing and storage

Many devices such as printers and hard disks can be directly connected to your network, eliminating the need to be tethered to your computer. A shared printer can be especially useful if you're moving around your home on a wireless laptop or have multiple computers. A networked hard drive can act as a shared repository for content such as music, photos or movies and also gives multiple people an easy place to back up important files.

With these basic networking building blocks you'll quickly be on your way to a modern, networked home.

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