Wireless & Wired Routers: Setting Up Your Home Computer Network
Home Computer Networking: How to Set-Up or Expand Your Home Network
The number of Internet connections is growing. Many homes have desktops, laptops, VoIP and/or gaming devices – all connecting to the ‘Net.
Is it time to update or expand your home network? Should you go wired, wireless, or hybrid (wired and wireless)?
What about your existing setup? Can you just add to what you’ve got, or must you buy all new equipment? And should you go with Wireless-G or Wireless-N?
Here’s what you need to know, and think about, when the old computer networking set-up is no longer cutting it!
Your Home Networking Needs
Whether you’re digging into home computer networking for the first time, or you’ve outgrown your existing home networking equipment, you’ll need to answer some basic questions:
–> For each connection, which makes more sense: Wired or wireless access?
For your wired connections, if any, how many ports will you need now and in the foreseeable future? Specifically:
–> How many wired desktop computers on the network?
–> How many wired laptop plug-in stations on the network?
–> How many dedicated Internet game consoles on the network?
–> What equipment will I need to upgrade or expand my existing network?
Wireless vs Wired Networks Advantages and Disadvantages
Your router is the central point in your home network. It is your link (via high speed cable or DSL) to the Internet, and also ties together and tracks all of the computers on your network.
Routers can be wired, wireless, or both wired and wireless.
The advantages of “wired” networks are primarily speed and security.
One disadvantage of wired networks is that every desktop and laptop must connect to the Internet via a network cable (e.g., Cat5 Ethernet cable). So the more wired connections you have, the more router ports and cables you’ll need running throughout the house. In some cases, those cables can also be difficult to run from your main router to furthest-away rooms in the house.
The advantage of a wilreless router is that – depending on the strength of the router’s wireless signal – desktop and laptop computers can connect with no wires from any location in the house. Wireless networks can be easily set up in virtually any physical environment.
Disadvantages of wireless networks include typically slower and more sporadic connectivity, and security concerns.
Increasingly, many people are opting to to establish a combination of wired and wireless connections within the same household, to maximize choice and flexibility.
Not all routers are compatible with all Operating Systems. Before you purchase a router, ensure that the manufacturer confirms it works with your Operating System.
Cable or DSL?
Also, some routers work with cable, some with DSL, some both. Make sure you know what you’re buying ahead of time.
Wireless Router Info & Choices
Wireless Routers: Access
Wireless routers in most cases are able to accommodate up to 255 users on a single router, so the number of computers connecting to the Internet wirelessly in your home is never a concern (unless you have a REALLY large family!).
Wireless routers also include a wireless access point, which is what allows you to connect all of your Wireless-G or Wireless-B devices to your network.
Evolving Standards – “Wireless-G” Vs. “Wireless-N”
Wireless-B is pretty much going away. For now it’s all about Wireless-G and Wireless-N.
Wireless-G is the current popular standard, operating on radio frequency 2.4 GHz. Wireless-G is substantially faster then the prior B protocol.
Wireless-N is the newest protocal, able to operate on 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz, and at faster throughput than Wireless-G. As such, Wireless-N is typically regarded as being ideal for applications like streaming video, gaming, and VoIP telephony.
Wireless-N is backwards compatible with Wireless-G devices, but one should generally assume that speeds will be slowed to the lowest common denominator in any connection stream.
Wireless-N also, while offering the promise of greater signal reach, is often erratic in reach and so not very predictable until you actually see how it operates in each individual home space.
For home use, the G standard should meet most user’s basic needs for years to come. But users who prefer to always buy with the future in mind, or who are seriously into gaming, file-sharing, VoIP, or other kinds of high-volume data downloads may wish to consider N protocol routers now. They are where things are headed.
My personal plan is to upgrade to an N router in a year or two, or when my kids complain about how slow their online games are. 😉
Wireless Network Security
Most wireless home networking products are now close to “plug ‘n play” and so often people give little thought to security when they setup and activate a modem. Taking a few minutes to establish the security of your wireless router is a good idea:
–> Change the default password on administration interface
–> Turn off SSID broadcast (which simply means you can find your WLAN by name but it won’t pop up in the visible list of connection options on your computer)
–> Enable WPA encryption instead of WEP
–> Disable remote administration
Wireless Signal Expanders
If your wireless router isn’t broadcasting far enough from its base to reach the rooms you need it to, you can try attaching a Wireless Signal Expander to your network.
The success you have will depend on not only the quality of the Expander, but the obstacles it must overcome in terms of number of walls, wall thickness & materials, etc.
Wired Router Info & Choices
Wired Access: Number of Ports = Number of Devices
Each computer connected to your network via a wired connection must connect through one of your router’s ports. The number of wired connections therefore is limited by the number of available ports on your router (or routers). Keep in mind that if you’re expanding an existing network, it’s possible to use more than one router in your home. (More on that below in Expanding Your Existing Wired Network, below.)
So, if you’re going with wired only (or wired mainly), the main questions are where/how to lay the wires, how many ports you will need.
I’ll let you sort out wiring placement.
As for the number of ports you’ll need, most routers designed for home use incorporate a switch offering 4 ports for Ethernet connections. There are some 8-port routers too. Linksys makes a nice one.
Finally, choose a router that’s relatively simple to set-up and use. I have always favored Linksys in this regard, but there are other brands lately that have met with good tech and user reviews. Among them: D-Link, SMC and Netgear.
Expanding Your Existing Wired Setup
Let’s say you’ve already got an existing wired or wireless router with wired ports, and your main problem is that there are now more computers in the house than wires and ports to cover them.
You prefer not to connect the orphan devices via wireless. What do you do?
One option is to just go out and by a new 8-port wired router like the one above, to expand your number of ports.
Another Option is Adding a Router (or Switch or Hub)!
If you can, get your hands on another wired router that you or a friend or family member has lying around (perhaps since converting to wireless).
By simply plugging the second wired router into one of the existing ports on your current router, you’ve just expanded the number of available ports in your home!
It’s simple: On some routers, you’ll find an “uplink” port. That is where you can connect a second router, switch or hub to expand your number of ports. If there is no “uplink” port, just use Port 1 unless the hardware manual instructs otherwise.
Hybrid Wireless+Wired Network: Maximum Flexibility
Reasons to Run Wired
–> Any desktop to which you can run a wire, since wired is more secure/private
–> Any device on which I’m doing things I really care to keep private, e.g., VoIP, email, work from home, and certain kinds of Web activity including buying things online (and therefore forwarding credit card numbers and other sensitive information)
Reasons to Run Wireless
–> Couch potato time (e.g., surfing for fun while on the couch or in bed)
–> Watching sports on TV and checking out related Web sites simultaneously
If you need 4 wired ports/connections or fewer in your house, you’re in luck. Most wireless routers come equipped with 4 wired ports.
If you’re like me though and you have more than 4 wired connections, you might think that the best bet would be to simply buy a wireless router with 8 ports. Wrong. Not that that isn’t a good idea; it’s just that they’re hard if not almost impossible to find in consumer models.
Plus, many people already have a wireless, 4 port router. Your best best is simply to expand your wireless capability as outlined above. Plug a second router/switch/hub into your existing router (Upllink port or Port 1), and you’ve now expanded the number of available wireless connections in your home.