Home, Sweet (Networked) Home

Whether you're a tech pro or just a beginner, connecting your home pcs is an easy way to achieve domestic tranquility

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In the 1960s, people asked if your tv was color or black and white. The ’70s were all about the 8-track. The ’80s and ’90s found us toying with CD-ROMs, DVDs, and computers with superhigh-speed processors. Well, welcome to the new millennium, where the big question isn’t what kind of PC do you have, but how many. And, as the number of systems and peripherals in homes increases, families are looking to embrace another new technology–home networking.

Whether you choose a wired or wireless solution, there are a number of compelling reasons for networking your home PCs. Networking lets you use a single printer for all the systems, share file storage and backups, and enjoy after-hours online games with the family. Homes with networked computers can share a single phone line, making arguments over who gets the connection a thing of the past. If broadband Internet access via cable or a DSL modem is available, you’ll quickly discover that a home network is essential for domestic tranquility. Shared Internet access even works well over a 56Kbps dial-up connection, and it can help lower your monthly ISP charges–and your phone bill. Better yet, networking lets you access files from other servers, such as those at work. That could put telecommuting squarely in your future.

Whichever type of network you choose, you’ll need a gateway–a hub that directs network traffic to and from your devices. Many of the new wireless residential gateways pack most of the functions into one easy-to-install package. A good unit will bundle a DSL or cable-modem wireless access point, an Ethernet hub, a firewall, and an Internet router in a single box. Because different DSL providers have different modem requirements, you typically buy an all-in-one unit preconfigured by your ISP when you set up service. Before you begin, be sure to ask your provider if there are any additional specifications that you should know about or any other equipment you’ll need.

Other new gateways are designed to work with the DSL or cable modem you got from your ISP. You buy these gateways off the shelf from computer and electronics retailers (such as Circuit City, Best Buy, and CompUSA) and handle setup yourself. If you choose a wireless network, get ready to spend a little extra money. In addition to the gateway, you’ll need a PC Card, a PCI card, or a USB adapter for each device on the network.

Joseph M. Edwards, 27, and his fiancée, Carmen Harris, 24, live in Laurel, Maryland, where the winter weather can often leave them stuck at home. Their home network, however, has made snow days as well as sick days a thing of the past. Edwards, a senior network engineer for eLink Communications in Bethesda, Maryland, is a self-professed networking guru who has been providing PC and networking support to telecommuters for the past seven years. Edwards discovered his talent for computers through an internship at the National Institutes of Health while he was a student at Howard University.

Says Edwards,

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