- If one of the computers has a printer attached, then the other computer can print to it over the network.
- If one of the computers has certain files on it, someone on the other computer can access those files over the network rather than having to copy them onto a disk or memory stick.
- If you like playing multi-user computer games that have network capabilities built in, then two people can play these games together over the network.
- If you connect to the Internet with one of the computers, the other computer can use that same connection over the network. So one computer can connect to the Internet with a modem and the other computer will route its Internet traffic through that single connection.
Networking PCs has gotten easier and a lot less expensive, but it is still a little bit of a challenge. How Home Networking Works discusses the whole thing in detail, but see the next page to see some quick answers.
Home Network Setup Options
One way to do it is to buy and install network cards in both machines if you computers don't already have built-in cards. You can go to an electronics store and get an inexpensive network card for $20 to $30 these days. You have to open the computer to plug the card in, and then install the driver software. You also have to purchase two network cables ($10 to $20 each) and a small hub ($30 to $40) to physically connect the two machines together. Once you get it all together, the two machines should be able to talk to each other.
This approach has two advantages:
- The network will be very fast -- up to 100 Mbps, and at least 10 Mbps.
- It only costs about $100.
It has two disadvantages:
- You have to open the case and install a card if your computer doesn't come with a built-in card, which intimidates some people.
- You have to run thick network cables around the house. If the computers are in the same room that's okay, but if they are on different floors it can be messy.
You can solve that second disadvantage by purchasing radio modems instead. They cost more but are very easy to connect to one another.
Another path you can follow is something like the Intel AnyPoint Network. Instead of using special network cables, you use your home's telephone wiring to connect computers together (this causes no interference when using the phone for normal calls -- your phone and the network share the same wire). In addition, you can buy a version of the Intel system that uses a USB port, so installation is extremely easy. You can also purchase cards, which are faster.
The big advantage of the Intel system is the use of phone wiring. Simply plug all the computers in your house into phone jacks and they can talk to each other. You also don't need to buy a hub. The disadvantages include:
- Higher prices (for the USB version)
- Slower speeds (for the USB version)
However, installation takes just a few minutes.
Once you install the physical network, the Windows operating system makes connecting your computers simple. You can use the Network Neighborhood feature to share files and printers. The Intel system comes with software to share an Internet connection, or you can use the version built into Windows 98 and later.
Check out the links on the next page for more home networking information.