Internet and Networking
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Connecting to the Internet is essential these days (as you’re probably reading this guide via the Internet now). You can pay your bills online, trade stocks, send and receive email, make VOIP phone calls, shop, get recipes, and even order a Papa John’s pizza. When it comes to the hardware to get you connected, this should help. Basically, there are two ways to connect to the Internet. You can use a high speed (broadband) connection and use a NIC (Network Interface Card) – which by the way I HIGHLY recommend. The other option, albeit despised, is connecting to the Internet via a dialup modem.
- Okay, I can get broadband. What hardware do I need?
- I don’t feel my broadband is living up to the numbers that my ISP puts out. Is there any place I can check it? Is there a way to speed it up?
- Which dialup modem is the best?
- Now it’s time for something totally different. I feel free. I want a wireless network!
Okay, I can get broadband. What hardware do I need?
Depending on the type of broadband, you’ll need a NIC, a gateway (modem) device of some sort (usually DSL or Cable), phone line filters (DSL only), and some cables (usually CAT 5). If you have more than one computer connecting to the same high speed connection, you’re going to need an extra NIC or what I recommend, a router (and not the kind you use to make designs in wood with either).
NICs or Ethernet cards are pretty basic. If your motherboard has one built in, use it. If you have to buy a PCI one, grabbing a basic Linksys or Netgear card will be fine. If you’re picky and want “the best”, go with a 3Com card.
DSL and Cable modems will most likely be provided by your ISP. If not, or you just want your own, then make sure to shop around. Compare specifications and get opinions from sites dedicated to Networking / Internet like DSLreports.com. While I have no experience with it, I’ve heard the Efficient Networks Speedstream 5000 series are a nice set of DSL modems. If you’re in the market for a cable modem, a popular one to go with that has great performance is the Motorola Surfboard 4100 / 4200 series.
If you plan on dicing up your high speed connection between a few computers, then going with a router is a great idea. Without getting in too deep, I’ll note some good routers. Cisco makes the top routers, but they are expensive, confusing, and generally not for home users. A Cisco subsidiary, Linksys, makes great SOHO (Small Office / Home Office) routers such as the BEFSR41(W).
I don’t feel my broadband is living up to the numbers that my ISP puts out. Is there any place I can check it? Is there a way to speed it up?
There sure is. Go to DSLreports.com and run their speed tests. After you have done so, check and see if your speeds are similar to those which you pay for. If they’re not, try following their guides to help tweak the connection and hopefully speed it up. If it still doesn’t speed up, then try contacting your ISP. (Don’t expect to receive more than about 85% of your offered speed.)
Which dialup modem is the best?
Dialup modems are pretty even across the board. US Robotics seems to make the ‘secure’ ones, but I’ve found that the generic one in my grandma’s computer and the one integrated into my laptop all produce the same speed.
Now it’s time for something totally different. I feel free. I want a wireless network!
Wireless networks are becoming fairly common as people get more wireless Internet enabled devices such as PDAs, laptops, and even some appliances. First, we’ll look at the pros and cons of a wireless network.
- Freedom. With a wireless card in your laptop, you are free to roam about your house or yard and still have Internet access.
- The literal loss of wires. Wires are messy and are generally unsightly.
- Fairly easy setup. No running wires. Plug it in and change a few settings and you’re off.
- With a wireless network, you’re able to have a total solution. With the right equipment, you can run your MP3s through your home stereo system.
- Speed issues. 11Mbps for 802.11b and 54Mbits for 802.11g. Compared to 100Mbps for Ethernet.
- High latency will put a slight kink into gaming via wireless LAN.
- Fairly short radius of operation.
- Fairly insecure. People who come within your wireless LAN may be able to connect to your computers or even your Internet connection (if you don’t have security set up correctly.)
Types of Wireless Networks – The 802.11* Chronicles
802.11a is the 802.11 specification that operates in the 5GHz frequency and allows for up to a 54Mbps transfer rate. While operating in the 5GHz range, 802.11a has a reduced risk for interference with other devices, but unfortunately the radius of operation is quite short.
Currently the most common of all the 802.11 specifications, 802.11b allows for an 11Mbps transfer rate and a fairly large radius of operation. 802.11b operates in the 2.4GHz frequency and can be interfered with by using 2.4GHz phones and some microwaves.
Basically the next generation of 802.11b, 802.11g allows for a 54Mbps transfer rate and a larger, but still not quite ideal, radius of operation. 802.11g is also backwards compatible with 802.11b, so if you have an 802.11b PC card, you can connect to an 802.11g network – but only with an 11Mbps transfer rate. Enhanced security options allow 802.11g to provide an overall better solution than any other 802.11 specification. 802.11g also operates in the 2.4GHz frequency and can be interfered with by using 2.4GHz phones and some microwaves.
The Linksys WRT54G 802.11G wireless router and the Orinoco 802.11 A/B/G Gold PC Card.
Equipment required for a wireless network can vary. If you’re going between several desktops and (a) laptop(s), plus you want to share an Internet connection, you’re going to need a router and a wireless access point (WAP) or a wireless router (router – for routing Internet connection – with built-in access point), PCI wireless cards, and a PCMCIA card for the laptop. You may possibly end up purchasing multiple WAPs so that you cover your entire house, yard, etc. Depending on what flavor of 802.11 you want to use, you’ll have to buy the appropriate cards and routing devices. Another option here is to buy combination equipment that is compatible with multiple specifications.