How To Put Together A Good Home Network (Part 1)

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If you're new to networking it may seem like a daunting task, but it really doesn't have to be!

More and more of us now have multiple computers within our homes. Most enthusiasts have at least one desktop and one laptop, but with the rising popularity of machines acting as media centres, it isn't uncommon to see homes with even more machines. Many hard-core enthusiasts hate to see a good PC go to waste, so rather than dispose of an older system that has been replaced with something more contemporary, we find new and innovative uses for our older hardware. Smartphones and tablets are also an increasingly important part of our lives, and although often not considered to be 'computers' in their own right, that is exactly what they are, albeit in a different form factor. Shuttling data between just a couple of machines using something like a pen drive or portable hard disk is fine if you rarely have to share files, but it's much more convenient to set up a home network -especially when you consider that most of us have the necessary hardware already!

Description: How To Put Together A Good Home Network

Step 1 - Plan And Map Out Your Network

Description: planning and mapping out your devices and intended uses can save you a lot of headaches

Planning and mapping out your devices and intended uses can save you a lot of headaches

The first step when planning your network is to work out how many devices you need to connect up. As well as your current reguirements, you should also consider any devices you plan to purchase in the future. Take into consideration where they will live and what kind of connectivity you will be using. If it helps you visualise it, you might also want to draw up a home network map. Any device with network connectivity should be included in your list, so don't forget about game consoles, media extenders or smart TV sets as well. We bet your list of devices will end up being considerably more extensive than you initially thought! As a guinea pig for our setup guide. I've drawn up a network map of my own house and counted its number of devices. I'm no wizard at CAD; I just recycled the estate agent's original plans and added annotations in Microsoft paint!

After careful counting and collation, I am embarrassed to say that a total of 18 devices are permanently or temporarily attached to my home network. While I fully appreciate that this is an excessive number of gadgets, it is not entirely unusual for a hardware journalist to continuously acquire hardware until their house more closely resembles a branch of Comet than a home. As I was quick to point out to my wife, at least the bathroom and kitchen remain technology-free zones, at least until I get around to remedying that situation!

Step 2 - Choose And Position Your Router

Description: Your Router

Arguably the most important device in your network is the router. Most home broadband routers incorporate a modem as well if you're an ADSL user, or plug directly into a discrete modem if you're a cable customer. The purpose of a home router is to distribute your single internet connection among your devices and allow each one to communicate with others also connected. Most home routers allow you to connect three or four devices via Ethernet network cables, plus many others over wireless. If you're on ADSL, your router will be limited to being positioned close to a telephone socket. While long extension cables can be used to relocate a modem, these usually have an adverse effect on connection guality. It's preferable to have a longer run of Ethernet cable between your router and your devices than it is to have a long run of telephone cable between your socket and your router. In many homes the internal wiring layout was chosen for the most convenient location for telephone handsets rather than the most central position for a router.

My house was no exception, with the master phone socket located in the dining room when I moved in. One of the first jobs I did was to relocate this master phone socket to my home office upstairs. I later found out you're not really allowed to do this, so I certainly wouldn't recommend anyone try it themselves. All wiring between the junction box where the telephone cable enters your property up to the master socket is technically the property of BT or your phone operator. Anything that runs from the master socket to other auxiliary sockets belongs to you and can be split or extended as you see fit. You should ideally position your router in a location where it can best service all your devices. It may seem logical to position it closest to your main desktop PC, but if this is positioned right at the back of your house and the rest of your networked devices are at the front, this could leave you with a real headache - particularly if you're relying on wireless.

If you're fortunate enough to be in a position to choose your installation point (which you will be if you switch to cable, be that from Virgin or BT Infinity), then you should position your router in a position where it can best serve as a hub for all your devices.

It's tempting just to stick with the free router you get from your ISP. While some of these devices are actually pretty decent (and are usually rebranded versions of a 'proper' network company's product), they often have limited feature sets or offer limited performance. If you can budget for it, aim to get yourself a router that offers gigabit wired networking and 802.1 1n wireless networking. That way you can be sure that you're getting the best possible speed from your network.

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