A decade ago, your house might just have one computer. But now, most people have more than one computer and even mobile devices. It’s convenient to come home and connect all of these devices together, so you can transfer documents, share music and synchronize information. You can build a network for relatively cheap depending on the hardware you choose to connect them. This article goes over some of the basics and what you need to know to get started networking your computers.
What Hardware You Need
Years ago, computers didn’t usually come with a network card or network interface card (NIC). Now, most computers include a network card when you purchase them. A computer can use a wired or wireless card. Laptops and netbooks usually include both. To find out if you computer has a wired connection, look for a connection that is marked with some image of an Ethernet. Most new computers color-code connections, so you can identify a data connection using colors. Others just use a symbol. If the network card has a symbol, it’s usually the symbol of two or three computers connected by wires. Ethernet connections look somewhat similar to USB, so ensure you look at the right connection when you identify computer adapters.
Wireless adapters don’t need any external hardware connected to them. Therefore, you won’t see any external connection. Some wireless adapters have a small antenna, so that’s how you know you have a wireless card installed. Most laptops and netbooks include a wireless card, but you won’t see any hardware. Your portable computer manufacturer will list the type of wireless connection included with your hardware.
You can also have both hardwire and wireless in a computer. This is usually an option used by gamers. Wireless connections are slower than wired connections, so gamers prefer hardwire. However, you can switch back and forth if you need to keep a wireless connection as well.
Whatever network card you use, you need a router to connect all your devices. If you have wireless devices, you should buy a wireless router. Wireless routers are more convenient, and you can connect devices you don’t even know you can use on your network such as a Kindle, an iPhone or Android or a tablet such as an iPad. Most mobile devices come with wireless connectivity to wireless routers. You can buy a router with different speeds, but a good router will cost you about $50. You can buy something for a bit cheaper, but expect to pay about $50.
Wired routers are usually preferred for gaming, but most wireless routers include hardwire connections as well. This is usually where the cost difference comes into play. A middle-grade router will include about 5 hardware connections as well, so you can still connect gaming devices using Ethernet cable and connect mobile devices using wireless.
Your router will probably need an Ethernet cable. It depends on the type of router your ISP provides you. Some ISPs provide you with a wireless router, so you don’t even need an extra router. Other providers only give you a router with one Ethernet connection. If you have the latter, you need buy a wireless router for your computer network and an Ethernet cable to connect the ISP router with your own personal router.
Your router manufacturer provides you with a web-based configuration tool. You also need a secondary Ethernet cable to connect a computer to the new router. Usually, you use a laptop or netbook to configure your router. The manufacturer will tell you how to configure the router to work with your network. To access the configuration console, take note of the router’s IP address and type it into a web browser with the Ethernet cable connected from your computer to the router.
After you set up your router, make sure you also change the router’s administrator password. Each manufacturer includes a standard password that matches the router model. Hackers use these standard passwords to access your router. Even your neighbors can access your router if they know your password. Changing your network and router password should be one of the first steps you take when you set up your network.
Your computer’s network card usually includes drivers that automatically install if you have a Windows operating system. If you order a computer from a manufacturer, the manufacturer usually pre-installs drivers, so your computer works out-of-the-box.
Even if your operating system includes drivers for your network card, you still need to connect to your network. You need to go to each of your devices and configure them to connect to your network.
A good network configuration includes a password for a wireless connection. You should also change the SSID or wireless network name. These two pieces of information are what you need to connect to your network. In Windows, a small icon in the system tray displays. Click this icon and find your network name. Click on the name in the list and then type the password into the text box. Check the box that asks if you want to connect to the network automatically. Since this is your personal network, you want to check this box so you don’t need to reconfigure your computer every time you want to use the Internet.
When you connect a computer to a network and then the Internet, you also need some kind of protection from malicious software. Most ISPs include firewall protection when you use a company router. The additional personal router also includes firewall software. These two routers create a hardware firewall between you and the Internet.
You still need software protection in the form of a computer firewall and antivirus program. When you run a firewall application on your computer, an alert pops up when malicious software attempts to access the Internet. You can open ports to allow some traffic. For instance, you might want to run a web server on your computer. To run a website, you need to allow port 80. Each application that’s made available over the network runs on a specific port. A firewall will block the port by default. You must configure your firewall application to allow data through specific ports if you need to use the application. While this allows innocent users to access the application, it also allows malicious people to use it as well. This is where antivirus software comes into play. The firewall software blocks the program from accessing the Internet, so your information is safe from identity theft when hackers try to send information from your computer to the hacker’s server.
Antivirus software also protects your assets and private information, but it also stops malicious programs from destroying data. Some hackers just attempt to destroy your documents and even make your computer unbootable. You can avoid this using antivirus software. One thing to note with antivirus software is that you must update your virus definition files. Definition files keep a list of “signatures” for each virus in the wild. If you don’t update your virus definition files, your antivirus software won’t recognize new threats.
With both firewall and antivirus software, you can properly protect your computer from online threats.
Setting up a computer network isn’t difficult, but it’s probably confusing for someone who is just learning. Udemy.com has several courses to get you started with computers, networking and computer configurations. It helps to understand how to configure computers to get started with networking, so you should start with computer configurations before jumping to networking.