Set up a home computer network? Who, me? Isn't networking something only real computer professionals can handle? What good is a home network, anyway? Will it be worth the cost and bother?
Those were only a few of my concerns late last year as I took the plunge, and invested about $150 in a home networking kit. It established the smallest possible network, linking two computers in the spare room that I use as a home office.
Now I can't imagine being without the network.
Last November, I was in the same situation as a growing number of computer users. My old home computer was running just fine at 3 years of age. Yet I needed a new PC with a faster processor, more memory, a drive that would “write” data to CD-ROMs, and other features.
With the new computer hooked up to the printer, scanner, and Internet connection, the old PC instantly became a relic. A PC without a printer or Internet access is like a car without wheels.
Another quandary arose when I realized that I still needed access to hundreds of files on the old PC's hard disk. Among them were scores of big graphics files and MP3 music files that would not fit on a 3.5-inch diskette. Transferring files to a new PC is a pain, even when using the supposedly easy built-in features for doing so.
Slowly, the benefits of a home network became obvious. With a network:
There are several ways of networking home computers (see the computer column from Nov. 18, 2000, at www.toledoblade.com). I chose the Ethernet approach. It involved installing network interface cards (NIC) in both computers, and connecting them via special cable to a “hub,” an electronic unit with multiple network receptacles.
The home networking kit contained everything needed, including the software. I picked a networking kit made by 3Com (www.3com.com), which was a little more expensive than others, but had good reviews.
No special skill was needed to install the NIC cards, cabling, and hub. My 16-year-old daughter did it, and she had no previous experience of that kind. Getting the network to work did take a few calls to technical support at 3Com and Microsoft.
The results were well worth the time and cost of the kit.
Another family member using an older PC now is lobbying to have her computer connected, too. Her printer died, and she's eager to use the black-and-white laser printer and color printer available on the network.
Up to five computers can be connected to this particular hub, so that each can share the same files, printers, and Internet connection.
The third computer is in a different room, and that brings up the big limitation of an Ethernet network. You've got to run cable from the PC's NIC card to the hub. Hiding stretches of cable can be tough. A telephone line network or wireless network might be a better option for computers scattered around the house.
An estimated 25 percent of households with computers now have two or more computers. If you're among them, give networking a chance.
Michael Woods is the Blade's science editor. Email him at email@example.com.