The Home Computer Network Setup Advisor

Setting up a home network is the kind of simple task that can take hours off your day and years off your life.

Despite many improvements in the technologies that enable home networking, getting a network up and running requires a some knowledge and some effort. Read on for a quick rundown of the vocab and tips you can use to get started with home networking.

Start with the Network Router

A high-end, easy-to-use router is probably the most important investment you can make. Essential factors like the speed of your connection and the elegance of your interface depend upon this purchase.

The wireless protocol of choice today is 802.11n, which has evolved from the same Wi-Fi signals we used way, way back in the 2000s. 802.11n is faster and less prone to interference than older models, and does a better job managing multiple tasks within the same data stream. Stick with a major name, such as Cisco or Netgear, to ensure that you receive good support and plenty of updates. (And check out our article, “Extending Your Wireless Potential.”)

Now, Dig In

Routers are typically accessed through a primary computer on your network, appearing as a Web page that opens in your browser. Follow the router’s instructions to access these controls, and then get busy making three fast changes: password, SSID and security.

All routers come with factory-standard passwords that are widely known and easy to guess. Job one is to undo this friendly feature by assigning a much more difficult password right away.

The same thing applies to your router’s network name, also known as its Service Set Identifier, or SSID. Change this to something that’s harder to guess. Lastly, the security settings should be locked down to keep hackers out. Go with Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA/WPA2) encryption on your home network, and pick a tough password.

Start Sharing

One great advantage to home networking is common file access: any laptop or mobile device with the proper credentials can access other computers and the files they own.

The easiest way to create a common hub for files is through the “Homegroup” setting within the Windows 7 control panel (Start > Control Panel > Network and Internet > Homegroup). Here, you’ll find several controls to let various computers share and edit files.

Printers can be easily networked as well, by checking the “Properties” tab under any printer icon. If you see a section devoted to sharing, you can set this up as a common printing device for the whole network.

Like people, computing devices become more powerful in tandem. Get your network up and running today, and you’ll surely be pleased at how well your office runs.

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