If you've got more than one computer at home, you may be thinking about setting up a wireless network. It can make file-sharing a breeze, with no more having to burn data onto a CD-ROM or trying to fit it all into a (or -shudder- a floppy disc!) to get it across the room. And going wireless lets you position the router in a convenient central location, without having to run wires along the baseboards or under carpets.
But setting up a wireless (or 'wi-fi') system can be a daunting task if you've never done it. Or is it? With technology today, firing up a wireless router and adding a few access points has never been easier. Many of the setup routines are automated, with your input limited to thinking up a few passwords, or typing in some information off the label on a piece of hardware. Let's take a quick look at some of the hardware common to any wireless setup.
The core of any network is the router. If you already have a broadband/ADSL/cable modem, it's best to get one with the modem function built-in, and replace your existing one. If you don't want to do that, make sure the router you decide upon can be plugged into your modem. The router transmits and receives the signal to your computers. Almost all of them have several Ethernet ports to connect devices with a cable.
This is handy if you have a computer or network-accessible printer nearby, and don't need a wireless connection. The important thing to remember when purchasing a router is to make sure it's 802.11g compatible. The 'g' means it's faster than the older 'b' standard. You may see references to an upcoming 'n' standard as well. The final requirements for this standard have not been fully decided as of yet, so if you get a 'pre-n' piece of hardware, the standards may change, leaving your device unable to function properly.
Your computer will need a wireless access point to communicate with the router. There are two main types. The first is the PCI wireless network card. This is an internal card, like many modems, and must be installed inside the computer in an empty card slot. These will have an antenna that sticks out of the back of your PC, which may not give you the best signal if the antenna is hidden away. Some models have a short cable for the aerial, so you can mount it somewhere to improve reception.
The second type of network connection is a USB adapter. This attaches to an open USB port on your computer, and has either a built-in antenna, or a cable to a separate aerial, like the PCI card. These are portable between computers, but may not receive as well as a built-in card. Also, they can be bumped if they stick out of your computer.
If you have a notebook computer, many of them now have wireless access built in. Older models can use a notebook card, which slides into the PCIMCA slot.
With this basic knowledge, you may find that configuring your own wireless network is amazingly easy. In no time, you can be surfing from anywhere in your house, or passing files back and forth effortlessly from one computer to another. Many other devices can now also access your home network, such as game consoles, cameras and cell phones. Unplug yourself, and see how much fun it can be to go without a wire.