The items you need to set up a home network vary, depending on your goals. Assuming that you want your home network to be able to access the Internet, the first thing you need is an Internet connection to a local provider. The range of Internet connectivity is wide. Some of the most popular (high-speed) choices are digital subscriber line (DSL), cable broadband (typically from your cable provider), and satellite connections. In just about all cases, you need a modem. The modem connects your Ethernet port to your Internet service provider (ISP). In a single computer installation, you connect an Ethernet wire directly from your computer to this port.
What You Need for a Wired Network
If wired networking is your solution of choice, you need a few basic pieces of equipment. Many computers these days come equipped with Ethernet NICs preinstalled, so you may not need to purchase any when you decide to network your computers. Ethernet NICs need to be connected together using Ethernet cables, so you need the cables and a means of connecting your computers to each other. Therefore, you need to either locate all your computers in the same room or run wire behind walls so that all your computers can be connected to the network. The simplest method of connecting your computers over Ethernet is by using an Ethernet crossover cable to connect two computers. If you have more than two computers, you may need to purchase an Ethernet hub or switch. In this case, the computers in your home network would use an Ethernet cable to plug in to one of the open ports on the hub or switch.
Again, you need the following elements for a wired solution:
What You Need for a Wireless Network
If wireless networking is in your plans, you need a wireless NIC for each computer. These vary from a PC card for your laptop computers to PCI or USB wireless NICs for your desktop computers. In any case, you need a WAP, which is the wireless equivalent of an Ethernet hub or switch in that it connects computers that have wireless NICs. WAPs vary in their functionality, and you need to refer to the manufacturer's instructions for your specific device. In general, a WAP will be plugged in to the Ethernet port of the modem your ISP provides. (Chapter 2, "Project 1: Making Your Computers Talk to Each Other," covers more details about the various wireless solutions available.) The great advantage of wireless networking is that it enables you to put computers anywhere within range of your network. Figure 1.3 shows a typical layout of a home network. This network uses a wireless router as the means for the computers to access the Internet.
Figure 1.3. A typical home network.
It would be possible to substitute a computer for the wireless router shown in Figure 1.3. If you chose this option, your computer would become the router shown in this figure and would need two network cards installed. One NIC would connect to your modem and the other to your hub, switch, or WAP.
This book assumes that you'll create a network by using a wireless router that is directly connected to the ISP connection (as represented in Figure 1.3 by the broadband modem). The reason for choosing such an approach is the sheer simplicity with which connections can be made. With a wireless network, you do not need to be concerned with running any cables from your computers to a central switch or hub. And adding new computers to your network is as simple as adding a wireless network card to each new computer and turning it on.