Many homes have more than one computer, but only one printer, scanner, and Internet connection. The best way to share your resources without giving your children access to your Quicken files (or without loading Everquest on the system you use for work), is to network your PCs together.
Home networking kits come in four basic flavors: Ethernet, wireless, phoneline, and powerline. All require you to install some sort of card or receiver in all the systems in your home, usually through your PC's USB or PC Card slots.
- Ethernet: This type of network is the most difficult to install and the most invasive to your home, but is inexpensive, fast, and reliable. Ethernet can transfer data between your PCs at speeds up to 100Mbps (megabits per second). On the downside, you'll have to run Ethernet cable between PCs (a difficult task if they are in different rooms or different floors). You can hide Ethernet cable under baseboards and behind walls, but that requires time to plan and repair. You can minimize this damage by dedicating one area or floor in your house for computer use (a master bedroom and an attached den, for example). If you are building a new home, you can also pay upfront to have your house wired with Ethernet cable much in the same way it is wired for electricity. Two-PC Ethernet kits can be found for less than $100, but Ethernet speeds can be overkill for just two PCs.
- Wireless: Wireless networking is an increasingly common alternative to Ethernet. It is somewhat slower and more expensive than Ethernet, but provides greater mobility and is less unsightly. Currently, the technology supports speeds up to 11Mbps, and the latest standard, 802.11b or WiFi, is supported in many Internet cafés, schools, hotels, and places of business, so you can take an equipped notebook anywhere. Users interested in wireless networking at home will need to purchase a single access point and then one receiver for each PC. The number PCs you have and the distance between them will determine how many access points you need, but you can start with a two-PC kit for around $400. Pay attention to the manufacturers' warnings about the width of and material in your walls; for example, many wireless networks won't work through thick concrete.
- Phoneline: You can use your existing phonelines to create a simple network with a HomePNA-compatible kit. This inexpensive solution offers speeds similar to those of a wireless network and doesn't require you to run new cable, but it does tether you to your home office and it hasn't been as reliable as other networking methods. HomePNA kits are an ideal solution for families that have two computers in one room and only one phone jack (there is no interruption in phone service), or who want to start with an inexpensive networking solution. Two-PC kits start at around $100.
- Powerline: Powerline is the underdog home networking standard, promising networking through any electrical plug in your home and data rates of up to 14Mbps. Unfortunately, only a handful of companies are developing products in this category, but the technology is showing some promise when it comes to home automation, the networking together of all your household appliances -- computer systems, televisions, lights, refrigerators, etc. Installation is simple, without new cables, and it's inexpensive to employ.