You've gone to all the trouble of putting everything together, but how do you put it to work. Your high speed internet is working and your system is humming along. Perhaps you've got a second computer that the kids use or a laptop you bring home from work every now and then. Sooner or later you are going to want to connect a second, third or even forth computer. The next thing you know, you've got a home network.
We've already talked about the wide variety of network toys and gadgets that can be connected to your home network, and the necessity of a router - probably THE most practical device. Now we deal with some common tasks. Aside from a mutually shared internet connection, seamless file, printer, and media sharing are the most desired features and essential to a good home network. So how do you get there? our preferred approach is with the use of a few invaluable "network appliances".
Free your Printer: The Print Server
Printer sharing is an essential feature of a good home network. After all, you shouldn't need a printer for every computer. While sharing a printer attached to a computer is relatively easy, it also relies on the attached computer to be "always on" and always working. If the host computer is off or in power save mode, your print job will be lost in space. An alternative is a separate Print Server. A print server is a small device that connects your printer directly to your network. It eliminates reliance on an attached computer because there is no attached computer. Alternatively, many new printers are wireless, network ready and have integrated print servers.
Centralize your File Storage: Network Storage Devices
File sharing is another essential feature of a good home network. Not only can problems occur when host computers are unavailable, but essential files can get lost on network computers. For example, you may have some digital photos on one computer, and some on another. Moving files over the network each time they are used can be taxing on both computers involved especially when larger files like videos are being transferred. Backing up your files can be equally cumbersome when they are distributed throughout your home network. Network storage may be a solution. A network storage device is essentially a hard drive connected directly to your network with a simple browser based interface for controlling access. All your essential files can be found in one location and easily backed-up. Many network storage devices which also include back-up utilities and some of the newer ones also integrate a print server.
Network your Home Electronics: The Media Center PC
Digital media has quickly become a home network essential. Mp3's have replaced CD's. Digital files replace our old home movies and photo albums. While it's nice to have these files on computer, it even better to have them where they should be. Music still sounds better in the living room and photos and videos belong on that big screen TV. There are some standalone devices which can help integrate your home electronics with your network. These are discussed on our network toys page. Another option is a dedicated media computer. Equipped with a digital TV tuner card, digital sound, a modern video card and integrated with your home network; a dedicated media computer could even replace your home theater system AND make your media available throughout the home.
Combining a Print Server, Network Storage Device and Media Center PC can not only simplify the business of making your digital home work, but it can help you get the most out of your broadband connection. Most importantly, a few simple appliances can save a lot of headaches.
Now THAT'S a home network.
Be sure to evaluate all options before choosing a high speed internet provider and home network devices.