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Planning Your Home Network

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You know what a home network can do, so it's time to decide which home network is the right one for you. Let Mark Edward Soper teach you how to match your needs with the best type of network, choose the best broadband connection, select the proper hardware, and estimate how much it will all cost.

Goals for Your Home Network

Before you buy a single network adapter or cable, you should ask yourself one simple question:

  • What do I want my home network to do?

The answer (or answers) you provide to that question will guide you toward the network type and performance level you need. As you read the following sections and discover which situation best fits your needs, you will also learn which network, or networks, will be the best fit for you.

Recreation

Networked computers are fun! Some of the most popular recreational uses for home networks include

  • Playing network or Internet games

  • Viewing or listening to online media content

  • Using IM or other chat services

  • Sharing computer-based media files with others via a home theater system

  • Searching the Web

Why look at recreational uses first? Although any home network can do these jobs, some are better than others. And, a home network that can handle any recreational task you can think of is more than equal to handling any other task you can throw at it. For example, if your idea of online gaming is turn-based, slower networks—such as phoneline, powerline, or wireless—will be fine. However, if you're itching to play 3D deathmatches online, your home network needs to be as fast as possible, and 10/100 Ethernet's the best choice, with the fastest wireless network (802.11g) being a good alternative.

Table 3.1 compares suggested network and broadband Internet connection types suitable for different recreational uses.

Table 3.1  Popular Recreational Uses for Home Networking

Activity

Recommended Wired Networks

Recommended Wireless Networks

Recommended Broadband Services

Web surfing

Any

Any

Any

Turn-based and RPG network and online gaming

Any

Any

Any

3D network and online gaming

10/100 Ethernet

802.11g

Cable; DSL

Online streaming audio

Any

802.11g, 802.11b

Cable; DSL

Online streaming video

10/100 Ethernet

802.11g

Cable; DSL

Playback of PC-hosted audio or still photos

Any

802.11b/g

Playback of PC-based video

10/100 Ethernet

802.11g

Instant messaging (IM)

Any

Any

Cable; DSL

Video chat

10/100 Ethernet

802.11g

Cable; DSL


Gaming? Get a Fast Upstream Connection!

If you're playing interactive 3D games, consider opting for cable or DSL services that offer faster upload speeds than the usual 128KBps speed. See Chapter 4, "Choosing a Broadband Internet Access Technology," for details.

Education

If the computers on your home network are there mainly to improve your mind (or your childrens' minds), a variety of home network and broadband connections can do the job for you. However, as with recreational tasks, some types of educational uses put more stress on a home network than others. See Table 3.2 for details.

Table 3.2  Popular Educational Uses for Home Networking

Activity

Recommended Wired Networks

Recommended Wireless Networks

Recommended Broadband Services

Web surfing

Any

Any

Any

Online streaming audio

Any

802.11g, 802.11b

Cable; DSL

Online streaming video

10/100 Ethernet

802.11g

Cable; DSL

Playback of PC-hosted audio or still photos

Any

802.11b/g

Playback of PC-based video

10/100 Ethernet

802.11g

Network printing

Any

Any

Network folder sharing

Any

Any

Educational gaming (turn-based)

Any

Any

Any

3D educational gaming

10/100 Ethernet

802.11g

Cable; DSL

Virtual private networking (VPN) access to campus network

10/100 Ethernet

802.11g

Cable; DSL


Business

If your home network is also your business network, don't cut corners. Go for the fastest network and Internet connections you can afford, especially if you need to perform a lot of file transfers:

  • For broadband Internet access, go with DSL or cable where available.

  • For wireless networking, insist on 802.11g. If you plan to stick with the same brand of hardware across the board, a souped-up version of 802.11g is also suitable.

  • For wired networking, 10/100 Ethernet is king. You can build a mix-and-match network that combines 10/100 Ethernet and wireless ethernet clients.

Sharing VPN Support

Most routers designed for use on a home network can handle only one VPN connection at a time. If you expect that two or more users will need VPN connections at the same time (many campuses and corporate networks use VPN connections for remote users), select a router with support for multiple VPN tunnels. See Chapter 8, "Home Networks at Work and School," for details.

Mixed-Use Networks

Although the previous sections describe three distinct uses for a home network, chances are very good that your home network will be used for a mixture of recreational, educational, and business uses. In such cases, keep in mind that your home network and broadband Internet connection should meet your requirements for the fastest uses you have in mind. If you build one that's fast enough for the most demanding tasks you have in mind, it will be more than fast enough for the rest.

Uploading? Get a Fast Upstream Connection!

If you plan to upload large files (1MB or larger) via email or FTP, or use videoconferencing, consider opting for cable or DSL services that offer faster upload speeds than the usual 128KBps speed. See Chapter 4 for details.

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