Sharing an Internet connection

Router — buying and building your network

Good choice, my friend. Before long, you’ll have a network like this:

Router wiring diagram

Note 1: The blue lines can represent various types of connections. With a regular router, they are standard Cat5 cables. With a wireless or phoneline router, they are wireless or phoneline connections.

Note 2: If you already have a hub or switch, you can save money by purchasing a 1-port router. However, the setup is slightly different: the router connects (using an uplink port or crossover cable) to the hub, and the hub connects directly to the computers.

The heart of the network is, of course, the router itself. All routers have similar NAT software that allows them to share an Internet connection. Beyond that, routers vary widely in features and connectivity. Personally, I recommend the Linksys BEFSR41. It’s fast, It’s cheap, and it’s one of the few routers with native support for AOL connections. The SMC SMC7004VBR is similarly good.

If you'd rather go wireless, I recommend the ultra-sexy Buffalo AirStation — its range and speed are superb (I know, because I still use an older version of this model for myself). You may also want to check out the Linksys WRT54G or the SMC SMCWBR14-G.

(When you start searching for these products, try PriceGrabber. It’s a nice, clean, easy-to-use price comparison service that will help you find the best deals available.)

Once you've decided on a router, you need to make sure you have one network card (NIC) for each computer. You can check by looking for an RJ45 jack (it looks like an enlarged phone jack) on the back of each computer. Those that lack the jack will need an NIC. Internal models like the Linksys LNE100TX are cheapest. If you don’t want to crack open the case, try the USB200M, which plugs simply into a USB port on the back of your computer. For laptops, consider PC card models like the wired PCM200 or the wireless WPC54G (requires wireless router).

Note: When buying wireless products, you must consider the three competing standards: B (low-speed), G (hi-speed), and A (hi-speed). B and G products are compatible, but both are incompatible with A products.

The last item on the list is cabling. Even if you go wireless, you’ll still need a cable in between the cable/DSL modem and the router. Wired networkers will also need one cable per computer (as illustrated above). You may have enough cables lying around the house. If not, check out the cable guide to learn about Cat5 and find the right stuff for your setup.

When you have all the equipment, set it up—plug in the router and install the NICs. The manufacturer should give you sufficient instructions for these tasks. Then just connect the cables as shown above, and move on to the configuration.

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