There are many ways to setup and configure a home network. Unfortunately, the process isn’t as automatic as it should be. Networking was a nightmare for novices running Windows 98 and Windows ME, but improved with Windows XP and gets even easier with Windows Vista and Windows 7. But it still takes some effort on the user’s part to get machines up and running, sharing files and printing to a centralized printer. This article describes some ways to setup and configure your machines so they are actually networked and not just kinda networked.
The Bare Bones of a Network
A computer needs a network adapter of some sort to be networked. This can be Ethernet (plugged in) or WiFi (wireless). There are other types of networking adapters but we will not be discussing them, as these are the most common in use today. A Ethernet connection can plug into a cable modem, a router, or a combination modem / router. You may have any of these depending on your Internet Service Provider. Below is what your network infrastructure might look like:
Internet —->Cable Modem —-> Router —–> Wireless Access Point (probably built into the router) —->computer(s) a combination of wired and wireless.
We recommend using a router if you do not have one. Again, your modem might be a combination router / modem. To determine this, look at the back of the modem. If you see multiple ports to plug in Ethernet cables, or if your modem has an antenna, then it’s likely a combo unit. We also recommend letting the router do all the work in the networking process by making it the DHCP server. It is likely already setup as a DHCP server out of the box. This means when you plug your computer into the router, it asks for an IP address and the router provides one based on its own internal network IP address. For instance, if your router’s internal IP address is 192.168.1.1, it might assign an IP address of 192.168.1.2 for the first computer, then 192.168.1.3 for thext. The second important router setting is the SSID. This is a network name identifyer. If your SSID is HOME then your network IDs should be set the same on all computers located in your home. If this is the way you are setup, then all you have to do is plug in and you’re ready to go. But quite often you need to tweak some things to get all PCs to connect and see each other.
Configuring the Router
Your router can be accessed over the network using your web browser. Typically, all you need to do is type in the network address, which might look something like this: http://192.168.1.1 but you will need to consult your router’s documentation if this does not work. You will also need to know your router’s username and password to get into the settings. Once in, you can select for your router to receive an IP address from your ISP, then assign the router as a DHCP server. You can also give it a different internal network IP address. But there’s no reason not to keep the internal IP as the default. You can also configure the SSID, which might be something like LYNKSYS or DLINK. You want to change this so others cannot see the brand of router you’re running. Call it whatever you want. This SSID will be the name of your network. You will also want to setup wireless security. Choose WPA-2 and give it a pass code you can remember. Write it down and keep it in a safe place. You will need it later if you decide to add wireless devices, like laptops or an iPhone.
Configuring Your Computers
The best thing to do is run the network wizard included within XP and Vista. These can be found under the network icons in the Control Panel. This will ask you a few basic questions about your setup and configure your computer so it can get an IP address from the router, change your Network ID, etc. At the completion of this wizard, you can even create a disk and transfer those settings to other computers on the LAN. But if you want to manually configure your network, you can.
To setup the Network ID on your computers, just right-click My Computer, select Properties, then select the Computer Name tab and click the Network ID button. Name it the same as your router’s SSID. To confirn you are allowing the router to provide you with an IP address, go to Start>Run and type ncpa.cpl and hit OK. This will take you to your network adapters. Right-click, select Properties, scroll down to TCP/IP and click the Properties button. It should say Obtain IP Address Automatically. This means it will get the IP address from the router. If this is selected, you do not need to do anything else. Also, from within the network properties, make sure File and Print Sharing is enabled if you want to share files or printers between other computers.
In Vista, you will have a network Wizard that gives you more control over the types of sharing. To share files between computers, set the location to private, turn on Network Discovery, File Sharing and Printer Sharing.
Troubleshooting Wireless Connections
There isn’t much difference between setting up a wireless connection and a wired connection. There are a couple of things that can trip you up, however. The very first time you try to connect, you should plug directly into the router and get your IP address. You can maually set it up by going back into the TCP/IP settings and configuring a Static IP address. But this could cause other problems if you do not configure all the fields properly. So we recommend just plugging in the first time. Or if you buy a wireless adapter and install it, the adapter will come with a setup disk where you can input the router’s IP addressa, SSID and any other information it requires. You will also need to configure security. For instance, when you configured your router, you should have setup WPA-2 encryption to secure your network. You will be prompted to enter this password when first connecting to the wireless.
If you cannot connect through WiFi, but can connect through wired, then you know there is a configuration problem somewhere. Go to Start>Run and type cmd and hit OK. at the command line, type ipconfig /all and hit return. You will see the IP addresses of your wired and wireless ports. They should be similar to the router’s. So one could be 192.168.1.2 and the other might be 192.168.1.3. It’s the last digit that should be different. Itf you see the dreaded 169.254.x.x IP address, this means it could not get an IP address from the router so it made one up.
You might also try temporarily disabling any firewalls on the wireless machine until you get a connection. Some security software might block the router. You can also right-click the wireless connection down by the clock and then choose View Available Wireless Networks. You might be surprised to find several listed and that you are accidentally trying to connect to a neighbor’s router. Make sure your router is selected as the preferred connection.
If you have any other questions on setting up your network connections, be sure to visit us on our computer forums.