BOOT CAMP ARCHIVE 2003

  

 

BOOT CAMP 282 (08/07/03)

 

Wireless Networking part 2

 

In part one of this short series we considered the technicalities of connecting two or more PCs together, to share files, resources like a printer and the Internet using wireless networking; this week we’re looking at the hardware and software you will need to set up a simple home or small office ‘Wi-Fi’ system.

 

Wireless networking is not a particularly demanding application so it doesn’t matter if your PCs or laptop are a few years old, provided they have the necessary expansion sockets, ports or card slots -- more about those later -- nor does it matter which operating systems they use. In fact you can network almost any combination of PCs using Windows, Mac or Linux operating systems but for the purposes of this series we’ll be focusing on PCs that use Windows, preferably Win 98 onwards as earlier versions were not especially network friendly. Windows networking has got progressively easier with each new release and nowadays it’s almost foolproof with Windows XP but the point is you can mix and match different versions of Windows on a network without any problems.

 

A couple of other things to bear in mind; when buying Wi-Fi equipment for the first time it’s a good idea to stick with a single make or brand and the one’s you are most likely to encounter are Buffalo, D-Link, Linksys, Netgear and US Robotics.  In theory all 802.11b Wi-Fi labelled products should be compatible with one another and for the most part they are but there are a few annoying exceptions and it makes sense to eliminate as many potential hurdles as possible at the outset. Once your network is up and running you can mix and match brands to your heart’s content and in the unlikely event of a problem it will be much easier to troubleshoot.

 

Secondly you should be absolutely certain that your chosen wireless components are one hundred percent compatible with your operating system. Until recently this could be a problem if you were using Windows XP on one or more PCs as some manufacturers were slow to develop the necessary driver software, however these days it’s more likely to affect new wireless devices and older versions of Windows, which may no longer be supported.

 

Now we come to the nuts and bolts of wireless networking. As discussed last week the best method of networking for SOHO users is an ‘Infrastructure’ system, where all of the data flowing between the computers is channelled through a device called a ‘Router’, which acts like a telephone exchange. Since we’re building a wireless system you will need a Wireless Router, and this plugs into the Server PC, which is usually the one that’s connected to the Internet. Prices start at around £75.

 

In order to connect the Wireless Router to the Server PC it will need to have an Ethernet port on the motherboard. If not you can fit an Ethernet 10/100 Network Interface Card (NIC) or you can use a USB adaptor. An Ethernet socket looks like a large version of the American style phone plug. Many new PCs and laptops have an Ethernet socket as standard but if not they’re easy to install; adaptor cards, which cost from £10 to £15 fit into a spare PCI socket but if you don’t fancy taking the lid off your machine a simple plug-and-play USB to Ethernet module will set you back around £15 to £30.

 

If you are using a USB type broadband modem it remains connected to your Server PC put but if you have a modem with an Ethernet type connection it can plug directly into the wireless router and depending on the type, it may be possible to have the broadband connection permanently on and available to the other PCs in the network, even if the Server PC is switched off. You can also get wireless routers with built-in broadband modems which will also provide you with an ‘always-on’ capability, without the need for a PC. These tend to be a little more expensive than basic wireless routers and there have been some compatibility issues with some ISPs but this approach certainly helps to cut down the number of boxes and wires and generally they are no harder to configure.

 

Each of the ‘Client’ PCs in your network has to be fitted with some form of wireless adaptor and there are several types to choose from. For most laptops the easiest option is a Wi-Fi ‘Card’ which fits into the standard PC-Card slot on the side of the machine. There has been a dramatic reduction in the cost of Wi-Fi cards recently and prices now start at under £30 if you shop around online. Some recent PCs have built-in Wi-Fi capability, so check first before you buy anything, or if you are in the market for a new laptop it’s worth putting it on your shortlist of desirable features.

 

Older laptops or those without PC-Card sockets and desktop PCs can use the second type of Wi-Fi adaptor, which plugs into a standard USB socket. This is the easiest option if you don’t like the idea of opening up your PC to install extra cards or adaptors and prices also start at around £35.

 

The alternative to a USB type wireless adaptor for desktop PCs is a PCI card adaptor. There are two types: all-in-one cards that fit into a spare expansion socket on the PC’s motherboard and PCMCIA card adaptors. The former type often has a separate antenna, which might help improve range and connection quality if the client PC is further than 30 to 50 metres, say, from the Server and wireless router. The second arrangement has the advantage that you can share a single wireless card between your desktop and laptop PCs. Wireless PCI cards sell from around £40 upwards whilst PCMCIA card adaptors can be bought for £30 or so but don’t forget you will also need a wireless card to use with it.

 

That just about covers the hardware and in part three the fun and games begins, with network configuration.

 

Next week – Wireless Networking, part 3

 

JARGON FILTER

 

LINUX

Advanced and highly adaptable PC operating system, mostly used in applications requiring flexibility and stability 

 

PCI

Peripheral Component Interconnect - high-speed expansion/connector system used on most recent PCs for sound, video, and network adaptor cards, etc.

 

SOHO

Small Office Home Office -- category of computers and peripherals designed for relatively light duties in home and office environments

 

 

TIP OF THE WEEK

 

This freeware program should be of interest to anyone who travels with a laptop, uses Internet café’s or other people’s PCs for sending email. Crypto Anywhere is a simple to use email program with powerful built-in encryption; however, the key feature is that it’s only 1.3Mb in size, so it’ll fit easily on a floppy disc or USB keychain memory module. You have a choice of sending self-decrypting messages (the person you’re sending it to only needs a password) or public key encryption, in which case the receiver will need decryption software on their PC. It’s free for personal use and can be downloaded from:

http://www.bytefusion.com/download/

bin/cryptoasetup.exe

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