The ultimate guide to home networking

Wired or Wi-Fi? Here's how to pick the right hardware for your PCs, game consoles, Internet-capable HDTVs, and other devices--and how to solve your networking problems.

Home networking is never as simple as merely connecting device A to device B. This guide will walk you through the jargon of setting up a home network. I'm focusing on PC networking here, but I will talk about consumer electronics gear in the context of delivering material from your PC to the living room, as well as Internet connectivity.

Some of the following advice may apply to renters as well as to homeowners, but if you rent rather than own, you have much less control over your physical environment. Your landlord may not appreciate your punching holes in the walls to string Cat 5e cabling, for example.

What Do You Need From Your Network?

Before whipping out your credit card and buying up gear, figure out what you're trying to accomplish with your home network.

• Are you just looking to connect a couple of laptops and maybe a Wi-Fi-equipped cell phone to the Internet for Web access? You might be able to get by with a single 802.11n access point.

• Do you work at home frequently, and require access to a corporate network through VPN (virtual private network) technology? You'll need a good router that can handle VPN passthrough.

• Are you a serious online gamer? Do you connect to massively multiplayer online games or through services like PlayStation Network or Xbox Live frequently? You'll need not only to buy a good router but also to steep yourself in key router capabilities such as port forwarding.

• Do you watch TV through the Internet, using services like Hulu or the networks' own Websites? If you're streaming video from the Internet to multiple locations in your home, you'll want a reliable networking infrastructure--probably a wired network.

Determining the answers to such questions will go a long way toward ensuring that you build a network suitable for your home without spending too much in the process.

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