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Understanding the Components of a Home Network

by: Manbeer Singh

Home networks are becoming more common. People want to be able to share a single broadband Internet connection to several computers in the house. There are many different devices that you can use to make up your home network. If you have never heard network terminology device names like router, hub, etc may seem confusing.

The purpose of most of these devices is to control how the network passes around information. This information is sent in the form of “packets”. I will refer to the term packet several times in this article. It simply means the data that the network is transporting. I will now explain the purpose of the major components of a home network.

What is a Hub?

A hub is a device that has several Ethernet ports on the back of the device. One of these ports will likely be labeled “Uplink”. This port allows you to connect multiple hubs together, if you run out of ports on your hub. If you do not have an uplink port on your hub, the hub cannot be easily extended if you run out of ports.

A hub is a device that attaches multiple computers on an Ethernet network. If you have a number different computers that you want to connect together, you could connect each to the hub. Any packet that is sent out by any computer on the network will immediately be transmitted to the other computers. Each computer will determine if the packet was really intended for it, and filter out packets that were intended for other computers.

You really should not use a hub in a modern home network. You should always use a switch in place of a hub. Switches will be discussed in the next section.

What is a Switch?

A switch is a device that has several Ethernet ports on the back of the device. One of these ports will likely be labeled “Uplink”. This port allows you to connect multiple switches together, if you run out of ports on your switch. If you do not have an uplink port on your switch, the switch cannot be easily extended if you run out of ports.

A switch serves the same function as a hub. It allows you to connect multiple computers together, so that they can exchange packets. However, a switch is much more efficient than a hub. A switch will only send Ethernet packets to the computer that the packet was intended for. Because of this you should always use a switch in place of a hub.

What is a Router?

A router is a device that has several Ethernet ports on the back of the device. One of the connectors will be labeled WAN. You should connect the WAN port to the Ethernet connection on a broadband source, such as a cable or DSL modem. The other ports on the router can be connected other computers or switches/hubs that will share the WAN connection.

Routers allow you to share your broadband connection with multiple computers in your house. Rather than connecting your computer directly into your cable or DSL modem you connect the router to the cable or DSL modem. Now any computer that you connect to the router will have access to the Internet.

If you run out of ports on your router you can always connect an additional switch to the router. To connect a switch to a router simply connects the switch’s “uplink” port to one of the routers Ethernet ports. Of course, don’t connect to the router’s WAN port. The WAN port should only be connected to something such as a cable or DSL router.

Some routers come with additional features installed. Most routers also include a firewall. Firewalls are discussed in the next section. Some routers will also include a wireless access point (WAP). The WAP allows you to use wireless devices, such as wireless laptops, with the Internet.

What is a Firewall?

A firewall controls traffic flow between your network and the Internet. A firewall can be either hardware or software. Windows XP SP2 or higher includes a software firewall. A hardware firewall is included with most routers.

A firewall is a very good idea. It can protect you from inbound virus attempts. By inbound virus attempt I mean other computers that will connect to your computer and attempt to infect your computer. You do not want to run a computer directly connected to the Internet, without a firewall. There are just too many other computers out there that can connect and infect you without you even noticing.

What is a Network Attached Storage (NAS)?

A network attached storage device is a device that allows a hard drive to be shared across the network. This hard drive is NOT attached to any of your computers. It is simply made available by the NAS. This can be a convent way to add a hard drive that can be accessed by several computers on your network. The other common way to add a network hard drive is to simply share a folder on one of your computers. However, with the NAS, you do not need to keep one of your computers on at all times.

There are two types of NAS commonly available. The first type comes with a build in hard drive. The second accepts a USB or Fire wire external hard drive. The advantage to using a USB or Fire wire hard drive is that you can upgrade the hard drive if it ever were to become too small.

What is a Print Server?

Just like you can buy a device to allow you to share a hard drive, you can do the same with a printer. A print server connects directly to your printer. Your printer is then shared to all of your computers on the network. This is convent because you do not need to leave the printer hooked to a computer, which must be turned on to print.

Conclusions:

As you can see there are many different components. Perhaps the final component that I ave yet to mention is the cable. These components are connected together with CAT5 Ethernet cable.

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What to Look For When Buying a New Laptop

 

by: Nick Fotache

The price of laptops has gone down tremendously over the last few years. Not too long ago a decent laptop would easily have set you back a few thousand dollars. These days, you can pick up a good laptop for as low as $500.00 at your local Walmart. But with thousands of laptops to choose from, and more coming out every week, how do you pick the one that’s right for you? Below are 5 tips to help you make the right decision when looking to buy a new laptop.

1) Determine Your Needs

The first step in figuring out which laptop is right for you is to determine your unique needs. Most students for example would place the emphasis on price, portability, and battery life. In that situation you should look for a laptop with a 14- or 15-inch display. A larger screen means a heavier and bulkier laptop, making it more uncomfortable to carry around. Larger screens also deplete the battery at a much faster rate.

Home users on the other hand should look for laptops with much larger displays than the traditional 14- or 15-inch screens. As these systems typically stay anchored to your desk, table, or kitchen – perhaps occasionally being moved from room to room, the emphasis should be placed on improving the overall visual experience and performance. A larger number of USB ports (3-4) would also be helpful in order to plug-in, for example, a mouse, digital camera, printer, and external hard drive.

Business users often need something more rugged; able to withstand the stresses of constant travel. Because of this, a longer warranty plan is much more important. Security is also a concern so a laptop with extra security features is more ideal.

Determining your unique needs will help narrow down your choices considerably and help make the decision of which laptop to buy much easier.

2) A Good CPU Is Key

The CPU is the most important component of any laptop. Not cutting corners in this department is important if you want a good laptop and a good overall experience. For most users, a dual core processor is the best option. It offers excellent speed and multitasking capabilities with good power consumption. If you’re planning to use your laptop to play video games, edit video, or play HD movies, it would be wise to invest in a more powerful processor such as the Intel Core i7.

Picking the right CPU can be difficult, so do research on the individual processors available to get a better idea of how they will perform with what you’re intending to use the laptop for. When it comes to CPUs, you get what you pay for, so use the price as a guide to help you make the decision but keep in mind that the more powerful processors also consume more battery life as well.

3) Memory Is Very Important

As operating systems and programs continue to use more and more memory, this is not an area you want to overlook. If the laptop is running Windows Vista or Windows 7, then 2GB of memory or more is required for good performance. The 32-bit version of Windows XP, Windows Vista, or Windows 7, can only detect up to 4GB of memory and it’s recommended that you look for a laptop with that much.

However, RAM is cheap and easy to install. You can simply buy less in the beginning and add more if you find that the performance is not adequate. Just make sure that the laptop has a slot available to upgrade. For example, a 2GB laptop with 2 DIMM slots might have two 1GB memory sticks. In that situation you would need to throw one of the memory sticks out in order to add more.

4) Touch It Before You Buy It

These days you tend to find the best prices and deals online. However, before you make the purchase you should try and find a store with the same laptop on display. As with most products, what you see in the advertisement and what you get can be a little different. See if you like the look, shape, and feel in real life as much as in the photos. Do the keys feel nice? Does the screen have problems with glare? Is it heavier or lighter than you expected? Does it feel solid or cheap? You won’t be able to answer these questions by looking at a professionally edited advertisement picture so you need to see the product for yourself first hand whenever possible.

5) Read Reviews Online

This is the most important step. Whatever it is that you’re looking to buy, you should always get a few opinions from other sources, and the internet is the best place to go. Read a few reviews by going to Google and typing in “[laptop name] review” and to see what people have to say. Check out customer reviews from the popular online computer retailers like TigerDirect.com, NewEgg.Com, NCIX.com, etc.

If the reviews give you the green light, then go ahead with the purchase. If you see warning signs then consider yourself lucky to have found out sooner rather than later, and look for something different. Finding little to no information or reviews on a specific laptop is one of the biggest warning signs of all. Unless you like to gamble with your money, you should look for a laptop with some reputation. The last thing you want to do is test out new products at your own expense.

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