September 01, 2005
| by Gordon van Zuiden
The difficult thing about home networking for most people is that it can be ... well ... difficult. And when you have that home network and something goes wrong, the easiest thing to do is pick up the telephone and call for some help. If you can follow some simple (as in not difficult) precautions, you can prevent many $40-to-$150-per-hour house calls—and get great benefits and reliability from your computer network. These things aren’t all that difficult, and they will make your home network much more efficient.
Keep your router firmware up to date. Just because your router may be a year or two old doesn’t mean it has to behave like an antiquated machine. Upgrading your router’s firmware ensures that you are taking advantage of the latest routing services, such as Dynamic Domain Name System (DDNS). This lets you access your computer remotely, even if it’s behind a firewall and your Internet service provider offers only dynamic IP addresses to your home. If your router includes a wireless access point, an upgrade also allows you to enjoy the benefits of the latest wireless encryption technology.
Run Category 5 (Cat 5) wire to perimeter locations in the home. Wireless is not the panacea for our networking connection issues. Wireless is always a less reliable connection than a wired one. Even if it means crawling in the attic or underneath your home, try to pull Cat 5 or 5e wire from your DSL or cable modem location to the home’s perimeter locations and bedrooms. At a minimum, this allows you to place a wireless access point at these outer locations to extend the reach of your networking infrastructure.
Install the latest operating systems on all of your computers. Windows XP and Apple’s OS X are much more network-friendly than older operating systems. You can save a lot of time and system reboots by making sure that you have the latest versions on all of your desktop and laptop computers.
Use network-attached printers. Everyone on the home network needs to print documents from time to time. Instead of getting each family member an inkjet or laser printer, consider a network-attached printer that everyone can use. These can be attached wired or wirelessly to the home network for access throughout the house. With the money saved on multiple printers, you could afford a few more features in a higher-end one that everyone can enjoy.
Use network-attached storage. This means adding a hard drive that everyone on the home network can use. These very useful devices are ideal for storing digital music and backing up data. Sure, you can store plenty on your home computer, but backing them to an external drive keeps them safe and easily accessible. When it comes to computer networks, there is no substitute for enhanced reliability.
Set up encryption and access control on your wireless access point. This keeps your connection private—otherwise, someone parked on the street could be using your network and Internet connection. Both are very easy to implement. Just point your Web browser to the IP address of your access point and follow the step-by-step instructions.
Use the DOS ping test to determine if your Internet connection is live. When you type in http://www.yahoo.com and you get a message that says the site is not found, it could mean that the Internet is down or you may have a problem on your home network. One quick way to find out is to exit your Windows operating system to DOS and type in a ping command that tests if you are getting a reply from an Internet- connected device outside your home. I use the command ping 184.108.40.206 (this is an external IP address that I know is always up). If I get a reply from this address, then I know the Internet is fine; if not, I probably have an access issue. This is also a very useful command to test out signal ranges when you are walking around your home with a wireless laptop.
Recycle the modem if the Internet is down. If your Internet access is down, turning off your cable or DSL modem and waiting for a minute to plug it back in can often restore the connection. Even if the modem displays all green lights, it is not always true that you have an active, live Internet connection.
Keep your virus protection up to date. By now everyone should be aware of how viruses can easily infect Internet-connected computers. Install virus protection software on each computer and keep it current.
Use fixed IP addresses for network devices and label them. More and more devices that are not computers are connecting to the home network. When you configure these devices, you need to be aware of their IP address. If you don’t know what the address is, it can be a challenge to configure it. The first time you set up devices like IP cameras, network printers or storage devices, you’ll be led through a wizard. Once you’ve created an address, record it on a sticky label and attach it to the device. When you need to make a change to its configuration, you’ll be glad you labeled the device with its IP address.
Gordon van Zuiden is the founder and president of cyberManor: www.cybermanor.com.