Wired or Wireless

When setting up a network in a home or office for use with Windows 7, you can choose from several technologies, including

• Ethernet This popular networking standard, developed in the mid-1970s, has stood the test of time. The original Ethernet standard (also known as 10Base-T) is capable of transferring data at maximum speeds of 10 megabits per second. The Fast Ethernet standard (also known as 100Base-T) can transfer data at 100 megabits per second and is currently the mainstream system used in most homes and small office networks. A newer standard called Gigabit Ethernet allows data transfers at 1 gigabit (1,000 megabits) per second . In an office or home that is wired for Ethernet, you can plug your network adapter into a wall jack and install a hub at a central location called a patch panel. In a home or office without structured wiring, you'll need to plug directly into a hub .

• Wireless In recent years, wireless networking technology has enjoyed an explosion in popularity, thanks to its convenience, steadily decreasing prices, and ubiquity. Wireless connections are now available in many hotels, trains, buses, ferries, and airplanes in addition to the more traditional hotspot locations such as cafés and libraries

Although wireless local area networks (WLANs) were originally developed for use with notebook computers, they are increasingly popular with desktop computer users, especially in homes and offices where it is impractical or physically impossible to run network cables . The most popular wireless networks use one of several variants of the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) 802.11 standard, also known as Wi-Fi . Using base stations and network adapters with small antennas, Wi-Fi networks using the 802.11g standard transfer data at a maximum rate of 54 megabits per second using radio frequencies in the 2 .4 GHz range. (Some manufacturers of wireless networking equipment have pushed the standard with proprietary variations that approximately double the speed.) Currently the most popular, 802.11g-based networks have largely supplanted those based on an earlier standard, 802.11b, which offers a maximum speed of 11 megabits per second. Nipping at the heels of 802.11g is 802.11n, which offers approximately a tenfold improvement in speed as well as significantly greater range. At the time of this book's publication, the 802. 11n specification has not been adopted, although that hasn't stopped manufacturers from selling equipment based on the draft standard; publication of the final standard is expected in early 2010.

Most 802.11g hardware works with 802.11b networks as well. Likewise, most 802.11n (draft) hardware is backward compatible with 802.11g and 802.11b devices . (Note, however, that all traffic on your network runs at the speed of the slowest wireless standard in use; if you've just bought an 802.11n router, you might want to pony up a few dollars more to replace your old 802.11b and g network adapters .) For a summary of the current state of 802.11n development, see the Wikipedia page at w7io.com/1701.

Another Wi-Fi standard you might encounter is 802.11a, which can reach maximum speeds of 54 Gbps. It broadcasts in a different frequency range (5 GHz), and is therefore incompatible with 802.11b, 802.11g, and 802.11n equipment, except for specialized dual-band and multiband gear

A number of other wireless network standards promulgated by the IEEE's 802. 11 Working Group promise benefits such as better security. Be aware that, despite the confusingly similar names, network equipment using one of the wireless standards is generally compatible only with other equipment using the exact same standard. For the latest technical details, you can read the sometimes dense and dry commentary at the official site of the 802.11 Working Group, ieee802.org/11. For a more readable summary, try the website run by the Wi-Fi Alliance at wi-fi.org.

• Phone line Networks that comply with early versions of the HomePNA standard operate at speeds of roughly 10 megabits per second; the HomePNA 3 standard works at speeds of up to 128 megabits per second. HomePNA networks don't require a central connection point such as a router or hub; instead, they employ a daisy-chain topology in which all network adapters communicate directly by plugging into existing telephone jacks and transmitting data on the same wires that carry telephone and fax signals, without interfering with those communications . For more it-

information, visit the HomePNA Alliance at homepna.org.

• Power line Another technology that uses existing wiring communicates over power lines . Two trade associations—HomePlug Powerline Alliance and Universal Powerline Association—have developed standards (which are not compatible with each other) for power-line communications, and each one can be found on devices from a small number of manufacturers . Speeds up to 200 megabits per second are claimed. You can find more information at the HomePlug Powerline Alliance (homeplug.org) and Universal Powerline Association (upaplc.org) .

Ethernet and wireless are the dominant networking technologies in homes and offices . The availability of inexpensive wireless network gear has relegated phone-line and power-line technologies to niche status; they are most attractive in older homes where adding network cable is impossible and wireless signals are impractical because of distance, building materials, or interference.

In many homes and offices, it's impractical to rely exclusively on one type of network. For example, it might not be feasible to run cables to every location where you want a computer. Yet, a wireless network might not be adequate because the signal can't reach all locations due to the number and type of walls and floors that separate computers. In such a case, you can install two or more networks of different types and use a router or a bridge to connect the disparate networks .

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