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Posted on: Wednesday, January 24, 2001

Four different methods for users to choose

Advertiser Staff and News Services

There are several different networking technologies available for home use. When selecting one, the three major factors to weigh are cost, capacity and convenience.

Phone-line networking

Home phone line networking, called Home PNA ($70-$100 per computer), enables you to connect your computers and peripherals through your home telephone lines and wall jacks. It’s relatively easy and inexpensive, and provides as good, or better, performance than most of the other options, so it’s among the most commonly recommended technologies for beginners.

You can buy a program that will allow regular use of your telephone, even while computers are connected, but it will not work if you’re actually surfing the Internet.

The downside is that telephone line networking can require running wire for long distances throughout your home if the computers are far from phone jacks.

Most telephone-line-based LANs operate at between 1 and10 Mbps (megabits per second).

Intel’s (Intel.com) AnyPoint Phoneline Home Network is theoretically capable of up to 10 Mbps, and runs about $99 per computer.

Setup is fairly easy. The network connects Windows PCs through Universal Serial Bus (USB) ports and to the wall through the nearest phone jack. Loading the network software requires about three or four steps.

Other kits recommended by PC Magazine include the D-Link DHN-920 10Mb Phoneline Network (www.dlink.com/), Linksys HomeLink Phoneline 10Mb USB Network Adapter kit (www.linksys.com/; doesn’t include Internet sharing software), and the 3Com HomeConnect Home Network Phoneline USB (www.3com.com/).

Prices range from $95 to $100 per computer.

Power-line networking

This type of network (about $100 per computer) enables you to connect your computers through existing electrical sockets.

It’s fairly easy to network your computers via AC power lines, so it rates high on convenience.

Capacity, or transmission speed, is fair at about 2 Mbps, but that’s expected to jump to as much as 10 Mbps later in 2001 as SONICblue and other companies including Compaq, Intel, Power Line Networks and 3Com unveil new home networking technology.

Power-line networking is still a fairly new technology, so there aren’t many products to choose from yet.

If you want to try it, several product reviewers recommend RCA’s soon-to-be-released SystemLink networking kit ($199), produced with networking chipmaker Inari Inc. The kit comes equipped to link two computers via their USB ports.

Setup entails connecting the USB adapters to the computer then running the networking cable to the nearest outlet. Installing and configuring the network software takes half a dozen steps.

Potential drawbacks: Network interference from some appliances can disrupt a power-line network and a blown fuse or a power outage will crash the network.

Ethernet networking

The main draw with Ethernet ($50-$70 per computer) is the transmission speed of 10-100 Mbps.

That said, Ethernet networks can be difficult to set up because installation involves connecting the computers with special wiring - not as easy as plugging into wall outlets.

To get Ethernet up and running, you’ll need to purchase a kit with an Ethernet hub, Ethernet cables (Category 5 cables, also called Cat-5) and network interface (NIC) cards to connect to the network and network software.

When buying equipment, shop around for a kit that has user-friendly installation and instructions to guide you through it step by step.

If you don’t mind the sight of cable running across the floor, setup is not terribly difficult.

If you do, installation may also entail running cable through walls.

"If you put in Ethernet, you could find yourself under the house running Cat-5 or drilling through walls," said SONICblue’s Harold Bowen.

Experts say it’s best to buy these kits from a computer store so you can ensure cable lengths and other specifications match what you’ll need.

The Linksys Fast Ethernet Switched Network in a Box ($150), for example, comes with everything you need to network five computers - except the Cat-5 wire.

Some of the leading brand names to consider include D-Link, Linksys and 3Com.

Wireless networking

Wireless LANs are becoming popular, but they’re also fairly expensive, costing as much as $500-$1,000 for two computers.

The major benefit is that you can be connected to your network and the Internet whether you’re behind a desk or by the swimming pool.

Wireless networks work on the same premise as cordless telephones, providing connections up to 150 feet.

The two choices for wireless networking include the 802.11 standard and the Home RF standard. The 802.11 is much faster with throughput at 10-11 Mbps, while HomeRF is cheaper with throughput at about 1.5-2 Mbps.

Apple’s AirPort 802.11 system (www.apple.com/) can network as many as 10 computers through a $299 transceiver and $99 network cards, which are standard in some new Mac equipment. AirPort can connect Mac and Windows machines up to 150 feet apart at peak throughput of about 11 Mbps.

Once the network cards are installed, it takes about seven on-screen steps to connect the computers.

Lucent’s Orinoco RG-1000 Residential Wireless Networking kit (www.lucent.com; $449 per computer) also boasts 11 Mbps speed.

Based on the Home RF standard, Intel’s AnyPoint Wireless Home Network kit is substantially cheaper at $130 per PC, but only delivers a top speed of 1.6Mbps; same with the Proxim Symphony Suite kit (www.proxim.com; $298 for two computers).

Home network Web sites

For information on home networking, check these Web sites:

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