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.

All Plugged In

196049-wiringpanel_original

Now for a look at one particular network: the one in my home. Our family's network is relatively complex in scope, but while we do some online gaming, we don't run a Web server or an FTP site from within the house.

As I mentioned, we have bundles of Cat 5e wiring at the baseboards in one home office, plus structured wiring to several key rooms in the house. All this is tied together into a central structured-wiring panel, which houses a pair of Netgear 16-port gigabit ethernet switches.

Outside of the basement lab, the most complex setup in the house is our family room, where we have multiple devices connected to the Internet:

• Microsoft Xbox 360 (wired)

• Nintendo Wii (Wi-Fi)

• Pansonic DMP-BD85k Blu-ray player (wired, though it also has a Wi-Fi option)

• Denon TX-NR3007 A/V receiver (wired)

• HP Premium Fax All-in-One printer (wired)

• Dell Zino HD home theater PC (wired)

That's five wired connections and one Wi-Fi.

The room has a single Cat 5e wired drop, which connects to a compact Linksys eight-port gigabit ethernet switch. All of the wired devices connect via the switch.

Prior to putting a wired drop in the family room, we were using a D-Link DAP-1522 802.11 wireless bridge. The bridge connected to the router via Wi-Fi, and has four gigabit ethernet ports. Now that we have five wired devices, having a physical drop and an eight-port switch has been incredibly useful.

The Internet connection is through Comcast's Business ISP service, which connects via a cable connection to an SMC gateway. While the gateway also has a built-in router, that's limited to 10/100 fast ethernet, so the router is disabled.

A single cable runs from the gateway to the D-Link DIR-655, which has four gigabit ports. Another cable runs from one of the gigabit ports to one of the Netgear 16-port switches, and the two switches are bridged through a short cable.

Overall, the network itself has been pretty reliable. In addition to the Nintendo Wii, we have an iPhone and an iPad connecting via Wi-Fi, as well as a couple of laptop PCs. We've never had a problem with network throughput to any device in the house, even with multiple large downloads.

One of us is often taking part in videoconferencing while the other is downloading a large game through Valve Software's Steam gaming service at the same time; neither of us has experienced issues with connectivity, apart from the rare occasions (twice in the past nine months) that the Comcast connection has dropped for brief periods (the longest was about 2 hours).

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