The User's


Network Hardware Roundup

The hardware roundup is all about hardware you may find beneficial for your home or small office network. It is beyond the scope of the site to cover every piece of network hardware as devices like network chassis and component devices costing in the tens of thousands of dollars are not what most small networks are willing to pay, but they would be supreme overkill for a network of 25 computers or less. Our hardware roundup focuses on the needs of the smaller network and hence are zeroing in on devices in this class. This isn't to say there isn't some pricy stuff out there for this class of network, but there are a lot of good values out there in any price range so we're willing to explore those with you and provide you with insight to help in determining your requirements.

Network Ethernet NIC Card
A Typical Wired NIC Card

Within the hardware roundup you will also find a wide range of devices, network components always begin at the network interface (NIC) on an individual device and branch out by nature. Today there are two basic NIC cards one will encounter in a small network, wired NICs for 10/100/1000 Base-T wired networks, and wireless adapters which allow systems and peripherals to communicate using wireless radio networking technologies.

Network Design Considerations

Wired networks offer greater performance potential over wireless networks as well as being inherently more secure. The security factor comes into play in that in order to connect to the wired network one must have access to an actual network wall plug or available switch port to connect to the physically connect to the network. While wireless networks offer convenience in that you don't have to run wires to connect your devices. However, in defense of the wireless technologies, while they may not be as fast as wired networks and allow connections outside of your physical control, wireless manufacturers have come a long way in making this technology more secure. Not only can you configure your wireless networks to support encryption of network communications for greater security you can also configure your access points to limit access to your network from specific devices and IP addresses. This flexibility is a big selling point for this technology. Within some of our own network environments we have a combination of the two to leverage both technologies with great success, and you can too.

To continue our journey away from your NIC card on your system we then of course need something to connect to. For wireless networks this would be a switch port, or a wall plug if you have run cables and jacks which would then connect to the switch. A switch is a network device for joining networks into a communications fabric. This simply means that your computer or peripheral becomes interwoven in the network and is able to communicate with other devices on the same network, or external networks such as the internet if your network has such an connection. The switch functions as an aggregation point to pass communications between various network devices and manages the delivery of data for you. For wireless devices the wireless NIC would connect to an access point that provides this same network fabric via wireless connectivity.

Another factor to consider with your network choice is the distance your machines will be from the rest of the network. For most home and small networks the 100 meter (328 feet) range of ethernet cable is sufficient for your networking needs and can be easily extend with additional switches. Wireless on the other hand has a much greater limitations when it comes to range. As wireless networks rely on radios to communicate, they are also subject to interference based upon the location of both the device and the access point. Also, as the weakest links saying goes, you can only communicate as fast as the slowest device. We've seen identical notebooks experience varying performance issues dependant upon location. However, there are also ways of extending wireless networking to meet your needs with better antennas, upgraded NIC cards, better wireless access points, and the use of wireless repeaters. This shouldn't deter one from pursuing wireless technologies, we're simply pointing these factors out for your information so you can learn how to overcome them.

Connecting Your Network to the Internet

Most small networks have one thing in common and that is connectivity to the Internet. While the above described networks will allow the systems on them to communicate and share information and devices, one must inject an additional couple of devices to gain access to the Internet. The first device is likely a device you will have little say in which is your Cable or DSL modem. These are provided by your Internet Service Provider and will allow the connection of a computer or gateway to the Internet via their hardware and services. One of the nice things about modern wireless routers is that they generally provide the remaining basic functionality needed to connect to the Internet. Most provide about four switch ports to support up to four machines and wireless connectivity. If you need more switch ports, simply plug a cable into one of the ports on the wireless router and a separate switch and you can expand wired connections to meet your needs. As well, wireless routers usually have an integrated firewall as your first line of defense as well as configurable security settings as mentioned earlier. We'll expand on this more in our tech talk section.

In the Roundup

 Wireless Networking

Wired Networking

  • Adapters
  • Access Points & Bridges
  • Antennas
  • Media Players
  • Modems
  • Print Servers
  • Routers
  • Switches
  • Adapters
  • MoCA
  • Modems
  • Powerline
  • KVM
  • Telco Hardware

Network Expansion

  • Network Addressable Storage
Internet Security