Choosing the Right Network
There are more choices than ever in types of networks. Though each arrangement has its advantages and disadvantages, the large selection of products eases the job of setting up the network that's best for you.
Standard Wired Ethernet
Advantages: 10/100 wired ethernet is inexpensive, easy to set up, and faster than wireless. New gigabit (10/100/1000) technology is superfast, though it's designed primarily for business settings.
Disadvantages: Requires running cables to a central connection switch or router. More-expensive gigabit adapters and switches require special, more-expensive cable.
Costs: 10/100 add-in cards, $15-$20 per PC, or gigabit add-in cards, $90-$110 per PC; 10/100 switch, $35-$75, or gigabit switch, $100-$200; Internet router/firewall, $50-$75.
Advantages: No wires to run through your walls or hallways; use your laptop to surf the Web from your couch or patio.
Disadvantages: More expensive than wired. Must be set up carefully for maximum security and range. Evolving standards can be confusing and incompatible. Speed falls as distance increases.
Costs: 802.11b PC Card (10 mbps), $50-$90, or 802.11b/g PC Card (54 mbps), $70-$100; add-in wireless PCI card, $90-$125 per PC, or USB wireless adapter, $50-$90 per PC; single-speed wireless router, $50-$100, or dual-speed wireless router, $225-$300.
Advantages: Offers the best mix of convenience and cost.
Disadvantages: Different technologies can make setup difficult.
Costs: See "Standard Wired Ethernet" and "Wireless (Wi-Fi)" above.
Advantages: Simple to install; network runs on your electrical wiring.
Disadvantages: Slow (12 mbps); relatively expensive; adapters from different companies won't necessarily work with one another.
Costs: $90-$100 per PC.