Answer Line: How Do I Share a Printer on My Small Network?

What's the best way to share a printer between two or more computers on a home network?

Alex Jennings, Pasadena, California

The easiest and cheapest way is to connect the printer to one PC and allow the other systems on the network to print through that computer. Unfortunately, however, to permit users to print from any other machine on the network, the host computer (the one that has the printer plugged into it) must be powered on.

A print server solves that problem. But first, I'll describe how to share a printer that's attached to one computer.

Open Control Panel on the host PC: In Windows XP, select Start, Control Panel, Printers and Other Hardware, View installed printers or fax printers (if you have Control Panel in Classic view rather than in Category view, click Start, Control Panel, Printers and Faxes). In Windows 98, Me, and 2000, choose Start, Settings, Printers. In the Printers window, right-click the printer in question and select Sharing. Fill in the dialog box and click OK.

Now open Control Panel's Printers applet on the other PCs and select Add a printer (XP) or Add Printer (98, Me, and 2000). Follow the instructions in the Add Printer Wizard, making the appropriate choices for your network printer.

If you get tired of booting two PCs just to print, you may be ready for a print server, which links your printer directly to your network (see FIGURE 1

FIGURE 1: Zonet's 1-Port Print Server makes it easy to allow two PCs to share a single printer.
). A stand-alone print server costs $40 to $45. If you're in the market for a network router anyway, consider buying one that has a built-in print server. Such models cost about $20 more than otherwise equivalent routers, so you'll save money and have one less AC adapter to deal with.

You can buy either a parallel or a USB print server, but I recommend that you choose a parallel model because USB print servers tend to encounter compatibility problems more frequently. If your printer lacks a parallel port, make sure that the USB print server you buy supports your printer. There should be a list of supported printers on the server manufacturer's Web site.

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