The Ultimate Guide to Home Networking

Setting Up Your New Network

Okay, so you've installed your networking infrastructure (if you're using wired or HomePlug networking). Now it's time to set everything up. I'll assume that you're starting from scratch. (If you're having problems with your network, check out "Set Up Your Home Network: Windows 7 Edition" for more tips.)

The steps are pretty straightforward, but keep in mind that these are general rules of thumb. Various models and brands of access points and routers may differ on specific configuration details. Note that when I refer to "routers" in this section, most of this advice also applies to access points in Wi-Fi-only networks.

Also, don't assume that experience with older routers means you'll just be able to jump in and configure new ones. Some recent routers have substantially automated the setup process, but it's useful knowing how to manually set up your router if there are exceptions to the rules you've followed before.

Configure the Router to Connect to One PC

Typically, you'll connect your router or access point to your PC via an ethernet cable. Routers usually have multiple ethernet ports, so connecting a PC is easy. An access point may require something called a crossover cable, which is a special ethernet cable with two of the pins reversed. Some access points come with a short crossover cable, but you may need to obtain one before proceeding.

Some routers require you to configure your PC to a specific IP address in order to perform setup. Recently released products may be bundled with a software CD that walks you through the configuration process. Note that different brands may have different default IP addresses for the router itself. For example, Linksys routers default to 192.168.1.1, while D-Link users have 192.168.0.1. You'll need to consult your router or access-point documentation for specifics.

Set Up Router and Wi-Fi Security

Every router comes with a default admin account that has a default password, which is usually listed in the documentation. It's startling how many users simply leave the admin password at the default, which allows random people to hijack your router. So the first thing you should do is change the admin password.

The next step is to set up wireless security. A general rule of thumb is to configure for the highest level of security: WPA2, which uses AES encryption. However, some applications and older hardware may not work with WPA2, so you may need to opt for WPA with TKIP encryption for compatibility. Some much older devices may support only the original WEP security scheme, but that has been shown to be relatively insecure. I recommend upgrading to newer devices.

One important step here is to enter a password that acts as an encryption key. Though you want to remember the password easily, you don't want it to be so easy as to be hackable by an outsider. Pick a long, relatively arcane password. (WEP keys are more limited--but you're not using WEP, right?)

Connect the Router to Your ISP

If you have a recent-generation router, it may come with software that will autoconfigure the ISP settings, but you might want to do this manually anyway. Connecting to the Internet means entering key information about your ISP into the router.

  • Connect your cable modem, DSL modem, or other gateway that your ISP supplied to the port labeled "WAN" or "Internet" on the router.
  • Set the IP address of the router as indicated by your service provider, if you use a static IP. Otherwise, simply set the router to be assigned an IP address by your service provider automatically via DHCP. Note that this is different from the gateway address you'll set in any client hardware that connects to the router.

Routers isolate your internal network from the Internet by presenting a single IP address to the Internet. But your home network sees a different IP address as the router gateway, typically 192.168.0.1 or 192.168.1.1.

  • If your ISP provides you with a modem that acts as a gateway device, as some do, you'll need the IP address for that device. The gateway adds another layer, which has yet another IP address. Your ISP should have configured that piece of hardware earlier.
  • If you use alternate DNS providers, such as OpenDNS, you'll want to enter that information. (If you don't know what this is, then you can ignore this step.)

Next: Connect Any Wired Devices to the Router

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