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Help PCs on Your Home Network ‘See' One Another

So you have a desktop in the den, a laptop in the kitchen, and maybe another system in the kids' room--all connected to your router. Problem is, they can't "see" one another, making file and printer sharing impossible. This maddening problem tends to plague networks with Windows XP-based systems or a mixture of XP and Vista.

Unfortunately, while Vista does a better job than XP of identifying networked computers, neither OS really helps users remedy this particular annoyance. So here's the easy way to get all of your machines communicating quickly.

Make sure each PC on your network subscribes to the same workgroup.
Start by making sure that each PC is subscribed to the same workgroup (very often the problem is that they aren't). It can have any name, up to 15 characters, but it needs to be the same on each machine. In XP, click Start, Control Panel, System, and choose the Computer Name tab. Click the Change button if you need to modify the workgroup name. In Vista, click Start, Control Panel, type workgroup in the Search field, and then click Change workgroup name.

If this no-cost solution doesn't fix the problem for you, let a third-party utility do the heavy lifting. Pure Networks' Network Magic provides wizard-driven operation for such tasks as file and printer sharing and even network optimization. The Essentials version ($30) supports up to three PCs; if you have more computers, you'll need the $50 Pro version.

Stop Your Neighbors From Stealing Your Wi-Fi Bandwidth

The tip below solves weak Wi-Fi, but some folks have the opposite problem: Their routers put out signals strong enough to extend far beyond their walls. So Flanders, Norton, the Mertzes, and other pesky neighbors might be pilfering your Internet access. Even if you don't mind sharing, remember that many ISPs now have caps on monthly bandwidth--and your BitTorrent-happy squatters might push you over the limit. "Loose" Wi-Fi also represents a very real security risk: If the neighbors can access your network, they may be able to access your data as well.

Turn on MAC address filtering in your router's settings to improve Wi-Fi network security.
You could just turn on your router's built-in WPA encryption, but that won't do you much good if your kids blab the family Wi-Fi password to everyone on the block. Instead, turn on MAC address filtering in your router's security settings. You'll have to spend a few minutes entering the MAC hardware addresses for all your devices (which you can find by typing ipconfig in the Windows command console), but after that you'll need no additional security at all. Only known devices will be allowed to connect, so a password isn't required.

Boost Wi-Fi Signals to Reach All Corners of Your Home

If you're still using the old 802.11b or 802.11g Wi-Fi router that you bought when you set up your home network years ago, it's high time for an upgrade to 802.11n (currently known as draft-n); 802.11n routers offer roughly twice the range of their g counterparts--more than enough to blanket the average home with Wi-Fi goodness.

If you're looking for a cheap solution, consider a taking a do-it-yourself approach: You may be able to extend the range of your existing Wi-Fi router by "hacking" its antenna(s). Check out this how-to video and the accompanying step-by-step instructions.

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