Home network setup doesn’t end when the installation tech leaves your house after installing the High Speed Internet service. Their job usually ends with making sure one computer (the “Master Computer”) is able to connect properly. Connecting all of your other computers to the network is usually on you. You may get lucky and be assigned a nice tech that will help you, but normally you’re on your own.
However, there’s no need to worry. Home network setup is quite easy. I know it sounds like a big job, but you can usually get four computers up and running on the network within about an hour. This easy-to-follow guide will help you.
Step 1: Do You Need to Buy Anything?
Look at the back of the computer that will be physically connected to the router and see if it has an RJ-45 jack on the back (pictured to the right). Most computers bought within the past 10 years or so will have an Ethernet adapter as part of the main board and will look something like the image on the right.
If your computer doesn’t have the RJ-45 jack on the back, or if the Ethernet adapter no longer works, you’ll need to buy a new one. The easiest way to add Ethernet capability to a computer that doesn’t have it is with a USB Ethernet adapter. These range in price from about $10 and up, depending on the brand and where you buy them.
There once was a time when the network adapter card was the better option as far as performance was concerned. That is no longer the case with the advanced version of USB (Universal Serial Bus) and the speeds it can attain. You will be presented with a few options no matter which type of adapter you buy. If you choose Ethernet, you want the adapter with the highest speed capability that you can afford (this normally means “gigabit Ethernet”).
Step 2: Install the Adapter
If you’re like me, you’ve got a handful of devices that you connect and disconnect on a regular basis. So I would recommend plugging the adapter you chose into one of the USB ports on the back of the computer, leaving the front panel ports for those devices you connect and disconnect on a regular basis.
Gain access to the back of the computer and plug the adapter into a free port and turn the computer on. If you’re using Windows XP, Vista, or 7, the system will detect the new device automatically and install drivers for it. Usually. Your new adapter should also come with a driver disc in case it doesn’t install automatically. Insert it into the CD/DVD drive and let it run through the driver installation program, responding appropriately to the prompts. Now let’s configure it.
Step 3: Configure the Adapter
Configuring the network adapter is the part of the home network setup where you tell the computer how to use the adapter. Follow one of these sets of steps to locate your adapter. Once you do, select it and choose “Properties”:
- Windows XP: Start > Control Panel>Network Connections > Local Area Connection
- Windows 2000: Settings > Control Panel> Network and Dial-up Connections > Local Area Connection.
- Windows Vista and Windows 7: Control Panel > Network and Sharing Center > Change Adapter Settings
You should now see a dialog similar to the one on the right. As you can see, several items are listed, but the most important is the TCP/IP Protocol. Highlight it and select “Properties” to configure the adapter. This will open a dialog like the one on the right. Make sure the two radio boxes for obtaining the IP Address and the DNS server address(es) automatically are selected. Your wired computer should be able to log on now.
Step 4: Configure the Router
The next step in home network setup is configuring the router. With any luck the install tech did this, but not all of them do. The router supplies the IP addresses, and most of the products you buy today are configured to do that automatically, if the Ethernet cables are in the right places.
To configure it yourself, you’ll need to log into it by opening a browser on the computer that is already online and going to the browser address (usually 192.168.0.0 or 192.168.1.1). The username should be admin with a blank password. The manual/guide will tell you for sure. Once in, select “DHCP” and make sure the DHCP Server is enabled. Here is a photo of some common routers and what they look like on the back, where you plug things in:
If you have a Mac, chances are it’s configured correctly, but it doesn’t hurt to check. If you are running OS X, go to the System Preferences control panels, and then choose Network. At the top of this screen, choose Automatic for the Location, and Show: Built-in Ethernet. You should then highlight the TCP/IP tab and the next line below it should read: Configure IPv4: Using DHCP. The screen should look like this picture on the right.
If you are running Mac OS 9 or earlier versions, you will see a screen like this (pictures on the left) when you go to the TCP/IP control panel.
For these computers, you want to choose Connect via Ethernet, and Configure automatically for setting up your IP address.
Later, we will have other articles that describe how to enhance router security and more advanced activities. For now, we are just discussing the connection itself. Once you have plugged in the cables, go back to your computers. Make sure they are off, and then power them back on, bring up a Web browser, and make sure you can see the Internet, by going to a site like http://google.com. If not, check out the troubleshooting article.