Other Network Options

If neither wireless nor Ethernet seems right for you, you have other options for connecting your computers. If your computers have USB or FireWire ports, you can use cables, jump drives or file transfer devices to move files from place to place. Other options include power-line and phone-line networks. Both power- and phone-line networks use existing wiring in your home to connect your computers, so you don't need to worry about concealing extra cable. Check out "How Power-line Networks Work" and "How Phone-line Networks Work" for more information.

Building a Home Network

The two most popular home network types are wireless and Ethernet networks. In both of these types, the router does most of the work by directing the traffic between the connected devices. By connecting a router to your dial-up, DSL or cable modem, you can also allow multiple computers to share one connection to the Internet.

If you're going to connect your network to the Internet, you'll need a firewall. A firewall is simply a hardware device or software program that protects your network from malicious users and offensive Web sites, keeping hackers from accessing or destroying your data. Although they're essential for businesses looking to protect large amounts of information, they're just as necessary for someone setting up a home network, since a firewall will secure transactions that might include Social Security numbers, addresses, phone numbers and credit card numbers. Most routers combine wireless and Ethernet technology and also include a hardware firewall.

Many software firewalls installed onto your computer block all incoming information by default and prompt you for permission to allow the information to pass. In this way, a software firewall can learn which types of information you want to allow into your network. Symantec, McAfee and ZoneAlarm are popular companies that produce software-based firewalls. These companies usually offer some free firewall protection as well as advanced security that you can buy.