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Please advise best way to set up a home/office network

Posted on 2008-06-17
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Hi experts,

I'm hoping you can give me some advice on how to set up a home network. I'm intermediate level at XP, beginner at Vista, beginner at networking.

I have 4 computers at home, say A, B, C and D. Presently the setup is that the firstl 3 work individually whereas the fourth is unused. All 3 are connected to a hard wired router.
Laptop A - Dell, XP home SP2, connected by USB to Samsung mono laser and HP inkjet printers, used for home only.
Laptop B - Samsung, XP Tablet, borrows printers from A, used for work only
Laptop C - Acer, Vista home, Dell colour laser, used for home mainly and a little work.
No printer has 10/100 connection - all are parallel / USB..
I have a further desktop computer D which is presently unused and could be used as a server I believe. It is XP home SP2.
It would be nice if I could link these all together somehow, all 3 laptops being able to talk to each other and the server (which would be data storage mainly) and to all 3 printers.
Ideally I would go to wireless internet access, but that's not essential.
I would like to synchronise Outlook 2003 across laptops A and B, but not with laptop C which has a different user.
And of course I'd like to do it for minimum cost!

Please can you give me options or point me in the right direction?

Thanks

Stuart
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Question by:StuartOrd
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by:CMYScott
ID: 21802170
You can setup the desktop as a pseudo-server.  I would recommend trying to hookup all printers to the server and sharing them from there - along with at least one file-share from there.  As wireless is most times inconsistent even in the best configurations I would recommend you hard-wire at least the server.

Without a domain server, you will have to deal with keeping usernames/password sync'd.  All this means is that if you create a user 'John' with a password of 'hilda' on the server, you'll need to create that same user/password combination on each PC John needs to use.

Outlook synchronization depends on the type of account you are using.. ie.. are you connecting to an Exchange server or a POP3 account?

You may run into some problems getting the Vista PC to access a file share on the XP machine.  This is a common problem and there are various solutions - although my own experience has not resulted in full functionality yet.  Perhaps Vista SP1 solves that issue, I'm not sure.

As for cost - it sounds like you have everything you need, so the cost is simply your time.

Depending on the RAM/Processor in your desktop, you may want to spend a few dollars to increase the RAM - which will usually increase performance and sometimes can make up for a slower processor to some degree.

Another option would be to use Linux on the server.  Ubuntu is easy to install/configure and could be configured to do what you want to do.  However if you already own a copy of XP for the desktop I don't believe there is any advantage to this setup - UNLESS your desktop is pretty old hardware, in which case it might perform better with Linux.

Good Luck
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by:darkmooink
ID: 21802178
ok for linking the computers together is simple, you just get a switch/router and plug them all in. if you wish to have the internet on all of them then you will need a router but make sure that you buy one for the right connection (virgin media use a different type of connection to bt).  zyxel are a very good make, since finding them all my networking things have been from them.
the outlook thing is a bit trickier, do you know what protocol you are using (pop3, imap, http) if it isnt pop3 it would be as simple as just putting the accounts on the pc but if you are using pop3 then i dont know of a way of syncing them.
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by:StuartOrd
ID: 21807928
I get my E-mail through a couple of POP3 (and two SMTP) servers.

Are you suggesting I run USB cables from the server to all 3 printers? As the computers are in different rooms, I'm wondering if there's a distance limit?

No, the desktop is fairly new and decent spec I think - but not sure as it's my son's. He's bought a new laptop and lives away from home now, I was thinking of offering to buy it! What sort of minimum spec would I need?

Sorry whilst I've heard of domain servers I'm unaware of how to set them up. How would the PCs be connected? I have run a 10/100 crossover cable between two PCs before some time ago, but this system of 4 PCs is more complicated.
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CMYScott earned 500 total points
ID: 21808392
Assuming you have broadband internet access (DSL or Cable Modem), you would get a wireless router.  Linksys is probably the most popular.  I actually try to use Belkin or DLink.  They come in various WiFi 'flavors' (ie.. B, G, A, N).  You'll need to get one that is compatible with all of your laptops.  

The router will have a public port (also known as WAN or Internet) - you'll hook this up to your cable-modem or DSL modem.  Then it should have private ports (also known as LAN) - usually there will be at least 4.  For the sake of expansion I would suggest you only look for a router that has at least 4 hard wired ports.

You'll connect the desktop PC to any one of the private ports (they should all work the same).  Most router's come with a CD which guides you thru the setup - pay special attention to the WiFi parts.  You will want to secure your WiFi access, but you'll need to find out what the various laptops can support.  The two common security methods are WEP and WPA.  WPA is newer and more secure.  If all the laptops support WPA, you'll want to use that.  If however any of the laptops do not support WPA, they most likely will all support WEP and you'll have to use that instead.  

Once the router is setup, you'll have to connect the laptops to the Wifi.  The interface could be different on all of them if they use different wifi cards.  Or, you might be able to use the Windows wireless-zero configuration module - which in my experience works fine most of the time.  

As for the printers - my suggestion was to hook them all up to the server.  In this way, since the server will most likely always be on, you wouldn't need to depend on a certain laptop being on in order to print to a printer attached to it.  However there are distance limitations to USB and if the printers need to be in a different room, its probably not practical use that method.  Alternatives are to keep the printers hooked up where they are and share them from each computer - or get some wireless/USB print servers (again, Linksys or DLink make such things along with a host of other vendors).

If you are doing simple file-sharing, print-sharing, etc with no heavy load - its likely the desktop PC will function just fine.  I'd be most concerned with the amount of RAM - if its less than 1GB, you should consider upgrading it - and if you're upgrading it, you may as well try to get to 2GB as most memory is cheap today.

As for the cables - most routers today have auto-switching ports - that is, they will work with a straight cable or a crossover cable.

Email syncing with pop3 is something you can 'kinda' do.

You can sync the incoming side by simply telling each client to download the mail, but NOT delete the mail from the server.  Then, pick the one that you'll be using most often and tell it to delete the mail from the server every 10 days (perhaps 10 doesn't work for you - you can set it shorter or longer, depending on how often you will use each PC).  What this does is leaves the mail on the server - such that each client will download the mail, even after another one has already gotten it.  Keep in mind, this will NOT sync read/unread items.  It will NOT sync sent-items, or any organization folders you setup on any one client.


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Author Comment

by:StuartOrd
ID: 21810575
Thanks, that's really helpful and clear. I'll head in that direction.

The only thing sounding a bit iffy is the E-mail side. It sounds like my wife can retain her Outlook setup as it is, on her laptop (laptop C). Her E-mail accounts and mine are different, although they are using the same two POP3 servers as I use as we route our E-mails through 2 websites that I maintain.

My E-mail is less straightforward. I have laptop A at home, which used to be for both work and home use. I have recently bought a new laptop B which I carry around with me and am making that my work PC. I want to be able to get work E-mails on that at any time, any place, and have an HSDPA modem for that when I'm away from home. I tried initially to separate them completely, receiving only work E-mails on B and home E-mails on A, trying to minimise the pst file size and improve its speed. However, I find that a bit of a nuisance due to creating calendar entries on both machines, and my first thought then was keep the E-mails separate but to synchronise them so that they swap calendar entries, contacts notes and tasks created on each machine.

I had come across some software called sync2 which synchronises two PCs using a USB memory stick transfer file, but it seems a bit laborious too when I'm always pushed for time. Their site seemed to suggest synchronisation is easy when using a server, but apparently not from what you say.

I'm starting to think now that the easiest solution will be to make the work machine the "live" one and then copy the pst file to the home one periodically so I can consult it when needed, and create/receive nothing on PC A. The pst files will be bigger, but perhaps I should delete some old stuff!
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by:StuartOrd
ID: 21810631
Having re-read your reply, can I ask for a little clarification? You said "The router will have a public port (also known as WAN or Internet) - you'll hook this up to your cable-modem or DSL modem. " I have DSL broadband at home over my telephone line. When I first got it enabled, I got a DSL modem providing for a single PC. When we went to 2 PCs, this modem was replaced by a 4-port wired router. I don't connect the router to a modem - it is its own modem, it connects directly to the filter. Are wireless routers different?

For the small number of times we want to print to a printer in the other room, I think buying wireless printer servers is not worth it. I presume that when all PCs are connected and running, I could send a print job from laptops A and B in one room via the router to the printer in the other room attached (only) to laptop C? Otherwise we'll just continue to use to memory sticks.

As a further thought, can you tell me if (once I've linked the PCs the way you describe) it's possible to install software on the server and then run it on any PC when they are attached? I suppose there will be license issues, but apart from that, will it work?

Thanks.
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by:CMYScott
ID: 21812401
There may be some wireless routers which have DSL modem's built in.  I've never used one myself - although most of my customers are using cable-modems.  In my area, the prices are fairly competitive and the cable-modems provide better/faster service (although the gap in performance is closing).  If you can get a DSL Modem with Wifi router built in, that will work fine.  If not, you should be able to connect the a new wireless router into any of the ports on your existing DSL Modem/Router without any issue.  You MAY want to turn the router functionality of the DSL Modem/Router OFF - but its probably not necessary.

Yes, as long as all PCs are on, you should have connectivity that would allow you to print to any printer - assuming all permissions have been set properly, drivers loaded, etc.

If you install programs on the server, they will NOT be available on the clients.  You could use something like Remote Desktop - which is built into Windows XP and Vista - although I would recommend you should have a certain comfort level with Remote Desktop before you go that route.  It is not difficult to configure or setup - but you should understand exactly what its doing and what limitations exist.

If you want the ability to actually install software to the clients from the server - you would need to look at a more complex configuration.  Specifically an Active Directory domain controller will let you do what you want through Group Policy, etc.  If you are not familiar with these concepts; I would recommend it's probably more complex than what you need.  If you decide you have specific needs which require this type of system and you are not comfortable with Windows Server, Active Directory, etc - then you really should be hiring some consultant.

Good Luck
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by:StuartOrd
ID: 21815355
OK, many thanks.
Stuart
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