Hardware Review: Setting up a home network with cable Internet

As seen in the March/April 2002 issue of LinkUP magazine

By J.A. Hitchcock

We kept getting notices in the mail about DSL (high-speed Internet over telephone lines), but were waiting for cable Internet to become available before deciding between the two. That day finally came - Time Warner RoadRunner was just in time for Christmas.

I called Verizon first about the DSL offers they had and asked a few technical questions, such as where the hub/switch was located (if youíre less than three miles from it, you get better speeds when surfing). The person I spoke to had no clue what I was talking about. I asked to speak to a manager, who also had no clue, but tried to give me the hard sell. I was not giving in, even with the first month free, free installation and a free PC web camera (which I already had).

I called Time Warner and found I was talking to someone who knew what the heck they were talking about. I asked how my husband, Chris, and I could run both of our computers (in separate rooms) on one cable connection. The woman patiently explained that we would need a hub (or router) that the cable modem would connect to, then we would connect our computers from the hub. Sounded easy enough (I hoped). Installation was free, the cable modem ($199 retail) was free and one network adapter card ($84 retail) was free. The card would go into Chrisís computer, since his room would house the cable modem/hub. I would need to get another for my computer. Plus - we got the first three months of cable Internet service for just $19.95/month. After that, it would be bundled in with our existing digital cable bill for $110 total/month. The woman suggested we head out to someplace like Best Buy to buy the hub, network card and cable.

Sounds like a lot - but it isnít. We were paying $54/month for digital cable; the second line for the dial-up Internet access ran us $40-50/month, plus our dial-up ISP was $19.95/month for a total of $114+ a month. So weíre saving money.

The next day we visited Best Buy and talked with one of the sales guys there. We explained what we wanted, and he directed us to the Linksys product section. He said he personally preferred Linksys for the hub. We ended up with the Linksys BEFSR41 - EtherFastģ Cable/DSL Router with 4-Port Switch for $99.99 and a NetGear FA311 Network Adapter Card for my computer for $19.99 (with a $5.00 mail-in rebate), plus 50 feet of Belkin FastCat 5E Ethernet cable ($24.99) for the connection from the hub to my computer and two packs of 3-foot BelkinFastCat 5E cable ($7.99 each) for the connection from the cable modem to the hub, then from the hub to Chrisís computer.

When we got home, Chris and I sat and read the instructions. It all seemed simple enough. The cable installer came two days later. Within an hour, he had the cable modem set up and the network card installed in Chrisís computer, then set up our new e-mail accounts. When he left, Chris just had to surf the Web for a while - he was so transfixed by the high speed, it was hard to tear him away. You have to remember - we were going from a 56,000Kps (kilobits per second) to 10Mpbs (millions of bits per second, or megabits per second).

He finally got around to drilling holes in our floors to run the Ethernet cable through the basement from his room to mine (thank goodness we have hardwood floors; I can see where carpets would have been a nightmare). I installed my network card while Chris ran the Ethernet cable through the holes and into my room. Then while I connected the cable to my computer, he connected the cables from the cable modem, his computer and mine to the hub. We turned both of our computers on, mine instantly detected the new network card and zoom - I was online. I didnít have to install any software on my computer at all.

Chris did have to install the configuration program for the hub, but that took very little time. Since the hub has a built-in firewall (hardware firewalls are more reliable than software firewalls), we didnít have to worry about surfing the Web.

The speed is amazing! I tried to find the most graphic-laden site (The Lord of the Rings official web site) and played some of the videos. They were playing in seconds and there was no jerky movements - it was as smooth as watching a TV. I downloaded some updates - instead of taking 30 minutes or longer, they were done in less than a minute.

Chris stayed up until 3 a.m. playing with his new ďtoy.Ē He looked awful the next morning, but he was still enthralled with the ease of the installation and the high speed we now get.

I decided I had to get my notebook, an IBM Thinkpad A22M wired up to cable. It was going to be bad enough to have to use a 56k dial-up modem on the road. Back I went to Best Buy, found the same guy and he said to stick with Linksys and to consider getting the wireless router, even though it was more expensive. That way, I could use my Thinkpad anywhere in the house or yard, up to 1650 feet from the router without a cable. I did it and went home with the Linksys WPC Wireless Access Point Router for $179.99 and the WAP11 Wireless PCMCIA network adapter card for $99.99.

That evening, I sat down in the living room, Thinkpad on my lap. Chris had already added the Wireless Router to the hub in his room. I popped in the PCMCIA card in the slot on the side of my Thinkpad, followed the plug and play instructions, put in the CD-ROM for the drivers and to install the configuration programs, made a few minor adjustments and I was online. This took less than 15 minutes - I swear. It was almost too easy. I walked around the house, as far from Chrisí room as possible, down to the basement and into the garage. It was too cold to go running outside, but the laptop picked up a clear signal through concrete like it wasnít there.

Whatís great about Linksys is that they offer 24 hours a day free tech support - seven days a week (even though we didnít have to use it, itís nice to know it was there).

I found out that if Iím on the road and there is a wireless hub located in the airport/city/hotel Iím in, I just may be able to use my high speed connection on the road. I canít wait for my next trip to see if this works!

If youíre thinking about going cable or DSL and are worried about connecting two or more computers to one connection, donít worry anymore. Itís a snap and a lot easier than you think it is. Remember to ask your DSL or Cable Internet provider if theyíre running any specials or free installation.