I have written some information that can become useful as you decide what to buy during the Christmas shopping season and the Boxing Day sales, whether as gifts or for yourself. This also includes references to articles that I have written over the year to explain newer products and services that have appeared since.
What to consider buying
Improving your home network’s infrastructure
If you are thinking of improving your home wireless network, it may be worth upgrading the existing router with a unit that works to the recently-ratified 802.11n standard with WPS quick-setup. This is more so if your existing unit is at least two years old and you or your company are deploying laptop computers from this financial year onwards. You may want to make sure that it has Gigabit Ethernet ports for future multimedia computing needs. Some newer ADSL routers may offer an Ethernet WAN port so you can move from ADSL to cable or fibre-optic networks if you move house or they lay super-fast broadband technologies like fibre-optic broadband past your door and you sign up to these technologies.
You can also augment your home network with a HomePlug AV kit as a wireline connectivity solution which doesn’t require new wiring to be laid down. This is because the HomePlug AV solution uses the house’s AC wires as its backbone. As well, if you run an existing HomePlug segment based on the 85Mbps technology, adding a HomePlug AV segment won’t upset this setup, which you can then use for low-bandwidth applications like printer sharing or network gaming.
Newer hardware that can work with your network
You may want to buy newer computers either as an upgrade for existing equipment or as additional equipment. One option that may come before you is a low-cost “netbook” or “nettop” computer. These are low-powered computers that have enough power for most Internet and word-processing tasks but don’t work well with full-screen video or the latest action games. On the other hand, these computers can come in handy with Web-based casual games like what is available at Miniclip or MSN Games. Some parents may consider them suitable primarily as a computer for kids to use and focus their mind on serious homework, but these computers can find an application beyond that. Older people may find them handy as an uncomplicated online communications terminal to stay in contact with their relatives. Similarly, these computers, especially the netbooks can come in handy as a supplementary computer for use around the house while looking up information, doing Web-based e-mail or using social-network sites like Facebook or Twitter.
A network-attached storage (NAS) device may be worth considering for your network because of what it can do. It can become a backup device for your computers’ data and can be used as a central storage point for music, pictures and video files. If you dabble with BitTorrent or other downloading, you can set most of these devices to work as a “download endpoint” that fetches files from the various download locations for use on your network.
When choosing a NAS device, look for a single-disk or dual-disk unit with as much storage space as you can afford. If you buy the device as a “bring-your-own-disk” enclosure, try to negotiate a good deal on the hard disks or buy the hard disks as a “cleanskin” OEM unit from an independent computer store. These “cleanskin” hard disks are just simply packaged in a clear plastic crate rather than a cardboard box with the manufacturer’s logo over it. The dual-disk option allows for a second hard disk of equal capacity to work as a “fail-over” disk if one of the hard disks dies; and can provide high disk-network throughput for media files. Some units may provide “online” RAID servicing where they can continue to work while you replace the hard disk. The NAS unit should support SMB/CIFS for general network file access, DLNA (UPnP AV) for media access, DAAP support for any iTunes clients and either SMB, LPR/LPD or IPP for printer sharing.
It may be worth considering a network printer because these printers, which hook up to your network via Ethernet or WiFi, are becoming more affordable. There are even some steps taken to make these printers easier to integrate with your computers. In some cases, this may have the printer being automatically discovered by the computers or you may just need to run an install CD to enable network printing. The multi-function printers may support “push” or “pull” network scanning and may also work as a fax server.
An Internet radio can be a very good gift idea especially if you or the recipient like offbeat radio content or like the sound of “local radio from other countries”. Most of these radios can work well as a network music player if you have music files stored on your computer or network-attached-storage unit. I have written a buyer’s guide to help you go about buying the right Internet radio for your needs and network. I have also reviewed a few sets – the Revo iBlik RadioStation and the Kogan WiFi Digital Radio with iPod dock.
No doubt, the kids will want to get new games consoles for Christmas. These consoles, whether “TV-attached” or handheld, will have support for some network and Internet functionality like online gaming. I have set up an article with some video guides produced by Netgear on how to connect the popular games consoles to your home network and the Internet. This article also mentions particular connectivity accessories that your console(s) may need for particular network setups, which you can get from the same place you bought your console.
Getting the most out of your home network
There are a few feature articles in this blog that are worth reading and will help you get the most out of your network equipment. In some cases, you may avoid the the situation where you need to take any of your home-IT purchases back to the store.
I have an article on how to make sure your wireless network is secure so your personal and business data is safe from prying eyes. This should be read whenever you unwrap that new computer or router and get it going.
The “Understanding 802.11n wireless networks” article describes what the recently-ratified 802.11n wireless network standard has to offer and how to set up your 802.11n wireless router to suit your network as it evolves.
The DLNA Media Network series gives information on establishing a DLNA-compliant home media network. This covers establishing such a network by sharing your media held in your computer when you buy an Internet radio or other DLNA-compliant network media player. It also covers how to get your DLNA Media Network to a point without needing your computer switched on all the time including the use of NAS devices, and the concept of network-controllable media players and the 3-box DLNA media network. Classical-music fans are taken care of with information to organise the metadata for their music so they can play symphonies, concerti and the like straight through or pick a favoured movement as well as achieving sound quality that does justice to the music.
After I have moved the blog to this domain and to a flexible site at GoDaddy, I will build it to become a site focused on providing high-quality information about IT issues that will affect home, small-business and community-group computer users.
Merry Christmas and a very Happy New 2010