3 Ways to Build a Network in OS X Mavericks

The following list gives you three very common ways to build a modern small home or office network you can utilize with OS X Mavericks:

  • AirPort: If all your Macs are equipped with AirPort wireless cards and you have an (AirPort or) AirPort Extreme Base Station or Time Capsule, you don’t need cables at all. Just plug in the Base Station, and Macs with AirPort cards can communicate with one another.

    If you use an Ethernet printer (connected to your Mac by Ethernet cable), you have to connect it to the Base Station before you can print from your wireless Macs. Both the Base Station and printer have Ethernet ports, so you can use a crossover cable (more about that in a minute) to make the connection.

    Recent vintage AirPort Extreme and Time Capsule devices from Apple include a USB port so you can connect any printer via USB and share it wirelessly (rather than having to use a more expensive Ethernet-equipped “networkable” printer).

    Although this setup is more expensive than connecting everything with Ethernet cables and a cheap hub or router, it’s also more flexible because you can move your devices anywhere. (Well, almost anywhere; you’re limited to a maximum of 150–200 feet from each Base Station, and that’s assuming that there’s absolutely nothing in the way to block your signal. Your mileage may vary.)

    If you have an AirPort (or any Wi-Fi) network available, many new printers offer wireless printing, which means you can stash your printer in a closet or another room if you care to.

  • Traditional Ethernet: All modern Macs have an Ethernet port, with the exception of the MacBook Air and the Retina Display MacBook Pro. To connect your Mac to a network, you need Ethernet cables for each Mac and a little device called a hub, switch, or router. This device is like the center of a wheel; the wires coming out of it are the “spokes.”

    A typical Ethernet router includes two to eight Ethernet ports. You plug the router into an electrical outlet and then connect Ethernet cables from each of your Macs and printers (from their Ethernet ports) to the router. Voilà — instant network. These gadgets are pretty cheap, starting at around $30; cables start at a few bucks, increasing in price with the length and quality.

  • Small Ethernet: If you have only two devices to network (two Macs or a Mac and an Ethernet printer, in most cases), you can use an Ethernet cable to connect them directly to each other via the Ethernet ports. You can purchase an Ethernet cable at your local electronics store. Plug one end of the Ethernet cable into one device and the other end into the other device.

If you use an Apple AirPort Extreme Base Station or Time Capsule, you may not need a hub, switch, or router at all because these devices incorporate small routers with three Ethernet ports.

Either one is all you need unless you have more than three Ethernet devices to connect. If that’s the case, you’ll need to add a hub, switch, or router with additional Ethernet ports to accommodate them all (in addition to your AirPort or Time Capsule).

If you have a cable modem or Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) as your Internet connection, you might need a router or switch instead of a (cheaper) hub. Routers and switches are similar to hubs but cost a tiny bit more and have additional features that you may or may not need. Your ISP can tell you whether you’re going to need one.

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