How to Share through Network Hardware

With a hardware device, all the PCs on your network can concentrate on their own work, eliminating the need to leave a PC running constantly as an “Internet server” as is the case if you choose to use Windows 8 Internet Connection Sharing.

(After all, a PC that’s capable of running Windows 8 at a decent clip is an expensive resource compared with an investment of $50–$100 (US) on a hardware sharing device.)

Wired sharing devices for your network

For PC owners who either already have a traditional wired Ethernet network — or who are considering building one — a device like the combination switch-firewall-DHCP-server-sharing-thing you see in the figure is the perfect solution to Internet connection sharing. (The Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol, or DHCP, feature allows your hardware sharing device to automatically configure IP addresses on your network.)

(Not even Google returns many results if you search for switch-firewall-DHCP-server-sharing-thing.) The illustrated device is actually a cable/DSL Internet router with a four-port switch.

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For an idea of why hardware sharing is so popular, look at what you can buy — in one small, tidy box — online for a mere $50:

  • A built-in, four-port Ethernet 10/100 switch: You can plug in four PCs, to start with, directly into the router for an instant Ethernet network. You can also find routers with high-performance gigabit (10/100/1000) Ethernet ports for a slightly higher price.

  • A direct-connect port for your DSL or cable modem: The port can also be used as a wide area network (WAN) connection to hook the sharing device to an existing external network.

  • A DHCP server: It provides near-automatic network configuration for the PCs hooked into the device.

  • The hardware and software controls you need to block certain Internet traffic (both coming in and going out): You can also lock out individual PCs from Internet access.

  • An easy-to-use, web-based configuration screen: You can use it on any PC connected to the router.

  • Built-in NAT functionality.

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Pretty neat, eh? Remember that this device is used in tandem with your existing cable or DSL modem, which is typically included by your ISP as part of your Internet subscription (but you might be paying more because you’re renting the modem).

You can get a similar device with all these features and a built-in DSL or cable modem. Because you aren’t charged a monthly rental fee for a modem, you can thumb your nose at your ISP and save money in the long run.

Naturally, the setup procedure for each device on the market is different, but here’s a sample of what’s in store when you take your new Internet sharing router out of the box. (Don’t plug your new toy’s power supply into the wall yet.)

  1. If you’re running a typical standalone network switch, you can either unplug the existing Ethernet cables from all existing computers and plug them into the new sharing device or connect the WAN port from the existing hub into one of the ports on the Internet sharing device.

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    The device manual tells you how to take care of the latter method.

    If you’re setting up a new network, naturally, you just connect each Ethernet cable directly to the sharing device.

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  2. Plug the power supply from the sharing device into the AC socket.

  3. Configure one of the PCs on your new network with the default network settings provided by the device manufacturer.

  4. Run Internet Explorer on the PC you configured in Step 3 and use the web-based configuration utility to finish configuring the device.

That’s it! If you’re running a typical home network or home office network, you’ll likely keep the default settings for everything. Luckily, you probably don’t have to use any of the optional settings, but it’s good to know that they’re there.

Wireless sharing devices for networks

Most folks think that sharing an Internet connection over a wireless network must be harder to set up than a traditional wired network — and that it’s likely to be a tremendous security risk. Both preconceptions are wrong. Wireless connection sharing with a hardware device is as simple to set up as the wired device.

And you can make it very difficult (if not impossible) for someone to hack his way to your network or your Internet connection.

To see an example of a truly versatile all-in-one Internet sharing device, check out the device shown. Its antenna marks it as a wireless switch, but what you don’t see is that it also sports four 10/100 Ethernet ports on the back for your old-fashioned wired network.

Yep, you guessed it, this is just plain neat: It can accommodate multiple 802.11n wireless connections and four wired connections, all at the same time!

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As you might expect, the cost on this puppy, about $125 online, is significantly higher than the wired-only device. Another factor is the speed of the wireless connection; the older (and slower) 802.11g devices are rapidly disappearing from the market, so costs are dropping quickly on the faster 802.11n hardware.

(And yes, if you opt for a wireless-only network, you can find a cheaper wireless sharing device that doesn’t include any of those silly “antique” wired ports.) Wireless adapter cards (including the USB and PC Card varieties) are slightly more expensive than standard wired adapter cards, too.

Don’t forget to demand a wireless sharing device that offers Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA2) private encryption. Use anything less and your wireless network will be much easier for outsiders to hack.

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