2 Ways to Network 2 Macs and the Benefits of Each - dummies

2 Ways to Network 2 Macs and the Benefits of Each

By Edward C. Baig

Two Macs can be connected through a wired or wireless network in order to share files and printers. What are the benefits of wired networks for your Macs? Why might you want to go wireless? Here, you’ll examine the ins and outs of wired versus wireless technology for networking Mac computers, and why you might want to use one or the other, or perhaps a combination of both.

The benefits and creation of wired networks for Macs

If the Macs you intend to network are almost always going to stay put in one location, the wired approach is arguably the best way to proceed. Wired networks are zippier, much more secure, not as prone to interference, typically less expensive, and arguably the easiest to set up, unless dealing with a mess of wires becomes, well, a real mess.

You’ll use Ethernet cables to connect your Macs if you go the wired way. Then ends of an Ethernet cable look like an oversized phone plug. Such cables also go by the names CAT-5, CAT-5e, or CAT 6. You may also see terms such as 10BaseT or 100BaseT, which denote networks that use the aforementioned cables. And Intel-era Macs employ blistering fast Gigabit Ethernet connections.

To get started with a wired network, plug one end of the cable into the Ethernet port included in any modern Mac that has the connector. (Otherwise you must rely on an optional USB Ethernet dongle accessory.) The other end typically plugs in to an inexpensive network hub, switch, or router, which in turn is connected to the box feeding your Internet connection, usually a broadband cable modem or DSL.

Although technical distinctions exist between hubs, switches, and routers, you don’t need to bother with learning them. But it is helpful to know that routers contain multiple jacks, or ports, for connecting each Mac (or other computer) or printer that becomes part of your network (and routers usually contain built-in hubs).

The benefits and creation of wireless networks for Macs

Certain benefits of technology are so obvious that they practically explain themselves. Wireless is one of those liberating technologies. By eliminating cables, you can

  • Wander around with a laptop and still hold on to a connection.

  • Drastically reduce the tangle of cables and cords, so the area behind your desk won’t be nearly as untidy.

  • Easily add on to the network later, without worrying about connecting cables.

  • Access other wireless networks outside your home or office, through public or private hotspots (found in numerous coffeehouses, airports, libraries, parks, and elsewhere). Accessing these hotspots may or may not be free.

Wireless networks however, are not as fast as wired networks, are less secure, and may be a bit finky to setup. You have several choices for creating a wireless network for Macs:

  • All the Macs introduced during the last several years are capable of exploiting wireless networking through radio technology that Apple brands as AirPort. Most of the computing world, including Apple, refers to the core technology as Wi-Fi. Older Macs may require an AirPort Extreme card to use this technology.

    The AirPort Extreme has five ports, including a single Gigabit Ethernet WAN port, three Gigabit Ethernet LAN ports, and a single USB 2.0 port for a USB printer or external hard drive.

    Although Apple would love to sell you an AirPort base station, wireless-capable Macs can also tap in to routers produced by the likes of Belkin, D-Link, Linksys (or parent company Cisco), and Netgear, even if you previously set those up to work with a Windows network. Windows machines can also take advantage of an AirPort base station.

  • The AirPort Express is a portable hub with four ports: two Ethernet plugs (WAN and LAN), USB, and an analog/optical audio minijack.

    If you connect AirPort Express to your home stereo receiver or powered speakers through the aforementioned audio minijack, you can pump the music from your Mac (or Windows) iTunes library through your stereo system. You can use either a ministereo-to-RCA cable or a minidigital, fiber-optic TOSLINK cable, if your stereo can accommodate that kind of connector. Apple refers to this wireless symphony as AirPlay.

    AirPlay can be used to not only wirelessly stream music, but also audio-visuals, and even TV, through a technology called AirPlay Mirroring.