It’s not just your computer that can benefit from an upgrade. Spending a few pounds can transform your network, making it faster and extending its range
Most people think there’s not much you can do to upgrade a home network, but this is far from the truth. Whether you want to make it faster, more reliable or just add more features, upgrades are available and they don’t have to cost a fortune.
In most cases upgrading is a simple process, easily done by the average user with just a little expert guidance. But how do you know if your network might benefit from an upgrade?
One of the most common complaints is that internet browsing is slow or unreliable, and the internet service provider (ISP) usually gets the blame. But in many cases, it’s because one or more components on the network either isn’t working properly or isn’t suitable for the task.
In this article we will look at all the different components of a home network – whether it’s the internet connection or the connection between PCs and other devices – and explain how they can be easily and cheaply upgraded to add features or improve performance.
Root out your router
Let’s start at the core of any home network: the router. This connects to the internet, and then shares this connection with any devices connected to it via a wired and/or wireless network. Free routers provided by ISPs often include the bare minimum of features.
For example, the Post Office’s Standard package provides a basic Zyxel modem/router with just one Fast Ethernet port. This means you can only connect one PC to the internet, so what do you do if you want to connect something else (either another PC or a network-capable device such as media streamer, games console or Freesat box/TV) to the internet?
There are two solutions. Upgrading the router is sometimes possible, depending on the ISP’s terms and conditions. If allowed, you can upgrade the router to one with more network ports, or even with Wifi capability.
These don’t have to be expensive – examples of reputable budget brands are Edimax, Getnet, Tenda, and TP-Link. For example, the TP-Link TD-W8950ND costs £27 from Dabs and has four 100Mbits/sec Ethernet ports plus 150Mbits/sec 802.11n Wifi.
The Getnet GR-534W 150Mbits/sec 802.11n router is even cheaper at just £10. The only downside of some of these ultra-cheap routers is that the documentation may be poor and badly translated, and the configuration menus can be badly designed. But if you can live with this, you can save a lot of money.
The alternative (and much simpler) method of upgrading a router’s capabilities is to add a network switch. These are intelligent devices that plug into any network port on a router and give you extra network ports, and no configuration is needed.
The switch manages the flow of data so each port operates at its full speed – so in a Gigabit Ethernet switch each port can run at 1,000Mbits/sec, and slower devices won’t slow down faster ones.
A Fast Ethernet switch with five ports, such as the Zyxel Dimension ES-105A, can be bought for less than £10. Gigabit Ethernet models are a little more expensive, but shop around for bargains – the five-port TP-Link TL-SG1005D was being offered at £14 at the time of writing.
One great advantage of switches, apart from the fact they don’t need setting up, is that they can be ‘daisy chained’ together by connecting them with an Ethernet cable, allowing your network to grow easily as you add more devices.
Almost all modern routers and switches have network ports that automatically detect what kind of device is being connected and make the necessary adjustments (look for the description ‘Auto MDI/MDIX’ in the specifications).
This means you can plug a switch into any port on a router (or another switch) with no problems. They also invariably have ‘auto negotiation’ ports which means they adjust automatically to the speed of connected devices.
Ethernet cables are available at cheap prices online
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