Networking 2 PCs with WiFi & broadband cable

So two neighbors of mine, we’ll call them Chris & Steve, asked me to help connect their two desktop PCs so they can both share the cable Internet connection.

I haven’t networked stuff for years, and that was coax Enternet and Novell Netware, so this will be a learning curve for me. Any advice will be much appreciated.

First, the equipment setup. Computer #1, PC running Windows 98SE, both USB ports occupied.

Computer #2, a newer PC running XP.

The rest of the specs shouldn’t be important at this time; suffice to say that Charter Cable says they are adequate. I am going to assume there are card slots available in each computer.

Since #1 is the unit that is on most of the time for business, we thought we’d use it for the main cable connection, even though it’s not the fastest or newest. RAM could be upgraded later.

Charter Cable will connect up one computer with an external cable modem, install whatever they need for Internet access, then the rest is up to us. #1 is short an open USB socket, so we’ll need a hub, right?

Since the computers are on different floors, maybe get two WiFi cards to network them. Any suggestions on card brands/models? Speed isn’t too important, and the distance between units will be less than 50 feet.

I suggested upgrading the 98 computer to XP to make it easier, but that’s not going to happen this year. So will the instructions and/or software that come with consumer-packaged WiFi cards be sufficient to get the job done?

How much grief have I volunteered for?

Shouldn’t be horrible as long as you don’t do anything with USB. I’ve always had good luck with Linksys (Now a part of Cisco) products.

Get a broadband router - if you want wireless “G” WiFi, get the WRT54G (Costs around $80-100) otherwise I think they’re still making the BEFSR41W, which is a “B” device. Either is fast enough for broadband service.

Connect the cable modem to the router. Both PCs will then talk to the router. The “primary” PC is probably near the cable modem, right? If so, hook it up with a regular Cat5 LAN cable. If you need a LAN connection for the PC, you can buy a NIC for as little as $10.

The remote computer will need a wireless LAN card - about $60-70, for the “G” variety. Or, just work out how to run a Cat5 cable to it and save the cost and challenges of setting up wireless and its security. If you don’t enable all the security bits such as WPA, MAC filtering and changing the SSID, you’re a fool to use it with any sort of business computer.

If you go all-wired, get the BEFSR41 router instead of one of the WiFi models.

Trying to network things with USB is a good way to cause headaches. Win98SE was only just starting to understand USB, but Ethernet-based LAN was well-tested and not horrible to set up.

OK, so we’ll forget about the USB stuff.

Pardon my ignorance, but I really need a “wiring diagram” here. Saying “connect the cable modem to the router” to a dunce like me makes me wonder which end goes to/from which.

In your proposed layout, gotpasswords, I assume the router is doing both the RF broadcasting and providing a cabled connection to the closest computer. Then the WiFi card in the 2nd Computer will connect that unit to the network.

Let me see if I can draw it here.

(outside cable)–>(cable modem)–>(router)–>(Ethernet card in Computer #1)

(wireless card in computer #2), no external connections

Would that work?

If you want to do it on the cheap, you can skip the router and set the PC that has the broadband connection as a proxy server, possibly using Windows’ own connection sharing, or using a freeware proxy server program (I use one called Jana Server and it is very good.

Only drawback is that the proxy machine needs to be switched on for the other machine to get access - not a problem you’d have with a router.

That’s sorta the original idea I had, Mangetout. I don’t think extreme economy is a goal here, but I’ve heard a router, if properly configured, would add an additional security layer.

But if I used your suggested layout, what parts would I need? 2 WiFi cards to provide the in-house network, and 1 NIC connected to the external cable modem in computer #1, right? Am I leaving any parts out?

If I used the router layout, would the router provide both the cable conn to #1 and the wireless signal to #2? That is, is a “wireless access port” part of the router as well as Ethernet cable?

Pardon the hijack, I am in a situation similar to Musicat’s neighbors. If one connects a router to a DSL modem, then connects a desktop PC (formerly directly connected to the DSL modem) to the router, does the original PC connection change in any important way or require major reconfiguration?

I currently share a housemate’s desktop PC and would like to use my laptop (business) to access the internet from home occasionally. I don’t want to risk damage to my housemate’s computer or significantly decrease its performance.

Running ethernet cable from the router to the laptop as suggested by gotpasswords is definitely the best (most secure and cheapest) option for the time being; laptop has a 10/100 ethernet card.

Both computers are less than 2 years old and run XP. In the future I may decide to upgrade to a B or G wireless connection with the laptop, so I wouldn’t mind paying the up-front cost for a wireless router as long as it would not preclude using the cable for now or cause any security problems for either my laptop or my housemate’s PC.

Then again, I don’t forsee any real need to have a wireless connection. In the event that my future “home station” PC is in another room of a house I can always use a longer ethernet cable. Am I correct in assuming a “wired-only” router is cheaper and more secure?

suggestions/comments greatly appreciated.

  1. For you there will be little noticable change in Internet functionality. In fact, it will make you machine a bit more secure. For me it is a huge headache. I use protocols you never heard of. I need direct, individual IP address, functionality for all my computers. Can’t be done with a standard broadband connection. Anxiously waiting for IPV6.

The router manual will tell you how to set the computers’ networking up. No big deal.

  1. Wired is just plain a lot better than wireless in just about all cases. More secure, more reliable, no worries about electric noise, etc. You really only need wireless if you have truly movable devices that are going to on the go a lot. E.g., a laptop that’s going to be in several different places in an evening. If your laptop always sits at the same 1 or 2 places, use wires. You won’t regret it.

Some people just have a phobia about running cat5. I do it all the time. Never had to drill a “visible” hole. If you can’t do it, find the local version of someone like me. They can use the work right now.


go with the wireless router.

Cable from the wall to the cable modem.
Router connected to the cable modem.
Some wireless routers come with ethernet ports for machines that don’t have wireless cards. If you are not using this, then the PCs go where it is convenient and you get reception.

The router will provide IP addresses to the clients using DHCP. If your Windows clients have already been networked, you shouldn’t have to change anything on them.

Besides adding another measure of security, the router allows you to turn off one or both boxes at the same time. If one PC is acting as the router, you can’t turn it off or lose it without affecting the service to the other client.

If you go wireless, follow some simple rules:

Do not use the default password for your router, but make it something you can remember.

If you care about other people getting on your network, set an ESSID (network name) and use WEP. Your router documentation will have instructions. You can go a step further and restrict access to a list of MAC addresses. It’s up to you.

In short:
Cable to cable modem
Cable modem to router
Router to clients, wirelessly
Recommended to set ESSID and WEP
If you don’t want to share with other people, restrict access to pre-set list of MACs.

have fun

leenmi, good advice, thanks.

It might make it even easier for the cable company if all they have to do is connect their cable modem to a router and not worry about snaking a cable thru the house. The router could be almost anywhere, right?

Then the wireless signal from the router will be picked up at each computer with an internal WiFi card, right? No need for additional Ethernet cards or other cables. I can see where hard-wiring has its benefits, ftg, but in this particular case, wireless sounds easier (and sexier!). And we are in a very rural area where there shouldn’t be a lot of interference from anything outside the house.

It should be possible to network the 2 computers for non-Internet stuff as well, shouldn’t it? In that case, I might set up the computers & WiFi cards first before the cable company shows up.

I’m sure this is obvious to anyone who has worked with the stuff, but I am mystified – how do you configure the router if it’s not normally connected to a PC? DIP switches?

And just how far might this signal carry outside the house? I plan to use whatever encryption is available, but I just wondered if I could pick up the signal from across the street (200’ away).

And Stan Doubt, that’s not a hijack in this thread. Anything that expands WiFi and/or cable-connect knowledge could come in useful.

As far as wired/wireless, I would think the wired is always more secure. With wired, someone would have to physically tap into the wire to steal your secrets. But if you use encryption and don’t let anonymous guests log on, only the truly paranoid should worry about wireless.

Of course, as Dr. Johnny Fever says, if everyone’s out to get you, being paranoid is just good thinking.

  1. The broadband routers I use all are configured via a web browser on a client PC. You connect to the router (via it’s IP address) from the PC, log in, start configuring. Step 1 is always set the admin id/password to new values. I change a lot of default values. Esp., the default internal IP address range.

  2. The security used in 802.11b was completely broken long ago. The newest standard, 802.11g, is considered equally insecure. I was reading a networking magazine last month that discussed the “Latest and Greatest Fix” and it was clear to me that even that had a DoS attack hole you wouldn’t believe.

Keep in mind, that the issue is not just someone breaking into your systems, it’s also someone using your link to do Evil Things. Child porn creeps go war driving so they can download their crap off of someone else’s Internet connection. When the police show up with a warrant saying you’ve been downloading child porn, your life is over. You have no proof that you didn’t. They have “proof” that you did.

I have the know-how to watch my Internet connection closely to avoid such problems. Most people don’t. (Most people aren’t even aware they have 5-6 worms and viruses on their machines!)

  1. Wireless doesn’t work as well in Real Life as it does in the ads. People routinely find that one hub doesn’t cover their whole house etc. In a lot of cases they don’t even reach the next room. Wireless products are a big return category for stores. It works for some, but not well for the majority. Double check the return policy of the store. Do they have a large “restocking fee”?

  2. While a given wireless device out of the box might not be picked up 200ft away by another out-of-the-box device, that assumes no modification of the antenna. A really determined snoop with a large “can” antenna might pick up/screw up your signal miles away.