You’ve been fighting over the computer with your spouse or the kids, right? The next time you buy a computer, don’t get rid of the old one. For a few dollars investment, you can network the two and use one Internet connection to service both of them.
Why network? To share an Internet connection, to share a printer, to share files, to be able to back up files from one computer to another, or even to play multi-person games.
Networking is not just for those folks with high-speed connections. You can network your computers even if you use dialup — and each of the computers can use the Internet through the computer that has the modem.
Setting up networking, if you don’t have broadband, will require you to do more configuration of your network. You can get there, it’s cheap, but more labor intensive. All you need is an ethernet card in each machine ($5 to $20 each) and a "crossover" ethernet cable. This is a special ethernet cable that allows the two computers to handshake without a hub or switch. On the other hand, standard patch cables are cheaper and you can find new hubs and switches priced down to $10 or so.
The easiest way to network with a cable modem or DSL modem is to get a "cable/DSL router." This goes between the cable/dsl modem and your computer(s). It acts as a firewall to protect your local network from access initiated by other computers on the Internet, while allowing you to use the Internet fully.
Most importantly for home networking, it includes a DHCP server. This is how your networked computers will get their IP addresses so they can talk to each other and to the Web.
The DHCP server is what is missing if you use dialup, unless you use Windows’ Internet Connection Sharing or a special third-party internet connection sharing program.
Your computer with the modem talks to a DHCP server at the internet service provider to get its IP address for its phone connection. But, you would have to manually set up IP addresses for each network card, and set up gateways and DNS server addresses so the others know how to talk to the Internet.
Also, remember, whether you have one computer or more than one, if you are connected to the Internet in any way, you are "networked." Read my Security articles for help in protecting your computer and its data.