5 Networking Tips and Tricks


Create an Ad-Hoc Wireless Network

What’s the best way to transfer files from one computer to another? You can use a USB thumb drive or an Internet service like Dropbox, but a network connection is almost always the most efficient choice. You might think that both computers need access to a common network to use network sharing, but that’s not actually the case. Thanks to ad-hoc networking (a built-in feature in Windows) any two Wi-Fi-enabled laptops can shares files and play games as though they were on a LAN.

Setting up an ad-hoc connection in Windows Vista or 7 is a surprisingly simple affair. We’ll show you how.

Host an Ad-Hoc Network

(Image A)

On the computer that you want to host the network, click the wireless-signal connection-strength icon on the right side of the task bar. Select Open Network and Sharing Center, and then choose “Set up a new connection or network.” If this is the first time you’ve used ad-hoc networking, you’ll be asked to choose a network name and password for your network (image A). That’s pretty much all you have to do—click through the rest of the setup process and your network should be ready to go. Note that you’ll be disconnected from any other wireless networks you were connected to.

Connect to an Ad-Hoc Network

You connect to an ad-hoc network just like you’d connect to any other secure wireless network. Just select it from the wireless networks menu, and enter your password. That’s it!

Ad-Hoc Networking Uses

What it's good for:

» Transferring files between computers.
» Playing LAN games on multiple laptops.
» Streaming media from a friend's laptop.
» Sharing a single wired Internet connection.

What it's NOT good for:

» Replacing a router (the primary computer has to be powered on to use any of the others).
» Sharing a mobile hotspot (the primary computer can't connect to two wireless networks at once).

Use Internet Connection Sharing

Ad-hoc networking is even more powerful when combined with Internet Connection Sharing (ICS), a built-in feature of Windows that allows multiple computers to share a single Internet connection.

When do you need to share an Internet connection? It can be useful any time you’ve got a single wired Internet connection and multiple laptops you’d like to connect. Some hotels, for instance, still only provide a single Ethernet cable for Internet access. Additionally, ICS can allow you to share a VPN connection, and it can provide a way to connect a computer without a wireless card to a Wi-Fi network.

Set Up Internet Connection Sharing

To set up Internet Connection Sharing, open the Network Connections menu, which can be found in the Control Panel, under Network and Internet, and Network and Sharing Center (image B). Note that you won’t be able to access this menu if you only have a single network connection currently available to your computer. This makes sense because ICS requires two connections—one to connect to the Internet and one to connect to other computers (to share the Internet connection).

(Image B)

In the Network and Sharing Center, right-click the Internet connection to share, and click Properties. Select the Sharing tab, then check the box marked “Allow other network users to connect through this computer’s Internet connection” (image C). Now, any computer networked with this one will be able to connect to the Internet using this connection.

(Image C)

One thing to keep in mind is that any computer using this Internet connection needs to be set up to accept a dynamic IP address. If you’ve changed that setting in the past, you’ll need to go back to the network connection properties window and change it back.

By combining this feature with the previously discussed ad-hoc networking, you can easily use a single wired connection for multiple wireless devices—no new hardware or software needed.

Monitor Your Bandwidth Usage Using Open-Source Software

If you use some of the Internet-sharing techniques we’ve shown you in this how-to section, you might find yourself running afoul of your ISP’s bandwidth limits. To help you stay on the network’s good side, we’ll introduce you to some free, open-source software that will allow you to keep a watchful eye on your connection.

Bandwidth Monitor Pro

Bandwidth Monitor Pro Version 3.2 is a handy, open-source utility that we found to be the simplest and easiest to use. Installation is quick and painless, and upon an initial launch, you’ll be treated to a simple layout screen.

Don’t let the simplicity (or lack of any press-able buttons) of the interface fool you. A wide range of settings are only a right-click away. In the Settings menu, there are tons of options to play with (image D). You can customize the look of your readout and of the Bandwidth Monitor Pro window itself.

(Image D)

Another useful option is the one called Period, which allows you to choose a period of time to set the readout for. By default, Bandwidth Monitor Pro measures periods of 24 hours, or daily usage. But this can be altered—with a few clicks, you can choose a day of the month you’d like to start monitoring and when you’d like the monitoring to end.

(Image E)

There are multiple facets of Bandwidth Monitor Pro that you can customize, but arguably the most important option in the Settings menu is the email alert system. Clicking to the Alerts tab (image E) will pull up a menu that allows you to choose conditions that warrant an email alert—for instance, you want to be notified when you are approaching your bandwidth cap.

Share a Wireless Hotspot with Connectify

So far, we’ve shown you some excellent tools built into Windows for creating, accessing, and sharing networks. However, if you’ve been following along, you’ll notice that there’s one capability that’s conspicuously absent—the ability to share a Wi-Fi Internet connection wirelessly.

Although there’s nothing about ad-hoc networking or Internet sharing that would make this inherently impossible, the simple fact that most computers are not equipped to access more than one network at a time means that you need some extra help, in the form of a free program called Connectify.

Why would you want to share a Wi-Fi Internet connection wirelessly, you ask? Well, primarily, it allows you to share access to a network that might be hard to come by. For instance, a paid wireless hotspot in an airport or hotel. We’ll let the ethical and legal implications of that wash over you.

Even if you don’t want to share a hotspot with multiple users, you can use Connectify to use multiple gadgets on a single connection. For instance, with Connectify you can give your Wi-Fi-only smartphone access to a Wi-Fi hotspot you’ve paid for on your computer, or to a wired broadband connection.

Set Up Connectify

(Image F)

First, go to www.connectify.me , and select the download link on the right of the page, then run the installer. The installation is straightforward, but be aware that it tries to install some bloatware in the process, so keep an eye out for the “no thanks” button (image F).

(Image G)

Once you start up Connectify for the first time, it’ll automatically run the setup wizard. This asks you for basic information like network name and password, but it will also ask you what kind of shared connection you’d like to set up (image G). Here are the options:

» No Internet Sharing

This option does no Internet sharing (as you might have guessed) but it still establishes an ad-hoc network, allowing you to do file transfers and LAN gaming.

» Local Area Connection

This option shares access to the LAN that the host computer is currently connected to. Choose this option if you want to share a wired connection wirelessly.

» Wireless Network Connection

This is the option you’re most likely interested in—it allows you to share access to a wireless network, such as a mobile hotspot.

» VirtualBox Host-Only Network

This option allows you to share a special kind of a virtual network used by the VirtualBox virtualization software. You probably don’t need it.

(Image H)

After setup, when you run Connectify, it will go straight to your system tray. If you click it, it’ll open a configuration panel where you can change your network options, and also view anyone who is currently connected to your network, or who has connected in the recent past (image H). If you right-click one of these users, you can block them, give them a special icon, or click the Explore button to see shared folders on that computer.

Strengthen Your Wireless Network

Another way to use Connectify is to expand the signal strength of your home Wi-Fi network. Because Connectify can turn any computer into an access point, you can turn that old laptop into a free Wi-Fi range extender.

Troubleshoot Your Internet Connection

In this wired day and age, there’s nothing quite as frustrating as finding yourself unwillingly unplugged. What’s worse, with a busted Internet connection, you frequently don’t have much of an idea what’s going on—web pages don’t load, but it’s up to you to figure out why. Networking is tricky business, and there are dozens of complicated things that can go wrong, but a lot of time the root cause is one of a few simple problems. With that in mind, here’s our basic Internet troubleshooting checklist.

Restart Your Router

Most computer users already know this, but it’s so important that it’s worth stating anyway. Before spending any time trying to figure out what the problem is, do a complete power cycle on your router and your modem. Hopefully, that will fix your problem, and you’re done with this guide. If it doesn’t, read on.

(Image I)

If you find yourself routinely having to restart your router, you may be overloading it. In particular, BitTorrent and other programs that open lots and lots of simultaneous connections can overwhelm an old or crappy router. Lowering the maximum number of uploads and downloads in your BitTorrent client might fix the problem—at the expense of some download speed (image I).

Is It Your Wi-Fi?

If you’re trying (and failing) to connect to a Wi-Fi network, whip out your trusty Ethernet cable and jack in. Hopefully, your Internet connection will now work, and you’ll have narrowed down your problem considerably. If this is the case, consider the following possible causes of Wi-Fi failure.

» Can you see other wireless networks?

If you can see other wireless networks but not your own, then the problem is with your router. Consult your user guide for more info on troubleshooting the router itself.

» Is your Wi-Fi adapter enabled?

It sounds silly, but a lot of laptops feature a combination of custom Wi-Fi interface (image J) and a too-clever-for-its-own-good hardware Wi-Fi switch that can make it all too easy to inadvertently turn off your Wi-Fi card. Don’t worry, it happens to the best of us.

(Image J)

» Is your wireless driver correct?

If you’ve recently reformatted your laptop, and now can no longer connect to Wi-Fi networks, you may be lacking the proper driver for your wireless card. Hit up the laptop manufacturer’s website and look for the motherboard, chipset, and wireless drivers for your model.

If It's Not the Wi-Fi...

Something might be wrong with your router, your Internet connection, or your computer’s settings. Here’s what to look for.

» Is it your network settings?

Open up your network setting panel (Control Panel > Network and Internet > Network Connection, then right-click Local Area Connection, select IPv4, and click Properties). In your router settings, you can see if your network uses dynamically assigned IPs (most home networks do). If it does, make sure that the “Obtain an IP address automatically” setting is selected in the IPv4 properties.

» Is it your DNS server?

Open a command prompt (Windows key + R, type cmd and hit Enter), then try to ping a known IP address. If you don’t know a working IP address off the top of your head, you can use a working computer to ping a website (for instance, ping Google by entering ping www.google.com ) and it will return an IP address (image K). Now, try to ping that address on the computer that can’t connect. If you get a response by pinging the IP address but not the domain name, the problem may be in your DNS settings. Check them out in your router.

(Image K)

» Is it your broadband provider?

And of course, the problem could always be out of your hands. If nothing else seems to be working, try giving your ISP a call and asking if there’s a problem on its end.

Now, we know this is hardly an exhaustive list, but the steps we’ve described here should catch all the most common problems you might have with your Internet connection. Good luck!

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