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Comp: Networking the Intelligent Home

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My stable of computers has grown in my home office. I now have two laptops
(266MHz PII and 450MHz PIII) as well as a tower 450MHz PIII in my home
office. My PII has been affectionately retired and passed on to my wife
while my office Tower, other than the use my granddaughter gets, stays
mostly in the dark. My latest workhorse has become my Dell 450 PIII Laptop
with 15" (1400X1050) monitor.

Recently DSL has come to the neighborhood and I am considering trading in my
Earthlink account (less than six months old) for a faster DSL line through
GTE. As with all new technology, my mind has exploded with the possibilities
of the Intelligent home - Electric and utilities governed by voice or
computer instruction, easy access to the large hard drives of my office
machine for storage and backup (although a 12Gig drive on my laptop is not
too shabby).

So here is all I know about networking for each of you to ponder and,
hopefully, offer me advise and your vast knowledge of computer networking:

1. The service comes with one DSL modem. As little as I know, this means
only one machine is capable of connecting without purchasing additional
modems. However, GTE is providing the modem at no additional charge.

2. I want to tie the two laptops to the office tower machine AND if possible
be able to transfer files from each machine (including between the two
laptops).

3. I believe that I can network the two laptops so that each can access the
Internet (web and email) through the DSL modem connected in the office by
using the existing phone line.

4. I know that Diamond Multimedia has both a wireless network and one that
operates through the existing phone line - all without disturbing normal
phone calls while being connected full time to the Internet.

5. Security is an issue I am concerned about, but I read of a product called
Black Ice that offers an inexpensive Firewall to prevent access to the
system from outside. Yes, I realize nothing is foolproof, but this should be
about as good as it gets.

Now here are my questions:

A) Can the DSL connection be accessed by more than one computer in the home
at a time? In other words, can I check and send email, while my grand
daughter plays around the Disney sites and my wife tries to hold a
Netmeeting audio and video private conversation with our daughter in
Chicago.

B) If both parties have DSL connections at each end, will conferencing with
a program like Netmeeting (latest version) offer clear audio and video
transmission superior to our current 56Kb modem? (Remember all computers are
at least Pentium II or III at 266Mhz or higher). Are others using DSL for
video and audio conferencing or simply to reduce the cost of long distant
phone calls?

C) At what speed will each of the laptops be able to access the Internet
through the network card and through the DSL modem in the office?

D) What is required to complete the network for two laptops and the tower
system assuming all will be centered on the Tower for storage, some program
use and the DSL connection?

E) Do all of the computers need to be on the same phone wires or, if the
home has two or more lines, will they connect without disturbing normal
phone calls, on different lines? I think I know the answer to this one.

F) Is running a program using Laplink through this network from the office
to the laptop's as slow as through a Parallel port connection or is it fast
enough so as not to get frustrating (will I want to perform analysis from
the office machine while sitting in the den or bedroom)?

G) Is the DSL service really worth it or will there be slowdowns expected
like with modems when many people start to use the service?

H) Can I still access AOL from the new DSL service the same as I do through
my Earthlink Connection (I maintain AOL at a reduced rate and use the
Earthlink ISP to check mail because of the difficulty accessing AOL in my
area and the need to maintain it for some clients)?

I) Final Question (for now): What is the approximate cost and steps needed
to set up the appropriate phone line networking between two laptops and one
office machine?

I hope many of you find this an interesting topic as much as I do. I don't
think I ever thought I would have more than one computer in my home and am
concerned about synchronizing each of the machines and using their features
to automate many of the processes in our home.

Regards,
Dennis S. Wish, PE
Structural Engineering Consultant
(208) 361-5447 E-Fax