Select an item from the list to explore cool ways of using your home network.

Home networking is the simple act of connecting your computers and other devices together so they can share information. It’s a basic concept, but a powerful one and it’s a great way to get the most value out of the high-tech tools and toys that are part of your life.

What can it do for you? If you weren’t convinced you needed a home network, take a look at some of the great things your network can help you do from the most basic to the more advanced.

Sharing your photos, music and movies on your computer with friends and family has been made easy. A digital multimedia receiver allows you to view digital photos, movies and high-definition programs on your high-definition television (HDTV), and listen to downloaded music on your home theater sound system. Using a high-speed Wireless-N home network, you can wirelessly stream internet and digital content on your PC to your home entertainment system. Plus, if your PC has Windows Media Center (found on all versions except Windows 7 Starter and Windows Vista® Home Basic), you can access it all through one simple-to-use interface.

Share Your Resources
 
The primary reason to build a home network is simple: It’s all about sharing your resources. In your home, you probably have several computers and at least one printer. Do you have trouble moving files from one computer to the other? Do you have to switch systems to print, scan or use the internet? Sharing can save you time, money and headaches. If your PC has Windows 7, there's a feature called HomeGroup that lets you share your printer, music, picture, video and document libraries with other PCs running Windows 7 on a home network.

If you’re planning to keep all of your devices in one room, a wired network gives ample functionality and can be easy to set up. Wired networks are also generally secure and free from interference. Grab a network adapter or two if your computers don’t have them yet.

Thinking of going wireless? Check out our comparison of wired vs. wireless networks. 

Back It Up on Shared Storage
 
When you think about it, you’ve got a lot of data — financial records, photos, music, movies, work files and more — and it’s probably spread across multiple computers. How do you take care of all of this data?

An external hard drive is a good place to start. Easy-to-manage and reliable, an external hard drive can be pulled out when you need it and tucked away when you don't. Many external hard drives connect directly to a computer without the need for network configurations or servers. They plug into USB ports and can be accessed like a local drive. If your computer is on a network, your attached external hard drives can be accessed by other computers on your network. Back up files by making copies of them on your external hard drive. And, if your PC has Windows 7, there's a feature called Backup and Restore which allows you to set up a customized backup schedule so that your PC will automatically back up your files to your external hard drive on a regular basis — that way you don't have to even think about it.

Need something bigger? A network attached storage (NAS) device is a dedicated, hard disk-based storage that’s designed to be connected directly to your network to provide centralized data access to multiple users.

Communicate with VoIP
 
Voice over IP (VoIP)* is a technology that routes voice conversations over the internet, allowing you to place calls all over the globe using your PC. By adding a webcam, you can even make video calls and see the person that you are speaking with. You can even surf the internet while you talk! (*Note: Service is subject to third-party service subscription terms and conditions. Dell is not a VoIP provider or a telecommunications carrier.)

If you have the right software such as Skype, you can use your PC as a phone. Or, you can buy a special VoIP phone. These phones look exactly like traditional phones, but instead of plugging into a telephone outlet, they plug into your PC and/or connect to your network. VoIP phones come in wired (by USB) or wireless options. There are even adapters that can convert your traditional phone into a VoIP phone.

Play Head-to-Head Games
 
If you're a gamer, you’ll want a high-powered home network that maximizes your frag count. Nowadays, online game play isn’t limited to your computer but is also available on:
  • PCs and game consoles such as the Microsoft® Xbox 360™, Sony PlayStation® and Nintendo Wii™ come network-ready, meaning you can play them over internet connections with players on the other side of the globe.

  • Multiple consoles allow head-to-head or cooperative play on the same home network.
For gamers, performance is the top consideration, at least most of the time. If that’s true for you, you’ll want to choose fast technology and high bandwidth in order to play local area network (LAN) or online games with minimal lag.

Setting up your network for gaming starts with your first purchase, your router. Gamers need a cable or DSL internet service and a top-of-the-line router with lots of ports to manage multiple techno toys.

Due to their speed and stability, wired networks are generally the best bet for game play — even the best wireless networks can suffer interference that could interrupt play at a critical moment. That said, going with 802.11n wireless technology can make a gaming network more versatile. It can offer the fastest wireless speeds and greatest range for gaming in other parts of the house, or for nongaming tasks like checking email and planning your next tournament.

Stream Music and Video
 
A home network allows you to do amazing things with multimedia. You can download movies, music and more, and shuffle them between your computers and handheld media players with ease. You can stream files from one computer to your television or another computer, and back up your files in one central place.

So, what exactly is streaming? Streaming is a process that lets you store content on one computer (or on the internet) but play it, seamlessly, on another device. Streaming requires an internet connection and a network that’s fast enough to support streaming and allow for high-quality audio and video.

Video and music files can be large, so you’ll need processing muscle and high-bandwidth capabilities to move them around without slowing down your network. A cable modem or DSL internet service is pretty much a necessity for music and movie buffs, and you’ll probably want both wired and wireless networking options. Add a wireless router and media extender to stream downloaded video directly to your TV. Plus, if your PC has Windows 7, it has a feature called HomeGroup that allows you to easily share your music, pictures and videos with other PCs running Windows 7 on a home network.

Keep Watch with Wireless Cameras
 
Whether you’re a shop owner who wants to keep an eye on the cash register or someone who wants to watch over your pets, a home monitoring system can be your eyes and ears when you’re away.

It’s easy to add a security camera to your network. You’ll need a broadband manage monitoring and recording features.

Choose a camera (or cameras) with simple setup options. Many options allow you to have the camera operate continuously or only when motion is present. Many cameras come with remote viewing capabilities, so you can log on and view the camera’s footage from outside your home. Note that if you want to record footage, you’ll need to dedicate storage space on your network.