Tech Enthusiast Getting All Your Computers On The Web--No Strings Attached
By Brian L. Clark

(MONEY Magazine) – SOUND CHOICE Watching a movie on a PC can be unsatisfying: Tiny speakers and a small monitor isn't the way DVDs were meant to be seen. But Dell's done something about it: the THX-Certified Dimension 8100. You know that tonal blast that hammers you at the beginning of a movie, sending a chill down your spine? That's THX. Even without it, the 1.4GHz machine is a solid purchase at $2,300. But it's the fantastic Altec-Lansing sound system, with four satellite speakers and a subwoofer, that lets it double as a genuine home theater system.

VIDEO ADAPTATION Digital video cameras generally have FireWire terminals that let you transfer video to a computer with great speed. Problem is, few PCs are FireWire enabled. The solution: Maxtor's 1394 Peripheral Component Interconnect Adapter Card. This $50 adapter fits into the PCI slot on any PC and transfers data at 400Mbps, or about 30 times faster than USB.

HOME NETWORKS For the past few months my family has been house hunting in New Jersey. With a second child on the way, we're saying good-bye to the city, where cramped living spaces are the norm, and heading for the burbs. We ended up choosing an older home that was most definitely not designed for hosting multiple computers and Internet appliances. And since my wife has informed me that we'll need separate home offices--we have different, ahem, organizational habits, you see--I've been thinking about how we'll connect our two computers to the single broadband Internet connection running into the house. Until recently, the most practical method was to run cable from room to room. But drilling holes through the floors and walls of our new home is not only hard to do but potentially unsightly. Fortunately, the emergence of new wireless Internet connections has made it unnecessary as well.

Wireless Web connections generally fall into two categories: HomeRF, which has been available for the past few years, and a newer standard called 802.11b (or Wi-Fi), which is faster but costs more. For most people the HomeRF standard is more than adequate: Although its data transfer rate is currently only 1.6 megabits per second (Mbps), even today's high-speed Internet connections generally transmit at less than 1.5Mbps. Among the models worth considering is Intel's Anypoint Wireless Home Network, which costs $129 per PC for models that connect via a PC card slot and $99 per PC for models that connect via a USB port. Another good choice is the Symphony Cordless Network from Proxim, which costs $500 for the main "gateway" unit that connects to your phone, cable or DSL line and two wireless USB units for your PCs.

Why would anyone pay more for the 802.11b standard? Because connection speeds are expected to increase dramatically in the next two to three years, and those who opt for 802.11b now will be in a position to see the advantages (including, experts anticipate, the ability to stream movies from the Web in real time). In my case, I not only wanted the extra speed potential, but I also needed a cross-platform option--my family has one Mac and one PC--and neither the Intel nor the Proxim products are compatible with Macs. (Proxim promises a cross-platform HomeRF option by the end of the year.) Ultimately, my choice was Apple's AirPort base station ($299) and AirPort Card ($99), plus (for my PC) a SkyLINE 11Mbps Wireless PC Card from Farallon ($199), all of which operate using the 802.11b standard.

I installed the AirPort card in my iMac (an easy process that took me about 10 minutes) and plugged my cable connection into the spaceship-like base station. My Mac's built-in Setup Assistant (which comes on all of Apple's iMac, iBook, G4 and PowerBook lines) smoothly walked me through the on-screen process. Getting the PC to play along was slightly more challenging, but it still took only about 15 minutes to install the necessary software and PC card. Now, I'm set to go wireless the day we move into our new house--which makes everyone happy, including Mrs. Tech Enthusiast.