Home networks are now ubiquitous in any area with broadband access. Walk down a residential street with Wi-Fi turned on and you’ll run into ten, maybe hundreds of networks.
Most of these networks use a router that’s provided by each person’s Internet service provider. At first, this seems inexpensive, but the hardware usually isn’t provided for free. And the expenses start to add up if you want to add to your network with additional routers or wired connections.
If price tags are keeping you away from the home network of your dream, you’re in luck! We’re going to help you build a comprehensive home network that can support up to four desktops via wired connections and unlimited wireless PCs for less than $100.
Some ISPs now offer their customers a router in addition to a modem or a router/modem combination. If you have one of these already, and the router supports 802.11n (the latest common standard), then you’re covered. But what if you don’t?
All you really need is a 802.11n Wi-Fi router and Gigabit Ethernet support.
Step into Best Buy and you’ll be directed towards some rather expensive routers with multiple bands, highly configurable firewalls, and media server support. That’s great, but it’s not needed for a fast, basic network. All you really need is a 802.11n Wi-Fi router and Gigabit Ethernet support.
Online retailers can offer more for less. There are a wide variety of routers you can purchase for about $60 like the $59.99 (or less) router from TP-Link or Belkin’s Wireless N+ Router for about $50. These simple, functional routers are quick and have good range, making them the perfect backbone for your home network.
Kick it old school with Ethernet
Ethernet cords are expensive in some brick-and-mortar stores, but they don’t cost much online if you know where to look. The best source is Monoprice, a store that’s become famous for its inexpensive cables.
We’ve turned to them in the past for cheap but high-quality HDMI cables, but they also stock Ethernet. A 25-foot long CAT5e cable will set you back only $3.30 (plus shipping), and it’ll cost even less if you buy multiples. Assuming that you need to connect four different desktops separately via Ethernet, you’ll have to pay just over $10 for all the cables you need.
If one room in your home contains multiple computers, however, you don’t need to run individual Ethernet cables to each from a router. Instead, buy a piece of hardware known as a switch. It’s basically a sub-router in your network that lets you connect multiple PCs in one location. Each computer plugs into the switch, and the switch connects to your router.
Switches are cheap, too. Newegg will sell you one through its in-house Rosewill brand for just $15.99.
What about wireless?
Any device sold today that lacks a wired connection port, like a tablet or a smartphone, is also going to include a wireless adapter. Almost all modern laptops have this as well. These devices are ready for Wi-Fi from the factory, so there’s no need to purchase additional hardware.
What about desktops? Our recommendation to use wired networking may seem old-fashioned, but there’s reason for it. Wireless adapters for desktops are much more expensive than Ethernet cords – and that goes double for easy-to-use USB adapters. Even the most basic models are priced at $20, which means connecting four desktops would cost $80. That doesn’t compare well to $11 for the wired solution.
If you do want to go wireless but don’t want to spend a fortune, try an internal PCIe adapter. These require you to open up each desktop and install them in the PC. However, they also cost as little as $8.99 per adapter, halving the amount of money you’ll spend.
Powerline networking is the third way
Looking for another choice that’s more reliable than Wi-Fi but easy to install? Consider powerline network adapters. These devices use existing electrical wires in your home, so you don’t have to trouble yourself with running Ethernet cords under carpets or through walls. Powerline networking is also dead-simple (no software installation or passwords required), is as secure as standard Ethernet, and can compete with the quickest Wi-Fi networks.
The most affordable choice will be a kit that includes a pair of adapters. A basic, no-frills set can be purchased online for as little as $39.99. Additional adapters can be added in pairs or individually and don’t need to be the same model or even from the same brand.
More expensive adapters are only worthwhile because of their improved transfer speeds, and, though we’d like to suggest them, going this route already busts our $100 budget because you’ll also need to buy Ethernet cables to connect these adapters to other hardware in your network.
Summarizing the costs
Let’s take a look the costs based on several different situations. We’ll start with a common network configuration made up of a wireless router and four desktops connected via Ethernet.
- Router: $59.95
- 25-foot Ethernet cable x 4: $10.92
- Total: $70.87
Not bad, right? If you followed this guide you’d end up with an 802.11n wireless network and four desktops connected at speeds of up to 1,000 megabits per second for just over $70.
Now let’s look at a network that only uses wireless.
- Router: $59.95
- PCIe Wireless Adapter x 4: $35.96
- Total: $95.91
This is more than our wired alternative, though still not bad. The total price is a bit more than four dollars under budget, and all four desktops are connected via fast 802.11n adapters.
Finally, let’s consider a network where four desktops are all in one room or location. This means they can be connected to the router through a switch, simplifying installation.
- Router: $59.95
- 50-foot Ethernet cable: $6.11
- 10-foot Ethernet cable x 4: $6.40
- Switch: $15.99
- Total: $88.45
In this situation, four 10-foot Ethernet cords are required because each individual PC must connect to the switch. Even so, the total still comes under $90. We’ve also used a 50-foot cord between the router and the switch, which means this configuration would work in a large home. Need to go bigger? Upgrade to a 100-foot cable for $11.17.
What if you want to use those powerline network adapters? Well, in that case, you will go over budget. Let’s have a look.
- Router: $59.95
- Powerline network adapters: $39.99
- Switch: $15.99
- 10-foot Ethernet cable x 6: $9.60
- Total: $125.53
A switch is include because the powerline adapters only have one Ethernet port, which means they can’t directly connect to multiple computers in a room or area. You’ll need to use a switch to split the port between the desktops. This configuration also assumes all the desktops are near each other. If they’re not, using powerline adapters will be expensive and you should stick with another option.
As you can see, a fast home network doesn’t have to cost several hundred dollars. Connecting multiple computers, both wired and through Wi-Fi, is possible for less than $100 if you stick to the basics.
Top image via winui/Shutterstock