Starter’s Guide To Home Networking [Connecting multiple PCs]

CG Director Author Christopher Harperby Christopher Harper   /  Published 

What should you know before planning or setting up your home network? I’m gonna answer that today. This is my Starter’s Guide to Home Networking. It’s not exhaustive by any means, but it should give you a fairly solid starting point for improving your home Internet experience significantly, whether you’re an average consumer, an at-home professional, or a hardcore gamer.

With no further ado, let’s get into it, starting with what you’ll need.

What is a Home Network?

Let’s start by defining a home network.

A home network is a small wired or wireless network for a single apartment or home, usually consisting of 1-2 host devices and up to ~8 or more client devices, depending on the size of your household.

Compared to business and enterprise networks, which need to serve dozens of users at once, home network equipment doesn’t need to be particularly powerful to provide a good experience. In those environments, you would even use something like a 12-24 port network switch for wired networks.

What Devices You Need In Any Home Network

  • A Modem ⁠— A modem is the device that you plug your cable or DSL line into to receive Internet. Sometimes it may have router functionality built in. Usually acquired from your ISP (Internet Service Provider).
  • A Wireless Router ⁠— The device that manages Wired and Wireless connections of all of your client devices. Sometimes this is combined with a modem, but the two are technically different things, and you can actually plug a new router into one of those hybrids if you prefer your own router. This will either be combined with a modem from your ISP, or provided by you. More on that choice in the next section.
  • Ethernet Cables ⁠—A cable for making stable wired connections that aren’t prone to interference. For desktop PCs, gaming consoles, and other devices being used in one place.
  • Network-Specific Hardware — Any unique hardware used to make an unconventional network setup possible, normally related to expanding wired or wireless connectivity to out-of-range devices. More on these in the “Examples of Specific Home Network Setups” section.

Benefits of an Optimized Home Network and Who Needs It Most

What are the main benefits of an optimized home network, and who needs these benefits the most? Let’s take a moment to talk about that before diving into how to set up and optimize your home network.

Improved Wireless Range

Improving your wireless range is good for pretty much anyone, but is especially recommended to those who live in larger homes due to poorer Wi-Fi coverage through multiple walls or longer distances.

Who Needs It?:

  • People living in larger homes
  • Smart home users
  • Anyone using a phone or a laptop

Improved Wireless Performance

Improved wireless performance is better for everyone, but will be most noticed by users who are already pushing the performance of your wireless network. High-definition media streaming, modern games, and especially real-time video calls will all be impacted by the actual performance of your wireless network, not just its range.

Who Needs It?:

  • Anyone using a phone or a laptop
  • Casual gamers
  • Media and video streamers
  • Video callers

The Stability and Speed of an Ethernet Connection

The peak of network speed and stability, but only possible through a hard-wired connection. You’ll need to run some cables or use a Powerline adapter (more on that later) to make the most of an Ethernet connection, but fortunately you should really only need it for certain high-priority devices.

Your main work or gaming PC should always have an Ethernet connection.

For working purposes, an Ethernet connection will ensure the fastest speeds your router can handle and prevent wireless interference that could interfere with real-time work or real-time high-quality video calls.

For gaming purposes, an Ethernet connection will minimize your server ping times and help you keep a stable connection to other gamers without wireless interference causing lag spikes or even disconnects in certain scenarios.

Who Needs It?:

  • Work From Home professionals
  • Content creators and live streamers
  • Hardcore gamers

How To Set Up a Home Network

Fortunately, setting up a home network is usually dead simple. If all else fails you can simply use the included instruction manuals provided with your network hardware, but what should you expect in the usual process?

The first step will always be plugging in and powering on your modem. Then, if your router is a separate device, you’ll need to plug it into your original modem.

At this point, you will most likely need to call your Internet Service Provider in order to activate the Internet service on your modem if it is not already activated. They will walk you through whatever process is needed to get your service and basic functions of your modem turned on. You will most likely need to directly plug a PC into your router during setup, or use a mobile app from your ISP to complete setup of your connection.

Once the connection is up and running and you know how to access your router settings, you’re pretty much good to go. You can change your Wi-Fi network name and password in your router’s settings menu, but the default web address and login info will be dependent on your router: check its labeling or instructions for this info.

Examples of Specific Home Network Setups and Network-Specific Hardware

So, what are the typical forms of a home network, and what extra hardware might you need to build that network?

I outlined Basic Network Hardware (Modem, Router, Ethernet Cables) above, but let’s take a moment to talk about examples of Network-Specific Hardware and when they are needed:

  • Wi-Fi Range Extenders ⁠— Devices you use to extend the range of an existing Wi-Fi network. Use this to make Wi-Fi more usable in larger households. Ideal for having more coverage for phones, tablets, and laptops on your network.
  • Powerline Ethernet Adapters ⁠— A device that allows you to use your home’s existing power lines as a vessel for an Ethernet signal. This is what you use when you can’t directly route a long Ethernet cable from your router to your device. This is for working PCs, gaming PCs, and gaming consoles that are in a different room from your router.

Single Bedroom or Apartment Home Network

  • Basic Network Hardware
  • Longer Ethernet Cables or a Powerline Ethernet Adapter

Multi-Bedroom Home Network

  • Basic Network Hardware
  • Longer Ethernet Cables or a Powerline Ethernet Adapter
  • Wi-Fi Range Extender

Multi-Floor or Large Home Network

  • Basic Network Hardware
  • Longer Ethernet Cables or Powerline Ethernet Adapter(s)
  • Wi-Fi Range Extender(s)

Unique Network Hardware For Devices Without Ethernet or Wi-Fi

  • (Only For Laptops or Gaming Consoles Without Ethernet) USB Ethernet Adapter ⁠— Used to add Ethernet capabilities to devices without Ethernet ports. For laptops being used in a home office or home gaming scenarios. Full Guide here. Also consider Laptop Docking Stations.
  • (Only For Desktops That Can’t Get Ethernet) Desktop Wi-Fi Card or Adapter ⁠— If you can’t get an Ethernet cable routed to your desktop due to hardware requirements or environmental factors (ie a college dorm with no Ethernet plug-in), you’ll need to get Wi-Fi set up on your desktop PC. This is a last resort for desktop PCs that can’t reasonably get Ethernet. Full Guide here.

What You Need In a Home Network

  • A Modem ⁠— Usually acquired from your ISP (Internet Service Provider). May also have router functionality built-in. A Modem is used to connect your Home Network to the Internet.
  • A Router ⁠— Either combined with a modem from your ISP or provided by you. More on that choice in the next section. A Router is basically a Switch merged with a Modem. So You have both the ability to connect to the internet, in addition to connecting multiple cables (and devices) to the router.
  • Ethernet Cables ⁠— For desktop PCs, gaming consoles, and other devices being used in one place. Ethernet cables are used to connect your stationary devices to your Router or Modem for best performance.
  • (Large/Multi-Floor Homes) Wi-Fi Range Extenders ⁠— To make Wi-Fi more usable in larger households.
  • (Large/Multi-Floor Homes) Powerline Ethernet Adapters ⁠— For when you can’t route an Ethernet cable directly to your device. (Or want to hide the cables in your wall).  More on this solution below.
  • (Laptops Without Ethernet) USB Ethernet Adapter ⁠— For laptops being used in a home office or home gaming scenario. Full Guide here. Also, consider Laptop Docking Stations.
  • (Desktops That Can’t Get Ethernet) Desktop Wi-Fi Card or Adapter ⁠— As a last resort for desktop PCs that can’t reasonably get wired Ethernet. Full Guide here.

The above is a (pretty much) exhaustive list of popular Home Networking Devices. You won’t need all of the above, though, for a basic Home Networking setup.

For example, if you just want to connect two PCs to each other and both of those desktop PCs should also be able to connect to the Internet, at a minimum, you’ll need two network cables and one router.

Ethernet vs Wi-Fi: Which Is Better?

So, an important starting tip for any home networking setup is understanding that if it’s available to you, Ethernet (wired/cables) is always the better option compared to Wi-Fi.

But why is this the case, and is Wi-Fi really that bad if you have to use it?

In terms of raw throughput in download and upload speeds, the advantage isn’t always as clear-cut in Ethernet’s favor, especially for home Internet connections that aren’t topping out the potential of Ethernet or Wi-Fi.

At one point in time, Ethernet had a solid advantage in this area, but modern standards like Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac) and Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) can push throughput approaching Gigabit with reasonable consistency.

Tom’s Hardware Wi-Fi 6 Benchmarks

Image Credit: Tom’s Hardware

Ethernet cables are still able to push higher speeds than this, and with more consistency at that, but most consumers aren’t paying for Internet connections that max out the capabilities of Wi-Fi.

So, the argument for Ethernet isn’t necessarily rooted in raw download and upload speed⁠— truthfully, Wi-Fi has gotten pretty good at that over time, even if it technically falls short.

Why, then, do I say Ethernet is firmly the better solution?

Ethernet beats Wi-Fi in two key areas: reliability and consistency.

By consistency, I mean being able to push the same speeds pretty much all the time, regardless of distance, as long as your ISP can keep up and you have enough Ethernet cable to go from Point A to Point B.

By reliability, I mean being basically invulnerable to signal interference and cluttered bands that can ruin a Wi-Fi connection.

wifi interference

If you’re gaming, live-streaming, video conferencing, or doing other latency-sensitive tasks, Ethernet will provide an unquestionably more stable experience than Wi-Fi.

Every Wi-Fi connection is prone to interference from surrounding Wi-Fi signals.

If you have your own house with a reasonable distance from your neighbors, this isn’t as big a deal. But if you live in a densely-populated area, especially an apartment in a big city, this becomes a problem fairly quickly.

Having someone walk past your room or close a door can impact bandwidth, latency and even make you lose the Wi-Fi connection entirely. Not something you want during gameplay or when doing time-sensitive work.

Wi-Fi is great for mobile devices, your iPhone, tablets, or even Laptops when moving around your room, but if you can hook up devices through Ethernet, I recommend doing so.

I’ll discuss options for improving your Wi-Fi in the “How To Improve Your Wi-Fi Experience” section, but for now, I want to focus on Ethernet a little bit.

How To Get Ethernet In Another Room

So, you’re sold on the benefits of an Ethernet connection, but you have a problem.

Your bedroom, home office, or what-have-you is in an entirely separate room from your router. What are your options in this scenario?

Get a longer Ethernet cable, and route it to your destination.

As it turns out, Ethernet cables are pretty cheap. You can get 50 and 100 FT (or 10 – 20 Meter) Ethernet cables for under $25 easily.

How to extend Ethernet Connection
The issue will be routing them to your destination⁠— I recommend keeping them firmly attached to corners and walls, using cable clips with nails where necessary, so no one trips. This is the recommended solution, as it will keep all benefits of Ethernet intact at a reasonable price.

Use a Powerline Ethernet adapter

Powerline Ethernet adapters are exactly what they sound like. Using your home’s existing in-wall power cabling, you can plug one powerline Ethernet adapter into the wall by your router and another into the wall by your PC or console.

Plug an Ethernet cable into both, and voila⁠— you have Ethernet without running a big cable through the whole house!

While this works and still improves reliability over Wi-Fi, this isn’t recommended for keeping the highest download/upload speeds, as most Powerline Adapters have low speeds and cost way more than just the cable. The ones capable of pushing full Ethernet-tier speeds also cost hundreds of dollars.

How To Improve Your Wi-Fi Experience

So, if you have to use Wi-Fi, how can you improve your experience?

The first place to start is router configuration. The exact way you’ll access router configuration is going to depend on your specific router, but I’ll discuss some options to look out for and tweak if they’re available.

Change Wi-Fi Channel

This is a big one, especially if you live in a densely-populated area.

Wi-Fi networks only have a limited number of “Channels” on which they can operate, and if you and your neighbors are occupying the same channel, interference will reduce the speed and stability of your Wi-Fi connection.

HowToGeek wrote a pretty good guide on finding what Wi-Fi channels are currently in use by surrounding networks, for free, so check that out if you think this might be an issue.

If you’re living in a house at a fair distance from your neighbors, though, this is unlikely to be the main problem.

Disable 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi

Another common problem is when a router automatically switches between 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz Wi-Fi networks during latency-sensitive workloads, especially gaming.

An unwanted network switch like this can result in full seconds of lost connection and stutter in the middle of otherwise-smooth experiences, and no one wants that.

Before disabling 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi, it is important to make a few important points of clarification.

2.4 GHz Wi-Fi has a longer range than 5 GHz Wi-Fi but suffers from slower speeds and much higher latency. However, it may be required for some older devices that don’t support 5 GHz.

5 GHz Wi-Fi is better all-around in terms of speeds and latencies but has limited support for legacy hardware and limited range compared to 2.4 GHz.

Even so, I recommend disabling 2.4 GHz if automatic network switching is a problem, especially if you’re gaming or doing other latency-sensitive workloads on Wi-Fi.

Enable QoS (Quality of Service)

Speaking of latency-sensitive workloads, did you know that routers actually have a built-in system for managing those workloads?

This is usually called QoS (Quality of Service), but you may see it under different names in your settings, like “Packet Prioritization” or something.

Some routers have this functionality built-in without you needing to change it, but if the setting is there, you definitely need to make sure it’s enabled!

Good QoS will ensure that gaming, voice calls, video calls, and other latency-sensitive tasks are prioritized over tasks that can easily work ahead and build buffers (ie, streaming Netflix or YouTube).

Change Router Power Management Settings

Last but not least, you should also consider changing your router’s power management settings.

Namely, you’ll want to look out for Wi-Fi transmit power, or router transmit power.

At 100%, your router will have its best range, but be the most prone to interference from surrounding networks. If you have a large home and a fair distance from your neighbors, this will still probably be desirable.

At lower percentages, the range will lower, but performance can actually improve due to there being less interference, according to testing by Excentis.com. This is the recommended solution for anyone living in densely-populated areas.

When You Should Buy Your Own Router

So, when should you just buy your own router entirely and say screw it to whatever your ISP sold to you?

If you’ve made the tweaks above and are still dealing with unacceptable Wi-Fi performance problems, it’s most likely time to get a new router.

Alternatively, if you’re dealing with performance issues and the tweaks listed above aren’t even available for you to make, you definitely need a new router.

Once you get a new router, be sure to follow the configuration tips listed in the above section, and to disable the original router’s Wireless network broadcasting outright.

You may still need to keep the original router powered on, though, especially if the modem is built into it.

Why and How To Set Custom DNS Servers

One last home networking tip I like to give is setting up a custom DNS server.

You can do this on your individual devices, or on your router to apply it to your entire network in one place. But what is a DNS server, and why does it matter in this context?

DNS stands for Domain Name Server, and domain names are kind of what the whole Internet is built on.

The better your DNS, the faster your connection will be at finding particular web addresses, which improves the overall feeling of speed and responsiveness.

ISP DNS servers can vary greatly in quality, but the leading public DNS server options are among the best in raw performance.

So, how do you set up a custom DNS server?

If you want to do it for your router, just find the DNS server settings in your router settings.

Whenever setting a DNS server, you’ll see boxes for a Primary DNS Server, and a Secondary DNS Server. I recommend keeping the Secondary DNS Server the same (since it will be your ISP’s default) but changing your Primary DNS Server to your DNS of choice.

In Windows, the same applies, but you’ll want to find your DNS settings.

There are a few different methods on modern versions of Windows, but the method that should work on nearly all of them is heading to your Control Panel, and clicking Network and Internet.

Windows Control Panel

From here, proceed to Network and Sharing Center, then Change adapter settings.

Windows Network and Sharing Center

Now, right-click your active connection, and select “Properties”. Inside the popup, locate Internet Protocol Version 4, and click “Properties” again.

Windows Network Connections

Finally, you’ll be met with the screen where you can set your own DNS addresses. Be sure to check “validate settings upon exit”.

Windows Ethernet Properties

If you want recommendations as to what your new Primary/Preferred DNS Server should be, I recommend Cloudflare’s 1.1.1.1 the most!

Cloudflare’s DNS server not only has great performance but also supports encryption for increased privacy.

To use it, just type 1.1.1.1 as your Primary DNS server and you’ll be good to go! 1.0.0.1 is the alternate DNS server for Cloudflare, as well.

FAQ

Do I need a server?

With all this talk of home networking, you may have some questions about home servers.

If you want to know more, I recommend my Starter’s Guide to Servers, where I cover a variety of server types, use cases, and even what hardware you should be focused on if you’re going to be building your own.

Usecases for Servers

Even if you aren’t interested in building or buying a dedicated home server, you should still consider turning an existing PC into a home server for media and game streaming now that you have the network muscle to back it up.

Check out the guide linked above if that sounds interesting to you!

Over to You

And that’s it, at least for now!

I hope this Starter’s Guide to Home Networking did its job and gave you some solid, actionable information that you can use to improve your existing home network or build a new, better one.

Feel free to leave a comment below or in the Forums if you have any other questions about improving your network setup⁠— me and my fellow CGDirector team and community members will be happy to help!

Until then or until next time, have a good day. And don’t forget to use Ethernet if at all possible, seriously.

CGDirector is Reader-supported. When you buy through our links, we may earn an affiliate commission.

Christopher Harper

I have been a passionate devotee to technology since the age of 3, and to writing since before I even finished high school.

These passions have since combined into a living in my adulthood and have made writing about PC Hardware very satisfying.

If you need any assistance, leave a comment below: it’s what I’m here for.

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