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6 Essential Items to Get Any Device Connected to Your Home Network

6 Essential Items to Get Any Device Connected to Your Home Network

    Once upon a time, “getting connected” meant setting your computer desk up by a telephone port, whipping out a massive lugger of a dial-up modem and blocking your ears as the modem screeched and beeped its way towards connectivity. That cliched sound, still sometimes heard in commercials about the Internet that were evidently designed by someone who hasn’t used it since 1995, was the bane of teenagers of the era who tried every trick in the book to muffle that sound at midnight, trying to get online when they were meant to be in bed.

    Today, the situation has changed entirely. There’s no ear-shredding noise to muffle, and our connections are always on. You don’t have to sabotage someone’s phone call in order to get online now, and in fact, many of us are using the Internet to make those phone calls. Your printer, DVR, television, gaming console, heck, even your home theatre system, probably has an Ethernet cable if it doesn’t have wireless. And if your phone can’t jump on the network, it might seem as if it has an antenna and only runs on analogue cell networks, too, even though wi-fi was only in the most expensive of expensive phones a few short years ago.

    The question was: how do we get the computer desk to fit near the single phone port in the house without blocking the doorway? Now, it’s: how the heck do I get every device I own that demands a connection, connected? I’ve had to resort to some trickery in my house. Complicating matters, I’ve had to contend with cross-platform compatibility—how do I get my iPhone on my wireless network without giving up the 802.11n that allows movies to stream from iTunes to my Apple TV so seamlessly? How do I get the Xbox on there without spending a ridiculous amount of money on a wireless adapter that’s not even N-compatible, without running Ethernet cable across the house and under the rug?

    There was a time when I struggled to get everything connected, but I’ve discovered that with a collection of devices and wires you can ensure that almost any home network configuration can be set up. I’m not talking about fancy networks that require you to know what a network topography is and how IP addresses are assigned, but reasonably complicated networks in a home situation where various computers, phones and media devices demand access to the Internet and your other devices. And this won’t be for everyone; if you own one desktop and one laptop and are content to stick with cable and DVD for your lounge room entertainment, you don’t need all this.

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    1. A Solid Modem

    You can get modem-routers. I’ve had a few, but I don’t like them so much now. If I make a change to my port forwarding on a modem-router, you have to save and restart the device and then, once it has fired up and started the network, wait for it to authenticate with your ISP. If you have a modem separate from your router, the downtime is lessened because the connection is still there when your router comes back up. This might not make much of a difference for most people, but if you’ve got a complicated set-up and thus need to make lots of changes, test, rinse and repeat, this can save considerable time.

    Modems change so much from region to region and connection type to connection type that I won’t try to recommend one here—the brand I use isn’t even sold outside of Australia, last time I checked—but if you’re using a modem-router now, you can continue to use it as nothing but a modem instead of going out and buying a new modem and a new router.

    And if you’re comfortable using a modem-router, that’s fine. I’m just a little odd and impatient!

    2. Wireless Router

    You’ll need a wireless router (should you wish to have wireless access, and I’m going to assume that of course you do). Preferably a Draft-N router if you’re running devices that support it (especially more recent Apple devices) or are willing to fork out and upgrade the wireless adapters your devices use. Draft-N is much snappier than G, especially if your entire network is an N network.

    The other thing you want to look for is compatibility with one of the open source router firmwares that are available—such as DD-WRT or Tomato—that’ll enable you to turn that router with a “made for idiots” interface into something more powerful. The most popular option is DD-WRT and they provide a full list of supported devices here. There are plenty of N-capable Linksys routers, which is a brand numerous people recommend.

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    While I’ve run DD-WRT in the past, I’ll admit that I don’t use it now on my primary router. This doesn’t make my recommendation hollow as it is still useful firmware and I’m just saving space by using my Time Capsule wireless backup device as my router. DD-WRT comes in handy later on when you need a cheap bridge.

    3. Access Points

    If you’ve got a home that is large enough to cause your connection grief as you get further from the wireless router, well-placed access points ensure that signal is strong throughout the whole house. They also make it possible to cater to both Draft-N and b/g devices without running a mixed mode network from one device, which is one reason I like them (for performance reasons). Also, many access points will have an Ethernet and USB port, which makes them super-handy and cheaper than a full-blown router should you need to get an isolated printer or other device that uses Ethernet or USB online.

    For instance, our printer used to run off the Time Capsule’s USB port before it was promoted to the rank of Main Router. There was no room to put it next to our computers, and it was impossible to connect it to the main router since the only phone port in our house is in the kitchen (some sadistic architect, right?) and you’ve got to be able to chop onions on some portion of the bench. Since we used the Time Capsule as an access point in that part of the house, we could also use the printer remotely with minimum fuss from anywhere (never tried it from Windows, but it worked great on the Macs).

    Ideally, I’d like to have an access point sitting spare since it only takes one Internet-craving device to throw off the balance—but then again there are bills to be paid, too!

    Recommendation: the Airport Express makes a good access point.

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    4. A Cheap Bridge

    It never ceases to amaze me how much the average home theater demands in terms of connectivity these days. It still doesn’t cease to amaze me that some media appliances—and I’m thinking particularly about the Xbox 360—don’t have wi-fi built in, just an Ethernet cable, and the manufacturer wants AU$150 for a wireless adapter that doesn’t even support Draft-N. I know it’s a draft and nobody has to support it, but still, for AU$150? C’mon!

    So you could solve it by buying some fancy wireless bridge that costs more than US$100 and get everything hooked up by Ethernet. But that’s a lot of money, though it is better than a hundred or so per device, and we can do better. There are plenty of wireless routers out there that can be acquired for $30 or $40 and have just as many Ethernet ports as a wireless bridge.

    The only difference, really, is the software these devices run. And by purchasing a nice, cheap router that happens to be on the DD-WRT Supported Devices list, it doesn’t take long to hack the thing and get Ethernet juice running to all your home media devices without running CAT-5 around the walls. Esentially, DD-WRT enables you to receive a wireless signal, rather than broadcasting one, and distribute it via wire. Here’s a good post on how to get this configured.

    5. Ethernet Cables

    It sounds a little obvious, but it’s smart to have Ethernet cables around. I don’t mean just the two or three that came with some of the devices you’ve bought over the years. Plan to have them spare, and in differing sizes, because if you have a complicated network set up, situations will come up where an extra cable sitting around will be handy. Any time your configuration changes, you may need another one or two cables. Sometimes you’ll change the system and need fewer cables, and that’ll happen more so as manufacturers become smarter and realize nobody wants to use Ethernet anymore, opting to install wireless adapters instead. But still, the amount of times I’ve been caught out on the issue of cables compels me to advise you that you seriously do want to have spare Ethernet cables lying around.

    Really, these five items are all you need to get the average home with several modern computers running various operating systems, a few isolated devices such as printers that often get network-orphaned, and your entire home theater system connected. But there is one more thing that you’ll find useful, failing the presence of the above items…

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    6. A Laptop

    If you need to get something connected for just a few minutes or hours, and don’t have any other way to get it done until you can buy the requisite equipment, all you need is your laptop and an Ethernet cable. If you’re using any decent operating system you can set up Internet Sharing to take your wireless connection and share it via wire, and plug an Ethernet cable in between your laptop and the device that needs to get online. Problem solved, albeit awkardly, but it should buy you some time until you hussle up the coinage for the right gear.

    If you’ve got these six things, you’re prepared. I’m not a networking expert—though ironically enough I do have certification in networking—so you may feel free to correct me in the comments, but I have got a system working using the items listed above, and you should be able to do so as well. The best instruction is born through personal experience, after all!

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    Joel Falconer

    Editor, content marketer, product manager and writer with 12+ years of experience in the startup, design and tech digital media industries.

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    Published on September 25, 2020

    10 Best VPNs to Browse the Internet More Securely

    10 Best VPNs to Browse the Internet More Securely

    When it comes to digital security, public Wi-Fi networks aren’t safe enough, making it much easier for hackers to access your personal data. Whether you are studying in a library or scrolling through Facebook in a coffeehouse, it is vital to have a VPN installed on your device.

    VPNs work wonders when it comes to securing your internet connection. By creating an encrypted tunnel between a remote server run by the VPN service, they protect your personal data from prying eyes. There is a variety of VPNs available on the web, and we have collated a list of the best VPNs that stand out from the rest.

    How to Choose a VPN

    • Free trial period – Free trials allow you to try the product risk-free. The same idea technically applies to those with 30-day full refunds as well.
    • Speed – You want your VPN to be just as fast as the internet speed at home. Good quality VPNs are ones where you see little difference between those speeds.
    • Device connection – Of course, the more devices that can connect to VPNs, the better. It increases the customers’ coverage and the product’s value. You also want to consider compatibility since fewer VPNs may work for Mac or Windows only.
    • Number of servers – The number of servers determines how much capacity a VPN can handle while you are connected. The more servers there are, the more users it can handle without running into potential disconnections or slow speeds.
    • Kill switch feature – Having this feature means that your IP address isn’t exposed if the VPN disconnects for some reason. A lack of this feature is a big deal since the whole reason why you’re paying for a VPN is to hide your IP address, among other things. (Find out how to avoid getting tracked online here: Big Brother Is Watching You Online: How To Avoid Being Tracked)

    Why You Should Trust Us

    Our hand-picked VPNs are incredibly efficient and offer such distinctive features that grant you safe browsing. They outperform many VPNs in terms of both speed and security. Their primary aim is to provide you the utmost security, thus enabling you to surf the web safely and prevent any potential threat from causing harm.

    Among the best VPNs’ many unique features include split tunneling, strict logging policies, high encryption level, and availability of international servers. We have gathered them in this article to enlighten our readers and offer the best pieces of advice before you get one. Therefore, take our word for it, and if you go for a VPN mentioned below, you’d be fully appeased.

    1. NordVPN

    The most popular VPN on the market these days is NordVPN, and it’s easy to see why. It has widespread coverage, offering a selection of over 5,000 servers spanning across 59 countries.[1] Due to the high number of servers, its speed is similar to your Wi-Fi at home.

    Lifehack’s CEO, Leon, has been using NordVPN for many years and wants to recommend it for its remarkable server count in different locations with no-logs policy. The VPN perfectly works with Netflix and Fire TV stick, too.

    NordVPN is also compatible with Mac, Windows, and Linux. You can download the app onto Chrome, Firefox, Android, and Mac OS. Thanks to its massive coverage, it’s easy to connect multiple devices onto these servers.

    In terms of pricing, while NordVPN doesn’t have a free trial period, they argue that their plans are considerably cheaper than those of their competitors. For example, a one-year plan for ExpressVPN costs $8.32 per month, but NordVPN only charges $6.99 monthly.

    NordVPN has a new protocol called NordLynx that is based on WireGuard with speed benefits, though it’s still under development.[2] If you’re looking for general quality and affordability, this is one of the best VPNs around.

    Buy this VPN.

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    2. ExpressVPN

    ExpressVPN is the second-best option out there for keeping your privacy while browsing the internet. Like many other VPNs here, they will encrypt your IP address, offer vast coverage, and can have multiple devices connected to their servers.

    Compared to NordVPN, while the pricing point is higher, ExpressVPN’s biggest selling point is the number of countries that their connection covers. Depending on where you are in the world, this may be the only option you have. They have fewer servers — 160, to be precise — but they make up for the low server count by covering 94 countries.[3]

    Cost-wise, your best bet is to go with the yearly plan where they charge $8.32 a month. They also have one- and six-month plans.

    Buy this VPN.

    3. Surf Shark

    With regards to Surf Shark, you can connect multiple devices to its servers, and it’s compatible with Windows, Linux, and Mac. It is also available on Android, iOS, Chrome, Firefox, and FireTV.

    Furthermore, Surf Shark can whitelist apps and sites, letting them bypass the VPN. This, along with the lines of split-tunneling, is another feature that many VPNs offer. The difference is that Surf Shark allows you to whitelist specific apps or any website, while most VPNs will whitelist all sites or none at all.

    The other consideration for this app is the price. While lower-tier plans are more expensive compared to others, Surf Shark’s 24-month plan is priced at $2.69 a month, so it’s cheaper than even NordVPN’s equivalent plan!

    Buy this VPN.

    4. CyberGhost

    Another top-reviewed VPN is CyberGhost. They’ve been around for 15 years and have fine-tuned their offers and features to stay competitive. They provide the standard package of browsing the web and logging into accounts safely and give you access to regionally blocked content.

    The network also maintains security from hackers, malware, and phishing. Aside from that, you can connect multiple devices, and it’s compatible with all kinds of platforms.

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    What separates CyberGhost from the others is their extensive coverage. They have multiple servers, and the pricing point is still very low. It covers over 88 countries and has roughly 6200 servers for you to choose from, all while charging $2.75 for their 18-month plan.

    Buy this VPN.

    5. IPVanish

    IPVanish’s prime purpose is to give users online freedom by providing fast speeds and private connections. It’s clear that they can meet that promise as they provide many of the features that have been listed previously from their competitors.

    IPVanish is a part of SugarSync now. What is that, you may ask? It’s a cloud-based service that syncs files across devices and computers for sharing, backup, and many more. What this means is that other devices can access various files and videos so long as they are connected to your specific VPN. Furthermore, it can serve as a backup plan if you get hacked or lose your device for some reason.

    Buy this VPN.

    6. Private Internet Access

    Private Internet Access (PIA) is a remarkably generous company in many ways. Aside from the obvious features, they offer great incentives and discounts for people to try out their products. They claim to be the most trustworthy and reliable VPN around, and we believe that.

    One notable thing is that PIA offers a free two-month trial. Compared to other VPNs to this point, none have provided free trials (though all come with a 30-day money-back guarantee). On top of that, small businesses can avail of their VPN at a discounted rate. There is also the fact that their pricing plans go as low as $2.69 a month for two years, and they let you pay with gift cards.

    In terms of specs, PIA has over 2695 servers that cover 47 countries right now.

    These particular aspects make PIA unique and one of the best VPNs to consider.

    Buy this VPN.

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    7. Hotspot Shield

    Hotspot Shield is all about offering protection while you’re browsing the internet or using streaming services like Netflix. The encryption is military-grade, and its speed is ultra-fast. In truth, it is even marketed as one of the fastest VPNs.

    Hotspot Shield offers a plan that only costs  $7.99 a month; however, it’s one of the few in this list to provide its services for free. Like other Freemium apps, the free version comes with limited features. That said, it gives you a much better feel for the VPN.

    Also, take note that the encryption feature is still there, though the limitations in the free plan include connecting to one location in the US and having limited streaming options and speed.

    Buy this VPN.

    8. TunnelBear

    As unusual as a name choice for an online security protection service can be, TunnelBear is nothing short of incredible. It makes our list of the best VPNs for various reasons.

    The biggest one is that the company goes through a yearly security audit. This is notable because many VPNs don’t bother about independent audits to ensure their systems are secure and safe from any issues. This is critical as VPNs have gotten some bad reputation over the years, as TunnelBear has noted in their post about their security audit.[4] The fact that they are doing this annually ensures that nothing is being compromised.

    Furthermore, TunnelBear offers limited services for free, but even their paid plans are pretty cheap. For individuals, you’re merely paying $3.33 per month. The only catch is that you can connect five devices regardless of which paid plan you pick.

    Buy this VPN.

    9. Norton

    Norton has been on the security scene for some time, and it’s actually one of the founders of the internet security industry. It started with virus and malware protection in 1991 and has since branched off to other sectors as the industry has shifted.

    As you might expect from a company that’s been around for a long time, Norton provides excellent services, and a few of their other services have gone into the VPN package. In reality, Norton is the only one thus far to offer a password manager with their VPN services. They provide 50GB of cloud storage as well.

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    Norton has one of the cheapest VPNs, considering you can get their deluxe plan at $49.99 per year. That comes up to roughly $4.17 a month. It might be slightly higher than other equivalent plans, but you get a lot of extra value that makes it worth the price.

    Buy this VPN.

    10. StrongVPN

    The final VPN we want to cover is StrongVPN. Like many others, it’s great at blocking unnecessary web traffic and providing a fast and simple solution to navigating the internet without any hindrance.

    StrongVPN has over 900 servers. It is available in more than 30 countries and compatible with all devices. Beyond that, the only notable selling point it has compared to others is that it also offers Sugarsync services and 250GB of storage, irrespective of your chosen plan.

    As for the pricing, their year-long plan costs $5.83 a month, while their month-long one is $10.

    Buy this VPN.

    Bottom Line

    Getting online protection is important these days, and companies recognize this.

    With more hacks and breaches occurring every single day, the best VPNs can provide an excellent haven for many people who value their security and privacy.

    We hope that by putting together this list, you’ll be able to find the best VPN that you can trust and enjoy using. As you can see, there are several great options with no real wrong one out there. Pick the VPN that’s best for you.

    Featured photo credit: Petter Lagson via unsplash.com

    Reference

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