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Having Trouble Wiring PCs and Peripherals?

Maurice Salama asks: I have a desktop and a laptop that communicate through a wireless router to a DSL connection. My issue is that I also have a photo printer, a document printer, and an external hard drive that all have USB connections and an old document printer with a serial connector. What do I require in order to have the two computers communicate to the four peripherals without the desktop being on constantly? I'm looking for the lowest possible cost and setup procedure. The reason is that my married children bring their wireless computers often and need to print or store photos and documents.

For a Windows computer on the network to use a device, such as a printer or disk drive, attached directly to another computer, which I'll call the host, the host must be up and running. It doesn't need to have a user logged in and you can turn off the monitor to save power, but the PC itself must be up. You also need to have File and Printer Sharing for Microsoft Networks enabled on each computer. The easiest way to do this is by running the Network Setup Wizard. To run it, click the Start button, select All Programs, then Accessories and Communications.

To enable printing on a computer other than the host, you must first make the printer available for sharing. Open the Printers and Faxes control panel, right click on the printer's icon, and click Sharing on the menu. On the computer that is to use the printer, open the Printers and Faxes control panel, click Add a Printer, and follow the steps for adding a network printer.

SHARE THE DRIVE. To use a disk drive attached to another computer, the drive must first be shared. This is done by right clicking on the drive's icon in My Computer on the host and clicking Sharing and Security. On the computers that are to share the drive, open My Network Places, click Add Network Place, and use the wizard to connect to the shared drive you want.

An alternative to having the computer on all the time is to hang the printers directly on the network using an expensive "print server," available from networking companies such as Netgear, Linksys, or Belkin. These units, which come in wired and wireless flavors, will work only with USB printers, and you'll have to follow the instructions that come with the device to install your printer software on each computer.

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