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Hacks and tweaks for a faster, safer network

Managing mobile files

When you've been on the move with your laptop, rejoining your home network can be a hassle. The biggest problem for most people is the files that they work on while away from home. Some copy the edited versions of files back to their servers by hand, or store them on easily lost USB sticks. However, XP provides a much better solution: file synchronisation.

On your laptop, go to the Control Panel and select 'User Accounts'. Select the option 'Change the way users log on and off ' and deselect 'Use Fast User Switching'. This will enable file synchronisation. Apply changes and close the Control Panel. Now open My Documents and select 'Folder Options' on the Tools menu. Click on the 'Offline File' tab and select the 'Enable Offline Files' tickbox.

Still on your laptop, browse to a shared file or folder on your server that you want to make available when you're away from home. Right-click on it and select 'Make Available Offline'. When you do this for the first time, a wizard will ask you if you want to synchronise files automatically when you log on or off, whether you want Windows to remind you that you're working offline, and if you want Windows to create a desktop icon for the offline copies.

When you return to your home network and power up the laptop, Windows will automatically copy the files that you've worked on back to the server, ensuring that you always use up-to-date versions.

Game on

If you're playing interactive games against strangers over the Internet, you'll need all the bandwidth your broadband connection can provide. You may have an 8Mb connection, but this is the download speed. The upload speed will be far lower. While you can't do anything about delays once your traffic is out on the Internet, you can certainly prevent local applications impeding it.

Before you begin an online gaming session, stop running all applications that could conceivably hog your broadband connection (or your CPU and RAM). This includes torrent clients (especially files that you're seeding to others), your email program and instant messaging and VoIP services. If your router supports it, enable QoS and prioritise data sent from your game. The router manual will tell you which port number to prioritise. See the 'Quality of Service' box for more details of exactly what QoS can do for you.

LAN-based gaming with friends is great fun, and informal LAN parties can grow spontaneously to become regular events. LAN games generate plenty of traffi c, so it pays to ensure that the machines have a dedicated hub (or chain of hubs) to themselves. Many people incorrectly believe that you need a powerful LAN switch for gaming, but this isn't so. You will, however, need as many ports as there are players – so if you expect people to bring their own machines, either buy an extra cheap hub or two, or get them to bring some extra networking hardware along.

On the subject of people bringing their own machines, one regular LAN gamer pointed out that you should ensure there are one or two spare four-way mains extension leads handy, just in case. Remember too that some laptops may have come from wireless-only LANs. If you don't have wireless capability, ensure that you have extra LAN cables so that they can plug in to the network, or that they bring their own.

Sharing Windows printers

If you have one printer and several computers, transferring data and having someone else print it out at their convenience can be a pain. Sharing the printer means that anyone on your network can use it as if it were local to their own machine.