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Networked printing: an introduction

Home users can simply plug their printer into a computer and get going - but in an office, the chances are you'll want to share a printer or multifunction product (MFP) between a number of users. That's where networked printing comes in.

There are three main technologies used to connect printing and imaging devices to a network: Ethernet, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. Each has different benefits, and will suit slightly different office and home office situations. We'll talk you through the basics.

Ethernet is the technology used to connect printers using traditional wired networking. Many business-oriented printers come with Ethernet networking built in. They all have a port, generally at the back, which looks like a slightly wider version of a telephone socket.

Into this is plugged a type network cable called CAT5e, with a type of connector at each end called an RJ45. Again, this looks like a telephone connector, but with eight pins instead of six.

Ethernet is the fastest and most reliable means of printing large files, working at 100Mbit/s - roughly twice the maximum you'd get from Wi-Fi.

Because Ethernet networking is built into all PCs, it can also be the cheapest to install. Depending on your setup, you can attach your printer directly to a PC via Ethernet, or hook a number of machines up using an inexpensive Ethernet hub.

The downside to Ethernet is that, with a number of machines all hooked up to the same printer, it can create a clutter of cables. Wi-Fi and Bluetooth both work wirelessly, helping to keep clutter down and giving you broader options when it comes to positioning your printer.

Bluetooth works over distances of up to 30 feet, and designed for sending smaller files. Because most smartphones and PDAs come with Bluetooth built in, this technology is ideal if you regularly need to print out short notes or emails from your handheld devices.

For cable-free printing that's up to slightly bigger jobs, choose Wi-Fi. It works at a range of up to 300 feet, and the most widely used version - a technology called 802.11g - works at speeds of up to 54Mbit/s: easily fast enough for most office printing. Almost all laptops, netbooks and tablet PCs have Wi-Fi networking built-in, making it ideal for offices that use hot-desking and mobile PCs.

This article was brought to you as part of THINQ's Business Printing Hub in association with HP.