Here’s the picture… you’re lounging in your bed doodling on your laptop, browsing the internet and come across a GREAT article (like this one) and want to print it out. Of course it’s freezing outside this time of the year and your all warm and comfy under your covers. The prospect of getting out of bed and carrying the laptop to your living room, just to print the article doesn’t seem very likely. So you decide to just forgo the effort and a wonderful piece of prose will disappear into the murky depths of memory to be lost forever. What a tragedy.
Well here are some suggestions to help you prevent that from happening in the future. The gist of this problem is basic… the printer only has a USB connection and will only communicate with the computer its connected to. Of course, once it’s connected to a computer, it can be shared. But, that doesn’t do you a lick of good if your only computer is a laptop and not in the same room as the printer. As with almost all computer related questions, the answer depends on how much money you are prepared to spend. There is usually a free option when the problem is software related, but this is not the case when hardware is concerned. The only free option you have is your current solution of schlepping the laptop to the printer.
An important thing to understand is the connection scheme. You are likely used to connecting your printer directly to your computer. This is possible using a USB cable. When you connect using WiFi, your computer isn’t directly connected, it goes through your network.
The best way to understand this is to think of your router as Grand Central Station for the network.
“What is my router?” you ask. You most likely get your internet connection through your cable or phone connection. There is a special cable that goes to a box with antennae on top. That’s your router. All the information that comes and goes on the internet and on your network goes through it. Your router does lots of complicated stuff like figuring out addresses and stuff. It also makes sure all the computers in the house communicate to each other. So, if you have two wireless devices in your house, they don’t talk directly to each other. Instead, everything goes through the router.
The quickest and cheapest solution
The cheapest solution is to buy a small box called a print server. This has a USB connector on one side and a network connector on the other. Most WiFi routers have a handful of hard-wire connections available for a dedicated connection. (These look like wide phone jacks with a few blinky lights on top) This option will cost you anywhere from $45 to $50 and is relatively easy to setup.
After you make all the hardware connections, just follow the Add Printer Wizard for which ever version of Windows you have. You will likely already have the drivers for the printer installed if you’ve used it from your laptop already. It’s not a bad idea to go to your manufacturers web site and download the latest drivers. You can usually find this on a Support page. Here is a quick link for a Netgear and D-Link printer server I was able to find through a simple Google search.
If you are really a WiFi purist and insist on having your printer where you want it without cables attaching it (besides power), you can always purchase a Linksys Wireless printer server, but be warned… you are entering a geek speak zone for me to talk you through connecting it, especially if you’re WiFi is secured (which it should be). The Linksys runs about $80.
I didn’t like the printer anyway
Your next option is to buy a new printer. There are several models that have LAN (local area connection) or WiFi connections already inside the printer. On a quick search, I found an HP OfficeJet from TigerDirect that runs $180. Again, this starts to get a bit complicated, but if you follow the installation instructions that come with the printer, you should be able to print even from your warm comfy bed.
OMG!!!! I’m becoming a geek
I wouldn’t be doing you justice if I didn’t include the over-the-top geek solution. The option I use at home is connecting the printer to a dedicated computer and sharing it on the network. I love laptops and have one, but there are some things that can just get done better on a full size computer. In my case, I like to have the printer available and have someplace where I can store lots of large files so it won’t bog down my laptop. I do this by having a big hard drive and the printer shared from an HP desktop in my front living room. I keep images of my DVD movies on the hard drive which I can watch over the network so I don’t have to juggle discs all over my bed or loose cases.
For this case, shop around your local computer stores on their refurbished shelves. I’ve found some really good deals on older computers that work great as dedicated printer and storage servers.
Don’t be afraid of the word “server”. Basically, it is a computer that does anything specific and “serves” that up when necessary. It doesn’t even have to be running any special software or operating system. An old computer running Windows XP is perfectly capable to work as a storage and printer server. I’ll address this in another article on how to fully set up a home server, but I still wanted to address it in this article as a viable option.
Stay in bed and make Guttenberg jealous
So, now equipped with the knowledge, go forth and recline while printing. But remember, technology is a slippery beast. Just when you get a handle on how to use what you’ve got, they come out with a whole new set of standards or connections. Don’t be afraid to play. Worst case, just come back and ask me “What in the world is this connector?” It’s my job to answer all your questions.