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LAN party planning tips and other entertaining answers

Dec 05, 20055 mins

Also: How to convert albums and tapes into digital music files and getting better sound of notebook speakers

 My son tricked me into giving him a LAN party for his 13th birthday. What do I need to make this party work?Marnie from Seattle

Seems like only yesterday that the kids were happy with Chuck E. Cheese, and now they want a LAN party. Time flies. First, you need tables and chairs to hold kids, keyboards and monitors. Start with your primary eating table and add card tables, if they’re sturdy, where necessary. The actual computers will go under the tables.You will need power strips for monitors, computers and perhaps powered speakers. Figure one strip for every two players (three plugs per player). You will also need a long extension cord to reach into another part of your house to plug into a room served by a different circuit breaker than your primary party room. One circuit breaker may not supply all the electricity needed, and nothing ruins a LAN party like a lack of juice.

You will need 10/100Base-T wiring hub(s), one with enough ports for every player and two or three extra ports. These come in eight-, 12-, 16- and 24-port versions. You don’t need management or any bells or whistles, just the ports. Figure for some extras in case more people come than you expect, and to support one or more dedicated computers acting as servers.

Between each computer and the wiring hub must be a wire. Ethernet patch cables come in various lengths, so look for a mix of 10-foot and 25-foot cable to reach all players. Finally, get some earplugs. Network-based shooting games have plenty of gunfire, explosions and screams, but those will be drowned out by young teenage boys yelling taunts back and forth.

You promised us in the first issue you’d tell us how to convert all our old albums and tapes into digital music files. What about that?Kai from Detroit

Glad someone finally asked. It’s actually good we waited, because new products make the transfer quality far better than what we could have gotten last year. There are three problems with all the advice on the Internet now about transferring albums to digital files. First, some stories don’t mention the need to boost the weak signal from your record player. Phonograph feeds expect to go into a pre-amp (small amplifier) to boost the signal and fix sonic problems of vinyl and needles (low bass). Just boosting the signal won’t give you the best result after the music is transferred.

Other stories forget to tell you to ground the turntable to your preamp to stop the all-too-prevalent hum that occurs in this type of transfer. If your turntable is grounded to the receiver, and you record from your receiver, the hum will be eliminated. But if you connect your turntable to something else, you better ground it. If your receiver supports phonograph inputs (many low- to medium-priced units today don’t), you can record through your receiver into your computer. But most current advice says to buy a patch cord (go to Radio Shack) with two RCA connectors on one end (the receiver output) and a 1/8 mini-jack on the other (sound card input). Unfortunately, the sound card chips included in most modern motherboards do no favors in the sonic fidelity department.

The great advantage today? New sound cards and audio interfaces now come with USB connectors and analog-to-digital conversion electronics. One of the newest on the market, the ART USB Phono Plus Sound Card Recorder comes from its line of audio interfaces for recording professionals and includes SP/DIF optical connections. High-end receivers and home theater systems often have these optical connections (they may be called TOSLINK), which deliver outstanding sound quality.The ART module does not come with software, because this isn’t directed at the album-to-CD consumer crowd. Check these sites for inexpensive and free software: Magix Audio Cleaning Lab 10, and Tucows.

For work purposes, I traded in my old desktop for a notebook computer. But my surround-sound speakers don’t work well with my notebook. How can I get better sound?Rod in Boston

You’re in luck, because vendors are fixing that exact problem using new external sound cards connected through the USB port rather than the inexpensive sound card that comes standard in the laptops.

Creative, the makers of the SoundBlaster, makes a variety of external sound cards. Check out the Creative Sound Blaster MP3+ sound card ($45 to $60) or the Creative Sound Blaster Live! 24-bit External ($55 to $65) on up to the Sound Blaster Audigy 2 NX USB ($120 to $140). Other makers to check include AudioTrak with their Maya EX7 7.1 surround sound system (and others) and IceMat with its Siberia USB surround sound card ($70). If you prefer a PC Card with 24-bit sound and a built-in headphone amplifier, check out the range of PC Card models from Echo Audio.

Got a computer or network problem? Send stumpers to connectioncoach@nww.