Networking / Beginners

Planning Your Network

Some advance planning will go a long way toward making your network installation easier, and more likely to succeed. Some questions that you need to answer before you start are

  • What type of networking hardware do you want to use: standard wired Ethernet, Wireless, power-line, or phone line? This will determine what sort of hardware you need to buy.
  • If you plan on sharing a broadband Internet connection, do you want to use a hardware sharing router, or Windows Internet Connection Sharing? In the former case, you can get a connection sharing router with a built-in hub or wireless access point, so you don't need to buy one of these separately. In the latter case, you'll need two network adapters in the computer that will share the connection.
  • Where do you want to locate your computers? If you're using a wired network, you'll have to decide how to route the network cables, and whether to lay down pre-built cables or use custom-installed wiring. If you're using wireless networking, you need to be sure that the signal will reach all of your computers. You may need to install and wire together one or more access points if your computers are widely spread out.
  • Do you want to operate a Web server (or other type of server) that is to be accessible to the Internet? If so, you'll need to arrange for a static IP address and domain name hosting services from your Internet service provider. In addition, you'll need to configure your network so that service requests arriving over the Internet will be directed to the computer that is running the server software.
  • Do you want to do the work yourself, or hire a consultant to do the work? In a business setting, it's especially worth considering hiring an expert not only to set your network up but to provide ongoing support.

Instant Networking

If your goal is to share printers, files, and maybe an Internet connection between a few computers that are fairly close together, and you don't want to make any decisions, here's a recipe for instant networking. Get the following items at your local computer store, or at an online shop like

  • For each computer that doesn't already have an Ethernet adapter built-in, you'll need to buy one 10/100BASE-T Ethernet adapter. These cost about $10 for internal PCI cards, and about $30 for PCMCIA (PC Card) or USB adapters. The categories are Computers-Networking-NIC Cards, PC Cards, or USB Networks. Choose one of the featured or sale items.
  • A 10/100BASE-T dual-speed switch or hub with four or more ports-about $30-or, if you want to share an Internet connection, a DSL/Cable-sharing or a dial-up gateway router with a built-in four switch/hub-$40-100. (The categories are Computers-Networking-Hubs or Cable/DSL.)
  • A switch, by the way, is a hub on steroids: While a hub simply repeats data transmitted by any one computer to all of the others, a switch tries to send the data on only to the computer to which it's addressed. It can thus pass several independent "conversations" at the same time, increasing overall network throughput. For a home or small office network, though, it's rare that this will make a big difference in performance.
  • You'll also see that all modern network adapters and hubs indicate that they are capable of "full duplex" operation. This means that the equipment can send and receive data at the same time, at full speed in each direction.
  • One CAT-5 patch cable for each computer. You'll place the hub next to one of your computers, so for that one you need only a short cable. The other cables need to be long enough to reach from the other computers to the hub. Pricing varies, but at the time I'm writing this, a 5-pack of 15-foot cables is selling for $17. (The category is Computers-Accessories-Cables.)

Let's discuss these decisions in a bit more detail.

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