Windows 10

Planning Your Network

You have a choice of lots and lots of ways to put together networks.

Using a wired network

You have four good reasons for going with a wired network:

  • It's cheap.
    You probably have all the hardware you need already, plus or minus a cable, and the phone or cable company handles the rest.
  • It's fast.
    Wired connections work much faster than wireless. You don't see any difference if you're checking your Gmail or surfing a news site. But the minute you start slinging around big files, man, you can tell the difference.
  • It's reliable.
    When you're hooked into a network cable, you're on. When you rely on wireless, you may be on or off or somewhere in between. The weather, your physical location, the interference emanating from a copy machine or a coffee machine - even sun spots, for heaven's sake - can clobber the connection.
  • It's secure.
    Just about anybody with a nodding interest can listen in on a wireless connection. (It's another reason why you should use only secure Web sites - it's hard to unscramble what's being sent.) And, unless you lock down your wireless network, even your next-door neighbor can go banging around your network. Tapping into a wired network is considerably more difficult.

If you're willing to take the wireless plunge, you should read through this tutorial to understand the basic technology and terminology and how things hang together.

In case you haven't had enough of the arcane terminology yet, this tutorial shows you how to put together a 100Base-T Ethernet peer-to-peer network, using a router provided by an ISP. There. Now you can impress your friends and neighbors.

Follow the next sections in order, and you'll have your network up and networking in no time.

Blocking out the major parts

To set up a wired network, you need only a handful of parts:

  • A network adapter inside your computer
  • A hub, switch, or router
  • Cables

The exact parts and quantities you need to get depend on how many computers you plan to network and what your existing system already has.

A network adapter

Each PC needs a network adapter, or network interface card (NIC), or local-area network (LAN) adapter. Every modern PC has a network adapter built in. If yours stops working (or no good Windows 7 driver for the NIC is available), see the nearby sidebar "Buying a network adapter" if you need to buy one.

Can't find your network adapter? Look at the back of the computer. If you see a place to plug in a cable with a receptacle that's about 50 percent wider than a telephone cable - it's for a LAN cable (also known as an RJ-45 or Cat 6 or Cat 5 cable; see the section "Cables," later in this tutorial, for details) - you found it.

To confirm, crank up Windows 7, click the Start button, right-click Computer and choose Properties, and, in the View Basic Information about Your Computer dialog box, click the Device Manager button. Under the Network Adapters heading, you should have an entry for your network adapter. Almost every entry for a network adapter says "10," "100," "1000," or some combination thereof - indicating the speed of the adapter, in millions of bits per second (Mbps). A "1000" speed adapter is also a "Gigabit" adapter.

Buying a network adapter

If your network adapter dies or you can't find a Windows 7 driver for your adapter, you need to buy a network adapter for your PC. Relax - they're cheap. Your first choice should be a USB network adapter..

Sometimes, USB network adapters interfere with other USB devices. I have a laptop, for example, that works fine with a USB network adapter and works fine with a USB mouse, but starts acting like a jilted lover when I put the two together. The only solution I've found is to use the network or use the mouse, but not to use both at the same time.

Your network runs at the rate of the slowest card on the network. If all your adapters run Fast Ethernet (or 100 Mbps or 100Base-T), your network runs at 100 Mbps. If you have just one adapter card on the entire network that's capable of only the old, slow Ethernet speeds (10 Mbps or 10Base-T), the whole network runs at the lower speed unless you sink a lot of money into a hub or switch that sidesteps the differences. Gigabit cards are cheap (1 Gbps or 1000Base-T). Go ahead and splurge - one day you might buy a gigabit hub.

Faster network adapters speed up the exchange of data only between computers on your network. They don't do anything to speed up your Internet connection. Even the slowest network card these days can handle the bandwidth of any normal high-speed Internet connection.

A hub, switch, or router

If you're going to have three or more computers in your network, you need a network hub or a switch. Chances are good that the cable modem or ADSL modem from your Internet service provider can act as a hub or switch: It probably has four or more ports on the back - slots where you can plug in a network cable.

A hub is nothing more than a box that connects all the wires in all the cables that are plugged into it. A router is a hub with an attitude. A switch is a hub that's stuck in its ways. And, modems - real modems - disappeared from the scene many years ago.

Give or take a dotted i, switches and hubs perform the same job and you can think of them interchangeably. Routers, on the other hand, have a bit of smarts inside their drab boxes. A broadband router (frequently, incorrectly, called a modem) is smart enough to handle a fast Internet connection on one end and your network on the other. Plug a cable or DSL modem into the wall, plug all your network cables into the other slots, turn on the router, and you're off to the races. The best technical description of broadband routers is at

Both hubs and switches are commonly identified by the speed of the connection: A 10/100 Ethernet switch, for example, handles both 10 Mbps and 100 Mbps network connections.

If you have a broadband router, you don't need a hub or a switch: The router has slots for network cables. Similarly, most wireless routers (or wireless access points) have built-in hubs. Look on the back of the box with rabbit ears to see whether you can find places to plug in network cables.
If you want to network only two computers, you don't need a hub (or a switch).


The cabling you get depends on how many computers you want to connect to your network:

  • If you're networking three or more computers to your wired network, you need cables to connect each PC to the hub or switch or router. Take a cable. Plug one end of the cable into the PC's network adapter and the other end into an open slot on the hub. Repeat for each PC.
  • If you're connecting only two computers, and the two computers form the entire network, all you need is a special, crossover cable. You can buy one - and you need only one - at any store that sells networking cables; just tell the salesperson that you want an RJ-45 crossover cable to network two PCs. Plug one end of the cable into the network adapter on one PC and the other end of the cable into the network adapter on the other PC, and you're ready to network. It's that easy.

Many modern network adapters are smart enough to use a regular LAN cable to hook up two computers directly. They can sense when you're trying to hook two computers together, and they compensate for your not having a crossover cable. Unfortunately, not all adapters are smart enough to know for sure - and if they don't work, they have no way of telling you that they didn't work. So, the safest approach is to use a crossover cable. It works every time.

Before you run out to buy cables, you need to think about how your installation will work so that you buy long enough cables. If you're thinking about stringing cables all over your house or office, set up a wireless system. Stringing cables is a thankless job.
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