Windows XP / Networking

Caring for Network Hardware

If you receive an error message while trying to move files between computers or when you open the Network Neighborhood window, it is time to check your network hardware. The network hardware, connectors, cable, and NICs may require some maintenance. Connector problems are the most common, then cable problems, and finally defective NICs.

Checking Connectors

Cable connectors are the weakest link in the network hardware chain. Because of this, you should check the connectors first when your computers can't communicate. If you wired your network with Cat-5 (twisted-pair) cable, you should check the following:

  • See if the connectors are properly inserted in the NICs.
  • Make sure that the connectors are properly inserted in the concentrator (hub, switch, or router).
  • Be sure that the concentrator is plugged in. (A concentrator usually does not have an on/off switch - if it is plugged in, it should be working.)

Here is what to check if you are using your household telephone line for your network:

  • Make sure that the connectors are firmly seated in both the NICs and the wall jack.
  • If you are using a splitter (also called a modular duplex jack) to plug in both a telephone and the network cable, make sure that the splitter is firmly positioned in the jack.
    Splitters weigh more than the fraction of an ounce that the connector on the end of a phone cord weighs, and sometimes this extra weight pulls the splitter out of the jack just a bit. Frequently, you don't notice this problem when you look at the connection, but if you push on the connector, you do notice that it is not all the way in the phone jack. The splitter may have come out of the jack for the following reasons:
    • The cable between the splitter and whatever the other end of the cable plugs into (either the telephone jack or the NIC) is taut.
    • The telephone has moved, because it is either placed somewhere else or because a person who is using the telephone walks around while chatting.

Here is what to check if you are running a wireless network:

  • Make sure that all the antennas are unblocked - check to make sure that a computer has not been pushed under a metal desk, or close to metal such as a file cabinet.
  • If you recently moved a computer, move it back - you may have exceeded the antenna's power.
  • Be sure that you have not introduced interference into your system. Did you put a cordless radio frequency (RF) device near a computer (such as a cordless phone)?

Check the following things if you are using your household electric lines for your network:

  • Check the connector at the computer end to make sure that it is firmly inserted in the port.
  • Check the connector in the wall plug to make sure that it is firmly inserted.
  • Make sure that the connector at the line end is plugged into the wall and not into a surge protector (unless you purchased a special surge protector designed for this purpose).

Checking cables

Make sure that the cables are not pinched or bent to the point that they can't handle data. Have you ever sharply bent a water hose? The water stops flowing. The same thing can happen to cable.

If you have excess cable, don't twist it into a knot to avoid having it spill on the floor. Gently roll the cable into a circle and use a twist tie to keep it together.

Checking NICs

It is unusual for a NIC to give up, roll over, and die (unless you had a power surge or did something dumb like stick a bobby pin in the connector). However, sometimes NICs - like all hardware - just stop working. If your NIC has a light on the back panel near the connector, it should glow green. If no light is glowing and you have checked the connectors and the cable, the only way to check the NIC is to replace it. If the new NIC works, the old NIC was bad. If the new NIC does not work, recheck your connectors and cable. Take the new NIC back to the store and get a credit (or, now that you have a spare NIC, get another computer and enlarge your network).

If your NIC has two little light bulbs and the red one is glowing, your NIC is working but is not receiving or sending data. You can be fairly sure that you have a connector or cable problem. Check the documentation that came with your NICs to see the color schemes for the lights - your bulbs may be different colors.

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