Broadband connection You won't be tied to the only computer with high-speed
Files No more transferring files around the house on floppy
disks; you can even share your large music files so they don't
take up space on multiple computers.
Printer and other
peripherals Now everyone can use the "nice" printer without any fuss.
Secure your computers
Secure your home network, so intruders can't access
your private files. Keep a record of attempted intruders if you want
to report them to your ISP.
Expand your Network
Using standard technologies, it will be easy to add
new computers and devices to your network.
So get started and find out how easy it is:
How do computers talk to each other?
Ethernet is a standard protocol that allows any
number of computers to communicate with one another. These machines
need to be connected to one another through Ethernet cable, or
"Category 5" wiring. Similar to a phone line, Ethernet cables can
have from four to eight wires, as much as double the amount found in
a phone line.
Ethernet cable is usually a bit thicker than a phone line, and the
jack looks like an oversized phone plug. Even an inexpensive home
network will run at very high speeds, usually 10 or 100 Mbps. That's
200-2,000 times faster than a 56K dial-up connection! You can even
configure your network to perform at twice that speed ("full
duplex") if you need to stream audio or video across the network.
Internet Service Providers (ISPs) may run their networks at 1000
Mbps (a gigabit).
The Ethernet standard is what allows these
machines to talk to one another. Each computer (or printer or other
device) that is connected to this Ethernet cable is set up to have a
unique address, or IP Address.
What's an IP Address?
IP (Internet Protocol), is a standard way for
computers to communicate. Generally, each computer has its own
unique number. When two computers communicate, they use IP addresses
to find one another. An IP Address is a set of 4 numbers between 0
and 255, each separated by a period. For example: 192.168.123.254.
Even if a computer has a "name" on the network (to make it easier
for you to remember), it still uses an IP address to communicate
with other machines.
Messages or requests from one computer to another
are broadcast, and all of the machines that are connected via an
Ethernet cable can "hear" the message. The machine that is the
intended recipient of the message responds, and the two machines
transmit data to one another.
What do I need to create a network?
In order to connect a computer to an Ethernet cable, the computer
must have an interface. In a desktop this is usually a Network
Interface Card (NIC) or USB adapter. In a laptop, it is usually a PC
card, a module that plugs into the laptop. The Ethernet jack may
also be built into the laptop itself.
You can make a very simple network if you have an
interface in each computer and an Ethernet cable.
How do I connect computers?
This describes the basic requirements for a wired
network. We will cover wireless networking next.
Connecting only two computers
If you want to connect two computers, all you need is a "crossover
cable" (or "twisted pair") and an interface in each computer. A
crossover cable is an Ethernet cable that has a pair of wires that
cross somewhere between the ends (see illustration). Usually, the
wires inside an Ethernet cable go "straight-through." When
constructing a network, you usually want to use straight through
Ethernet cables, except when you are connecting one
computer directly to another.
can plug each end of the cable into each computer, and you have a
very simple network! You should follow your operating system's
directions for proper configuration instructions. You can share
files and a printer, and if you have Internet Connection Sharing set
up, your Internet connection as well.
Internet Connection Sharing (ICS) allows one
computer to establish a connection to the Internet, and another
computer on the network can access the Internet through the first
computer (however, this required TWO NIC / network cards in the
first computer). Windows 98SE or later support ICS. You should
consult your Windows documentation for information on how to
configure ICS. If it is not built into your operating system, there
are shareware software that will allow you to run ICS on your
You should also run a firewall on the computer
that manages the Internet connection. Firewall software monitors the
traffic passing through and prevents unauthorized outsiders from
accessing your files.
Connecting three or more computers
In order to physically connect three or more
computers, you should not use crossover Ethernet cable. You must be able
to plug the Ethernet cables into a device that will allow signals to
be transmitted to one another. There are several devices that will
allow you to do this: a hub, a switch, or a router.
A hub is simply a device that repeats the signals
it receives. It does not "know" which computers are connected to it,
and it does not do any network processing based on the source or
destination computer. Hubs are primarily used as inexpensive devices
that allow you to add more computers to your network.
However, as you increase the number of computers,
you also increase unnecessary network traffic. Using a hub to
connect a network is not very secure, as any computer in a cluster
can be configured to "listen" to messages being broadcast. It is
preferable to connect your network with a switch instead of a hub,
especially since switches have become very affordable.
A switch is similar to a hub, except that
it registers the IP addresses of the computers plugged into
it. When it receives a message, it only sends it to the
intended recipient. Switches cut down on unnecessary traffic
broadcasts and allow you to have an affordable
Switches are used to connect computers on the same
network; they do not provide Internet access. You can still
share your Internet connection through one of the computers
on your network, however, as your network grows, you will
see performance degrade. When one computer has to manage the
Internet connection, it slows down network performance. If
the main computer crashes, all of the other computers will
lose their Internet connection. (You may also be able to
plug your switch into your broadband modem, but only if you
get multiple IP addresses from your provider. This usually
costs more.) For increased performance and functionality,
you need a router.
A Smart Switch
A Smart Switch has capabilities that lie between
unmanaged and managed switches. They have some or all of the
following Manageability, typically provided using a Web
Interface which allows Performance Monitoring (port
activity), the ability to configure network trunks
(bandwidth control), and supports Port Mirroring. Quality of
Service (QoS) which prioritizes traffic to support delay
sensitive applications such as Voice over Internet Protocol
(VoIP) and Streaming Video. Enhanced Security which offers
support for Virtual LANs (VLAN).
A router is similar to a switch, but it performs a
number of useful networking functions:
It allows you to create a home network (like a switch),
but a router actually separates networks allowing you to share
your Internet access without being dependent on one computer's
connection (unlike a switch).
You can plug a printer directly into some routers,
allowing printer access to any computer on the network.
It provides built-in firewall capabilities that do not
hinder network performance.
You can share your broadband connection without purchasing
additional IP addresses. (Check to see if your provider allows
You can also get a wireless router. It performs
many of the same functions, but allows you to combine a regular
network with a wireless network. (Many Wireless Routers are
also regular Wired Routers at the same time - you choose how you
want to connect).
What is a Wireless Router?
A Wireless Router provides
all of the features of a Broadband Router, but it also allows you
to network computers wirelessly.
You can connect many computers through a
conventional (wired) Ethernet connection.
You can also network several additional computers
Now that you have learned all about conventional networking,
you may want to read the following: