Networking

A beginner's guide to home networking

Do you telecommute or support telecommuters? Here are some tips to keep in mind before you build a home network.


Setting up a home network is actually not as difficult as it sounds. If you know how to plug in a card on your motherboard or PCMCIA port, can connect a couple of cables, and can follow a few instructions on how to set up Windows, you’re set! Here are some tips that can help you or your users set up a basic home network using Windows 95/98.

What you need before you start
Make sure you have the following items before beginning:
  • at least two computers
  • a Phillips screwdriver (for desktop or tower computers)
  • Windows 95 or Windows 98 installed on both computers
  • an NE2000-compatible RJ-45 (10 BaseT) network card, a.k.a. NIC (network interface card)
  • a network hub for a small network
  • two RJ-45 cables (the ones that sort of look like a thick telephone wire)

Getting started
First, let’s cover the kinds of network cards you should look for. It’s extremely important to get the right set of network cards for your computer. You have the choice of several different kinds of network cards, each made by different companies. Some are really good, some are just okay, and some should be avoided. I suggest you purchase a network card from one of the following manufacturers:

I have personally used all three brands, and much to my satisfaction, each card was fairly easy to install. Nevertheless, these are my personal choices; it’s always advisable to shop around to see what other kinds of cards there are and if they may be right for you.

What type of card should I get?
Once you have chosen the brand of card, you need to know what type of card to get. To figure out the type of card you need, simply read the information printed on the box that the card comes in.

First off, make sure the box says that the card is NE2000-compatible. What that means is that the card is compatible with Novell network servers (This issue may not affect every home network configuration, but this is an important part of the network, nonetheless.)! Next, check the box to see whether the card has an RJ-45 connector. Some cards are both RJ-45 (a.k.a. 10BaseT)- and BNC (a.k.a. 10Base2)-compatible, but I would stay with the cards that are simply RJ-45. A BNC is another way to attach your computer to other computers via a cable, like the cables you use to hook up to your television and VCR. Because configuring a BNC connection can be difficult at times, I recommend that you stick with the RJ-45 connector. Next, you need to determine the speed you want to send information across your network. This is where the 10BaseT and 100BaseT comes into play. For the home network, I suggest going for a 10BaseT card. They are much cheaper than 100BaseT and can send information at about 10mb per second, which is all a home network really needs. You could purchase a 10/100-combo card, but again, this isn’t necessary for a home network user.

Finally, it’s a good idea to get a card that is Plug and Play-compatible. This will save you a whole load of headaches when you install the cards in Windows.

In sum, this is what you need to look for when purchasing a network card:
  • NE2000 compatible (plug and play)
  • RJ-45 connector (sort of looks like a phone plug)
  • 10BaseT (not 100BaseT or 10/100)

And that’s it! Now let’s look at the hardware requirements for a home network.

Hubba, hubba, hubba
The hub is a little box that controls the information being sent from one computer to another. There are a few different kinds of hubs available for purchase. Some hubs are superb, some are okay, and some are just not worth getting. Personally, I recommend that you purchase a hub from one of the companies I recommended for network cards.

The difficult part of this purchase is figuring out how many ports your hub needs to have. The answer depends on how many computers will be connected to your home network. If you have five or fewer PCs, which most home users have, you don’t need to spend the money for a complex network hub. A simple five-port hub will do just fine. If down the road you need to purchase another hub because you’ve added a sixth computer to your home network, don’t fret! Your old hub won’t go to waste. Most hubs can link to one another, meaning that you can add one hub on to the older one. So, in effect, you can plug another 5-port hub into your existing one, and add more computers to your network. Neat, huh?

And now…the cable!
This is when the RJ-45 comes into play. An RJ-45 is a bigger version of a telephone cable. The wiring on an RJ-45 is at least twice as thick as a standard phone cable, and the plug has several more connections than a phone line, which has only four.

The difficult thing about getting the RJ-45 cable is figuring out how much cable you will need. To determine this, you need to measure how far the computers will be from the hub. If you have two computers in the same room, you will not need much cable between the computers to the hub. At most, you might need two 12-foot cables. On the other hand, if you have one computer on the third floor of the house and the other in the basement, you will need quite a bit of cable to run in between the two. The best thing to do is to measure the distances from the computers to the hub, and ask a sales associate at your local computer store for advice.

Get it together
Now that you have purchased all the equipment necessary to build a small home network, it’s time to set it up.

Begin by plugging the cards into the motherboard or into the PCMCIA card slot if you have a laptop or a computer with a PCMCIA slot. Then connect the RJ-45 cables into their respective plugs on the network cards. Next, follow suit in plugging them into port 1 and 2 on the hub. It does not matter which computer is plugged into which port. They’ll both work fine in either one. Once you get the shells back on the computers, it’s time to turn on the machines and see what happens!

Once both machines are on, you should notice two lights lit up on the hub. If not, take out the network card that doesn’t seem to be lighting up (with the computer off, of course), and make sure the network card is in properly. If not, take it out and put it back in. If it looks like it is plugged in properly, call up the company’s tech support and have them walk you through the problem. Occasionally, you will get a bad card and have to return it, so make sure you keep the receipt!

Networking, baby! It’s groovy!
Assuming that Windows has detected your plug and play cards without any problems, it’s time to set up your network. Note that you’ll have to set up both computers in order for them to connect to one another.

Windows will most likely ask you for a network password now because it has some new options in the network configuration. Just hit [Enter], and Windows will start up normally. You’ll see an icon on your desktop that’s labeled Network Neighborhood. Right-click on this icon and select Properties. A window will pop up labeled Network. You should see your new network card listed, along with Client for Microsoft Windows. These two items are necessary to have your network up and running. Next, you need to add some protocols, which let your computers "talk" back and forth with each other.

Click on Add, and a window will pop up giving you the following options:
  1. Client
  2. Adapter
  3. Protocol
  4. Service

Highlight Protocol, then click Add. Another window will pop up, and you will see a list of manufacturers on the left with Network Protocols on the right. Select Microsoft from the manufacturers, look in the list for IPX/SPX, and then click OK. Repeat this procedure, and add the following two protocols if they are not installed already:
  • NetBEUI (pronounced NET-BOO-EE)
  • TCP/IP

Once all of these protocols are installed, you will see them listed underneath your network card in the Network window. Scroll down and find TCP/IP -> (your adapter name here). Double-click on this protocol to open another window. You will see a collection of tabs to select from. You need to choose the IP Address tab, select Specify IP Address, and type in the following numbers:
  • IP ADDRESS: 192.168.0.1
  • SUBNET MASK: 255.255.255.0

Note: Each computer needs a different IP address. If the first computer you set up has 192.168.0.1, the second will need 192.168.0.2, and so on for every computer in the network. The subnet mask will always be 255.255.255.0 on each computer in the network.

Once you have completed these steps, click OK to return to the Network window. At the bottom of the window, you have a choice of Primary Network Signon. If you do not want to be prompted for a password every time you load windows, you need to select Windows Login from the drop down box. Otherwise, leave this area alone.

Finally, so that all computers will be on the same network, you need to identify the individual computers and assign a name to the network. To do so, you need to select the Identification tab in the Network window. For computer name, you can name the first computer COMPUTER1, the second computer COMPUTER2, and so on for every computer connected.

Workgroup is the name of the network that the computers will be looking for in order to speak with one another. By default, Windows gives this the name WORKGROUP. You can change the name of the workgroup to anything that you would like, such as Home, but each computer on the network MUST have the same workgroup in order to "see" one another. It is also best to capitalize the name you give the workgroup, just in case, so that Windows will definitely be able to recognize it without any problems.

Now, make sure you have your Windows CD handy. Click the Apply button, and then click OK. Windows will prompt you for your CD to install the drivers needed to set up the network. Afterwards, Windows will ask to reboot to complete the installation. Click OK, and you’re almost ready to go!

Share and share alike
The final step to networking, once Windows has rebooted, is to set up each computer to share their resources! This process is very simple and will allow users from your network to get into one another’s computers.

Note: Enabling sharing can allow individuals on the Internet to get into your computer. It is advised that you put a password on all items that you intend to share.

First, double click on My Computer on your desktop. You will see the icons for your hard drive(s) and CD-ROM(s). To share these items, right-click on each individual item and select Sharing. A window will pop up, giving you the choice to set the item as shared or not shared. Select Shared As, and you will be given more options. Select the access type that you wish to use, and be sure to give a password to help secure your network from intruders. Once you are done, click the Apply button, then OK. Repeat this step for each drive you wish to share on your network.
And there you have it! You’ve just learned everything you need to know about setting up a simple home network! If you have any troubles with your network, be it network cards, the hub, or anything else, I recommend that you contact the product manufacturer for more information. To share your experiences with home networking, please post a comment below, or follow this link to write to Ed.

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