Networking

Configure IT Quick: Fighting with a stubborn network card

Track down configuration issues that may prevent your network card from working correctly in Windows 98


Have you ever tried to network an older system only to find that it simply doesn’t want to connect to the network? If so, then you surely know what a frustrating experience it can be. Many times, this problem can be the result of an incorrectly configured network card. In this Daily Drill Down, I’ll explain some techniques you can use to track down configuration issues that may prevent your network card from working correctly.

Take a closer look at your card
Before you can effectively troubleshoot a configuration problem that’s related to your network card, you need to understand exactly what you’re up against. As you’ve probably guessed, several different types of network cards are available. Each of these cards has different configuration techniques.

Begin by powering off and unplugging the PC and physically removing the network card from the PC. When you’ve done so, plug the PC back in and turn it on. When Windows 98 loads, press the [Esc] key to bypass the network login process. When you arrive at the Windows 98 desktop, go into Control Panel and double-click the System icon. When you see the System Properties sheet, select the Device Manager tab. In the Network Adapters section, click the plus sign next to Network Adapters to expand it. Now, select any installed instances of the network card you’re having trouble with (or any others besides the dial-up adapter). You must now remove the reference to the network adapter by clicking the Remove button. Click OK a couple of times to close the Device Manager. Reboot the system and confirm that all references to the adapter are gone.

Now that you’ve removed any references to the adapter, it’s time for the tricky part. Get a piece of scrap paper and take a few notes on the card. For starters, note the manufacturer and model number. A manufacturing date is also helpful, since knowing the card’s age may help you determine what type of card it is. You should also look to see what architecture the card uses. For example, look to see if the card is an ISA, EISA, PCI, VLB, or Micro Channel card. Finally, determine whether the card contains any jumpers. If the card does use jumpers, draw a diagram of the card and document their current position. Often, a card will contain etchings on the bottom that document what each jumper does. If your card contains such markings, write them down. If the card contains jumpers but no references as to what they do, check the book that came with the card, if you still have it. Once you’ve accumulated all this information, it’s time to get started.

Get a new driver
Now that you know all about your card, you can download a current driver. When you’re dealing with older equipment like this, it’s not uncommon for the card to ship with only DOS and Windows 3.1 drivers. You may get lucky and have a Windows 95 driver, but even so, your machine will usually work much better with a newer driver. You can almost always find drivers available for download on the manufacturer’s Web site. Simply go to the Web site, enter the download area, and do a search for the model of card you have.

When to cut your losses
There comes a time when trying to connect an old PC is like beating a dead horse to make it run faster. It just isn’t going to work. Before we go any further, I should point out some signs that indicate you probably won’t be able to connect the PC to the network using the card you have. If you happen to find yourself in one of these situations, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s impossible to connect your card to the network. Instead, it means connecting the card will be more trouble than it’s worth. With generic network cards selling for under $20, it makes sense to cut your losses and buy a new card if you find yourself in one of the following situations:
  • The card’s manufacturer is no longer in business, doesn’t have a Web site, or both.
  • The card uses jumpers, but you don’t have any documentation on their function.
  • The card has taken some abuse, and you’re not really sure if it’s any good or not.
  • You’re using an EISA or a Micro Channel-based card that you don’t have configuration files for.
  • You can’t locate a Windows 9x driver for the card.

Can your card plug and play nice?
The next step in getting your card to work is to determine whether the card supports plug and play. If the card is PCI-based, there’s a good chance it does. Although a few ISA cards support plug and play, most don’t. The method of setting up the card differs greatly depending on whether the card is plug-and-play compliant. In the next few sections, I’ll discuss what to do to set up the various types of cards. Once I finish talking about how the cards’ setup procedures differ, I’ll discuss some final techniques that can be used with all cards.

Plug-and-play cards
If you’re using a plug-and-play card, your work will be easy. Simply insert the card into a PCI slot and boot Windows. Windows will detect the card and ask for a driver. Supply Windows with the driver you downloaded earlier, and you should be in business. After the reboot, all you’ll have to do is configure the other networking options, such as the default protocol and client.

Jumpered ISA cards
Because the system can’t automatically allocate resources to jumpered ISA cards, you’ll have to set the required resources manually. This means determining which IRQ and input/output range is required by the card, and making sure Windows reserves these ranges specifically for the card. Usually, a jumpered card will have several such numbers that it can use. For example, a card may have jumpers that allow it to use IRQ 3, 4, 5, or 7. Before you set the IRQ and input/output range, you must determine which ones are available through Windows.

To do so, make a list of all of the options available through the card. Next, open Control Panel and double-click the System icon. When you see the System Properties sheet, select the Device Manager tab. When Device Manager loads, double-click the Computer icon. This will allow you to see which resources are in use. On a normal system, every IRQ will appear to be in use by something. The question is whether it is something you can live without. For example, many times you can disable COM1 or COM2 (IRQ 3 or IRQ 4) and use the corresponding IRQ for the network card. IRQ 7 is generally used for the printer. However, if you use a network printer, there’s nothing stopping you from using IRQ 7 for the network card. Figure A shows the Device Manager listing in Windows 98.

Figure A
Double-clicking the Computer icon in Device Manager shows what resources are being used so you can plan for your network card.


Once you’ve determined which IRQ you want to use, select the Input/Output radio button and repeat the process. Some cards also require a base memory address. If this is the case with your card, you can select the Memory radio button and locate an available base memory address.

Once you’ve decided which parameters you want to use, set the jumpers on the card to match the configuration you’ve chosen. Next, power off and unplug the computer. Insert the network card and power back up. When the system boots, it may or may not detect the network card. If it does detect the card, your work is done. Configure the remainder of your network settings, and you’re in business. If Windows doesn’t detect the card, you’ll have to use the Add New Hardware icon in Control Panel to detect the card and to load the driver that you’ve downloaded.

If you have to manually load the card through the Add New Hardware Wizard, Windows will usually set the card to the incorrect resources. Before you reboot the computer, return to the Device Manager and locate the card. Right-click the network card and select Properties. When you do, you’ll see the card’s properties sheet. Click the Resources tab, and you’ll see the resources Windows 98 has reserved for the card. Since the resources are incorrect, deselect the Use Automatic Settings check box. Now, select the resource you want to change and click the Change Setting button. Then, change the Windows resource allocation to match the resource you physically assigned to the card earlier. Note that you might have to use the same method to change settings for other devices in order to resolve conflicts when you make room for your network card to function.

Non-jumpered ISA cards
ISA cards without jumpers present a special problem to Windows. Such cards must be configured through software that in older cards was almost always written for DOS. This means you must have a disk capable of configuring the card before you can use it.

Because the system can’t automatically allocate resources to non-jumpered ISA cards, you’ll have to set the required resources manually. This means determining which IRQ and input/output range is required by the card, and making sure that Windows reserves these ranges specifically for the card. As with a jumpered card, a non-jumpered card will have several such numbers that it can use. Before you set the IRQ and input/output range, determine which ones are available through Windows, as I explained above.

Once you’ve decided which parameters you want to use, insert the card into the computer and boot the system into DOS mode. You can do this by pressing the [F8] key when you see the Starting Windows 98 message. At the Windows 98 boot menu, select Command Prompt Only.

Once the system arrives at the command prompt, run your configuration program and set the card to the values you decided on earlier. Many times, the configuration program will fail to detect the card. This is because the card has been set at the factory to use values that conflict with other devices in your system. If you find this to be the case, power off the system and unplug it. Next, remove all expansion cards from your system except for the video card and the network card. Then, boot the machine to DOS mode and try the configuration process again. Once you’ve set the card to use the correct values, turn off and unplug your system and put the components back in. You may now boot the system to Windows.

When the system boots, it may or may not detect the network card. If it does detect the card, your work is done. Simply configure the remainder of your network settings, and you’re in business.

If Windows doesn’t detect the card, you’ll have to use the Add New Hardware icon in Control Panel to detect the card and to load the driver you’ve downloaded. Then, you’ll have to set the correct resources, as I mentioned in the section on jumpered cards.

If the card still doesn’t work
If you’ve done everything I’ve described but the card still doesn’t work, I recommend trying a new card. New network cards tend to be very cheap these days. In addition to getting well-known, good hardware, you’ll get a driver that’s relatively up-to-date and that’s designed to function with Windows 98.

Conclusion
Many times when you have difficulty attaching an older computer to a network, the problem is related to the way the network card is configured. In this Daily Drill Down, I’ve explained some techniques you can use to correct such configuration problems.

Talainia Posey learned to handle PCs the old-fashioned way: by reading manuals and doing on-the-job troubleshooting. Her experience also includes installing networks for several small companies. When she's not working on computers, Talainia loves to shop for toys and watch cartoons, or spend time with her cat, Beavis.

The authors and editors have taken care in preparation of the content contained herein, but make no expressed or implied warranty of any kind and assume no responsibility for errors or omissions. No liability is assumed for any damages. Always have a verified backup before making any changes.

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