Where to Start

So you have two (or more) computers around the house and you are getting fed up of having to copy files to floppy (or CD) in order to transfer them between the different machines. You also wish you could share the scanner, printer, etc without having to continuously swap the cables back and forth.

What you need to do to achieve this is to set up a home network.

Networking today is extremely cheap compared to even a few years ago and networking starter kits that provide all that you need to network the first two computers (with room to add two or three more) can be readily obtained for about the same price as an inkjet printer. If two computers are all you will ever want to network there are even cheaper kits available that will get you started.

Hardware Setup

So what does your newly purchased networking kit contain and what do you need to do with all of the bits in order to set up your home network?

All of the network kits I have seen contain the hardware that you need to connect your first two computers. In each kit you will find two network interface cards (NICs) and you will need to insert one into each computer. To do this you need to open up your computer, find one of the vacant white connectors on your motherboard (don't pick the one next to your AGP graphics card as this connector shares some resources with the AGP connector which can cause problems for network cards), remove the backing plate behind the chosen connector and then insert the card into the connector using the screw that you removed from the backing plate to hold the card in place.

If your computer has an on/off switch on the power supply then switch the power off there and leave the power cord plugged in to earth the computer. If there is no switch on the power supply then remove the power cord before opening the case as the on button on the front of modern computers does not actually switch the computer right off.

If you purchased one of the cheaper networking kits then the only other items that come in your kit are a crossover cable and a disk containing the drivers for the network cards. All you need to do in this case to finish setting up the hardware side of your network is to plug one end of the cable into the network cards that you just inserted into the two computers.

Most networking kits come with a few extra parts than this. Instead of the crossover cable, most networking kits come with two ordinary networking cables and a hub. To finish setting up the hardware if this s what you received you need to find a suitable location between your computers to locate the hub where you can connect power to it. With the supplied cables you plug one end into the network card in a computer and the other end into the hub. One of the sockets on the hub may have a switch next to it to allow you to connect two hubs together, if you use this socket to plug in a cable from a computer you will need to check the supplied documentation to check on the appropriate position for this switch.

If you have more than two computers that you want to network then you will need to purchase an additional network card and cable for each additional computer that you want to network. In each case you insert the network card into a computer (as previously described) and then connect it to the hub using the cable. You need to keep in mind that there are several different "protocols" used by computer networks and you will need to purchase additional cards that support the same protocol as those that came in the kit. Most network cards these days use a version of ethernet and either 10T ethernet or 100TX fast ethernet is suitable for your home network and kits are available in both varieties.

Different networking kits come with hubs having different numbers of connectors on them. Most come with four or five while others come with as many as eight. If you have more than three or four computers to be networked you will need to ensure that the hub has enough sockets to allow all of your computers to be connected to it.

Software Setup

The next thing to do is to load the software to connect each computer to the newly created network. This is best done one computer at a time, ie. configure the software on one computer to connect it to the network and then move on to the next. If your network uses a hub, you should have the hub switched on before you start the software install process. In the following description I am going to assume that all of your computers are running windows 98 SE, if you have computers running a different operating system you will need to configure the same things but the way that you do it will be different.

When you start up your computer for the first time after installing the network hardware the system should recognise that there is new hardware in the system and start the process to install the driver for it. Your network kit (or card - if you bought them separately) should have come with a floppy disk or CD with drivers on it, if one is available for the version of the operating system that you are running then it is better to specify have disk and select this one in preference to any that the operating system may have identified. Your computer is now configured to support being networked.

The next step is to actually install the networking software support onto your computer. Windows comes with this software so there is nothing to go out and buy but we need to set the software up so that it will run with your newly created network. To start this setup process go into the Control Panel and open Networking. A list of network capable components that are installed in your system will be displayed. Select the network card that you just installed from this list and click the Add button.

The next screen will display a list of network component types (Client, Adapter, Protocol, Service). The first of these that we need to add is a client so select Client from the list and click the Add button. The client that we want to add is called Client for Microsoft Networks so select that one and add it. This should then appear in the network settings box that you opened from the control panel.

We next need to add another component to your network card. This time we are adding a Protocol. Here you have two choices, NetBEUI or TCP/IP (or you can even install both). If you are installing TCP/IP then you will need to allocate a unique IP address to each computer.

The next step is to swap to the Identification page of the Network settings and give your computer a unique name. You should also specify a workgroup which should be the same for all of the computers on your network.

Once you save this information and reboot your computer, it should be successfully connected to the network. Once you have repeated this process for a second computer, go into Network Neighborhood and you should see icons for both the current computer and the first one that you set up. There won't be anything inside the icon for the other computer yet because you haven't yet set up any shared resources but each computer should be visible in network neighborhood once you have configured the networking software provided that the computer and the hub are switched on.

Now all you need to do to make use of your new network is to define which resources on each computer that you want to share.


This article written by Stephen Chapman, Felgall Pty Ltd.

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