The Basics of Buying Home Networking Equipment

Posted On 2007-04-17 by FortyPoundHead
Tags: Networking Tip Tutorial 
Views: 1575

The Basics of Building a Home Network

In deciding what to buy to create a network, you have enough choices to make your head spin, so here's some information to slow the spin rate.

To create a network, the primary hardware device that you need is a network adapter, also called a network interface card (NIC). The connected NICs (not the computer boxes) are what create a network. NICs are connected via cable, wireless, or a Universal Serial Bus (USB).

When you buy NICs, you must match them to two important elements:

  • The type of network interface device that your computer accepts.

  • The type of network cabling that you want to use.

A bus (or expansion slot) is a slot on your computer's motherboard into which you insert cards. Each card (sometimes called a controller card) that you insert into a bus has a specific use. Your computers may have video cards, sound cards, hard drive controller cards, or other assorted cards.

Instead of using cards, some computers have one or more of the previously mentioned devices built right into a chip on the motherboard. These built-in devices are called embedded cards or embedded controllers.

The NIC you purchase must go into an empty bus, and you must make sure that the NIC is manufactured for the bus type that's available on your motherboard. The common bus types are:

ISA (Industry Standard Architecture): ISA is a standard bus that's been used for a number of years. It's a 16-bit card.
PCI (Peripheral Component Interconnect): The PCI bus is built for speed. Most new computers contain a PCI bus, which comes in two configurations: 32-bit and 64-bit. Its technology is far more advanced (and complicated) than the technology of the ISA bus.

The documentation that comes with your computer might help you find out what kind of cards you must buy. However, if you have mixed bus types on the motherboard (most of today's computers contain both PCI and ISA slots), the documentation doesn't tell you which slots are already occupied. You have to open your computer to find out what type of NIC you need to buy.

NICs provide only half of the connections needed for computer-to-computer communication. You need a way for the NICs to communicate with each other. You accomplish this connection via Ethernet cable and a concentrator, which is the device that holds all the connections and provides the conversation pit for your computers. The concentrator can be a hub, a switch, or a router, and each computer must be individually attached to the concentrator. When you purchase a concentrator, you have a choice between buying a hub or a switch. The difference between them is the way they send data to computers.

Plunking down the money: Tips for buying
After you make your decision about the type of hardware and cabling you want to use for your home network, you need to buy the stuff. You can buy kits or individual components, and many people buy both.

Most manufacturers offer kits, which is a way to buy everything you need at once. Here are some things to keep in mind before you buy a kit:

  • Most kits are designed for a two-computer network. If you have a third computer, just buy the additional components individually. Some manufacturers make four-computer and five-computer kits.

  • Kits work only if every computer on your network needs the same hardware. For example, if one of your computers has only an empty ISA bus and the other computer has an empty PCI bus, you can't meet your needs with a kit.

  • Kits aren't necessary if one of your computers has a built-in network adapter. Many computer manufacturers sell computers that are already set up with network hardware (usually with an Ethernet NIC).

Some reliable manufacturers of products for networking:

Manufacturer (Click to go their site)

Even if you buy a kit, you may also have to buy individual components. Perhaps you have three computers, or maybe one of the Ethernet cables in the kit isn't long enough to reach the computer on the second floor. A plan that doesn't match a kit isn't uncommon, and buying individual components costs about the same as buying kits.

Retail computer stores sell hardware components for all types of network connections. Your city or town probably has small, independent computer stores in addition to the major chains such as CompUSA. Most appliance retailers (for example, Circuit City and Best Buy) and office-supply stores (such as Staples and Office Max) also carry these products. Even some of the warehouse outlets carry networking equipment. On the Internet, visit CDW and Buy.

Be sure that you know an online merchant's return policy before you purchase. Also, verify that the Web site is secure before you give out your credit card number. A secure Web site's address bar displays https:// instead of http:// (the s is for secure). At the bottom of your browser window, you should also see an icon that looks like a closed lock.

About the Author

FortyPoundHead has posted a total of 1974 articles.

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