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Hardware and Software Basics for a Simple Network

The hardware basics that you need for a simple network include a network adapter card or PC card, a network router or switch, and cabling. If each of your PCs will be running any version of Windows 98 or later, you have all the operating system software you need for a home network. (Thanks, Microsoft!)

  • A network adapter card or PC card: Each computer on your network requires either a network adapter card (for a desktop) or a PC card (for a laptop). These cards can accept either a wired connection or a wireless connection.

    Naturally, if your desktop or laptop has wired or wireless hardware built in, you don’t need to add a card — instead, smile quietly to yourself in a contented and smug manner.

  • A network router or switch: These allow you to connect multiple computers to the same network. Some routers and switches are wireless, so no cables are necessary.

  • Cabling: If you’re not going the wireless route, you need an Ethernet cable for each computer you add to the network.

The hardware listed here would be used in a standard Ethernet network, but remember that other types of network technologies might use your home’s AC wiring or telephone jacks. You can also network two computers by using special Universal Serial Bus (USB) and FireWire cables although they’re no substitute for the convenience and compatibility of an Ethernet network; they’re simply for transferring files in a single session.

You might be able to buy all these hardware toys in a single box — a network kit — which is a great choice for a home or small-office network with four or fewer PCs. (Plus, the documentation is typically pretty well written.)

You might also need the following software:

  • Drivers for your network adapter card or PC card: The manufacturer of your network card provides you with the drivers that Windows needs during installation, but don’t forget to check the manufacturer’s website for updated drivers.

  • Network management software: The administrator of a larger network (ten or more computers is a larger network) will likely buy extra software to monitor network traffic and optimize network hardware although the extra software isn’t necessary for a simple network.

  • Network-ready applications: Network applications can include productivity suites (such as Office), fax software, and workgroup applications (such as Lotus Notes) that provide a common calendar and e-mail system.

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