What You Need to Know about Network Hardware - dummies

What You Need to Know about Network Hardware

By Dan Gookin

You need basic hardware components to make the network work. Nothing is outrageously expensive. Knowing what the names refer to is important to understanding the big network picture:

NIC: The first part of the network dwells inside your PC, as either part of the motherboard circuitry or an expansion card. It’s a NIC, or “nick.” NIC stands for network interface card. The NIC is where you plug in the network cable; Windows and a special NIC software driver control it.

Ethernet cable: A cable is required in order to connect your PC to other PCs on the network. This standard is referred to as Ethernet cable.

Every computer on the network has a NIC with an Ethernet cable attached (unless you have a wireless NIC). That cable doesn’t go to other computers. Instead, the computers and their Ethernet cables all tether directly to a central location, or hub. On a PC network, that hub is a router.

Router: The router manages traffic on your network and coordinates larger network traffic, such as information coming in from and going out to the Internet. Routers also deal with USB devices, like printers and hard drives.

Broadband modem: The broadband modem is the final piece of the network for common setups. It communicates with the router, so it shares resources on the network. The modem is your local-area network’s gateway to the Internet, which is the world’s computer network.

When it comes to using the NIC with a router, there’s a speed issue. Ethernet can run at speeds of 10 megabits per second (Mbps), 100 Mbps, or 1 gigabit per second (Gbps).

The center of a typical small or home office network setup operation is the router. It can connect desktops, laptops, and printers together.


Assume that every PC has a NIC. The cable goes from the PC to the router. The router has USB ports so that the router connects to the printer and the hard drive.

The router is also connected to a broadband modem. As on PCs, the modem is connected to the router by using an Ethernet cable. The modem is also plugged into a phone line or cable line or connected to a satellite dish. That’s how the modem talks with the Internet.

  • Your computer network is a LAN, or local-area network.

  • Check the router connections and how your network looks while it’s working correctly. This way you’ll be familiar with it later, when it isn’t working.

  • The NIC’s presence is evident by the networking cable jack on the back of your computer or the side of a laptop, called an RJ-45.

  • Even wireless networking uses a NIC. In that case, you don’t plug anything into the NIC because it sends and receives its information wirelessly.

  • The Ethernet cable features the same connections on either end. There’s no way to plug in the cable backward.

  • Both the NIC and the hub/switch/router have status lights that blink when data is being transmitted over the network. These lights flicker — sometimes, often. It’s nothing bad.

  • Though possible, do not connect a broadband modem directly to your PC’s NIC. Your PC would be wide open to Internet attack.

  • Creating and configuring your own home- or small-office network is easy, starter kits are available. Cable safety is important. Keep them organized and labeled.

  • Get planar cable if you plan to run network cable through the ceiling or air ducts.