What You Need to Know to Plan a Network

By Doug Lowe

You need to know the following information about each of the computers on your network. Don’t sweat it right now if some of these terms don’t make sense. They’re all just pieces of the puzzle.

  • The processor type and, if possible, its clock speed: It would be nice if each of your computers had a shiny new Core i7 six-core processor. In most cases, though, you find a mixture of computers: some new, some old, some borrowed, some blue. You may even find a few archaic Pentium computers.

    You can’t usually tell what kind of processor that a computer has just by looking at the computer’s case. Most computers, however, display the processor type when you turn them on or reboot them. If the information on the startup screen scrolls too quickly for you to read it, try pressing the Pause key to freeze the information. After you finish reading it, press the Pause key again so that your computer can continue booting.

  • The size of the hard drive and the arrangement of its partitions: To find out the size of your computer’s hard drive in Windows 8, 7, or Vista, open the Computer window (click Start, then click Computer), right-click the drive icon, and choose the Properties command from the shortcut menu that appears. The figure shows the Properties dialog box for a 922GB hard drive that has about 867GB of free space.

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    If your computer has more than one hard drive, Windows lists an icon for each drive in the Computer window. Jot down the size and amount of free space available on each drive.

  • The amount of memory: To find this information in Windows, right-click Computer from the Start menu and choose the Properties command. The amount of memory on your computer is shown in the dialog box that appears. For example, this figure shows the System Properties dialog box for a computer with 8GB of RAM.

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  • The operating system version: This you can also deduce from the System Properties dialog box. For example, the Properties page shown indicates that the computer is running Windows 7 Ultimate.

  • What type of network card, if any, is installed in the computer: The easiest way to get this information is to right-click Computer on the Start menu, choose Manage, click Device Manager, right-click the network adapter, and choose Properties. For example, this figure shows the Properties dialog box for the network adapter that’s built into the motherboard.

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    Device Manager is also useful for tracking down other hardware devices attached to the computer, such as a mouse.

  • What network protocols are in use:

    • Windows Vista: Choose Start→Open Control Panel→Network and Sharing Center. Click Manage Network Connections, right-click the Local Area connection, and choose Properties.

    • Windows 7 or 8: Choose Start→Control Panel, click Network and Sharing Center, click Change Adapter Settings, right-click the Local Area Connection, and choose Properties.

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  • What kind of printer, if any, is attached to the computer: Usually, you can tell just by looking at the printer. You can also tell by double-clicking the Printers icon in Control Panel.

  • Any other devices connected to the computer: A DVD or Blu-ray drive? Scanner? External disk or tape drive? Video camera? Battle droid? Hot tub?

  • Which driver and installation disks are available: Hopefully, you’ll be able to locate the disks or CDs required by hardware devices such as the network card, printers, scanners, and so on. If not, you may be able to locate the drivers on the Internet.

  • What software is used on the computer: Microsoft Office? AutoCAD? QuickBooks? Make a complete list and include version numbers.

  • Does the computer have wireless capability? Nearly all laptops do. Most desktops do not, but you can always add an inexpensive USB wireless adapter if you want your network to be entirely wireless.