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How to Set Up a Home Network

Other Site's Home Networking Tutorials:


On almost a daily basis I am asked 'how can one set up a network to allow multiple PC's access to the Internet over a single Internet connection?' The first step to this process of course is to have a network of computers set up. This guide is dedicated to discussing the issues involved in setting up a network, with an emphasis on peer to peer networking using Windows (95/98/NT/2000). Some of the links above also illustrate the addition of Unix and Mac systems into the network.

Networking Basics

A simple definition of a network is: two or more computers which are tied together through a physical connection. The purpose of setting up a network is to allow users to share information or resources while having simultaneous access to the system. Historically there have been many different types of networks; however, this document will concentrate on the newest and most popular type of networking in use today: ethernet networking.

An ethernet network is generally composed of four different components working together.

  1. Network Interface Card- which is a physical component that must be installed in each computer on the network to provide a communication port.
  2. Hubs- which provide for data transfer and management between multiple computers. (Not necessary on small coax based networks.)
  3. Cabling- which is used to connect the network interface cards together between multiple computers. Can be either twisted pair (10baseT) or coax cable (10base2).
  4. Software- to allow the computers to access one another across the network.

These components are discussed in greater detail later in this guide, but a general introduction to them was necessary before getting started. If you find that you are unfamiliar with a term used in this guide, check Webopedia.

Peer to Peer -vs- Client-Server Network Operating Systems

When referring to the network operating system, we are dealing with both hardware and software differentiation. In order to not make this decision more difficult than necessary, a brief description of each type of system is included; however, if you are using this guide to help you determine your needs please keep in mind that you are most likely looking for a Peer-to-peer system. Client/server systems usually require a system administrator and if yours is referring to this guide to set up your network... fire him! :-)

Peer-to-Peer systems

Peer-to-peer networks are decentralized networks in which no one computer on the network is dominant over any other computer. Each computer determines which resources it will share with the network and to what degree it will share those resources. For example: one user on the network might choose to allow their hard drive to be shared in a 'read only' manner, while another user may allow 'full access' and still another might disallow access to some or all of the files on their drive. Additionally, in a peer-to-peer configuration, no one computer can override any of the others to force them to change their settings.

Peer to peer networks are ideal for businesses or individuals who wish to only network a small number of computers... say no more than 5-10. They are easy to set up, less expensive than client server networks, and each computer is individually maintained by its own operator. On the down side, in a peer to peer network if a computer is shut down and it held information that was necessary to other members on the network, it would be inaccessible. In a client-server type of network, this valuable data could be stored on the server which would always be available to every user.

For those using this guide as a blueprint for providing Internet access to multiple computers through one connection, please keep in mind that last point when deciding which computer will have the modem or terminal adapter installed.

Some examples of peer-to-peer network operating systems include:

  • Artisoft
  • LANtastic
  • Netware Lite
  • Windows for Workgroups
  • Windows95/98/2000

Client-Server systems

A Client-server system is one in which there is one dominant computer which has a special set of software (server software) running on it and which has several smaller computers tied in to it running client software. The client computers send requests to the server for information or access to other computers on the network and the server processes those requests and provides services. The system server is usually a very fast computer which has a great deal of storage capacity on it and it is generally always available to all client computers.

Client-server networks are generally much faster than peer-to-peer networks and allow for tracking of all tasks requested and performed by and for client computers. Additionally, with the servers storage capacity and near 100% uptime, sharing of files, databases and services such as Internet connectivity and network printing are more reliable. The main disadvantage of a client-server network is the additional cost involved in purchasing and maintaining the equipment necessary to support it.

Some examples of client/server network operating systems include:

  • Banyan
  • LANtastic
  • Netware
  • Vines
  • Windows NT/2000 Pro

Twisted Pair -vs- Coax Cabling

This section of the guide is going to be very biased towards twisted pair cable networking, otherwise known as 10/100baseT. Keep this in mind as you are deciding what to use for your personal application.

Coax Cable (or 10base2)

Thin coax cable is useful for networking a very small number of computers that are located in close proximity to one another. When using coax cable, the computers' Network Interface Cards are linked together with T-connectors and terminators, in conjunction with coax cable, to allow direct communication between peer machines without the need for a Hub.

A hub is a device which allows for multiple computer connections and which routes the data between them in a more reliable manner. Although coax cable does save the cost of purchasing a hub, this cost will quickly be outweighed by the disadvantages associated with this method.

NOTE: With coax cable, you must use terminators!

Twisted Pair (or 10/100baseT)

Twisted pair appears similar to a phone line, only thicker and with a larger terminal on the end. It is the most reliable method of networking computers together due to its inherently better capacity and the use of the Hub as a pseudo traffic-cop. The Hub performs error correction that is not available on a coax network, reduces data collisions, generally has a data buffer, and allows for expandability to other hubs and print and fax servers.

NOTE: With twisted pair, you must use a hub!

According to Linksys, these are the guidelines for determining the type of cabling you should use when setting up a network:

Use thin coax cabling if you...

* have fewer than 10 PCs,
* don't have any portable computers,
* and don't plan to expand

Use 10/100BaseT cabling with a hub if you...

* have 16 or fewer PCs within a 325 foot radius of each other,
* have portable computers,
* and/or you plan to expand

Use both thin coax and 10/100BaseT together if...

* you have more than 16 computers,
* or the radius of your workgroup is more than 300 feet

As was stated before, assuming that everyone who is using this setup guide will more than likely be setting up a peer to peer network, my general recommendation is to decide on twisted pair cable with a small hub for everynetwork assuming the budget allows the extra $50 or so that it will require.

Brand Analysis

I personally recommend the use of 3Com or Linksys networking products due to their excellent performance, reliability, widespread support and ease of use. Additionally, these two vendors products can be reliably mixed without compromising compatibility.

For comparative analysis of these products, check out these resources:

Implementing a Peer-to-Peer network in Windows95/98

Setting up Windows95/98 to run a peer-to-peer network is quite simple. These are the basic steps necessary to accomplish the task:

  • Decide on and purchase network interface cards for each computer to be hooked to the network
  • Decide on and purchase either Twisted Pair cable and a Hub -or- Coax Cable, T-connectors and terminators.
  • Install the network interface card in each computer and plug each card into the hub (or connect the coax cable with t-connectors and terminators).
  • Power up the hub (if applicable).
  • Power up each computer one at a time. As it is powered up, Windows should auto detect the new hardware that has been installed. In most cases, it will have a driver in the database and will install the driver and need to reboot. In some cases, it may ask for a driver for the card you installed. If it does, simply insert the disk with the driver from the manufacturer of your network card and allow Windows to install it and reboot the system.
  • After each computer has been powered up and the network drivers have been loaded, you may check to insure that there is no conflict by right clicking on the "My Computer" icon on the desktop and selecting: Properties then Device Manager. There is an icon called Network Adapters which should list the driver for your newly installed hardware. You can double click on the adaptor icon to get more information regarding the performance of the adapter.
  • Once you have verified that the network card is installed and properly configured, you are ready to share devices on each computer.
  • Open the Windows Explorer from the Start menu under Programs. Right click on any of the directories or drives you wish to share with other computers on the network and select Sharing. (NOTE: It is possible, or even probable, that windows will prompt you to insert your Windows disk to load drivers for File and Printer sharing. If so, just follow the instructions and then resume this setup procedure. Keep in mind that each computer will need to be given a different name but need to be part of the same workgroup!)
  • You will be presented with the Sharing Properties dialog box. At this point, you can determine the access type and even set passwords for access to certain drives or directories.
  • Once the sharing has been set on each computer on the network you should be able to access the resources of the other computers via the Network Neighborhood icon on the desktop or in the Windows Explorer.

More specific details to come later for the network properties dialog box... Several of the alternative guides listed at the beginning of this document already have specific settings.

Connecting multiple PC's to a single Internet connection

Once the computers are effectively navigating the peer-to-peer network, you are ready to set them up to share a single connection to access the Internet. This is possible for any type of internet connection from a 14.4 modem to DSL, Cable Modem or Frame Relay. For more information on this subject see: Connecting multiple PC's to a single Internet connection

This page last updated 4/23/2000 at
3:30pm by
Copyright 1996-2000© John Pozadzides. All rights reserved.