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Networking Your Home Or Small Business Is Fairly Inexpensive

Sandra Prior
Jun 4, 2008
If you have as few as two computers in your home, you can reap a number of benefits by connecting them with a network cable and two NICs (Network Interface Cards). Equally, if you run a small business from your house, and have maybe five or six systems, benefits can be seen by networking.

One of the main advantages of a small home network is that it allows each computer to share all the resources. For example, if you print from a program running on one computer to a printer attached to the other computer, you won't need to buy two printers. Importantly, you will also be able to save precious disk space by keeping programs and data on one computer and running them from all machines.

You can also take advantage of special software that exploits the fact that your computers are connected. This ranges from mainstream productivity software to that productivity killer: networked gaming.

There are a number of ways in which to connect two or more computers into a network, but most fall into either the peer networking or server networking category.

Server based networks have one or more server computers dedicated to providing shared resources to a group of network client computers. The servers are generally highly specified and generally also more reliable than the average computer. They need to be, because people using the client computers have to logon to the network before they can access the server's resources. Therefore, the server must be running all the time in a typical environment.

Although there are situations in which a home network should follow the server based model, it is actually overkill for most home networks.

The alternative to a server based network is peer networking. Here, each computer functions as a server sharing its disks and printers, and as a client using the resources on other computers. Generally, peer networks are easier to setup than server based networks.

With network cards and the network software that ships with Windows XP, you can share hard disks, directories, files, programs, email and printers.

Network Hardware

The best way to connect two computers in a peer network is via a pair of network cards and a piece of cable. The two NICs will be fitted into a free PCI expansion slot. Windows XP will probably have the drivers and automatically install them for you when it detects the new hardware, otherwise you may need to provide the drivers.


With the cards fitted and the correct drivers installed you then need to connect the NICs with the cable. There are many different network cables available but the de facto standard to which most people adhere is Ethernet. And, there is quite a variety within the Ethernet category itself. The only real decision you have to make is between Thin Ethernet and Twisted Pair or TP.

For a basic two computer network the cheapest option is Thin Ethernet - it offers long cable runs and doesn't require a hub. Unfortunately, Thin Ethernet chains computers together in series and is susceptible to breaks in the cable. So, if one section breaks, none of the computers on the network will be able to communicate with each other.

TP, in comparison, generally uses a star arrangement with each computer individually cabled to the hub. This is a lot more reliable because a failure in the cable to one computer doesn't affect the other computers. It's an academic point if you have only two computers, but as soon as you have three or more at home, TP automatically becomes a lot more reliable than Thin Ethernet.


Hubs come in all shapes and sizes. More sophisticated hubs, known as switches, are used in very large, busy networks, while managed hubs are designed to work with network management software for large networks. Most home networks requires neither switches nor managed hubs - an inexpensive 4-port or 8-port hub should suffice. Ensure that the hubs and NIC cards support 10/100 Mbps which is the standard these days.

Up and Running

When your network is up and running, what should you use it for? Well, it's up to you, but here are some typical uses which can enhance your home computing experience.

Firstly, you can use it to share files. Do you have data that you and another family member want to access from your own computer? Now you don't have to copy them from one machine to the other with flash disks.

Now a single printer can be used by each computer saving the need to buy two or more printers for each user.

Other resources can also be shared, such as modems and ADSL connections. The whole family can surf the Internet simultaneously. Now what are you waiting for?
About the Author
Sandra Prior runs her own websites at http://usacomputers.rr.nu and http://sacomputers.rr.nu.
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