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Wireless Residential or SOHO LANs


Setting up a Wireless Residential LAN or Wireless SO/HO LAN

Setting up a powerful Home or SO/HO LAN is not very costly and can be done in a reasonable amount of time. When you build a residential LAN, you can even use your old 386, if you still are using one.

You may not need a server for your home network, if your computers can communicate with one another on an equal basis in a peer-to-peer network. While the peer-to-peer network services offered by Windows aren't particularly sophisticated, they're more than enough for the basic job of the network: sharing files, printers, and other peripherals. Otherwise, a server will be a requirement.

Depending on which operating system(s) you have, different network options and certain advantages are available.

If you have a PC purchased in 1995 or later, your system probably came with Windows 95. This may be convenient, but can produce occasional program and system crashes. Windows 98 is advisable.

If you have a PC with less than 16MB of RAM, or a 486 processor that's slower than 100 MHz, Windows 95 will probably overtax the system. If you must run Windows software, run Windows 98 .

If you have a 150-MHz or faster Pentium with at least 48MB of RAM (64MB is better), use Microsoft's Windows NT 4.0 Workstation. It's slower than Windows 95 or Windows 98, and requires a more powerful machine, but NT Workstation runs most Windows-based software and crashes a lot less often than Windows 95 or 98. Another advantage is that NT lets you set up separate file-storage accounts. Even though each user is using the same PC, unless each user has access privileges, they won't be able to share data.

The two best home wiring options are thin Ethernet (also called 10Base2) and unshielded twisted-pair cabling (also called UTP or 10BaseT). Your choice will depend on how much you're willing to spend and how your So/Ho is set up.

Thin Ethernet
Thin Ethernet cable looks very much like the wire used for cable TV. It's rugged but stiff, making it a challenge to run the cable through walls, but it's inexpensive and requires the least hardware to connect. The cable is run from one computer to each additional computer, until you get to the last computer, where you add a cap called a terminator. Thin Ethernet runs at only 10 mbps, much slower than UTP. Depending on your home's setup and the number of machines you're connecting, it may be inconvenient to run cable in a line through every room.

Thin Ethernet requires a BNC connector, a little metal cylinder with two nubs near the outside edge. You can buy standard lengths of cable that already have connectors, or you can buy the connectors at any good computer store and crimp or twist them on using a special tool.

UTP
UTP cable looks like telephone cord and is more flexible than thin Ethernet. If you're willing to buy more expensive adapter cards and a hub. UTP can run at as fast as 100 mbps, much faster than thin Ethernet.

In a UTP network, the wires run out from a central hub (a box to which all the computers are connected, and through which data is routed) like the spokes of a wheel. A UTP network may work better for your home than thin Ethernet, but setting up a hub requires some rudimentary understanding of setup. Many users opt for the simplicity of the thin Ethernet system.

With UTP, you'll need an RJ-45 connector, which looks sort of like the connector on a telephone cord. Again, standard lengths usually come with the connector in place, or you can buy a crimping tool for about $5 and install the connectors yourself.

If you go with UTP, you'll also need to purchase a basic 10BaseT hub for about $60 (for a simple eight-port model); any computer store should be able to sell you one. Make sure you get one that has several more ports (or connections) than you have computers because you don't want to have to buy a new hub when you decide to add to your network.

Safety Precautions
Whichever system you choose, check your local building codes to make sure the cable is approved for your location. In a fire, some cables can emit toxic fumes as they burn. If you're using twisted-pair cable in a home, always choose cable labeled as Multi-purpose Plenum (MPP), and make sure that it's installed properly.

After you select and install your cabling system, the next step is adding network interface cards) and connectors. A NIC is the piece of hardware that physically connects the cables to your computers.

The brand of card isn't important, but make sure each one works with your operating system. An absolutely safe bet for matching your OS is to check the box to see whether the card is compatible with the Novell NE2000 card. The NE2000 is a time-honored design that works with all of the operating systems for IBM-PC-compatible computers.

Network cards come in two basic flavors, ISA and PCI. Most computers can use ISA cards, which are a little slower and less sophisticated. ISA cards are designed for a standard 16-bit slot. PCI cards work in newer Pentiums, are a faster and more advanced, and fit in a PCI slot. PCI cards are a bit more expensive but probably worth the cost if your computer can use them.

Make sure that the card you choose also has the correct cable connector, UTP or thin Ethernet. Many cards come with both kinds, enabling you to change your cabling system later without buying new cards.

At your local computer superstore, you should find basic 10-mbps Ethernet network interface cards for about $25. The cheapest cards require you to run an installation program to set them up. Avoid cards that aren't plug-and-play and don't have installation software.

Configuring a Home Wireless LAN Or Wireless SO/HO LAN
Once your cables are in place, you need to configure your NIC to select an Iaddress and an interrupt request (IRQ) number. An I/O port address is where the network card transfers information to and from the network. The IRQ number is a label assigned to each I/O device (such as a printer, mouse, or modem) attached to your computer.

Write down all the settings you make for your network cards and keep them in a safe place. You may need to refer to some of the settings when configuring other network software.

First, boot up one of the computers in the network. If you bought a plug-and-play card and are running an operating system like Windows 95 or 98 that knows how to take advantage of it, the card should set itself up automatically. The OS will recognize your card and set up the IRQ and I/O address correctly.

If your operating system doesn't recognize a newly installed network card, you'll need to help it out. In Windows 95 or 98, you can use the Add New Hardware icon on the Control Panel; in other operating systems, the procedure may be different. The Add New Hardware program will walk you through locating and configuring your card's I/O and IRQ addresses.

If your operating system still doesn't recognize the card, or if the card doesn't work correctly, you may need to configure it through DOS. Consult the documentation that came with your card to find out how to do this.

To make sure your card is installed correctly, double-click the System icon in the Control Panel. When the System Properties dialog box appears, click the Device Manager tab; then double-click Network Adapters. If there's a red mark over the icon beside your card's name, you need to try reinstalling the card. If there's no red mark, your card is ready to go.

The whole setup process should take about an hour from the time you break the shrink wrap on your network cards. Once the hardware and software are running, you'll be able to set up your computers to share files and printers.


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