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Networking

Stop! I can see that the very mention of networking has made you think "No way!" but it is so easy these days that it is a no-brainer. This is what it involves.

Firstly you need two computers (or more) that you want to network. Yes, really. Each computer needs a network card that is installed in a spare PCI slot. These are available in different speeds but what you need is a "One hundred megabit" card, written as 100Mbs or 100Mb/s. This means it can shift 100 million bits of data every second and is plenty fast enough for you. Don't be tempted to get a (seemingly) cheaper 10Mbs card. You will only regret your choice later.

RJ45 plugThe network card will have a sort of telephone socket on the back. It is not a telephone socket. It is known as an RJ45 socket and is specially made for network cables, although you could be forgiven for thinking that an RJ45 plug looks just like a telephone plug. Just like everything else, make sure your chosen network card has the drivers for the operating system you intend installing. I had a perfectly good network card running under Windows 98; when I upgraded to Win XP it just refused to work. So I had to replace it with a Windows XP-aware card (OK only 12, but annoying none-the-less).

You connect your network cards with network cable. "Category 5 unshielded twisted pair" to be precise, or CAT5-UTP as you'll see it written down. They come in a variety of colours and lengths. Just take your choice depending on how far the computers are apart. I did the job properly and drilled walls, put on sockets either side and plugged into those but that's for you to decide.

Warning! If you just want to connect 2 computers ("back to back") without anything in the middle, then you need a "crossover cable" not a standard network cable. This is so the output from one card "crosses over" and is fed into the input of the other card (and vice versa). Unless you are a cash-strapped student, my advise is to get a hub. This is a device that all computers plug their standard network cables into. The hub then sorts out what's connected to what without you having to worry about "crossover" cables.

Another Warning! If you do buy a crossover cable, then please put big stickers on it saying this. Otherwise you'll end up using it as a normal network cable one day and will be scratching your head for hours wondering why it doesn't work. How do I know this? You figure!

A word about HUBS. There are plain old hubs, and switched hubs (more commonly, albeit incorrectly, referred to as SWITCHES). Hubs send all network traffic to all network cards because they are STUPID. They have no idea who is connected to them. Switches know from the computer's address who is connected on which port and just send the data from one PC to the correct, intended network card. They are SMART. They are also more expensive so you make your mind up. Just make sure the HUB or SWITCH is also rated at 100Mbs (or dual rated at 10/100Mbs).

If you intend connecting more than two computers, or want to share your Broadband Internet connection (lucky old me, heh?) then you will need a hub of some kind, and all the better for being a switched hub.

Wireless HubNow you can dispense with all this cable malarkey and use wireless network connections. This is known as Wi-Fi to anoraks. Basically, the network you install into each computer just has an aerial coming out of it, not a cable. You most certainly then need a wireless access point, that acts as a wireless hub. There are a number of issues with this setup though. First, it will much s-l-o-w-e-r than a hardwired setup, but still usable (about 5Mb/s). Secondly, there is the issue of security. Can someone next door eavesdrop on your network link, or even worse, start accessing your computer? And finally there is the extra (admittedly ever-decreasing) cost of a wireless setup over a hardwired system. You may find that a wired network is just a better solution for you.

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