Configuring Your Network Hardware

Before you can set up the networking features in Windows, you need to assemble and configure the proper hardware. In addition to two or more computers, you'll need the following components to set up a home or small office network:

• Network adapters Each computer needs an adapter to communicate with the other computers on the network. (An adapter is sometimes called a network interface card, or NIC .) Network adapters can be internal or external. Internal adapters are often incorporated directly onto the motherboard of a desktop or notebook PC, or they can be installed in a PCI slot on a desktop PC or a mini-PCI slot hidden within

the guts of a notebook computer. External adapters are typically connected to a USB port. Most wired network adapters conform to the Ethernet standard. Wireless adapters conform to one of several 802.11 (Wi-Fi) standards .

• A central connection point Use a hub or switch to connect the computers in an Ethernet network. This function is sometimes integrated in a router or residential gateway. On a wireless network, a wireless access point handles these duties .

In this chapter, we sometimes use the term hub in its generic sense to refer to a central connection point for networks that use a star-bus topology, such as Ethernet. However, a hub (using its more precise definition) is just one of several types of connection points commonly used in home and small office networks:

• Hub A hub is the simplest and slowest of these devices, all of which have several jacks (called ports) into which you can plug cables attached to computers and other network devices. In a hub (which is sometimes called a repeater), data that is received on one port is broadcast to all its ports, which produces a lot of unnecessary network traffic

• Switch By keeping track of the unique Media Access Control (MAC) address for each connected device, a switch is able to receive data and in turn send it only to the port to which the destination device is attached. A switch is faster and more secure than a hub

• Router Unlike hubs and switches, which are used to connect computers on a single network, a router is typically used to connect two or more networks. In a small network, a router typically is used to connect the local area network to the network at an internet service provider (which, in turn, uses routers to connect to the internet backbone)

A residential gateway is a router that typically adds Network Address Translation (NAT) and Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP) capabilities. (NAT enables multiple computers on a network to share a single public IP address. DHCP is a system for assigning an IP address to each computer on a network.) In addition, many residential gateways include a stateful packet inspection firewall and other security features .

A wireless gateway adds wireless capability to a residential gateway, thereby enabling connections to computers with Wi-Fi adapters as well as computers with wired adapters . To add wireless capability to a network centered around a nonwireless residential gateway, use a wireless access point.

• Cables On an Ethernet network, you connect each network adapter to the hub using an eight-wire Category 5, Category 5e, or Category 6 patch cable with RJ-45 connectors on each end. (Cat 5 is designed for Fast Ethernet, with speeds up to

100 Mbps, whereas Cat 5e and Cat 6 cable are designed for Gigabit Ethernet, with speeds up to 1 Gbps . ) HomePNA networks connect to an existing telephone jack with a standard telephone connector (RJ-11). Power-line networks typically use Cat 5 cables to connect computers to adapters that plug into a power outlet. By definition, wireless networks require no cables, except typically between the wireless access point and the internet

Although it's not required, most networks also include one additional hardware component: a modem or other device to connect your network to the internet.

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