Get Connected

If you're setting up - or working in - a small office and don't have a dedicated IT person, the idea of building a local area network (LAN) shouldn't scare you. It's simple, as Windows explains…

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By  Matthew Wade Published  November 1, 2005

|~|SMB---switch---m.jpg|~|Connecting each PC to your network switch is a simple process. |~|Whether you and your small team work from home or a dedicated work space, basic networking really is a quick and simple affair. For just a few dollars of spend and an hour or two of your time, you can boost your team's efficiency by enabling file sharing (drag-and-drop rather than save to flash disk and pass!), sharing your internet connection (meaning everyone can surf but you only pay once), and of course cutting peripheral costs by sharing one printer. Let's delve straight in then. Here we'll go the standard ethernet, peer-to-peer (P2P) route, whereby your PCs are all connected via a central network switch. This is perhaps an easier and more future expansion-friendly than connecting your computers in the alternative, so-called 'ad hoc' fashion. The current standard speed for local area networks is 100Mbps (megabits per second); which is equal to 12.5MB (megabytes). A few years ago you would have had the choice of cheaper, yet slower, 10Mbps LANs too, but this is rare now and we recommend 100Mbps as it's very quick, efficient, and the cabling is these days pretty cheap. Gigabit good? Before we go on, you might be wondering, “What about lightning speed gigabit ethernet?” Although in theory this is up to ten times quicker at moving data around a LAN, it’s also expensive, requires gigabit-ready hardware (again, expensive) and unless your network traffic is super heavy, you won’t really notice too many benefits over a much more cost-effective 100Mbps network. With 100Mbps, you're looking at what's called a 100BaseT network. This works the same way as 10BaseT (10Mbps speed) networks did in the past. To build a 100Mbps network you'll need to employ CAT-5 network cabling (expect to pay around $20-27 per 100 metres of 'uncrimped' cable. Don’t worry, we'll come to 'crimping' shortly). The other components (the switch and any PC cards) will of course also need to support 100Mbps networking. The first crucial consideration when setting up your LAN is owning PCs (and laptops) that can accept ethernet cables. It's a fairly sure bet that your desktop system - if bought in the last five years - will include an ethernet jack around the back. If not, the process is simple - just buy a PCI network card for each PC you want to link up. Don't worry about costs too much, as these cards will set you back as little as £13 each from your local computer shop. Install these cards by opening up the respective PC's case, slotting the card into a free PCI slot, then closing the case and booting back up. Windows should automatically detect new hardware, then you must just pop in the drive/software disc, install the relevant drivers and you're away. Next up, you'll need the actual Ethernet (CAT-5) cabling and your network switch (see our 'Kit Buying' box opposite for more info on this). Unpack the switch, plug it in and mount it on a secure surface (as you don't want it dragging off a shelf and onto your colleague's head should anyone trip over an unsecured cable!). Also, bear in mind that it will be running for hours at a time - if not permanently - so it will get hot. Therefore, situate it near to a window or adjacent to an AC vent if at all possible. Link 'em up Next, connect each PC in turn to the switch by running a CAT-5 cable from the PC’s ethernet port to a free switch port. The path of least hassle configuration wise is to connect the first PC to port 1, the second to port 2 etc. When you power up your computers, a light should now show up on each PC's card and on the switch too. If you don't see such lights, check the switch is on and all the cables have clicked into place properly - at both ends. So, your cables are installed, the switch is flashing away, now let's get configuring! Jump onto one PC, head to Control Panel (Start/Control Panel), click on Network Connections, then right-click Local Area Connection. Now you'll see a list of installed network protocols and services. The four you ideally need are these: TCP/IP - the current most popular network protocol; 'Client for Microsoft Networks' (this simply tells your PC that you're on a network); 'File and printer sharing for Microsoft Networks'; and ‘IPX’ - a previous generation protocol that is not essential but you might need to help run aging DOS-based programs. In the event that you are missing one of these from the list (this is most likely to be IPX), just click Install and then choose from either Clients, Services or Protocols. (IPX for instance will be listed under protocols). Just install the component you need, for which you'll need your Windows CD-ROM. You then need to make sure that each of these four components in the list is checked. The next stage is giving each PC on your LAN an IP address. Return to Control Panel/Network Connections, double click Local Area Connection, then hit Properties. From there, hit TCP/IP and choose 'Use the following IP address.' The best range of IP addresses to use is this: (This range is set aside for private networks.) Therefore, on your first PC, set its IP address to (the second PC you configure should then be and so on). Under the entry for Subnet mask, use As for the 'Default gateway', this will be the IP address of the PC your colleagues use to access a shared internet connection or a VPN (Virtual Private Network). To put it more clearly still, say you have broadband internet connection set-up on PC 2. Simply add its IP address (most likely as the 'Default gateway' on the other PCs and your workmates can then use these machines to share that net connection and thus get online too. Share and share alike The Windows OS makes it very easy to share team content over a LAN. Here's how to do it: 1. First off, decide which particular folder you want to share. For instance, this could be your My Documents folder or the folder that contains your Contacts database. 2. Open Windows Explorer and locate this folder. 3. Right-click it and choose 'Sharing and security'. 4. Click 'Share this folder'. 5. If need be, also hit the Permissions button and decide what degree of access to give your colleagues. Do you want your entire team to be able to change files or would you prefer that they were only able to read and copy them?). -------------------------------- Kit Buying What you need * Cabling Type: CAT-5 Rough price: $20-27 per 100 metres Example vendors: Alpha Data (+9714 393 3800), Mideast Data Systems (+9712 626 8444). * Also required: - Ethernet jacks (two for each end of an 'uncrimped' cable, so at least eight for a four PC/one switch LAN) - One crimping tool (used to connect each ethernet jack to the end of a CAT-5 cable) Your local computer shop should sell these items very cheaply. * Switch SOHO switches typically offer between eight and 24 ports. Look out for our eight-port network switch grouptest in next month’s issue of Windows Middle East. --------------------------------||**||

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