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Why build a Network

A computer network consists of a number of computers that are connected together via some means that allows them all to send and receive information to each other. Having a network allows you to share resources such as disk and tape files, printers, and Internet access among all the network members. It also makes it easier to update software and to allow  the operating system and any antivirus programs to perform automatic updates. 

This page talks about how to build a basic network. See the page on shared Internet access for additional details on how to do that.

Interconnect Options

The standard way to connect computers into a network is to use low-voltage copper wire. The type of wire used is called Category 6 (CAT 6) and consists of a bundle of four twisted-pair wires (8 wires in all). For a new building or for short runs, this is the simplest way to go. Each computer has a Network Interface Card (NIC) that the wire plugs into. The wires are connected into a small device called a hub or a switch to build the star-shaped network. The maximum length of each wire is 100 meters (about 300 feet).

An increasingly popular network interconnection method is to use wireless. There is still a hub and each computer still has a network card but there is no need to run wires. The maximum distance between the components is still about 300 feet but it varies greatly with the type of construction and layout of the house.

Wireless has become the most popular interconnection method and Linksys (a part of Cisco Systems) has the highest market share for home network components.

Older home wireless system were based on the 802.11b standard. This provides 11 Mbps peak transfer and uses a frequency of 2.4 GHz (watch out for possible interference with cordless telephones and microwave ovens). The maximum operating range is 300' but the actual operating range is more like 100' and the transfer rate is more  like 5 Mbps. Current devices are based on 802.11g which provides a 50 Mbps peak rate and also operates at the 2.4 GHz frequency. There is a new 802.11n standard which will increase both the speed and the range of operation.

The 100 Mbps throughout of 802.11n will easily support video. There are other standards that will provide much greater distances (50 miles) but at lower speeds (50 Mbps). There is an emerging technology called Ultra Wide Band (UWB) that can provide very high speeds over short distances.

Putting the network together

Once the connections have been made between all the systems, it is a matter of installing the necessary software on each system. All current Windows operating systems have the necessary software to support computer networks. The latest version of  Windows XP Home Edition  make it very easy to set up small home wired or wireless networks.



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