Linking PCs with a Network : Creating a Wired and Wireless Computer Network

2/20/2012 5:33:01 PM
Networks can be very scary stuff. But if you're just trying to set up a handful of computers in your home or home office, this section might be all you need.

Start by drawing a picture of your network. Find your closest grouping of computers and draw their relative locations onto a piece of paper. Draw a dot near the closest group of computers — you want to place your router there.

Using your drawing for reference, measure the physical distance between each of your computers and the router, adding enough feet to snake the cable around desks or along the walls. When in doubt, give yourself ten extra feet for each computer. Write down the length of cable required to connect each computer to the router.

Some homes come with networking jacks built into the walls. If you're that lucky, write down the length of cable necessary for reaching from each computer to its network jack.

Are some computers too far apart for cables? Buy them wireless network adapters, and make sure your router has built‐in wireless (most do).

Don't worry about printers. If one PC has a printer, every PC on the network can access it, printing to it as if it were their own.

The following sections explain how to buy the three parts of a network, how to install the network hardware, and how to make Windows Vista create a network out of your handiwork.

The easiest way to connect two computers

Sometimes you simply need to link two computers, quickly and easily, to move information from one to another .

The easiest way is to buy a network adapter for each PC (new PCs usually come with one preinstalled) and a crossover cable, which is a special breed of Ethernet cable. Be sure to emphasize crossover or crossed cable when shopping at the computer store; a regular Ethernet cable won't work. Connect the crossed cable between the two computers' network adapters, and Vista creates a quick network between the two computers. If one computer has a way to connect to the Internet, the second computer should be able to share that Internet connection.

Or, connect an Easy Transfer Cable between the USB ports of two computers. Created especially for Windows Vista, the cable creates a makeshift network between the two PCs.

Finally, connect to the Internet with one PC, and then turn on Vista's Internet Connection Sharing to let the second PC piggyback on the first PC's connection.

Buying parts for your network

Here's your shopping list. Drop this onto the copy machine at the office and take it to the computer store.

  • Fast Ethernet cable: Buy one Fast Ethernet cable for each PC that won't be using wireless. Fast Ethernet cable is known by a wide variety of names, including 100Base‐T and CAT‐5. But if you're hunting for it at the computer store, just look for the network cable that looks like telephone cable and says CAT‐5 or Category 5 on the label.

    For any computer placed too far away for a cable, buy a wireless network adapter, described next.

  • Network adapters: Each PC needs its own network adapter, either wired or wireless. For wired PCs, buy one 100Base‐T Ethernet PCI card for each PC. Don't want to open your PC's case to install a PCI card? Then buy a USB network adapter, instead. Make sure the adapters are Windows Vista compatible.

    Many new computers (and almost all laptops) come with a wired network adapter preinstalled, so look at the back of the computer for the giveaway: something that looks like a large phone jack.

    If the computer is too far away to connect with wires, buy it a wireless network adapter. (They plug into USB ports, too.)

  • Wireless router: Every computer's network cable must plug into a single router, as shown in Figure 1 . Most routers today come with built‐in wireless to connect any PCs farther than a cable stretch away. Buy a wireless router with enough ports (jacks) to plug in each computer's cable — plus a few extra ports for computers you might want to add later.

    Figure 1: The router sends information directly to the computer that asks for it, keeping up the network's speed.

Installing wired or wireless network adapters

Difficulty level: Medium

Tools you need: One hand and, for installing internal network adapters, a screwdriver

Cost: Anywhere from $25 to $150

Stuff to watch out for: If you're using a USB network adapter, just plug the adapter into your PC's USB port. (Bought a PC Card network adapter for the laptop? Slide it into your laptop's PC Card slot, that credit‐card sized slot in the laptop's side.) Install the adapter's software, if it came with one, and you're through.

Some wired and wireless adapters, however, come on cards. To install a network card, either wired or wireless, follow these steps:

  1. Turn off your computer, unplug it, and remove the cover.

  2. Find an empty slot.

    See that row of slots toward the back of your PC? Those slots line up with the slots on the back of your PC — the part where you plug in most of your cables. Find an empty one for your new network card.

  3. Remove the slot's cover.

    With a small screwdriver, remove the single screw that holds that card in place. Save that screw, as you need it to secure the new card in place.

    If you drop the screw inside your PC, poke it out with a screwdriver or chopstick. If that fails, shake your PC upside‐down until the screw falls out.

  4. Push the new card into the empty slot.

    Cards are particularly susceptible to static electricity. Tap your computer's case to ground yourself before touching the card. If you live in a particularly dry, static‐prone area, wear latex gloves — the kind that doctors and dentists wear.

    Line up the tabs and notches on the card's bottom with the notches in the slot. Push the card slowly into the slot. You might need to rock the card back and forth gently. When the card pops in, you can feel it come to rest. Don't force it!

  5. Secure the card in the slot with the screw.

    Yep, your precious card is held in place by one screw.

  6. Connect the cables between the network cards and the router.

    The cables all snake around until they plug into a numbered port on the router. You might need to route cables under carpets, around doorways, or through a hole in the floor or ceiling to move between floors. (Don't forget to plug the router's power cord into the wall.)

    Don't plug any PCs into the router's WAN port. That's for plugging in your cable or DSL modem to connect with the Internet.

  7. Turn on the computers and their peripherals.

    Turn on the computers and their monitors, printers, modems, and whatever else happens to be connected to them.

    Windows usually recognizes newly installed equipment and sets everything up to work correctly. If your network adapter card came with a CD, be sure to insert it when Vista begins clamoring for drivers — translation software that helps Vista talk to new parts.

  8. Select a location for your network.

    When Windows Vista wakes up and notices the newly attached network equipment, it asks you for your network's location: Home, Work, or Public Location. Choose whether you're working at home or work (safe) or in public (less safe), and Vista automatically adds the proper security level to protect you.

Vista does a reasonably good job of casting its networking spells on your computers. If the computers are all connected correctly and restarted, chances are they wake up in bondage with each other. If they don't, try restarting them all again.

Keep these things in mind when setting up your network:

  • Although Windows Vista usually sits up and takes notice as soon as you plug in a network cable, wireless networks require more tweaks before they catch Vista's attention. To make your wireless network adapters start working, head for the next section, “Connecting Wirelessly.”

  • Windows Vista automatically shares one folder on every networked PC — the Public folder — as well as any folders inside it. Any files you place inside that folder are available to everybody on your PC as well as anybody connected to the network.

    Windows XP names its shared folder Shared Documents. Vista names that same folder Public, instead. But both do the same thing: Provide a place to share files with other people on your network.

  • Click your Start menu and choose Network to see your other computers on your network.

  • If your PC connects to the Internet through a dialup connection, run the Internet Connection Wizard. (That wizard then lets all your networked computers share that computer's Internet connection.) After that computer is set up, run the wizard on the other networked computers.

  • If your PCs can't see each other, make sure that each PC uses the same Workgroup name.

Bothersome workgroup names

Like anything else in life, networks need names. A network's name is called a workgroup, and for some reason, Microsoft used different workgroup names in different versions of Windows, and that causes problems if you have Windows XP PCs on your network.

Here's the problem: Windows XP Home PCs automatically use MSHOME as their workgroup name. Windows XP Professional and Windows Vista PCs, by contrast, use WORKGROUP as their workgroup name. The result? Put a Vista PC and a Windows XP Home PC on the same network, and they can't find or talk with each other: One PC searches in vain for other MSHOME PCs, and the other looks for only WORKGROUP PCs.

The solution is to give them both the same workgroup name, a fairly easy task with these steps:

  1. On your Vista PC, click the Start menu, right‐click Computer, and choose Properties.

    The System screen appears, revealing basic techie information about your PC.

  2. Choose Change Settings.

    That task lives in the section called Computer Name, Domain, and Workgroup Settings. Clicking it fetches a questionnaire.

  3. Click the Change button.

    The Computer Name/Domain Changes dialog box appears.

  4. In the bottom box, change the Workgroup name to MSHOME.

    That puts Vista on the same workgroup as your Windows XP PC.

    Alternatively, you can change your Windows XP PC's workgroup name to WORKGROUP by following these same five steps but clicking the Computer Name tag in Step 2. But no matter what you call your network's workgroup, make sure that every networked PC bears the same workgroup name.

    Tip: Be careful in this step to change each PC's workgroup name, not its computer name, as they're different things.

  5. Click OK to close the open windows and when asked, click the Restart Now button to restart your PC.

    Repeat these steps for your other networked PCs, making sure that the same name appears in each Workgroup box.

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