Aside from obvious advantages
like file, printer, and internet connection sharing, networked
systems provide additional benefits. Properly set up, they
enable you to make the most of your multiple computer investment
by leveraging your hardware assets. You can even make good
use of old computers that would otherwise be discarded.
Once horribly expensive, a nightmare to install, & difficult to
keep working, software advances coupled with plummeting hardware
prices have placed networking within the reach of practically
anyone who wants it.
about the megabits
The trick seems to be in
figuring out which of the many products now on the market will
really do the job for you. All promise to connect two or
more PC's in the home or office, and some are enticingly easy to
The problem is that, while
many of these products are ideal for sharing internet
connections (even high speed ones like cable), their leisurely
pace in transferring data places severe limits on most of their
other uses. For sharing files and other computer assets in
a small office environment, you need a minimum of 10 megabit per
second (mbps) transfer rates, with 100 mbps really preferable.
The "easy install" products generally run at around one mbps.
That's one percent of the transfer rate you need to have
something useful in a serious environment. Of course, a
100 mbps system is a bit more complicated to set up.
Tradeoffs and compromise
You can get by without a real
network at all with Windows 9x computers. The direct cable
connection option that's part of the OS allows you to connect
two computers via the serial or parallel ports with specially
designed cables. Sometimes tricky to set up, these types of
connections are also slow- you will definitely wait for your
Everything's a tradeoff, and
the compromises here are plain. The less installation is
required, the less data you can transfer in a reasonable amount
of time. Transfer rates on some of these new kits are as slow as
1 megabit per second. Not bad when you're relaying an internet
feed or printing a casual letter, but agonizingly similar to
cold molasses when transferring a Corel Paint file. For that
you're going to want a 100 megabit fast ethernet connection
through a hub with adequate cabling snaked among the connected
If you only deal in text
files you can move at acceptable speed through a 10 megabit
ethernet at about half the cost in hardware compared to 100mbps,
but remember that the real expense in the creation of a network
is installation and setup. As it happens, these are pretty much
the same for 10 or 100 mbps (megabits per second) systems. Both
require the insertion of network interface cards in your
computers. Both require connecting cables. Both require the
knowledge to configure the hardware and modify your system
software to facilitate communication.
With a 100 mbps system, you
get throughput speeds that will allow you to really get some
work done. Not only can you move large files or groups of files
between computers rapidly, you can actually work with remote
files or applications with virtually unnoticeable delays. It
becomes practical to backup one computer to another without
tying up both systems for hours at a time. And yes, several
people can use the internet simultaneously through a single
We've used several different
brands of network products, including Linksys, D-Link, SohoWare,
and others. All have worked for us, about equally well.
For a small office or home installation, we just recommend you
go with price.
Get the Linksys 10/100 mbps starter kit now...
Putting it together
It helps to have someone with experience around when it comes to
installing a real system network. You have to know your
way around inside your computer's shell, be able to choose the
right components, understand a few simple rules of cabling, and
exercise a lot of patience when things don't quite match the
instruction sheet. We have seen more than one driver
installation disk where files were not where they were supposed
to be, and one otherwise superior package completely overlooks
key protocol configuration settings.
Once the hardware is
installed and the network brought to life, you need a thorough
understanding of each system's file structure to set up a usable
interface for day to day operations among the newly joined
computers. You have to know how and whether to map drives or
folders, and it's a good idea to draw a physical, pencil and
paper map of how you wind up doing it. Finally, you have to be
able to anticipate and compensate for the uncanny ability of
every other user on the system to make it stop working.
This can be a do-it-yourself
job, or you can hire someone to do it for you. If you do
decide to go it alone, you may want to get a suitable book on
the subject. You'll find solid how-to information in
the computers section at
We highly recommend...
One of the best uses for an old "outdated" computer is as a
backup repository for the files on your main systems. With
a 100 mbps network and a high volume hard drive, you can
implement a backup system that provides real protection against
system failure. If you rely on your computers, that's
We review the LinkSys Four Port
Broadband Network Router...
And take a look at