In the Forums...
Posted: November 27, 1999
Written by: Dan "Tweak Monkey" Kennedy
Building a small network for a few computers is easy and cheap, and makes gaming much more enjoyable and virtually lag free. File transfers become much easier than running Zip/floppy disks back and forth, and you can even split your Internet connection between a couple PCs. One of my favorite features is sharing printers, which makes it much easier (and cheaper) than using separate printers. Windows 95 and 98 make the task of setting up a network pretty simple. The hardest part is probably driving down to the store and buying a couple of cards and physically wiring it all together. There are a few different options you can go with when deciding what type of network you want. This is a guide for those of you who have two or more computers sitting around, and would like to have a LAN but don't really know how, or you might be intimidated by them. It's really quite simple, as you'll learn.
10 or 100 mbps?
There are two basic speeds you can go with for normal networks, 10 and 100 mbps (that's megabits per second, not to be confused with megabytes per second). 10 mbps will provide more than enough bandwidth for gaming and is adequate for sending files back and forth, however if you're the kind of guy who regularly drives 300mph on the freeway, 100 mbps networks are substantially faster for file transfers, and won't leave you waiting forever. But 100 mbps does cost more, though, so you have to balance price and performance, as with everything else in life.
If you've decided to go with 10 mbps, you have another decision waiting: 10Base2 or 10BaseT.
10Base2 uses coaxial cable to connect the two cards. The upside to this is that you don't need a hub, so it costs less, but you'll be stuck at 10 mbps. You'll need the cable, a T-connector for each card (which should come with the card anyway), and terminators for each end of the line. The obvious advantage of a 10Base2 is the price. A hub could set you back a bit, so this will save some money.
10BaseT uses a hub and RJ-45 cables to connect to the interface cards. If you buy 10/100 mbps cards, which don't cost that much more than 10 mbps cards, you'll be able to upgrade to 100 mbps in the future, once the price for fast hubs drop. This is usually the preferred way to go, since a small hub is usually about $30 and the cards should be around $20 each for a cheap brand. You'll need RJ-45 cable to connect each card to a port on the hub. When you pick up a hub, consider how many computers you may have plugged into your network at a time. If you don't have plans to have any huge LAN parties or you don't want to add too many PCs, don't spend the extra cash for anything bigger than a 5-port hub. If you do want to host large LAN parties or you want to load all the PCs you can fit onto your network, do it right the first time and buy a big hub.
If you're going with 100 mbps, you'll use 100BaseT, which works exactly the same way as 10BaseT, except your hub will cost more and you'll need CAT-5 cable, which you'll probably get anyway. You will also need 100 mbps cards.
Sometimes network starter kits like Linksys's Fast Ethernet Network Starter Kit are a good way to get started and often times cost even less than buying all the materials separately. These kits package two or sometimes three NIC cards, cables, and a hub. Make sure to read the boxes and ensure that you are buying what you want. (e.g. PCI, not ISA)
Shop around and try finding a good price for the equipment. A good place to look is Pricewatch for some bargains.