If you have more than one PC and are tired of inserting floppies to share files, you might consider a home LAN. It lets you share files among PCs by dragging and dropping them in Windows Explorer — and share a broadband connection, CD drives, and printers connected to other PCs. Here’s how:
1. GET THE EQUIPMENT
Make sure everything you buy is for an Ethernet LAN. (Adding wireless takes additional steps.) You’ll need:
One 10/100 (Dual Speed)Network Hub
A hub is the small box with Ethernet ports that everything plugs into. It should have one port for each PC you have now — and one for each PC you will add (not replace) in the next five years.
Network Interface Cards (NICs)
Get one 10/100 card for each PC you have now. Make sure you have a free slot in each PC by opening the cover, and determining what kind of slot it is (consult your PC manual), so you’ll know which type of card to buy. The most common types are ISA, PCI, PCMCIA (Type II or III), and Compact Flash. No free slot inside? Plug the LinkSys USB200M into a USB 2.0 port ($26.99 at www.ThinkGeek.com).
Connect NICs to the hub with “Fast” Category 5 cable (or Cat 5) for even better performance than regular Cat 5. Cable can be up to 50 feet long if your PCs are spread out. ($1.79 for 1 foot — $14.95 for 50 — for the house brand at www.PCConnection .com.) Different color cables are priceless when you’re staring at the hub end.
Check out network starter kits such as D-Link’s DFE-905 Network Kit In A Box: one 4-port 10/100 hub, two 10/100 PCI cards, and two 20-foot cables for $64.99, available at www.dlink.com. But go a la carte if your PCs have two different kinds of card slots or you want a hub that integrates switch/router/firewall technology so you don’t have to add more hardware to protect your broadband connection. In that case, try the LinkSys EtherFast Cable/DSL Router with 4-Port Switch ($69.99 at www.CompUSA.com).
2. INSTALL HARDWARE & SOFTWARE
Put cards in PC slots and follow the manufacturers’ instructions. Windows will install software drivers or prompt you to feed it a driver disk. Connect PCs to the hub via cables.
3. CONFIGURE THE NETWORKIN WINDOWS
In Windows XP Home Edition, click Start\Settings\Control Panel and choose Network Connections\Network Setup Wizard. The wizard will ask you simple questions and configure the network.