Home Networking

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Part One

This white paper applies to
versions of Win9x.

Want to read part two?

A while back I created  a website survey.  After reading some of the results a couple of interesting points jumped out at me:

  1. Most people have more than one 'puter in their home.

  2. Virtually none have them set up on a home network!

This white paper discusses what a network is and the benefits of having a home network.  If I find that there is interest in it, I'll add Part Two, which will discuss exactly how to setup a home network.

A network is when two or more 'puters are connected to each other in order to share files and other resources.

A LAN (Local Area Network) is when two or more 'puters are physically connected to each other in order to share files and other resources.

When I talk about a home network I'm referring to a LAN.

When most people think about a network, they picture a massive server connected to hundreds of workstations in an office environment.  This is known as a server based network.  While this is a correct possible scenario, a home network is much simpler.  Most home networks are setup as a peer-to-peer network.  In this type of network, all the 'puters are complete stand-alone systems. In other words, they are equal to each other and can work perfectly well if the network is down or if other 'puters on the network are turned off.  The 'puters in a peer-to-peer network simply share files and other resources.  They are not dependant on each other in any way.

Great!  Now, why should you care?  Have you ever tried to copy a 5 meg file from one 'puter to another when all you have are floppies?  Have you ever wanted to edit a file on another 'puter while sitting in front of your own 'puter?  Are you tired of taking turns when it comes to surfing the web?  Have you ever downloaded a 30 meg movie that you wanted to share with someone else in your home?  If so, how did you get it to their 'puter?  Email?  Ya, right!

All the above questions are simply answered by having a home network.  When you want to copy a file from your 'puter to another one you simply open an explorer window and browse to the folder on the other 'puter you want to copy it to.  If you want to edit the config.sys file on your spouse's 'puter, you'd simply open an explorer window and browse to that file on their 'puter and edit it like you'd do on your own system.

If at least one of your 'puters has Win98SE installed then you can setup ICS (Internet Connection Sharing), so that all of your 'puters on the network can get on the internet at the same time while sharing one internet connection.  If not, there are many different programs available that will make sharing a single internet connection possible with your whole network.

What about printing?  Well at my house I have a laser printer connected to my main 'puter and Amy has an inkjet printer connected to hers.  Any 'puter in the house can print to either printer, as long as the printer and the 'puter it's hooked up to are turned on.  If Amy decides to send a 30 page print job to the laser while I'm using my main "puter, the first thing I notice is the printer starting to print.  Of course, my main 'puter has a PIII-600 with 256 megs of ram.  If you have a slower 'puter, say a P-166 with 32 megs of ram then you'd probably notice a *slight* slow down when the print job started.

Same thing with file transfers.  I don't know that Amy just transferred 700 megs worth of files until she tells me, even if I'm in the middle of a game!  Whereas with our slower laptops it tends to be rather noticeable when there's a big file transfer going on.

What about gaming?  Are there people in your house that like to play multiplayer games?  You haven't lived till you've played a Quake III deathmatch on a LAN!  A note for Quakers out there.  An average ping on a LAN is around 10!  Whereas even with a cable modem you're lucky to get around a 60!

Here's the setup at my house.  I have a cable modem connected directly to my Linux box.  A laser printer connected to my main 'puter.  An inkjet printer connected to Amy's main puter.  When everyone's home there are currently eight 'puters connected to our network.  Tom's main 'puter and laptop, Amy's main puter and laptop, my main 'puter, laptop, Linux box, and test box.  And if needed more can be connected very easily!

We all get our internet access through my Linux box which does IP masquerade and is also our firewall.  Any 'puter on the network can print to either printer.  Any 'puter on the network can transfer files from or to another 'puter.  Since I'm the Guru in my house, I can edit any file on any 'puter on the network from my own 'puter!  By using a program like PC Anywhere by Symantec, I can actually install, configure, and teach others how to use a piece of software from my 'puter.  We all backup our important files to the Linux box.  We have our own Quake III server running 24hrs a day.  We can all send short messages to either a certain person or the whole network with a small program (it comes with Win9x) called Winpopup.

So the short version is...If you have more than one 'puter in your house and you'd like to share files, share a printer, share an internet connection, or play multiplayer games then a home network is a must!

A home network is very easy to setup, and can cost as little as around $25.00 per 'puter.  As always, you pay for speed.  For example a cheap ISA network card goes for around $13.00.  Whereas a good 3com PCI network card is about $85.00.  The speed and performance difference is as little as 5% on a small 2 'puter network and can get as high as around 20% on a larger network.  Do you want 10 megabit or 100 megabit network cards?  Again, it's cost vs. speed.  As a gamer, or for printing it doesn't matter in the least.  The only reason for getting 100 megabit network cards is if you plan to do many massive file transfers on a daily basis and you're concerned about slowing down the network.

I can't begin to count how many people I've walked through setting up a network on the phone.  Once the network card is installed and the cables are connected it only takes around 10 minutes per 'puter to get them configured.  Networking is flawless under Win9x!  Once it's set up it just works!  It's painless and doesn't cause any problems ever.

If this has peaked your interest and you'd like a step-by-step guide on how to set up your home network, take a look at part two.

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Last Revised: 01/04/2001