Home computer networking - the linking of multiple PCs - is being hyped as the next big trend for techno-savvy consumers. By the end of this year, you'll see devices and computer configurations that allow you build a home nework with ease.
But you don't have to wait until then. You can do it now. And it's easier than you might think.
Macintosh owners have been able to link their machines with minimal hassles for some time. Until Windows 95, users of MS-DOS and Windows had to struggle. Network capabilities are integrated into Windows 95 and Windows 98, and they make a world of difference.
With the popularity of sub-$1,000 computers, many homes now have more than one computer, and that has folks thinking about sharing printers, modems and applications and enjoying multiplayer games.
Before you begin, make a complete backup of your hard drives. Make sure you have an emergency boot disk that will give you access to your CD-ROM drive in case you have to reinstall Windows. In setting up a network, you will make changes to your operating system, and as always, Murphy's Law applies. Be prepared.
Start by getting the right hardware. You'll need a network card for each computer you want to add to the network; cable to run between the PCs and, if you have more than two machines, a box called a hub that serves as a switching station between the computers.
Network cards come in different varieties. You can get cards that plug into PCI or ISA slots in your computer. PCI cards are the best choice, because they have better performance and work well with Windows 95's plug-and-play capabilities. But they are a bit more expensive than ISA cards.
You'll also find network cards rated at different speeds - 10 megabits a second and 100 megabits a second. Faster cards are more expensive. Prices for network cards vary between $50 and $200 each. You should be able to find a decent PCI card that can handle both 10- and 100-megabit speeds for as low as $80 to $90.
For cabling, look for Category 5 (CAT 5) wiring with an RJ-45-type jack on both ends. This is a plug that looks similar to a modular phone jack, but bigger. You'll need enough cable to reach from one PC to the other.
I set up a home network using a kit made by Netgear (netgear.baynetworks.com) that comes with two 10/100-megabit PCI cards, a four-port, 10-megabit hub and enough cable to connect two PCs. The Network Starter Kit sells for about $150.
Start by installing the cards, and connecting the PCs with the CAT 5 cable. If you have more than two PCs, use cable to connect each machine to the hub.
Power up each computer and install the drivers for the cards according to the card-maker's instructions. In many cases, drivers for the cards may be built into Windows 95, and you'll need only your Windows 95 installation disk.
Now you'll need to set up the software part of the network.
Go to the Windows 95 Control Panel and double-click on the Network icon there. When it opens up, you should see a listing there for your network card. You need to add two things - a client and a protocol.
Click the Add button, and choose Client from the next dialog box that appears. The next box presents the names of companies on the left, and clients on the right. Choose Microsoft on the left, and Client for Microsoft Networks on the right. Click OK, and you'll go back to the initial Network screen, where you'll see the client now in place. If you want other computers on the network to have access to the files and printers on that machine, click the File and Print Sharing button and pick the options you want.
Now, choose a protocol, the "language" your machines will use to communicate. I'd recommend NetBEUI if you plan to run mostly business software between the two systems, or IPX/SPX if you want to use both programs and multiplayer games.
Click on the Add button again from the main network screen and choose Protocol. Again, you'll see companies on the left and protocols on the right. Choose Microsoft, then either NetBEUI or IPX/SPX, and click OK.
You'll once again be back to the main Network screen. Click on the Identification tab at the top, and now give your computer a unique name. In the Workgroup field, choose a name for your network. While each PC on the network should have a different name, the Workgroup name should be the same on each machine.
We're almost done.
Click OK, and you may be prompted to insert your Windows 95 disk, and then to restart the computer. When the system boots back up, you'll get a password screen. You can enter a password here and have it saved, or leave it blank. However, when you boot from now on, you will see this password prompt.
You should see on your Windows desktop a new icon called Network Neighborhood. If everything's working right, when you open it, you'll see the computers you've put on the network.
But to get to them, you'll need to give the computers permission to use each other's hard drives and printers. Double-click on My Computer, and right-click on the hard drive on your PC. Choose Sharing from the menu that appears, and click on the Shared As check box. Also click the Full Access check box. Repeat this for each hard drive on the network, as well as for any printers you want to share.
If you have problems getting this to work, check the Windows 95 Networking How-to Guide at Microsoft's Web site at support.microsoft.com/support/windows/howto/kbnetwork.asp.
Pub Date: 5/04/98