The Net Week That Was

 

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By Al Giovetti

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The Net Week That Was

Or Why I Should Have Stayed in Bed and Not Run all that Twisted Pair Cable

By Alfred Giovetti

Just about the time we installed Windows 98 we decided to give the simple Windows 98 network a try. Besides the network can be used to put up two three workstations on a cable modem. The last time I put up a network was when we hooked up the Windows 95 network and this was going to be similar.

The type of network and network interface cards (NICs) we decided to use were Ethernet NICs. Ethernet is very popular and perhaps the most widely used local area network (LAN) protocol. Surprisingly, Ethernet is not new. Xerox created Ethernet in 1976, almost 25 years ago. The original protocol was rewritten by Xerox, DEC (Digital Equipment Corporation) and Intel.

Ethernet uses 10Base-T or 100Base-T wiring similar to that used by telephone systems. The 10 and 100 in the name refer to speed in magabits per second (Mbps). 100Base-T is also called Fast Ethernet.

The nice thing about Windows 95 and Windows 98 is that it can act as a network operating system (NOS) which controls the flow of information through the wires from one computer to the other. Windows 95/98 uses the peer-to-peer network type, like LANtastic used before Windows started using the technology. In peer to peer you do not need a separate computer to act as a server, making the network simpler and less expensive than the server based network systems. Novell and Windows NT use the more complicated server based networks.

First of all you need to get the right stuff to do the job. A network is composed of more than one computer, cable and network cards. A router is a good idea to add into the mix if the computers are going to be further than 25 feet away from one another, or if you really want to make sure they work correctly. Many networks will not work with a router.

The best type of cable for the small office or home network is Twisted pair cable, which just so happens to be the same cable the phone company uses for multiple line installations and Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN) telephone lines. Twisted pair lines us RJ-11 jacks to connect the cabling from the interface card to the router and then connect the router to the next computer. 233cpuart2.jpg - 9.98 K

This type of configuration is referred to as a star LAN (local area network). The hub or router is at the center of the star and the computers are at the points. The illustration shows the equipment that you use to set up this type of network.

Notice that you can call a router a hub. The hub in the illustration is a twisted-pair hub. There are two types of routers an active router, also called a repeater, which is used for longer distances. The repeater amplifies the signal so that there is no degradation or signal loss while being sent from one computer to another.

The second type of router is the passive hub. The passive hub is used for networks that go over small distances and do not need amplification of the signal. This type of router is less expensive than a repeater and less reliable.

Next was the selection of the speed of the network interface card NIC). These cards come in two flavors 10 and 100 Mbps (mega bits per second). Router speed or network speed is often referred to as bandwidth. With computers today, the speed of the pipes that carry the signal is the weak link, and anything that you can do to speed up the data transmission speeds up the network. We choose the 100 Mbps cards.

These cards fit in the slots on the motherboard. The computer motherboard has 8-16 bit ISA (Industry Standard Architecture), EISA (extended ISA), PCI (Peripheral Component Interconnect), and AGP (Accelerated Graphics Port) expansion slots. Expansion slots allow you to add external devices to your computer. A network is considered an external device.

The advantage of the PCI slot on the motherboard is that it is a 32-bit card and therefore two to four times faster than the older ISA and EISA cards. The other advantage is that Windows 95/98/NT/2000 can identify and install the device automatically without the need to set interrupts which are very confusing for the average user. The plug-and-play advantage has the computer identify the device and install the drivers that run the device without any intervention from the user other than inserting the disk with the drivers and watching the blinking lights. We did this and blinked our eyes to continue.

Care should be exercised (exorcised?) whenever taking the case off the computer to install an interface card. It is imperative to turn off the computer first. Use non-magnetic tools that you can obtain at a computer store.

Be sure to get a tool kit with a wrist-grounding strap that you wear whenever you touch the computer. A static discharge can destroy RAM (random access memory), ROM (read only memory), CPU (central processing unit), and other chips in the computer. The strap is attached to your wrist with a Velcro closure and an alligator clip is attached to the computer frame to carry away the static charge.

So I handcuffed myself to the computer and took the tiny little non-magnetic tools and removed the six screws from the back of the case. The case was then removed and the motherboard and other computer "guts" were hanging free in the air.

Speaking of air, now was a good time to check the "hot air" in the computer and see if all the fans were working correctly. If you are careful and do not open the power supply, turn the computer on and verify that all the fans are working, for the case, the power supply and the CPU fan. (It is highly recommended that you never open the power supply unless you like permanently frizzy hair.)

Now that the hot air was somewhat checked we can move on and put the card in. There is a metal card piece that is unscrewed and removed. Once removed the hole which remains which will allow the card to be accessed through the back of the case for attaching the twisted pair cable.

Save the metal card piece, flange, or doodad screw because you use this to secure the card within the PCI expansion slot. The card should be carefully but firmly inserted into the slot. Then the screw is attached to secure it. Now you can attach the cable.

The twisted pair cable that you use may be different than what you used when installing LANtastic, which used a coaxial cable when we made that installation almost 10 years ago. The twisted pair cable and RJ-11 connectors are more reliable than the coaxial cable you may be used to. The Category 5 (CAT 5) unshielded twisted pair cable runs at 100 Mbps transmission rate which matches the speed of the Ethernet cards we are using.

In case you are confused by all this, as I was and still am, matching speeds is a good thing. Not matching speeds is a bad thing. Now don't you feel better.

The coaxial or twisted pair cable can be run in the suspended ceiling of the office. If you are not lucky enough to have a suspended ceiling, you may have to staple the wires around the floor or ceiling with a cable staple gun. Planning the wiring arrangement is very important. You want the wire to run the least distance possible. The longer the signal has to travel the greater the chance for loss or degradation of signal.

The other advantage to this type of network is the ability to attach the Motorola cable modem to the star LAN router so that all the people on your small network have fast access to the Internet. Contacting your cable modem service provider, also called Internet service provider (ISP) online or by telephone, will allow you to get additional fixed IP (internet protocol address also called IP address but never called IPA which may be confused with International Protocol Accountants). Comcast has an online webpage for enabling additional fixed IP addresses.

Watch out when you use IP alone or you may confuse a Microsoft Certificed Engineer (MSCE) into thinking you are talking about an internetwork packet exchange (IPX), Internet Protocol Security (IPsec), initial program load (IPL), IPIX (I forget what this acronym is it's a new 360-degree imaging protocol), interprocess communication (IPC), or IP faxing (a variation of the Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol or TCP/IP used to send faxes). Is that a long enough run on sentence?

We fixed the present network and ran the new cable. Did we remember to remove the old coaxial cable, or did you leave it there, like I did, just in case the technology goes full circle and we need it again. At least that is what I told myself, rather than pull all the old cable out again. Throwing all this stuff away really gives me a headache.

In the future networks may run a bit faster. The fastest interface on the computer at present is the IEEE 1394 (Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers) standard which can run as fast as 800 Mbps, or 8 times as fast as our 100 Mbps network.

ActionTec's ActionLink, and Diamond's HomeFree Wireless are two home solutions to the networking problem. These two products feature an all inclusive kit, which comes with all the pieces you will need to set up your network. Diamond's product is very easy to install, but since it is wireless it is slower than than ActionTec's 100 Mbps. Diamond's system runs at 10 Mbps.

What other things should be considered when installing a network besides price, speed, and ease of use and installation? Consider media security, and noise and interference with signal.

Media Security is a major consideration, with some systems offering encryption. If you are using a wireless or a power line based network, you need to encrypt the data or someone else can intercept your signal outside your home. Power line and wireless networks are also susceptible to noise and interference which will further slow down your network and perhaps cause other problems.

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