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Setting up small wired network - equipment advice

  • Computers
  • Office
  • Printers
Last response: in Toms Network
November 25, 2011 5:39:35 PM

Hi all,

At my place of work we have a small office with three computers currently in use, but at times have four. They are all connected to the internet via a wired router, two of the computers have printers attached to them.

I am looking to create a small network in the office so all the computers are connected and a file saved on one computer can be accessed on another computer etc
Also would like to have it set up so all three/four computers can all use the two printers.

Can anyone advise me a bit if possible. I think I will need a network switch, but there is so much out there so any help will be gratefully appreciated.

Thank you.

More about : setting small wired network equipment advice

November 26, 2011 10:50:32 AM

If your computers and other devices are currently connected to a router, then you already have all the elements of a local network in place.

If you're just looking to EXTEND your local network w/ more LAN ports (most consumer-grade routers only have 4), then yes, you can buy additional switches and chain them together w/ an ethernet patch cable.

There are two types of switches, managed and unmanaged. Managed means they are a bit smarter and have a user interface. You can use a managed switch, for example, to segment your physical network into “logical” networks (VLANs, or “virtual” LANs). For a small office, it’s probably overkill. Instead, just get a simple unmanaged switch. An unmanaged switch is just a basic switch, it has no user interface to speak of, can’t be segmented, etc., it just does the basic switching that allows your computers and device to communicate.

There are also the older 10/100Mbps switches vs. the newer 1000Mbps (Gigabit) switches, with the later being 10x faster the former (at least potentially, assuming your computers are also using 1000Mbps wired adapters). The faster the switch, the faster your local file transfers (doesn’t help much w/ Internet though since such traffic can rarely saturate even the older 10/100Mbps switches).

So when it comes to switches, once you get beyond the question of managed vs. unmanaged, and speed, they’re all pretty much the same, at least within a given class (e.g., consumer-grade devices vs. business-grade devices). I wouldn’t lose any sleep over the decision process. It’s just not that big a deal. Heck, you can even grab an old router, disable its DHCP server and wireless radio, and use it as a switch! That’s how ppl often recycle their outdated hardware.

Of course, this only establishes connectivity at the hardware level. To actually share resources (hard drives, printers, etc.), you have to enable sharing in Windows for those resources, ensure they are using the same workgroup name, etc.

November 26, 2011 6:17:33 PM

Thanks for the help.

Had a go today and managed to get it so files in Shared Docs are showing on all computers.

Now I want to add a couple of printers to the network. We have a laser and an inkjet printer, both have USB ports but not ethernet ports. I want it to both printers are in the middle of the office and both can be used from any of the three computers. I have one free ethernet port on the back of the router.

Will I have to purchase a print server to connect both USB printers to the router or is there another way I can do this?

I know there is another way of having the printers connected to one computer and enable print sharing, but if I do that, the computer the printers are connected to always has to be turned on.

Thank you for your help.
Related resources
November 26, 2011 6:31:40 PM

If you don't want to use a desktop/laptop for sharing the printers, then yes, you need to use a printer server. You can buy dedicated devices, or as some of us do (myself included), use a router that has USB ports and offers printer sharing. These are often cheaper than standalone, dedicated devices. And since they’re wireless, you’re effectively making your print server wireless as well. I happen to use an old ASUS wireless G router (WL-520gU) as a print server. It has third party firmware (tomato) and is configured as a wireless bridge (i.e., wireless connects back to the primary wireless router as a client). While the stock firmware supports print serving as well, it can’t be configured as a wireless bridge, so the stock solution isn’t quite as flexible.

[primary wireless router]<-- wireless -->[print server]<-- usb -->[printer]

November 26, 2011 6:36:41 PM

Thank you for your help.

The current router does not have any USB ports so I will buy a dedicated print server.

I have found this which sounds perfect as it has 5 USB ports so if we ever need to add any other devices we can, but would appreciate it if you could have a quick look to see if this is the correct thing I will need:

Thank you.
November 26, 2011 7:24:00 PM

Well, that's not the solution I personally would recommend. It's misleading because it's not really printing sharing in the traditional sense. What that usb hub does is essentially create a "virtual" USB cable between the device and the client. Just consider the following verbage from the auction:

Once the Hub is set up, you simply plug your USB devices into one of its five USB ports, and the Hub seamlessly installs software that makes USB printers and other devices appear to be connected to your network computers. The convenience of this direct USB-connection emulation requires that only one user be linked to each device at a time. So if your daughter is editing video on the external hard drive, the software lets you contact her to request that she disconnects from the drive so you can access it. With printers, the Hub automatically disconnects users after completing a print job, so that other users on your network can print.

See what I mean? It's not really sharing the USB devices, as in, access being queued up as it would for a real print server. They realize that external storage devices are much longer transactions, so contention for access to that storage could be a problem. And so they create this hokey messaging system to request ppl get access from the current user. Then try to play down the problem w/ printing because it’s a typically much shorter lived transaction, so the likelihood of contention is much less. But it's not zero, and when in use, you can’t queue up print jobs from other users. It's just round robin access to the one virtual USB cable, as if you had run a usb cable from the client to the device, then every time someone else needed the resource, you pulled the usb cable from the current client and plugged it into the next client, only it does it virtually. That's not my idea of a print sharing solution. Fine if you're the only person using those devices and want to place them beyond the normal limits of a usb cable (about 9 ft.), but much too hokey for true printer sharing.
November 26, 2011 7:30:35 PM

P.S. I will give the usb hub from that auction one plus. Because it's just a virtual USB cable, at least you'll get access to ALL the print features of your printer. Many print servers only provide LIMITED access to the printer's features. For example, you might only get basic printing, but no scanning. Or if your printer is able to send status messages back to the client about print jobs, ink levels, etc., that probably won't be available through a print server. But w/ that usb hub, it should be possible.

So to be fair, it's not all negative when using that usb hub. But in general, it's not the approach I'd take, except in rare instances, as I said, if it was just one or maybe two users and contention was extremely unlikely.

I know the differences can seem subtle, but they're not insubstantial.
November 26, 2011 7:51:01 PM

Thank you very much for your help.

I understand you explanation, and after reading it, I think I may still go for it, as one of our two printers is a multifunction printer which we use as a scanner/copier etc, so I will need the scanning function still in full use. And its unlikely there will ever be more than one person trying to print at once anyway.

Thanks again for your help.