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Putting Your Network Together

LAN 102: Network Hardware And Assembly
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In this section is a detailed checklist of the hardware and software you need to build your network.

First, start with the number of computers you plan to network. You need the items discussed in this section to set up your network.

Network Adapters

Every system needs a network adapter or interface card. These are normally built in but can also be added in the form of a card or external USB device.

Traditionally, network adapters are also called network interface cards (NICs). To simplify technical support and minimize the number of drivers you have to deal with, where possible I recommend you use the same make and model of NIC for each computer in your network.

For the best performance in a wired network, I recommend using only Gigabit Ethernet components, especially with regards to NICs and switches. If your system has a built-in Fast Ethernet (100 Mb/s) NIC, you might consider replacing it with a gigabit Ethernet card. I recommend PCI Express-based gigabit NICs for desktop computers and ExpressCard gigabit NICs for laptop computers with ExpressCard slots. (ExpressCard includes the PCI Express bus.) If these slots are not available, use PCI or CardBus cards instead.

USB network adapters can be convenient, but USB 1.1 sockets are much slower than 10/100 Ethernet and slow down any USB-attached network interface. USB 2.0 sockets and devices are satisfactory for connecting 10/100 Ethernet USB adapters but they are completely inadequate for gigabit Ethernet adapters. If you truly want gigabit Ethernet performance, avoid USB and use a PCI, PCIe, or ExpressCard-based card instead.

On the other hand, when adding wireless networking to desktop systems I recommend USB wireless network adapters over those using PCI or PCIe slots. There are several reasons:

  • Installation—You don’t need to open the system to install a USB device.
  • Portability—You can easily use the USB device with any other PC.
  • Signal strength—You can more easily achieve optimal antenna placement with a USB device, especially when attached to the end of an extension cable.


For the best performance systems should be connected via a Gigabit wired connection, wireless should only be used if a wired connection isn’t possible or cost effective.

You should record the brand name and model number of the network adapters you are using, as well as the driver version or source. Use the table on the next page as a template for storing this information.

Installing the Network Adapter

When installing an internal network card, follow this procedure:

  1. Open the case and locate an open expansion slot that matches the type of NIC you purchased (preferably PCI or PCI Express).
  2. Using a screwdriver, remove the screw securing the slot cover at the rear of the case.
  3. Insert the card gently, ensuring that the edge connector is seated solidly in the slot.
  4. Fasten down the card with the same screw that held the slot cover.

Tip: If you are a realist like me, you might not want to close the case until you are certain the NIC is working. (See the next section, “Testing Your Network Adapters and Connections.”)

Once the network adapter is installed, you need to install the drivers for the card that match your OS.

Testing Your Network Adapters and Connections

Connect the network adapter to the network. With an Ethernet network using UTP cable, run the cable from the card to the switch, turn on the computer and switch, and watch for signal lights to light up on the NIC’s back bracket (if so equipped) and on the switch. Switches normally use LEDs to indicate the presence of a computer on a particular port, and they usually indicate the connected speed. If the LEDs show that the card is connected at the correct speed, that usually indicates the card and intervening cabling are functioning correctly. For other types of networks, see the diagnostics provided with the network hardware for testing details.

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