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Tom's Hardware and Que Publishing are partnering up to give you four chapters from Scott Mueller's Upgrading And Repairing PCs, 20th Edition. We're also giving away copies of the book to 10 lucky Tom's Hardware readers. To enter, please fill out the contest form, and remember that you can only enter once (if you entered when we published Computer History 101 or Hard Drives 101: Magnetic Storage, we already have your entry).
This third chapter we're making available from Scott's book covers the basics of a Local Area Network (or LAN). Don't forget to check out the previous chapters published on Tom's Hardware, Computer History 101: The Development Of The PC and Hard Drives 101: Magnetic Storage. In the days to come, we'll also present comprehensive looks at LAN Hardware and Assembly, and Power Supplies.
A network is a group of two or more computers that intelligently share hardware or software devices with each other. A network can be as small and simple as two computers that share a printer or as complex as the world’s largest network: the Internet.
Intelligently sharing means that each computer that shares resources with another computer or computers maintains control of that resource. Thus, a USB switchbox for sharing a single printer between two or more computers doesn’t qualify as a network device; because the switchbox—not the computers—handles the print jobs, neither computer knows when the other one needs to print, and print jobs can potentially interfere with each other.
A shared printer, on the other hand, can be controlled remotely and can store print jobs from different computers on the print server’s hard disk. Users can change the sequence of print jobs, hold them, or cancel them. And, sharing of the device can be controlled through passwords, further differentiating it from a switchbox.
You can share or access many different types of devices over a network, but the most common devices include the following:
Entire drives or just selected folders can be shared with other users via the network.
In addition to reducing hardware costs by sharing expensive printers and other peripherals among multiple users, networks provide additional benefits to users:
Several types of networks exist, from small two-station arrangements, to networks that interconnect offices in many cities:
Note: Both intranets and extranets rely on firewalls and other security tools and procedures to keep their private contents private.
Unless the computers that are connected know they are connected and agree on a common means of communication and what resources are to be shared, they can’t work together. Networking software is just as important as networking hardware because it establishes the logical connections that make the physical connections work.
At a minimum, each network requires the following:
These rules apply both to the simplest and the most powerful networks, and all the ones in between, regardless of their nature. The details of the hardware and software you need are discussed more fully later in this chapter.