What is a LAN?
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LAN stands for Local Area Network. It is a network that we can install on 2 or more computers and allows these computers to talk directly with each other. It is kind of like the internet, but on a much smaller scale. The internet allows us to connect with computers all over the globe, while a LAN is limited to a small area, such as a home or office.
LANs are used by businesses as well as personal users to upgrade the capacity for information transfer, as well as share utilities such as a printer or an internet connection. Through a LAN you can also directly connect computers in order to play in multiplayer computer games, such as Half-Life or WarCraft III.
When the computers are connected, there are two primary types of connections. The first of these is a client/server network. What this means is that one computer is the server, which hosts the majority of the information and directs all info. If you have five computers on a client/server network, any computer must first talk to the server to talk with any of the other client computers.
It is contrasted by the peer-to-peer network, where all computers are equal in the connection, and any computer can talk directly to any other computer. If your system only has two or three machines, the difference between these two network types is minimal.
A LAN requires two components: hardware and a software component. The hardware is the actual physical connection that allows your computers to communicate with each other. The software component involves the proper configuring of the two systems so that they are in sync with each other once we create the physical connection.
Options for Connecting Your LAN
When it comes to the actual hardware involved in setting up a LAN in your home, there are many different options available for you. They are:
- An Ethernet Connection (Computers are directly connected either through an ethernet hub or using crossover ethernet cable)
- Powerline Networking (Computers talk to each other through power lines)
- Phone line Networking (Computers talk to each other through phone lines)
- Wi-Fi (Wireless Networking)
Each of these options is very different, and require very different hardware to install. However, once we complete the hardware installation, the configuring of the computer’s software to talk to each other is the same process no matter what kind of connection you have.
Installing a LAN Using an Ethernet Connection
If your computers are in relative proximity to each other, either in the same room or in a place where wires will not have to run very far, an Ethernet connection may be your best choice for connecting your LAN.
Ethernet and exceptionally Fast Ethernet connections have higher transfer rates than most of the other connection types. (Fast Ethernet can transfer information at a speed of 100 Mb/s!). However, unless the computers are nearby, it might be awkward or even impossible connect computers over ethernet without hardwiring cables into the walls.
An ethernet connection is the most direct networking connection option. Generally, a single wire is used to connect one computer to the other. It is called a crossover ethernet cable.
An ethernet cable is five separate wires twisted with each other. At both ends of the cables are jacks where these wires connect into a port, similar to a phone jack. (An ethernet jack is also approximately the same size as a phone jack).
When the wires come out of the cable in the same order they entered the cable; then this is a straight ethernet cable. If the end wires are in opposite order from the beginning wires (or crossed over), then we have a crossover ethernet cable. For a direct cable ethernet connection to work, you must have a crossover ethernet cable.
Connecting the computers is simple with a crossover ethernet cable. Firstly you must make sure that there are ethernet ports on both machines. Many computers these days come with an ethernet port as standard. To check, look at the back of your computer. The ethernet port looks just like a phone jack for a modem line but has an emblem beside it with three computers connected to each other.
If you do not already have ethernet ports on your computers, you will have to install them. Ethernet ports are cheap and cost about $25. Most ethernet ports connect to a PCI slot inside your machine.
If you have three or more computers in the same room you want to connect; you will need an ethernet hub. It is a little box that allows you to connect straight ethernet cables to it from each computer. It will direct all information over the LAN.
Power Line Networking
If you have computers spread across the house, then powerline networking is a cheap and easy way to connect your computers. Rather than having a direct wire connection between each machine, computers get the connection to a particular power adapter in your power outlet, and data travels between computers via the power lines already existing in your home.
There are two main competitors in the power line networking field. One is Intelogis, which offers its Passport technology to connect computers. The other is Intellon, whose technique is called Power Packet.
The two cost about the same, and are about the same quality although Power Packet is somewhat faster than Passport. Passport products generally connect to your computer through the parallel port (the same place your printer is hooked up), while Power Packet products connect either through USB or Ethernet ports.
Deciding which of these two solutions to use is entirely up to you. The cost is generally between $60 and $80 for either one to connect two computers. (Cost increases if you wish to connect more than two computers via this method).
Installation is simple. You must install the software that allows the computer to recognize the new connections, then plug in the cables into either your parallel port or your USB port. These cables then plug into a special power adapter into your power outlet. Once we connect the wires on both computers, we can set up our LAN.
Powerline networking also allows for the connection of a printer through the power lines. It is particularly useful with Intelogis’s product, as it can be difficult to hook up your printer if you only have one parallel port on each machine.
Phone Line Networking
Phone line networking is similar to power line networking in that it uses already existing wiring in your home to connect computers. Rather than using power lines, however, it uses phone lines.
To connect your computers to a wall-jack, you must either have a special phone networking card installed in your computer (a regular modem jack won’t work) or have a phone line adapter that will allow you to plug in the phone wire into another port. Most phone networking products use cards that must have in your machine (making phone networking more difficult that powerline networking).
Once you have your card installed or your adapter ready, you need merely plug in all computers into the nearest phone jack, and they will then be able to be configured for your LAN. (Note that if you have two or more lines in your home, the computers should have the connection to the same phone line).
The newest technology in the networking field is wireless networking or Wi-Fi. With Wi-Fi, you require no cords, cables or lines at all. Computers talk to each other via radio signals.
Computers cannot talk directly to each other via a Wi-Fi network; however, they must have a router in between them. It is a small box that you plug in at some location and is generally also where you plug in your DSL or cable internet connection if you want to share internet between computers.
The router has a range of about 100 feet, which should cover most every area in your house. The signal sent by the router is not affected by floors, ceilings, walls, doors, etc., so you do not need direct line of sight between computers and the router.
Once you have your router installed, you must have your wireless adapters installed into your computers. These adapters generally plug into either a USB or ethernet port. Once router and adapters are in place, you are ready to set up your LAN on your computers.
Configuring Your LAN
Once the actual hardware connections are in place, the next step in installing your LAN is setting your computers to talk to each other. We will discuss how to do this process in Windows.
To begin, you must open your Control Panel. Once in the Control Panel, you want to go to Networking Options (Or Network and Internet Connections). Click on the Setup or change Home or Office Network, and this will open up a wizard that allows you to configure your new LAN.
When you go to configure your LAN, you must make sure that all computers you are attempting to connect are on, and that if you are going to share an internet connection that this connection is active.
The wizard will then automatically check your network both for computers on the net and for the shared internet connection. You will have to choose a host computer from which the internet connection is to be shared (the computer that has the internet connection). The host computer should be the computer that you first configure for the LAN.
After that, the wizard will direct you through any other processes that might be required. It is very rapid and straightforward. Afterward, you must log onto the other computers and configure the LAN there as well.
Intellon Network Connection
Once you have finished the configurations, you are ready to start using your LAN!