How to network several PCs

Question: How do I network the three PCs that I have in my home office and also share my high speed Internet service among them? – H.L.

Answer: There are a lot of options to choose from. It comes down to how much money you want to spend and how much you want to learn about networking.

Once upon a time, this was only possible if you had network qualifications from an accredited school, because networking technology is voodoo, right?

Even some experienced techies fear troubleshooting network problems, partly because every connection point, cable, and computer could be the source of a problem.

Luckily, there are several solutions on the market, designed to make the whole thing easier, although I have yet to see a solution that is worth raving about.

Let’s begin with an overview of a basic office network.

A local area network (or LAN) connects groups of computers and perhaps shares an Internet connection. Normally, it consists of a minimum of three parts – network cards, network cables, and a hub.

First, make sure each of the computers on the network has a network card installed. This card, also called a NIC (for “network interface card”), goes into a slot on the back of the computer with a jack in it that looks like it will take a phone plug, but is actually a little bigger.

This jack is designed to accept a network cable. Laptops can also be networked. Their network cards come in the form of credit card-sized PC cards that slot into a PC card drive. Almost all laptops have one.

The network card in each PC then needs to be connected to a hub. In a wired network, you plug a network cable from the NIC and run it to a connector box called the hub.

Networking can also be done wirelessly, but the kits approach $1,000 and are much slower than their wired counterparts.

Once the computers are connected, whether with cables or wirelessly, they are ready to share data. This is where it gets complicated.

Normally, you’ll need a server to share data. That’s a computer that plugs into the hub and acts like a traffic cop on the network directing the right piece of data to the computer it is destined for. It usually uses TCP/IP, a protocol that moves data on the Internet, although there are other protocols you can use.

Computers can also share data without a server, but this requires a bit more computing power. The protocol used for this is called NetBeui. This can be configured manually, by adding the protocol to each machine in the Network applet in Control Panel. It’s worth picking up a copy of Wireless Networking Home PCs For Dummies or Home Networking for Dummies, if you want to explore this further.

Once this is set up, the machines can share the Internet using the Internet Connection Sharing utility built into Windows, but I don’t recommend it. The above books explain how to do this in detail.

If you’re only interested in connecting your computers with Windows and share your Internet service, you might want to look at products such as the D-Link AirPlus DI-614+ Wireless Broadband Router. It’s easy to set up and a marvel to use. To learn more about home networking, please see