Networks

How to setup a PC network - The hardware

Setting up a small PC network. Instructions below should be enough to get you started.

Installing the network card

  1. Turn off the computer and unplug the power cord. Remember, unplugging the power cord from the monitor does not guarantee there is no power to the computer. To be absolutely safe, look for the power cord at the back of the computer and pull it out.
  2. Possibly the hardest part of this exercise is removing the computer cover or case. It should be as easy as removing one, two or several metal Phillip screws. The more trickier types may require rotating a handle or pushing some plastic buttons or levers at the back, front or sides of the computer to help loosen up and possibly slide out the case. Or there may be a combination of the two. Look for the most logical way the case can be opened. Do not forcefully open the case or you may break it.

    NOTE: You will find between 2 and 4 screws around the area where the power socket is located. Don't remove these screws. They are designed to hold the power supply (i.e. transformer and capacitor) in position inside the computer. Look further afield for the screws you want to remove.

  3. Remove the plastic (for older, cooler and slower computers) or metal (for newer, hotter and faster computers) case. You will see a large circuit board sitting flat at the bottom of the case called a motherboard. With a bit of luck, you should also see several cards in one corner sitting perpendicular to the motherboard. These cards are probably your VGA card, sound card, modem card and other extra features that allow you to do additional things with your computer.
  4. In PCs, there are two types of cards you can plug into the motherboard, each with its own type of female connector. One is called PCI and the other is ISA. You will recognise the difference by looking at the size and colour of the connectors. Connectors on the motherboard that appear white and short in length are the PCI type. The longer and black-coloured connectors are the ISA type.
  5. Once you know which female socket connector is free and available for you to plug in a card, you can choose a suitable network card for the type of connector you have. Choose a network card of the same type (i.e. PCI or ISA) for all your workstations. In that way, any problems later can be fixed quickly (e.g. you can swap the suspect network card with a known workable version). It can also help you to buy the cards more cheaply if you buy them in bulk from the hardware manufacturer.
  6. With a suitable network card in hand, you will notice it is not always possible to simply plug the card into the connector because the metal case appears to be getting in the way. Well, guess what? There is a metal lid covering the slot. You have to remove this before you can plug the network card. To remove the metal lid, look for a single Phillips screw at the top of the lid. Unscrew it and pull out the covering. In some computer models, you may have to physically push the metal covering until it breaks and through repeated bending can free it from the casing through metal fatigue. But this is usually for older computer models.
  7. With the metal lid out of the way, push the network card into the connector. There is only one way to do it, so you can't get it wrong at this point. Just remember not to touch the electronic components on the card itself. Handle the card by the edges and push the edge of the circuit board down until the card settles into position inside the connector.
  8. Use the single screw for the metal lid cover (if available) to secure the network card into position.
  9. Put the case back on the computer.
  10. The network card should already come with its own network cable (either the rounded twisted-pair or the rectangular-shaped Ethernet variety). Plug the cable into the network socket of the network card at the back of the computer. At the other end of the cable, plug it into a similar-shaped network socket at the wall.

    NOTE: Don't plug it into the telephone socket. It won't work if you do!

  11. Reconnect the power to your computer and turn it on.

Configuring the network card

THE WORKSTATION

  1. Most cards plugged into the computer's internal expansion slots (e.g. the network card) are designed to be Plug-n-Play, meaning you don't have to worry about installing the software drivers to make the cards work. Microsoft Windows is almost certainly going to have the drivers to run your cards. If, for any reason, Microsoft Windows cannot find a driver, use the disks that came with your cards. You should not have to use the disks if Microsoft Windows has the drivers to do the job on its own.
  2. When the driver is installed, you will be asked to restart the computer. Click "Yes" or "Restart" to let this process happen.
  3. If everything is okay up to this level of installing and configuring the network, you should look at the back of the computer. Notice the network card with its network cable coming out of it? There should also be somewhere between 2 and 4 LEDs or lights on the card itself. These lights will give you an indication as to whether your network card has made a connection to the network. The light labelled Link should appear turned on and remain unflickering, while another light labeled Act may be flickering on-and-off (usually a sign that information is being transmitted and possibly received through the network card). The second light does not guarantee a connection to the network has been established. You have to make sure the first light is turned on and remains solid. And even then there is no guarantee. But at least this is a healthy indication that everything is going smoothly to this point in time.

THE SERVER

The truth to the matter is that no one really has access to a network with more than two computers unless there is a third computer with multiple network cards acting as a server of network services for all the other computers or a special device called a router(1) to give the impression multiple computers are communicating to each other simultaneously on a network. So let us look more closely at the network card requirements of the server:

  1. Installing the network cards into the server (i.e. another computer) is no different for a workstation. Remember, the server usually has two network cards installed. Why? Because one network card permits access to the network of workstations through the router and another network card for independent access to the Internet (e.g. ADSL). It just minimises problems and maximises the speed of access to the network and the Internet by having two independent network cards on the server.

  2. Want to set up a mailserver? It is a good idea to have the mailserver on an independent machine (i.e. not the server). Although technically you can put it on the server, keeping it separate is better in the event the server crashes and people still want to send emails to users of other workstations. We call this technique "not putting all your eggs in one basket in case something goes wrong". You want people to continue working with the least amount of interruptions as possible (there goes the idea of taking a day off work — you can thank the network administrator for that one!).
  3. Plug an Ethernet cable into one of the network cards of the server and place the other end of the cable into Port 1 on the router.
  4. Plug all the other workstations (including the mailserver) in the network to the router using additional Ethernet cables. The plugs can go into any port on the router. But for simplicity sake, place them in Port 2, Port 3, Port 4 etc.

    If everything is okay, the green lights on the router should come on to indicate the Ports are connected and active.

    If not, check the network cards of the workstations and also whether they are plugged into the Ethernet socket at the wall.

  5. When plugging network cables into the ports of the router, there may already be information marked on the ports indicating which workstation it is. If you see this, plug the cable into the correct port on the router and to the wall corresponding to the right workstation. This makes it easier to see which workstation is active and which ones aren't.

    NOTE: This information should already be etched or glued directly above the socket ports. For example, you may get a name like "1A35" or "Room 35 Port A" instead of the usual Port 1, Port 2, Port 3 etc.

This should take care of the hardware installation and preparation aspect of PC networks.

Setting up an ADSL modem and internet connection

We will use the server as the gateway for allowing other workstations access to the Internet.

If it has not been done already, plug an ethernet cable from the second network card of the server into the appropriate port on the ADSL box (centre). The Ethernet Link light on the box should come on. Plug the telephone cable to the ADSL box (left) and to the telephone socket in the wall. The power supply to the box should be plugged in (right) and turned on. Also check to see that the Ethernet cable from the first network card is plugged into the hub and the light is on so that all your workstations can have Internet access.

Is the phone line ready for you to dial a phone number to your local ISP (there should have been a dial tone when you had the normal telephone plugged into it just before you unplugged it for the ADSL box)? Okay. Open Microsoft Internet Explorer. Type 10.1.1.1. The Enter Network Password login dialog box appears. Type the username as "admin" and the password as "admin".

Click on the Quick Configuration hyperlink. Scroll down to Username. You should be given details of the ISP to login which is of the form [telephone number]@[ISP name].[domain] for the username, and the password. Click Save and Reboot button and close the Internet Explorer.

Finally, under the Network control panel, configure the ability to share your Internet connection with other users. And type the relevant IP address, DNS address and Gateway address on all the workstations requiring Internet access through the Internet Options control panel if you haven't done so already.

The most common problem with servers

Setting up a server is a relatively straightforward task. Running the server is easy. If you have setup the server with adequate memory and hard disk space and is secure, the only problem you will encounter with a server are power failures or the ISP deciding to shutdown Internet access temporarily.

When a server is not operating, you will notice things like your network printer is not available, you can't access other computers on the network, or you cannot send your email messages.

Should you experience these problems, the simplest and easiest solution for a majority of server problems is to do nothing more than switch off and on the server. Once the server has rebooted and software for serving information is launched and ready, you should have network resources established back to normal.

If for any reason this is not the case, check your computer's network settings and ethernet connection to the wall and computer. And make sure the ethernet port is active by going to the server room and checking the ethernet cables to the router/hub.

If you are experiencing a network printer problem, turn on and off the printer and wait until the test page is printed (if the printer has been configured to do so). If no printer appears on the network, turn on and off the (printer) server. Wait until the server is ready. Then check the printer on the network.