Network Hardware & Software (1.5.b)
In order to connect a computer to a network there are a number of essentials that must be dealt with:
- Each computer needs a network interface card (NIC) in order to communicate with others on the network. Some motherboards have an integrated ethernet NIC, but an expansion card is often required for wireless networking.
- The computers need to be connected in the same way (see 1.4.2 Connectivity). Normally computers are connected using an ethernet cable, but wireless is increasingly popular, as its range and speeds have been improving in recent years. Cables typically have a maximum length (e.g. the maximum length of a category 5 ethernet cable is about 100 metres).
- Complex networks, where large numbers of files or printers are shared may require a server - a computer which is always switched on - which controls access to the resources.
- Factors such as cost and cable routes need to be considered. If it isn't possible to route cables, then a wireless solution may be required.
To connect to a WAN (such as the internet), a physical connection is required. To connect to the internet you need an Internet Service Provider (ISP). Most people connect using ADSL, which has a maximum speed of up to 24Mb/s (depending on the distance from the internet exchange - the average speed in the UK is around 4.5Mb/s). However, fibre optic connections are becoming increasingly popular, as they are a lot faster (Virgin Media, who own the largest fibre network in the UK, currently offer a 120Mb/s connection). It's important to note that network speeds are normally measured in megabits per second (little b), whereas most other data transfer is measured in megabytes per second (big B).