Network Hardware





In a network, computers and other (optional) devices are connected to share resources. When a computer or device A is requesting a resource from another computer or device B, the item A is referred to as a client. Because all or most items that are part of a network live in association or cooperation, almost any one of them can be referred to as a client. Based on this, there can be different types of clients.

A workstation is a computer on which a person performs everyday regular assignments. A workstation is primarily a personal computer (PC). It can also be a laptop.  Almost any modern PC can be used as a workstation and participate to a network.

Before building a computer network, you should plan it. In some cases, you may want to use one or more computers you already have, or you are can purchase new computers.

Introduction to the Computers of a Network

If you already have one or more computers that you plan to use as workstations, you can start by checking the hardware parts installed in the computer. As mentioned already, you can use use existing computers or purchase new ones.

The computers used in a network must meet some requirements. The system requirements depend on the (type of) operating system (we will come back to operating systems in another section). For our network, we will use computers that run Microsoft Windows 7.  At the time of this writing, the system requirements for Microsoft Windows 7 can be found at http://windows.microsoft.com/en-US/windows7/products/system-requirements.

Using Barebone Computers

A computer is referred to as "barebone" if it is built almost from scratch by assembling its parts. You can build your own computer or you can purchase one. Before starting, get a list of the hardware requirements the computer should have.

You can purchase or acquire a computer with all parts or only some parts. To get this type of computers:

  • You can purchase parts separately and assemble them
  • You can shop in a web store that sells "barebone" kits (Tiger Direct and Amazon have them)

After getting the parts, you must assembly them appropriately and make sure the computer can boot and present you with a BIOS screen. After assembling the computer, you will have to install the operating system, which you will have to acquire separately.

Computer Accessories and Peripherals


Keyboard and Mouse

When using a computer, there are different ways you can control it. The primary accessories used to perform routine operations are the keyboard and the mouse. If you are using an existing computers for your network and if either the mouse, the keyboard, or both of these items are missing or not functioning, you should get or replace the failing one(s).

If you are building your own computer or are acquiring a barebone, make sure you purchase a keyboard and a mouse for the computer.

There are also wireless keyboards and mice. If you purchase them, they come with easy-to-follow instructions to install and configure them. Our advice is that you still should always have a PS/2 keyboard and mouse with you.


A monitor is a display that a user looks at when performing daily assignments:


To use a monitor, a computer must have an appropriate port in the back. Most computers have a blue port that has 15 small holes:

Monitor Port

A cable is used to connect the monitor to the computer:

Monitor Cable

You can buy a monitor from a computer store or from a web store. When purchasing a monitor, keep in mind that users may stare at it all day long. You should put as much care as possible when acquiring one.

If you are using an existing computer, it may have a monitor attached to it already. You can still replace it if you want.

If you are using a barebone computer, make sure you separately purchase a monitor and attach it to it. It is usually easy to connect a monitor to a computer. It uses a unique connector usually in the back of the computer.

While most people use only one monitor, many other people need at least two monitors attached to the computer. In this case, the computer can two ports built-in. In most cases, you have to purchase a video card that has the number of ports you want. Here is an example:

Video Card

After getting the card, you must install it by shutting down the computer, opening the computer, and inserting the card in an appropriate slot. In most cases, the installation is very easy because, after inserting the car and turning on the computer, the machine should recognize the card. You have the choice of replicating the same view on both monitors or showing a different view on each monitor.


If you want you (or your users) want to be able to print, you can use an existing printer or purchase a new one. The simplest printers will be attached to one computer and "shared" to allow other computers to access it. Many printers used nowadays in a home or small network are wireless, which means they don't use cable to connect to the network. If you want to use such a printer, first purchase and the installation is usually easy.


Network Distribution



Building a network consists partly of connecting the computers:


Besides the computers, you will use other objects.

Network Cables

Cable is used to connect computers. Although we may use wireless networking, you should always have cables with you. The most commonly used cable is referred to as Category 5 cable RJ-45. The ends of the cable appear as follows:

They can be in different colors:

You can purchase this cable from a general store, a computer store, or web store on the Internet. When purchasing it, get one with at least 6ft.

Introduction to Network Distributors

We mentioned that you could connect one computer to another. This can be done using their serial ports:

This is possible because almost every computer has a serial port. If you have to connect many computers to produce a network, this serial connection would not be practical. The solution is to use a central object that the computers and other resources can connect to, and then this object becomes responsible to “distribute” or manage network traffic:

The most regularly used types of network distributors are the hub, the router, and the switch.


A hub is rectangular box that is used as the central object on which computers and other devices are connected. To make this possible, a hub is equipped with small holes called ports. Here is an example of a hub:

Although this appears with 4 ports, depending on its type, a hub can be equipped with 4, 5, 12, or more ports. Here is an example of a hub with 8 ports:

When configuring it, you connect an RJ-45 cable from the network card of a computer to one port of the hub.

In most cases for a home-based or a small business network, you may not need (or shouldn't use) a hub.

Routers: Wired or Wireless

Like a hub, a router is another type of device that acts as the central point among computers and other devices that are part of a network. Here is an example of a wired router:

A router functions a little differently than a hub. In fact, a router can be considered a little "intelligent" than the hub.

Like a hub, the computers and other devices are connected to a router using network cables. To make this possible, a router is equipped with holes, called ports, in the back. Here is an example:

Based on advances in the previous years from IEEE and other organizations or research companies, there are wireless routers. With this type, the computers and devices connect to the router using microwaves (no physical cable).

Wired Network Cards: Internal

In order to connect to a network, a computer must be equipped with a device called a network card. A network card, or a network adapter, also called a network interface card, or NIC, allows a computer to connect to the exterior. If you buy a computer from one of those popular stores or big companies on the Internet, most of their computers have a network card tested and ready. You can reliably use it. If you go to a store that sells or manufactures computers, you can ask them to install or make sure that the computer has a network card.

If you have a computer that doesn’t have a network card, you can install one. If you have a computer that already has a network card, you can still replace it.

When it comes to their installation, there are roughly two categories of network cards: internal and external. An internal network card looks like a printed circuit board with some objects "attached" or "glued" to it and it appears as follows:

What this card looks like may not be particularly important and it may depend on the manufacturer but some of its aspects are particularly important. To start, there are two types of cards and you should know which one is suited (or which one you want to use) for your computer. One type of NICs uses a peripheral component interconnect (PCI) connection. Another type uses industry standard architecture (ISA).

There are two primary ways you replace an internal network card. In most cases, you will remove the card your computer already has and install a new one. In some other cases, you will only add a new card but you cannot replace the existing one because it is part of the motherboard. The area where you add a network card is called a slot.

To proceed, you must find out what your computer has to offer when it comes to network cards. To do this, you have three main alternatives.  You can open the computer and examine the available slots of your computer. They are usually located inside of what would be considered as the back wall of the computer. If you know where you connect the monitor, you should be able to locate the area that has the slots. Unfortunately, unless you have experience with this, simply looking at the slots will not tell you what type of connection you are dealing with.

The second alternative is to open the manual that came with your computer (provided you haven’t thrown it away). The manual usually lists the (types of) slots that your computer provides and where they are located.

The last alternative to knowing the types of slots that your computer provides is to contact the company that sold you the computer. They usually know, as long as you give them the model of the computer.

Once you know the type of slot available to you, you can go on the Internet or to a computer store and buy an appropriate network card. One of the most important characteristics of a network card is the speed it can use to carry information (data). The speeds are either 10 or 100Mbps (megabits per second). When buying a network card, you should pay attention to this.

Your computer manufacturer also may sell network cards intended for your computer.

After buying a network card intended for internal installation, you can/must install it. The network card should come with a manual and all (easy to follow) instructions. You can also install the network card after setting up the computer, which we will cover in another section.

Wired Network Cards: External

We mentioned that a network card could also be used or installed externally. This can be done using USB. Before using it, you can purchase it from a computer store or a web store. The device may look like this:

Here is another example:

If you buy one of these objects, its documentation will guide you.

Wireless Network Cards

Depending on your network budget or your customer's, instead of using wired network cards, you can use wireless ones. Most laptops already have a wireless card built-in so you may not have to acquire one. Many new desktop computers (from HP) now have built-in wireless capability.

A wireless NIC appears as its wired counterpart. Here are two examples:

Overall, the physical installation of a wireless network card follows the same rules as that of a wired NIC. They normally come with easy to follow instructions but it may be a good idea to install the wireless network adapters after installing the wireless router. Also, it may be a good idea to purchase the network cards and the wireless router from the same manufacturer.

Most desktop computers (workstations) come without a wireless network card. If you purchase a computer from one of the big companies on the Internet, you can choose to have it shipped with a wireless NIC. Some companies may propose to install it before shipping the computer. If you buy a computer from a store and if you want to use wireless networking, you can buy a wireless network card separately. As stated already, a wireless network card is not particularly difficult to install.

Besides the wireless network cards that can be installed inside the computer, you can use external cards. These are installed using a USB port. Here is an example of a USB adapter:

Here is another example:

These adapters, like most USB objects, are easy to connect and use. Like the other hardware parts, when you connect these, the computer detects them and helps you get them ready for use.

Unlike desktop computers, most laptops nowadays come equipped with a wireless network card (in fact most laptops today ship with both a wired and a wireless adapters). This means that, after purchasing or acquiring a laptop, you should simply check whether it has a wireless adapter. The way you check this depends on the laptop. Therefore, check its documentation.

Network Accessories



If you attach a printer to one computer and share it, when that computer is off, nobody can print. An alternative is to purchase a network printer. That is, a printer that will directly connect to the network and people can print to it any time. There are two types of printers in this case:

  • Some printers come equipped with a network card. In this case, you can use an RJ-45 cable to connect it to a router or a hub
  • Most printers nowadays have a USB port that can be used to connect them to a router
  • Many printers come equipped with wireless capability. This means that the computers can connect to the printer  without using a wire and they can print

If you are using a wireless network and your printer doesn't have wireless capabilties, you can purchase a wireless print server. This allows you to connect almost any type of printer, with or without a network card, to the network. You can purchase a wireless print server from a computer store or from a web store. It is usually easy to install as it comes with easy-to-follow instructions.

Internet Service Provider (ISP)

An Internet Service Provider (ISP) is a company that serves as the intermediary between your network (or you) and the Internet. If you plan to give access to the Internet to the members of your network, you may need this type of company. You can start by checking with your local telephone company or your local TV cable company.


Firewall is a security measure that consists of protecting your network from intruders. This is primarily important if you plan to connect your network to the Internet. There are two types of firewalls: hardware and software.

For a small network, when buying a router, you can inquire as to whether it has a built-in firewall. Many of them do. Alternatively, you can use or configure one of the computers of your network as a firewall.


At this time, we assume that you have:

  • The (hardware of the) computers. Each computer is put together and ready to be used
  • A Router
  • A company (an Internet service provider, ISP) that provides Internet to you

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