Step-By-Step: How to Build a Safe, Secure Network

Installing Network Adapters

Note: If your desktop or laptop PC carries a built-in wired or wireless network adapter, you have a head start. If it's part of the motherboard, it's usually enabled by default, but make sure by opening and examining your PC Setup program. Refer to your PC manual for details.

1. In all three situations shown here, Windows should automatically recognize the network product. Follow the manufacturer's directions for installing the driver and any additional utilities; some require you to install the driver before adding the adapter.

Photograph: Kevin Candland

(A) Add-in cards (wired or wireless): Turn off your PC and unplug it from the wall. Wear an antistatic wrist strap to avoid static damage. Find a free PCI slot, remove the slot cover, carefully insert the network card into the slot, and fasten the card down with a screw. Close your PC's case and restart the machine.

(B) Wireless and power-line USB products: With your computer up and running, plug the adapter into a free USB port.

(C) PC Card: Simply plug the card in while the laptop is running.

2. Hook up the router. To share a broadband Internet connection, you'll have to hook up your DSL or cable modem to your router. Use the cable that comes packed with the router, and make sure you plug it into the correct jack, usually labeled 'WLAN'.

3. Connect the wires. If you're using a standard, wired network, plug a Category 5 network cable into the computer's network jack, and insert the other end into the hub, switch, or router. (Many wireless routers include a built-in switch that allows you to connect additional PCs using an ethernet cable.) Repeat for each connected PC.

4. Install drivers and software. Many wireless adapters and other networking products require software apps beyond their basic drivers. Follow the manufacturer's directions. Windows' Network Setup Wizard will guide you through the final steps. In Windows XP, go to Start, My Network Places, and click Set up a home or small office network in the Network Tasks section.

Search for Network Troubleshooter in Windows Help if you encounter problems.

What's This Thing Called DHCP?

One of the most confusing parts of configuring a router involves the Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP) settings. Despite the intimidating terminology, it's quite simple. Just as every Web site on the Internet has a unique TCP/IP address associated with its URL ('s main Web site address is, every PC on your home and office network needs to have a unique TCP/IP address to share an Internet connection. Specific requirements govern how these addresses are formed. Instead of your generating addresses manually, the DHCP server included in the router automatically assigns addresses to all PCs. For the easiest network setup, make sure that DHCP is enabled in your router and on the network adapters of all PCs connected to the network.

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