The first pieces of equipment that you’ll want to consider for your home network are the network cards. Each PC that will connect to the network will need one, and they come in different shapes and sizes. Rather than trying to save a bit of money buying used or older network cards, do yourself a favor and still to a popular name brand. Not only are most standard PCI network cards inexpensive, the good quality ones don’t cost much more than the cheapest. Regardless of which brand you choose, there are three main things to keep clear.
First, what you are shopping for is an Ethernet card – one that has an RJ-45 port on the back, runs at 10, 100, and/or 1000 Mbps, and one that provides drivers for your operating system. If any of these three don’t match, steer clear. Don’t try to save money by purchasing a 10 or 100 Mbps-only card, or get suckered into buying an older card that accepts a coaxial-cable connection – unless you’ll planning to build an antique network, that is! The dual-speed network card is a minimum requirement – a 100 Mbps-only card won’t work with a 10 Mbps-only hub, and vice versa. Almost all new network cards (and switches/hubs) are multi-speed (10/100/1000), but be sure to keep your eyes open at any rate. Lots of networking equipment is cheap for a reason.
Note: Unless your PC is ancient, it probably already includes a 10/100 or 10/100/1000 Ethernet adapter integrated on the motherboard – check the back of your PC!
Second, don’t feel limited to using an internal network card for your desktop PC. To be completely honest, it’s a hundred times easier to use an external 10/100 Mbps Ethernet card that plugs into a USB port. They may be a little more expensive that an internal PCI card, but they’re also portable – if you ever change PCs, you only need to plug the USB cable into the new system and you’re almost ready to go. We can’t explain how many times a USB-based Ethernet card has saved us reams of time – just remember that you’ll need a USB port to use it.
Finally, if you’re shopping for a PCMCIA network card for a laptop, be sure keep your eyes open for a model with a built-in port rather than one that uses a dongle. What’s a dongle? It’s the annoying little cable that plugs into the PCMCIA card and has a port on one end for the network cable. Short of using a roll of duct tape, a dongle will always come loose at the most inconvenient time. For only a few more quid, stick with a built-in port, or go with an external USB card as mentioned previously.