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Why Networking ?

If you own more than one computer, the chances are that you've needed to share files of one sort or another. This can be quite frustrating when having to copy them via floppy disks, especially if your file is too big to fit on a single disk. Apart from file sharing, you may only have one printer, which again can mean inconvenience having to unplug the printer and re-connect it to the other machine.

Worse still, using the internet on two separate machines can cause confusion as to which one holds your email, the web page you saved for future reference, or the expense of having to use two dial up connections.

By connecting your machines together, you can read another computers files as though they were on your hard drive, print to a printer connected to another machine and access the internet with all of your machines at once. Quite handy if you want to leave a download going on one machine and do something else on another!

Hardware Configuration

All standard transmissions across a network are referred to as Baseband. This is where the Base part of the naming system comes from.

The terminology follows as, X-Base-Y, where X is the speed in Mb/second and Y is the distance in 100 metres sections, between two stations (computers) on the network. Thus 10 Base-2 means that data can be moved at 10Mb/s and the maximum distance between stations is 200 metres. All Acorn machines, including the RiscPC are currently limited to 10 Base-Y cards due to the cost of development.

If that's clear so far, now it goes wonky as 10 Base-T appears. Obviously, it is capable of shifting 10Mb/s. The T, refers to Twisted Pair (the type of cable used), rather than the distance between stations. X-Base-T is currently the most popular type of network, and is also very simple to install. The only drawback with this form of networking is the need for a hub, when using networks with more than two stations.

10 Base-2

The main advantage of building a 10 Base-2 network is that you only need the cable to connect each station's, Network Interface Card (NIC) together, and some connectors. This works by daisy-chaining each machine to the next. The cable is similar to UHF cable used in televisions, but has special BNC connectors attached to the end to stop them being pulled out. Cables can be made up to your required length, with BNC connectors fitted. It's best to get these done for you, as it can be a bit of a nightmare making your own!

Connecting the cables to your station's NIC is relatively easy. A T shaped adaptor fits in to the back of the NIC leaving two BNC slots free. One of these is connected to the cable from the "downstream" station and the other side connects to the next machine in the chain, the "upstream" station. As the first and last machine in the network only have one side of the T adaptor connected, they need to have a "terminator" placed on the other side, to identify themselves as the end of the chain.

There are disadvantages using 10Base-2 networks. To start with 10 Base-2 NIC's tend to be slightly slower than their 10 Base-T cousins. This won't really matter too much unless you have a large amount of traffic on the network. The second, and most important problem, is dependency. If a T connector is pulled out of a NIC or malfunctions, you effectively find your network cut in half. Imagine you have a line of people playing chinese whispers, with a different message being sent each way. If the person in the middle of the line suddenly drops dead, there is no way of either message reaching the other end of the line. This can prove disastrous if a shared printer or network drive is on the other half of your broken network. This situation can also occur through user error as well as hardware problems.

10 Base-2 is however, very quick and cheap to set up, so this may be the ideal solution for you. Remember that most networks require you to use the same type of NIC throughout. It can be tricky mixing stations using 10 Base-2 and 10 Base-T stations.

10 Base 2 card
Acorn RiscPC 10 Base-2 NIC

10 Base-T

This type of network tends to be more robust, but will often cost more to set up than a 10 Base-2 system. If you intend to connect more than two machines, you will need to buy a hub (My 3Com hub supports 10 Base-T and 10 Base-2 simultaneously).

Rather than connecting the stations on a network in a daisy chain, as with 10 Base-2, all machines on an X Base-T network are connected to a central hub. If you imagine a bicycle wheel, the centre of the wheel is the network hub, and the spokes are the cables, going off to individual stations. As you may have already realised, if there is a problem with a stations NIC or cabling, only that machine is affected, and the network is not split into separate sections as with 10 Base-2 systems. You will also find that only the machines required for use, can be used on an X Base-T network without causing any problems. Thus unused machines can be turned off or disconnected from the network without adverse side effects.

X Base-T uses twisted pair cable, of which there are two varieties, shielded (STP) and un-shielded (UTP). There are various advantages for both types,but you should be fine with unshielded (UTP) cable, as long as you run it at 90 degrees to power cables which can often cause interference. The best cable for X Base-T networks is Cat 5 UTP. This includes fitted connectors which look like those used on telephones. Cat 5 (Category 5 - has passed all 5 tests) UTP will also run at 100Mb/s, so if you later upgrade to a 100 Base-T system, you won't need to purchase new cabling.

10 Base T Card
PC 10 Base-T NIC

Combo Card
A3000 10 Base-2 + T Combo NIC

Hubs

If you intend to use an X Base-T network, you will need a hub. A four port 10 Base-T hub (connections for four stations). Hubs now come in a variety of flavours, including ports for 10 Base-2, so you can mix networks together. It is possible to connect hubs together by daisy chaining them, thus expanding the network, but often works out cheaper if you purchase a hub that is adequate for your needs from the outset. I currently use a 3Com Office Connect Hub - 3C16703. This has four 10 Base-T connections and a shared AUI/BNC connection for 10 Base-2. Using this allows me to have two PC's and my RiscPC permanently connected and still have room for a laptop to be connected when needed.

Hub
3Com 8 Port 10 Base-T Hub

Acorn NICs

There are currently three main types of Acorn NICs. 10 Base-T, 10 Base-2, and Combo cards which have both ports, although you can only use one at a time. All cards are available as podule cards, with the exception of the RiscPC which also has cards available for the network slot. This can be found near the back of the machine behind the SIMM sockets. In general, the combo cards tend to be slower than the dedicated cards, but there is only a small difference in performance.


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