Networking is the core method in which computers communicate with each other. The ability to exchange information over a network makes multiplayer gaming even possible and the primary reason to build a gaming computer. When you play a game online with other people, the server that is used to host the game is tasked with updating the information very quickly as you progress through the game. Any delay in this exchange of data results in frustration and detracts from the overall gaming experience. For this reason, data must be transferred quickly and efficiently. Lets take a look at how the networking process works and discuss the equipment used.
Data is moved across a network in packets. In order for the data to reach the destination for which it was intended, there must be a unique identifier sent with the data to the receiving computer. This is where the media access control (MAC) address comes into play. Every network card produced has a unique MAC address associated with it. This tells the computer receiving the data where is originally came from. Otherwise, there would be streams of data everywhere with no way of properly identifying it. From this concept, the Ethernet protocol came into prominence. Essentially, Ethernet is a set of standards that defined every aspect of sending data from one computer to another.
There are several possible arrangements for computers to communicate with each other with the most popular being the Star topology. Computers in a star arrangement are connected to a hub or switch. Most (if not all) small home and office networks use the star topology for one simple reason, if one of the cable breaks, the entire network doesn't crash.
The most prominent device used in networking is a desktop network interface card (NIC). These are designed to fit into a standard PCI slot on a motherboard. The network cable plugs into the back of the card and transfers the data across the network. The speed at which the data is transferred has improved over the years with the latest checking in at 1000 Mbps. Network cards are very affordable, you can find them for around $10 through several online retailers, such as www.TigerDirect.com. Installing a network card is very easy to do, please see the guide further down this page for more information.
The other important hardware involved in networking computers are the cables.
Many different cable types have been used to network computers. The most common in use today is the Category 5e cable type (often shortened as Cat 5e). 100 meters is the maximum distance allowed between the cable ends and it is rated and speeds up to 1,000 Mbps. Cat5e cables are very inexpensive with a 100 ft cable length costing around $10 through www.monoprice.com. Category 5 and 6 cables use a special connector at the end, called an RJ-45 connector. These appear similar to that of a telephone line but in reality, they are slightly larger. The cable fits tightly into the back of the network card for a nice solid connection.
As network technology has improved over the years, so has the speeds that drive them. The latest cable type is called Category6. Further improving on the speed of Cat 5e, Cat 6 cables cost a few dollars more for the same 100 ft cable length coming in at almost $13. Capable of achieving speeds of 10 Gbps, Cat 6 was designed for improved speed and reduced noise. As an added bonus, Category 6 cables are backwards-compatible with their older Cat 5e relatives. In other words, you can have a network using both Cat 5e and Cat 6 cables without any loss of functionality.
In the event you wish to network a computer directly to another computer without the use of a hub or switch, a special cable is required to accomplish this task. A Crossover cable was designed for this exact purpose. You simply plug one end into the back of one computer and the other end into the back of the other computer. Essentially, the crossover cable reverses the signal from the sending and receiving wires allowing two computers to directly communicate with each other. For prices on these cables, check out the crossover cables at www.TigerDirect.com.
Wireless Technology (Wi-Fi)
Another alternative to using cables and wired networking is the wireless protocol 802.11, also called Wireless Fidelity or Wi-Fi for short. For a detailed guide on wireless networking, please see the Wireless Networking Guide. In this fashion, a host computer is directly connected to the wireless access point or router and this in turn is connected to a cable modem.
Using the host computer, you can set the wireless encryption of the router to make the data transmission secure. I highly recommend using the WPA2-PSK (Wi-Fi Protected Access Pre-Shared Key) method for securing your data. It offers the highest security and is the most difficult to decode. Using a long password with both numbers and letters is ideal for data protection. Once the wireless network is established, other computers or devices can join by searching for the network name and inputting the password.
Network Card Installation Guide
Installing a wired or wireless network card is very easy. Just following the steps outlined below.
1. Begin by turning off the computer and removing all cables from the rear of the case.
2. Remove the side cover from the case.
3. Locate an empty PCI slot on the motherboard (shown below in white).
4. Gently place the Network card into the empty slot being sure to insert it straight down and not at an angle.
5. Push the card down firmly into the slot until the gold leads can no longer be seen.
6. Fasten the card to the case using a Phillips screw.
7. Return the case side cover and attach all the cables.