Applications: configuration of three PCs into a small Ethernet network
Recent surveys have suggested that LANs are no longer exclusively used by large companies. Falling hardware prices and the apparent benefits of shared or multiple resources are persuading the smallest of organisations, and even home workers, to invest in networks.
The Hewlett Packard Network Kit contains everything would-be networkers need to convert two or three standalone PCs into a LAN. The kit is built around HP?s eight-port Advance Stack Ethernet Hub-8E, which is supplied with its own AC adaptor and mounting bracket.
Three Desk Direct PCI Ethernet cards and the same number of 16m Category 3 Ethernet cables connect the PCs to the hub. An HP support disk containing the necessary software drivers completes the contents of the box.
It is easy to connect the supplied hardware from the instructions printed on the side of the packaging.
The Advance Stack hub has a cascade port which allows it to be attached to a maximum of three other hubs. This forms a larger Ethernet LAN that can support up to 29 networked PCs.
The hub is small, about the size of a large wallet, so it sits comfortably in the most limited of desktop spaces. Alongside the eight 10Base-T Ethernet ports to the rear, there is a BNC (10Base-2) connector which can house older LAN connections.
Users can check network activity by scanning the two rows of LEDs on the front of the hub. These indicate which of the eight ports are busy and monitor the percentage of network resources being used. The Desk Direct Ethernet cards are the kit?s weak links. Although they benefit from a PCI bus, the specification is very basic. Each card has only a single 10Base-T port, and there are no RS-232 or BNC connectors. And because there is no 100Base-T port, the cards would probably need to be replaced during any future upgrade if the network becomes too slow.
Despite their shortcomings, the Desk Direct cards are plug-and-play, and Windows 95 immediately detected those installed in tests.
To install the driver, you simply insert the HP support disk when prompted, and follow the instructions onscreen. The kit is mainly for peer-to-peer networking under Windows 95. However, network drivers for Windows NT, Windows for Workgroups 3.11, Novell Netware and a host of other network operating systems are also provided on the support disk.
Once the driver is installed, it is simply a matter of setting up the shared resources under Windows 95, although a copy of the original Windows 95 installation disks or CD-ROM may be needed. Finally, the manual has full instructions and guidelines on cascading hubs, as well as some basic troubleshooting tips.
Verdict: as a basic method of building a small, low-bandwidth LAN, the HP Network Kit is ideal. It comes with a good-quality Ethernet hub and, although the Desk Direct network interface cards are hardly the best available, they keep down the overall cost of the kit.
Contact: Hewlett Packard on 0990 474747
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