When you have more than one PC in your home, it is often useful to be able to share files and peripherals like printers between them. Floppy disks are usually the only way of transferring files, unless you happen to have a removable storage device, like a Zip drive in each machine. With printers - you're going to need to physically move the printer between the PCs. A network enables you to link up the PCs and share files and printers, and also lets you share Internet access and play network games. The trouble is, networks can be tricky and expensive to set up.
The Zoom/HomeLAN PCI kit aims to take the pain out of it all by using the existing phone lines and sockets in your house, so you don't have to lay additional cabling. The kit consists of a PCI network interface card (NIC), and a cable to connect the NIC to a phone socket. One such kit is needed for each PC, but if you already have a phone sockets in the same rooms as the PCs it works out cheaper than an office-type ethernet network.
The actual installation of the software and hardware is not as scary as it might sound. The helpful manual guides you through each stage, step by step, ensuring that your network is up and running with the minimum of fuss. In particular, it has step by step instructions on how to make the network settings in Windows, as this is unfortunately not an automatic process.
One of the great features of the system is that you can still use the phone normally at the same time as using the network. Of course, you'll still need two phone lines to browse the Internet and make a phone call at the same time. You can make a particular PC on the network the 'Internet Gateway', and as long as a modem is installed in this machine, all the other PCs on the network can share the connection and browse the web simultaneously. SyGate 3.0 Internet Sharing software is provided on the CD ROM, and also offers security with its Network Address Translation (NAT) technology.
The PCI card also doubles as a proper 10BASE-T network card, allowing you to connect it to a variety of other network cards, and giving you a much faster transfer rate. The transfer rate over standard phone lines is 1Megabit per second (Mbps), compared with the usual 10Mbps per second of a normal office network. This means that in general use, as there are less users at home, the HomeLAN should be almost as quick as an office network, but transfering very large files will be noticeably slower. Since most PCs don't have many free PCI slots, it would have been nice to have the option of buying a kit with a built-in modem to combine the two cards into one.