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What is - A guide to Networking Hardware

Today we're going to delve into the different hardware associated with networks; we're going to point towards the small business/home networking class, so I'll leave quite a few of the corporate items out as most of you won't really care and it'll simply confuse you ;)...

Routers - A router is simply a deice which allows multiple systems to connect to the internet utilizing one ip address (or entity); a simple way of sharing an internet connection.

There are several types of Routers:
-- Wireless - A Wireless Router will allow you to serve your internet access to your computers by way of Wireless Networking (each system will need its own Wireless Card to "wirelessly" talk to your router, please note that you can "wire" the system to your network and it can talk to other systems in your network which are connected wirelessly).
-- Wired - A standard Wired router will act the same as the wireless router above only with wired only clients.

Now we'll talk about Hubs and Switches, please note that most routers come with a 3-5 port switch built into them.

Hubs & Switches - A "Network Hub" will allow you to connect multiple systems into your network, it functions much like a switch however a "Network Switch" will actually manage your traffic which goes through it and is thus the recommended medium (hey, they cost the same, so why not go with the one which isn't obsolete?).

Cabling - There are many types of network cable, all listed as "categories":
-- Category 1 - Previously used for telephone and doorbell wiring.
-- Category 2 - Previously used for "Token Ring" networks.
-- Category 3 - Rated at 16 MHz
-- Category 4 - Rated at 20 MHz, Prevously used for "Token Ring" networks.
-- Category 5 - Does NOT support Gigabit Networks - 100 MHz Rating
-- Category 5e - Supports Gigabit Networks (although not recommended) - 100 MHz Rating
-- Category 6 - Supports Gigabit Networks, Backward Compatable with Cat5 - 250 MHz Rating
-- Category 6a - Supports 10 Gigabit Applications - 500 MHz Rating
-- Category 7 - Supports 100 Gigabit Applications - Rated at 600 MHz

Since most modern networking equipment support "Automatic Crossover", we won't even go into the different types of crossover cabling that is available. Additionally, fiber optic cable is generally out of the scope of this article.

We recommend Cat6/Cat6a cabling for any wired networking project; Cat7 cabling specs where just released and will likely cost quite a bit once they're out; the higher rating is for 10/100 gig networks and thus will be overkill for your network.

You should not use any cabling prior to Cat5e, they're not rated for 10/100 MHz networks and several are not recognized as cabling standards (even Standard Cat5).
Posted on July 27th, 2008 - Updated on December 31st, 2010
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