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January 6, 2001
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Some Basics for Computing & Networking Novices

By Mike Angelo -- 6 January 2001 (c)

(Note: this short article is designed to be read from top to bottom if you need to get up to speed on the most basic fundamentals of networking. Or, you can go directly to the discussion of a particular term if you just need an explanation of that term -- your choice.)


A computer network is two or more computers that are connected to each other. They may be connected directly to each other or through intermediary devices such as hubs or switches.


The two main types of networks in geographical terms are the Local Area Network (LAN) and the Wide Area Network (WAN). Typically, all the computers in a LAN are in the same building. A WAN includes computers that are not all in the same building. Usually telephone lines or radio waves are used to connect WAN computers located in different building locations. The Internet is one heck of a huge WAN.

Server-Client Network

In a server-client network, a central computer on a network called a server provides services to other computers on the network. If you use the Internet you already are familiar with a server-client network.

There, network servers such as an e-mail server, news server, FTP server, or Web server provide e-mail, news, FTP, and Web services to clients. Usually on the Internet, these servers are located at the facilities of, and operated by, Internet Service Providers (ISPs). You use your local-client computer (that's the one you use for Web-surfing, e-mail, and so forth.) to read files such as Web pages, e-mail, and news posts located on the server. When you send e-mail or post to a newsgroup you are sending files to the server from your local client computer.

Client-to-Client Network:

In a client-to-client network there is no central server computer. Rather than any single computer on the network having the sole responsibility for providing services to other computers on the network, any computer on the network can provide services to any other computer on that network. Since all the computers connected on a client-to-client network are equals or peers, this sort of network is called a peer-to-peer network. Most home and small office networks are peer-to-peer networks.


Kbps or Kilobits per second indicates how fast data is passed along a network. If you have a modem you already are familiar with this term. For example a 33-Kbps modem provides up to a maximum 33-thousand bits of data per second to pass to your computer from an Internet connection. A 56K modem has a maximum data flow capacity of 56-thousand bits of data per second.


Mbps or Mega bits per second indicates how fast data is passed along a network too. The more the Mbps, the faster is the network. One Mbps is 1,000 Kbps.

Please keep in mind that bits are smaller than bytes. A byte is made up of eight bits. So a 56K modem passes data at a maximum of only 7-KB (7 Kilo Bytes) per second. A 100-Mbps (mega-bits) network passes data at maximum of only 12.5-MB (12.5 mega bytes) per second.

If you want to keep it simple, just remember the Mbps is 1,000 times faster than Kbps. And the more Mbps, the better is your connection.

NIC (Network Interface Card):

You need a Network Interface Card (NIC) to connect a computer to a network. NICs are very much like video cards, sound cards, and modem cards -- however, the NICs do it for network stuff.


You can use a PCMCIA (Personal Computer Memory Card International Association) NIC card to connect a laptop computer to a network. PCMCIA cards often more simply are called PC cards.

Hubs & Switches:

Hubs and Switches are special central electronic junction boxes where you plug in the network cables from the computers. Switches are better than hubs.

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