Ethernet Hardware

Support this page! This page describes the bare minimum of equipment you'll need to connect two or more computers via Ethernet. I'm only going to describe 10BaseT Ethernet, because that's the most common implementation these days among people who have a choice. The costs of equipment go down daily, and the equipment is easy to maintain.

Network Interface Cards

Every computer that you want to put on the network must have some means of communicating with that network. Most computers will require a network card of some sort, unless a network interface is built in.


Most Macs that were manufactured after the Centris/Quadra 610 have built-in Ethernet. If your Mac has it, it will be in one of two forms. Older Macs will have only an Apple Attachment Unit Interface (AAUI) port that looks like this:

Newer Macs will have a combination AAUI and 10BaseT interface that has each of these next to each other:

In any case, the icon on the case will look like this:

If you have the combination interface, you're in luck. You can move on to the next section

If you have the AAUI port, then you need to buy a transceiver. These can be purchased from catalog retailers for less than $30. Look for an AAUI-10BaseT transceiver. The transceiver has an AAUI cable at one end and RJ-45 jack at the other end, so it's pretty idiot-proof. You can also find these on ebay for $5-$15 by searching for "aaui,transceiver".

If you don't have built-in Ethernet, you'll have to buy a Ethernet card. There are several basic types, depending on what model of Mac you've got.

Certain LC and Performa models use either their Processor Direct Slot (PDS) or their Communications slot for Ethernet cards. Look in Mac catalogs for PDS or Comm slot Ethernet cards that say 10BaseT or 10-T. Check carefully with the mail order agent to make sure that your card works with your exact model of Mac. Comm slot cards are around $70 or so at catalog retailers like MacZone or MacWarehouse. They're much cheaper at ebay, where can find them by searching for "lc,ethernet", "pds,ethernet", or "comm,ethernet".

If you don't have a Comm slot, then you'll need to buy either Nubus card or a PCI card. The very first generation of PowerMacs and clones (PowerMac 61xx, 7100 and 8100, Performa 611x, PowerComputing 80, 100, 110, 120) were Nubus Macs. All more recent PowerMacs are PCI-based, and all non-PowerMacs are Nubus-based.

Nubus Ethernet cards are $80 or so, and PCI cards are $50 or so. You can also look on ebay for "nubus,ethernet" to find old, obscure cards. Again, make sure you get cards with a 10BaseT connector.

PowerBooks will require a PCMCIA card with Ethernet support. These start at $100 or so.

PowerBooks without PCMCIA slots can be connected to an Ethernet network, but it's may be too expensive to be worth the bother. Asante once made an EN/SC Mini Ethernet SCSI adapter, but they don't anymore. I picked one up, used, for $25 without a power or SCSI cable. It works on a PowerBook 100, though! Try doing that with a 1989-vintage Wintel laptop.

A last ditch option, if you must have Ethernet on your old PowerBook, is to buy a LocalTalk/Ethernet adapter, also from Farallon. The EtherMac Adapter allows you to hook Ethernet up to your LocalTalk port (the printer port on you PowerBook.) I don't think it's going to be as fast as real Ethernet, but hey, it works. Once you've got some sort of Ethernet installed, make sure you've got the appropriate extensions. If you don't know what you've got, try downloading the Network Software Installer from Apple. Running this will make sure that you've got all the right pieces.


Windows-based PCs have four flavors of Ethernet support: built-in, ISA, PCI, and PCMCIA for notebooks.

A few PCs (notably some Compaqs) have on-board Ethernet. If you have it, it's probably 10BaseT, and it looks like this:

If you've got an older (486 or earlier) PC, then you've probably got an ISA machine. ISA NICs are really cheap these days, and can be had for as little as $18. Some of them can be duds, though, so it's probably worth the extra $10 or so to buy a name brand.

Newer PCs (all Pentium-based or better) are PCI. Almost all of them also have a few ISA slots, too. PCI NICs used to be more expensive, but now they're also about $20 or less. They provide better performance than ISA NICs and don't tie up an interrupt. It's not that they transmit data any faster (after all, Ethernet is specified at 10Mbps), but "bus mastering" PCI NICs can grab data directly from memory without making your CPU do very much work. Therefore, using a PCI NIC will enhance your system performance.

Don't even ask me how to install a NIC in a Windows based machine. Plug it in and pray that Windows handles it properly. If you're running Windows95 and the stars are correctly aligned and you haven't double-parked anywhere for awhile, Windows should automatically detect the card and install the appropriate drivers.

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Cables and Hubs

Once all your computers have some sort of Ethernet interface with 10BaseT connectors, you'll need cables to connect them. If you have only two machines, you can connect them without a hub, although it is a less robust solution than with a hub. I'll discuss this option last.

This flavor of Ethernet is called 10BaseT. 10 for its rated speed (which is 10 Mbps or Megabits per second), and T for twisted-pair. Other flavors include 10Base2 (the 2 is for the max. cable length, 200m), and 100BaseT Fast Ethernet (which runs 10x faster, or 100 Mbps).

10BaseT is physically very simple. It requires inexpensive wiring and simple, phone-style connectors, and it is very hard to screw up. Thin Ethernet (10Base2, or coax) used to be popular, but 10BaseT is supplanting it because it's easier to troubleshoot, and provides better migration towards Fast Ethernet (100BaseT).


You can buy pre-made cables, or you can assemble the cables yourself. If you're networking only a few machines over short distances, buying is probably cheaper and more reliable. Pre-made 10BaseT cables start at about $1/foot for short distances, and drop down to $17-20 for a 25" length. You'll need one cable for each machine to connect to the hub.

Buy what are called Category 5 cables. It's suitable for 100BaseT (Fast Ethernet) as well as for 10BaseT, and it's not much more expensive than Category 4. In fact, Cat 4 is even becoming difficult to find because few stores carry it any more.

If you more than ten workstations, or if you need to make longer cables, you can buy the raw materials and assemble them yourself. You'll need a reel of Category 5 cable, RJ-45 connectors, a crimping tool, and a cable tester. The last item is optional, but highly recommended. Many catalog retailers are now selling kits that include all the above with 1,000" of cable and 50 connectors for around $279.

If you only need 500" of cable, and you don't need a cable tester, you can probably piece a smaller kit together for around $150.


Hubs are getting cheaper every day. I've seen 5 port hubs for as little as $19 from Data Comm Warehouse. I wouldn't trust this hub for mission critical applications, but if you're just playing some network Doom, this is probably fine.

By contrast, when Ethernet was first invented at Xerox PARC, the cost per port was several thousand dollars! The newest thing on the map is Gigabit Ethernet (1000 megabits per second, or 100 times faster than Ethernet), which reportedly can run over Category 5 for very short distances.

The latest toy in my collection is my battery-powered hub, which is great for playing that impromptu game of network Marathon. It is based on a neat little pocket hub from Transition Networks

I also bought a portable hub from Compex that can draw power from a PC's PS/2 mouse port. It's not as cool as my battery-powered hub, but it's probably more practical if you have a PC laptop.

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Hooking it all up

This is the easy part. Run a cable from each network card to each computer's network interface, and plug the hub's power supply in. If the hub has power, each port with a good connection will have its green LED lit. A good connection means that the cable is good, the connectors are good, and that the computer at the other end is turned on.

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Going Hubless

If there are only two machines involved, you don't need a hub! Two machines can be connected with a crossover or null cable that has the connections reversed. Crossover cables can be purchased through catalog retailers or at electronics stores such as Fry's, but they're often difficult to find. Additionally, two regular patch cables can be turned into a crossover cable using a crossover coupler. See my page here for step-by-step instructions on this cheaper alternative.

Once you have a crossover cable, use it to connect the two machines.

The hubless option is very popular among game-playing students in college, and so many retailers are selling the Network in a Box package, which includes two Ethernet cards, a crossover cable, and a demo version of a game.

One difficulty with a hubless network is that the Macintosh operating system checks for a valid Ethernet connection when it boots up. Normally, a hub at the other end of the cable will inform the Mac that the connection is good. Without a hub, however, the Mac has to have an active machine at the other end. Of course for that to happen, the other Mac has to have booted up with a good connection. It's a chicken-and-egg problem. The solution is to reboot both machines simultaneously, or else to go into the AppleTalk or Network control panels and select Ethernet simultaneously.

If you can spare the extra $20-30, go ahead and buy a small hub. That way, when you want to add another machine you can do it quickly and painlessly.

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Last updated: 8/26/99

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