Before you start: To decide what type of network to set up or to find out what hardware and cables you need, see What you need to set up a home network. That topic has information about the different types of networks (also known as network technologies), as well as hardware requirements for each type.

Once you know what type of network you want and have the necessary hardware, there are four possible steps to take (two of these are not always required):

  1. Install any necessary hardware.

  2. Set up an Internet connection (optional).

  3. Connect the computers.

  4. Run the Set Up a Wireless Router or Access Point wizard (wireless only).

Each of these steps is described in detail later in this article.

Start by setting up one computer. Once you set up the network and you are sure that the first computer is working correctly, you can add additional computers or devices.

Note

  • This information is designed for people who have a broadband connection (usually DSL or cable) to the Internet rather than a dial-up connection.

Install the hardware

Install network adapters in any computers that need them. (Follow the installation instructions in the information that came with each adapter.)

Set up or verify an Internet connection (optional)

You don't need an Internet connection to set up a network, although most people want to use their network to share an Internet connection. To set up an Internet connection, you need a cable or DSL modem and an account with an Internet service provider (ISP). Then open the Connect to the Internet wizard and follow the instructions. For more information, see What do I need to connect to the Internet?

If you already have an Internet connection, you just need to verify that the connection is working. To do that, open your web browser and go to a website that you don't usually visit. (If you go to a website that you visit often, some of its webpages might be stored on your computer and will display correctly even if your connection is faulty.) If the website opens and you don't get any error messages, your connection is working.

To share an Internet connection

You can also share one Internet connection among two or more network computers. To do that, you can either use an intermediary device or set up Internet Connection Sharing (ICS). Your ISP might charge a fee for multiple Internet connections. Ask your ISP for information about this.

Use an intermediary device. You can use a router or a combined router and modem (also called an Internet gateway) to share an Internet connection. If you use a router, connect it to both the modem and the computer with the Internet connection, and then verify your Internet connection again. The information that came with the router should include connection instructions. If you use a combined router and modem, plug it into any computer. Check the information that came with the device for more detailed connection instructions.

Note

  • The router and modem must be turned on to use the Internet connection from any of the computers on your network.

Set up ICS. If you want to share an Internet connection and you don't want to buy any more equipment, you can set up ICS on the computer that is connected to the modem. That computer will also need two network adapters: one to connect to the modem and one to connect to the other computer. ICS is not included with Windows Vista Starter.

Connect the computers

There are several ways to connect computers—the configuration depends on the type of network adapters, modem, and Internet connection that you have. It also depends on whether or not you want to share an Internet connection among all the computers on the network. The following sections briefly describe some connection methods.

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Ethernet networks

You need a hub, switch, or router to connect computers using Ethernet. (For information about each type of hardware, see How do hubs, switches, routers, and access points differ?)

To share an Internet connection, you need to use a router. Connect the router to the computer that is connected to the modem (if you haven't already done this).

Illustration of an Ethernet network with a wired router and a shared Internet connection
Ethernet network with wired router and a shared Internet connection

If your home or office is wired for Ethernet, set up the computers in rooms that have Ethernet jacks, and then plug them directly into the Ethernet jacks.

Illustration of an Ethernet network in a home with built-in Ethernet
Ethernet network using built-in Ethernet

Wireless networks

For wireless networks, run the Set Up a Wireless Router or Access Point wizard on the computer attached to the router. The wizard will walk you through the process of adding other computers and devices to the network.

Illustration of a wireless network with a shared Internet connection
Wireless network with a shared Internet connection

HPNA networks

For HPNA networks, you need an HPNA network adapter in each computer and a phone jack in each room where there is a computer. Plug the computers into the phone jacks. The computers will be automatically connected.

Turn on all computers or devices, such as printers, that you want to be part of your network. If your network is wired Ethernet or HPNA, it should be set up and ready to use. You should test your network (see below) to make sure that all computers and devices are connected correctly.

Run the Set Up a Wireless Router or Access Point wizard

If your network is wireless, run the Set up a Wireless Router or Access Point wizard on the computer attached to the router.

  • Open Set Up a Wireless Router or Access Point by clicking the Start button Picture of the Start button, clicking Control Panel, clicking Network and Internet, and then clicking Network and Sharing Center. In the left pane, click Set up a connection or network, and then click Set up a wireless router or access point.

    The wizard will walk you through the process of adding other computers and devices to the network. For more information, see Add a device or computer to a network.

Enable sharing on your network

If you want to share files and printers on your network, make sure your network location type is set to Private and that network discovery, file sharing, and printer sharing are turned on. For more information, see Choosing a network location and Enable or disable network discovery.

Test your network

It's a good idea to test your network to make sure that all of the computers and devices are connected and working properly. To test your network, do the following on each network computer: Click the Start button Picture of the Start button, and then click Network. You should be able to see icons for the computer you are on and all of the other computers and devices that you have added to the network. If the computer you are checking has a printer attached, the printer icon might not be visible on other computers until you enable printer sharing. (Printer sharing is not available on Windows Vista Starter.)

Note

  • It might take several minutes for computers running previous versions of Windows to appear in the Network folder.

Changing TCP/IP settings

If you need to adjust TCP/IP settings for your network, see Change TCP/IP settings.

Connecting your mobile PC from work to your home network

To connect the mobile PC that you use at work to the Internet or to your work network from your home network, you must have a network connection set up at home. For information about using your mobile PC on your home network, see Switching between your home and workplace networks.