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. To learn more about the overall process of setting up a network, see Start here to set up a home network in Windows 7.

Once you know what type of network you want, and you have the necessary hardware, there are four steps you might need to take:

  1. Install any necessary hardware.

  2. Set up an Internet connection (optional).

  3. Connect the computers.

  4. Run the Set Up a Network wizard (for wireless networks only).

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

Start by setting up just one computer to make sure the network is working before you try to add additional computers or devices.

Note

  • The information in this article is written for people who have a broadband connection—usually DSL, cable, or Fiber Optic Service (FiOS)—to the Internet rather than a dial-up connection. However, you don't need an Internet connection to set up a network.

Install the hardware

Install network adapters in any computers that need them, or connect them to the computers. (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). 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 share one Internet connection among two or more network computers. To do that, you can either use an intermediary device, which is a device located between the Internet connection and your computer, 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 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 without using a router, you can set up ICS on the computer that's connected to the modem. That computer will need two network adapters: one to connect to the modem and one to connect to the other computer.

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 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 an Ethernet connection. (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's 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 connections, 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 cables
Ethernet network using built-in Ethernet cables

Wireless networks

For wireless networks, run the Set Up a Network wizard (see below) 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

HomePNA networks

For HomePNA networks, you need a HomePNA network adapter (usually external) for each computer and a phone jack in each room where there is a computer. Follow the instructions provided with the HomePNA adapters.

Powerline networks

For Powerline networks, you need a Powerline network adapter (usually external) for each computer and an electrical outlet in each room where there is a computer. Follow the instructions provided with the Powerline adapters.

Turn on all computers or devices, such as printers, that you want to be part of your network. If your network is wired (Ethernet, HomePNA, or Powerline), 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 Network wizard

If your network is wired, you will be connected immediately when you plug in the Ethernet cables. If your network is wireless, run the Set Up a Network wizard on the computer attached to the router.

  • Open Set Up a Network by clicking the Start button Picture of the Start button, and then clicking Control Panel. In the search box, type network, click Network and Sharing Center, click Set up a new connection or network, and then click Set up a new network.

    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 Home or Work and that network discovery and file 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, click your user name, and then, in the left pane, click Network.

You should be able to see icons for the computer you are on and all of the other computers and shared printers on the network.

Note

  • If you don't see icons in the Network folder, then network discovery and file sharing might be turned off. For more information, see Enable or disable network discovery.

  • It might take several minutes for computers running earlier 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 laptop from work to your home network

For information about using your work laptop on your home network, see Switching between your home and workplace networks.