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Networking without network cards is a reverse hack. You'll be much more successful in the long run using established networking equipment.

I have two HP desktop units with XP at home on my desk. Is there anyway to network these computers without having to purchase network cards?

In this excerpt from Answercast #76, I look at the possibilities and difficulties in trying to set up a network without networking equipment.

Networking without network cards

Well, yes. There are a couple of solutions out there.

I believe if you have a printer port, the old Laplink software from Traveling software would actually provide you with a cable that can be used to connect the two computers. There may also be USB based solutions out there.

But here's why I sound less than enthused about that answer. Those are old solutions. The cable printer absolutely is old! I've got a 15 year old printer cable like that - that I haven't used in 15 years; and I certainly don't have the software for it anymore. They've basically been replaced by networking hardware.

So you're not going to find a lot of current software. You're not going to find a lot of current support. You're not going to find a lot of help making that work.

It's not free

And... you're going to have to spend some money. You're going to spend some money on, at least, the cable and quite possibly the software to go with it.

If you're gonna spend money anyway... get a couple of cheap network cards. They don't have to be expensive. I know that a local secondhand store here, a secondhand computer store, will sell them for like ten or fifteen bucks apiece; especially for these older XP machines.

You don't need anything late and breaking, and new and fast. An old 10 MB per second network card will do what you need just fine, and it can be just as cheap as some of these other solutions.

Save yourself some headache

Then, you can certainly look into solutions that use network cards connected back to back to network your two computers together.

There are solutions. They're not simple solutions... which leads me to my next point. And that is that, you know? If you're in for a couple of network cards? It will make your life a whole lot simpler if you also get yourself an inexpensive router. It doesn't have to be high-end. It doesn't have to be wireless, just a cheap four-port router will do just fine.

And again, same place, secondhand store. I'll bet they've got those too. Probably for about the same price.

With those three things: your two network cards, the cables to connect them to the router, you can actually set up a working network. In fact, there's a really good chance that simply having Windows XP install everything by default without really having to think about it too much will get you a working network.

That's my stronger recommendation. Go the path of things that were designed to do what it is you're trying to do.

The other solutions (back to back network cables, using printer ports, or USB ports, or COM ports) they weren't designed for that. Those are kind of reverse hacks to make these kinds of things work. You're not going to find a lot of information or help to make them work.

On the other hand, networking exists today: routers, Ethernet cards, Ethernet set up is something we do every day - on almost all current computers. If you were to go that route, I believe, you'll be much more successful in the long run and you'll end up spending about the same amount of money.

(Transcript lightly edited for readability.)

End of Answercast 76 Back to - Audio Segment

Article C6110 - December 6, 2012 « »

Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

Not what you needed?

December 7, 2012 8:41 AM

before spending any money I'd double check and make sure there's not an Ethernet port built into the motherboard (looks like a large phone jack.)

December 7, 2012 1:11 PM

I have a crossover Ethernet cable, a special kind of cable that lets me plug two computers together with no router (of course you got to have the network cards, like Leo said).

I use it whenever I have a computer that isn't networking properly. I can plug my laptop into the computer and if they can communicate, then I know that the computer and network card are OK and the problem is between the wall jack and the router (or possibly the router itself).

It's good for diagnosis (and temporary situations such as transferring files), but I agree with Leo. Spend a few bucks more and get a router for a more permanent setup. Your just going to end up with more stuff that needs to connect.

I got a new printer and it had a network port on it. So I plugged that into the router. Now both my computers can use the printer, even if one of the computers is switched off.

Old Man
December 7, 2012 10:22 PM

My first thoughts were like SkiddMarxx. If the computers run XP, then they should (key word) have onboard NICs.
If the person has Internet connection with both computers, then he/she already has the capability of communicating between the two computers. If not, the person could contact the ISP for a router. Many ISPs will supply them free. Worth checking into, at least.
Otherwise, I would recommend going with a simple switch or hub rather than a router. Cheaper and less hassle.

On the contrary, many older machines - even those running XP - did not always come with onboard network adapters.
December 11, 2012 9:11 PM

Ebay is a good cheap source for network cards and routers.

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