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Net Gains: Networking Adapters

Your Physical Connection to the Network

May 23, 2000

Linux supports just about every type of network adapter ever made--or at least those that are in regular use. This second article in the network series takes a look at Ethernet network interface cards (NICs), how they are used, and how they are configured.

Why the focus on Ethernet cards? Because they are the most frequently used network cards in Linuxdom. Other NICs or network adapters occasionally encountered support Token Ring and Arcnet. Token Ring shows up in corporate networks. Arcnet used to be king of networking but its 2.5 Mbps transfer rate didn't keep up with Ethernet. Because of Ethernet's popularity and support, these and other networking adapters like ATM (Asynchronous Transfer Mode) adapters are extremely rare in home or small business networks. These types of NICs are normally connected via a hub or switch, as shown in Figure 1.

Two new types of network adapter that are showing up in homes and small businesses include telephone wiring-based solutions and wireless solutions. The telephone wiring-based solutions are supported by the HPNA (Home Phoneline Networking Alliance). HPNA uses Tut Systems HomeRun technology. It operates at 1 Mbps over telephone lines at high frequency so the telephone line can still be used with a conventional telephone. The HPNA 2 specification runs at 10 Mbps; that is comparable to 10BaseT Ethernet. Unfortunately HPNA drivers for Linux seem to be extremely scarce, but this may change in the future. The support necessary for HPNA adapters is comparable to Ethernet adapters.

Wireless networking solutions can be divided into three categories: proprietary, 802.11, and Bluetooth. The proprietary category includes products like Proxim's Symphony. 802.11 is a standard that encompasses most wireless products that cover 1, 2, and 11 Mbps transfer rates. The Bluetooth standard is designed for small networks such as two adjacent rooms in a home. It is also designed to link portable products like HPCs to desktops.

Wireless solutions are a mixed bag in terms of Linux support. For example, you can find Linux drivers for Proxim's RangeLAN/2 and Symphony at http://www.komacke.com/distribution.html. As with many Linux drivers, these are not supported by the manufacturer, since they were written by a third party. This is true for many Linux Ethernet drivers as well. Xircom is one manufacturer that provides Linux drivers and support.

In general, installation of adapters and drivers for these other technologies will be similar to the procedures outlined in this article for Ethernet adapters. For more information on device drivers in general, check out Linux Device Drivers Demystified by James Andrews.