How to Connect Two Home Computers Through a Network

A direct connection is the simplest way to network

What to Know

  • Connect both computers with one cable, such as an Ethernet crossover or special-purpose USB cable.
  • Or, connect the PCs through a central infrastructure, such as an Ethernet or USB hub. Two cables are required.
  • For newer computers and laptops, connect wirelessly via Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, or infrared. Wi-Fi is preferred.

This article explains how to connect two computers to one home network. You can use this kind of network to share files, a printer or another peripheral device, and an internet connection.

Two people sharing a photo file from one computer to another in their home
Lifewire / Maddy Price

Connect Two Computers Directly With a Cable

The conventional way to network two computers involves making a dedicated link by plugging one cable into the two systems. You may need an Ethernet crossover cable, a null modem serial cable or parallel peripheral cable, or special-purpose USB cables.

Ethernet Connections

The Ethernet method is the preferred choice because it supports a reliable, high-speed connection with minimal configuration required. Also, Ethernet technology offers the most general-purpose solution, allowing networks with more than two computers to be built later.

If one of your computers possesses an Ethernet adapter, but the other has a USB, an Ethernet crossover cable can be used by first plugging a USB-to-Ethernet converter unit into the computer's USB port.

Serial and Parallel Connections

This type of cabling, called Direct Cable Connection in Microsoft Windows, offers lower performance but the same basic functionality as Ethernet cables. You may prefer this option if you have Ethernet cables readily available, and network speed is not a concern. Serial and parallel cables are never used to network more than two computers.

USB Connections

Ordinary USB 2.0 or newer cables with Type-A connectors can connect two computers directly to each other. You may prefer this option over others if your computers lack functional Ethernet network adapters.

Dedicated connections with Ethernet, USB, serial, or parallel cables requires that:

  • Each computer has a functioning network interface with an external jack for the cable.
  • The network settings on each computer are appropriately configured.

One phone line or power cord cannot be used to directly connect two computers for networking.

Connect Two Computers With a Cable Through a Central Infrastructure

Rather than cable two computers directly, the computers can be joined indirectly through a central network fixture. This method requires two network cables, one connecting each computer to the fixture. Several types of fixtures exist for home networking:

Implementing this method often entails an additional up-front cost to purchase more cables and network infrastructure. However, it's a general-purpose solution that accommodates any reasonable number of devices (for example, ten or more). You will likely prefer this approach if you intend to expand your network in the future.

Most cabled networks use Ethernet technology. Alternatively, USB hubs work well, while powerline and phoneline home networks offer a unique form of central infrastructure. The standard Ethernet solutions are generally reliable and offer high performance.

Connect Two Computers Wirelessly

In recent years, wireless solutions have increased in popularity for home networking. As with cabled solutions, several wireless technologies exist to support basic two-computer networks.

Wi-Fi Connections

Wi-Fi connections can reach a greater distance than wireless alternatives. Many newer computers, especially laptops, contain built-in Wi-Fi capability, making it the preferred choice in most situations. Wi-Fi can be used either with or without a network fixture. With two computers, Wi-Fi networking minus a fixture (also called ad hoc mode) is simple to set up.

Bluetooth Connections

Bluetooth technology supports reasonably high-speed wireless connections between two computers without the need for a network fixture. Bluetooth is commonly used when networking a computer with a consumer handheld device like a cellphone.

Most desktop and older computers do not possess Bluetooth capability. Bluetooth works best if both devices are in the same room in close proximity to each other. Consider Bluetooth if you have an interest in networking with handheld devices and your computers lack Wi-Fi capability.

Infrared Connections

Infrared networking existed on laptops years before either Wi-Fi or Bluetooth technologies became popular. Infrared connections work between two computers, do not require a fixture, and are reasonably fast. Being simple to set up and use, consider infrared if your computers support it, and you don't want to invest the effort in Wi-Fi or Bluetooth.

If you find mention of an alternative wireless technology called HomeRF, you can safely ignore it. HomeRF technology became obsolete several years ago and is not a practical option for home networking.

  • How do I connect two computers to a single monitor?

    One of the simpler ways to share a monitor between two computers is with software like Microsoft Remote Desktop, though remote connections do sometimes include drawbacks like display lag and pixelation. Many modern monitors also offer more than one port for video input, so you can physically connect both machines to a single screen. The drawback in this case being that you'll also need to manually change the monitor's internal input selection settings every time you want to switch.

  • How do I connect two computers to one printer?

    If both computers are already sharing the same network, giving them both access to the same printer is easy. Make sure the printer is connected to your main PC, then open Control Panel and select Hardware and Sound > View devices and printers. Right-click on the printer you want to share and select Printer properties > Sharing, then select Share this printer. Now other PCs on your network will be able to find it and connect.

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