NetGear PA101 10 Mbps HPNA Home Phoneline USB Adapter RJ-11
Just connect one end of the adapter to a phone jack and the other to your PC's USB port. The NetGear also has a jack for your phone. You'll need an adapter for each computer you connect, so the larger the network, the greater the investment. At $99 a unit, this could get costly, but if money is no object, the NetGear network will support up to 32 PCs. However, Macs aren't supported, so even though your G4 may have a USB port, it won't be able to play in any of these reindeer games.
The included software practically installs itself, and the instruction sheet walks you through the few necessary steps. Since USB devices are hot-swappable, you can plug the device into your computer while it's up and running. If you've already installed the drivers, the new home network becomes instantly available. If you haven't completed that step, Windows 98 will prompt you to do so. You can decide whether to share drives or printers attached to any PC in the network. NetGear's configuration software lets you easily choose which local drives you want to make public or keep private and which devices you want in the collective. You can also share a single Internet connection. Any computer with a dial-up or DSL connection or a cable modem can function as a gateway to the Internet. But alas, the NetGear network doesn't include email services, so you'll still have to rely on the Net for that. You can attach your own email server and clients, but that could be costly and might be more trouble than it's worth. Should you run into any problems, NetGear provides unlimited, toll-free technical support via the phone, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Bandwidth and You
Unfortunately, ease of use often means living with less. USB is relatively fast--compared to a serial port, that is--but it can't really compete with the speed of a network card plugged into a PCI slot on a motherboard. CNET Labs' tests showed that NetGear's USB adapter delivers about half the speed of expansion-card-based telephone-line networking setups, although it's still about three times faster than the wireless kits we've examined. On a Dell Dimension with a 733-MHz Pentium III running Windows 98 SE, the NetGear took about 5 minutes and 40 seconds to transfer a folder containing 100MB of text files, for a rate of just under 2.5 mbps. The adapter alone does not determine throughput, so you should expect slower systems to yield more sluggish transfers. Under ideal conditions, home phone-line kit manufacturers generally claim their products will do 10 mbps, but don't let that fool you. It's unlikely you'll be able to create such conditions at your abode--or anywhere else, for that matter.
The adapter's bandwidth may or may not pose a problem for you; it depends on the amount of traffic you anticipate on your network. If all you want to do is share a printer or connect a few computers and you expect only light to moderate network traffic, NetGear's USB solution is worth a look.