Networking, Cable Modems, & USB Printer Sharing
November 16th, 2001

Greetings, folks! Today we talk about one of our favorite topics: Networking. First we look into problems connecting an older iMac with a cable modem, and then we get into a couple of printer-related networking issues as well. If you have a question of your own, you can e-mail me, or ask in the Ask Dave/Mac Support Boards, where everyone can take a stab answering your questions! For now, read on!

Sam Pratt writes, "I just had a cable modem installed at home for an old iMac 233, and expected a simple installation -- I've done this before at my office, no hassles, three different types of Macs. Though I set the TCP/IP and AppleTalk control panels correctly, no juice from the Ethernet port. Navigator and Explorer can't make a connection. I threw away every possible preferences file in sight. Zapped the PRAM -- several times now. Ran Norton. Ran TechTool. Upgraded the firmware and upgraded from OS 8.6 to 9.1. Still nothing. I tested the cable modem connection with a PowerBook running OS 9.1 -- no problems. So the cable modem is doing its job. I'm starting to think there is a hardware problem with my Ethernet port. Any final suggestions before I drag it in to be serviced?"

Sam -- You may be right in that you have a hardware problem. The first thing to do is to see if you get a "link" light on the cable modem. That is, a light that indicates that the cable modem is hard-wire connected to the computer. Most cable modems have these, and they are often labeled as "PC" or some such. If your cable modem doesn't have such a light, you can try connecting to a hub to see if that works. If you have TCP/IP set to Ethernet and you don't get a link light, there's definitely a hardware connectivity problem. It could be a bad Ethernet port on your Mac, of course, but it could also be a bad or mis-wired cable. Some cable modems require a "cross-over" cable -- that is, a cable that swaps send and receive wires so that two devices can communicate without the need for a hub. Some cable modems are wired to be backwards, and therefore require the cable to NOT be crossed. The newer PowerBooks will automatically reconfigure their Ethernet ports to cross, if necessary, so your iMac may not work with the same cable as your PowerBook. Check with your Cable modem manufacturer and/or provider to find out more about which way your modem is set up.

But if you plug your computer into a hub with a normal (non-crossed) CAT-5 Ethernet cable, you should get a link light. If you don't, there's something wrong with the machine.

Kimberly Hartvigsen writes, "We are in the process of moving our mini-network (iMac and PowerBook) to DSL and would like to throw our inkjet printer in to the mix. My questions is this: why is there no such thing as a USB print server on any of the routers out there, and if there is, why is it so hard to find anyone who knows about them?"

As far as I know, there are no hardware-based USB print server solutions out there. My unresearched guess as to why this is so is that each USB device has its own set of commands, and in order for your router to talk to your printer, the router would need to have specific drivers written for it to do that. Since it's hard enough getting people to write drivers for Macs to talk to USB printers, my guess is that no printer manufacturer is going to bother writing drivers for an even smaller market of routers.

That said, there are a few software-based options for sharing your USB printer. Mac OS 9 includes "USB Print Sharing", and depending on what kind of printer you have, this can work quite well. Unfortunately some printer vendors (are you listening Hewlett Packard??) have opted to use a non-standard set of USB protocols when designing their printers and, as such, some of them won't work with USB Print Sharing. Epson printers, on the other hand, can usually be shared using either USB Print Sharing or the third-party EpsonShare utility.

Mark Bromwich writes, "We would like to talk to our old ( but trustworthy ) Apple IIf LaserWriter from our G4 but we are told this is impossible as the LaserWriter uses AppleTalk via a printer port serial connection. Hardware USB - serial convertors won't work with AppleTalk. Is this true?"

Yes, it is true that USB to Serial converters won't work with AppleTalk, but there are Ethernet to LocalTalk adapters that will work just fine for your situation here. Asante makes the AsanteTalk series of adapters that perform this function quite well. I used one here for a LONG time here before getting an USB-based printer, and had no complaints whatsoever.

That's it for this time, folks! If you have any comments about the items discussed here, please post them in the comments below. If you have a question of your own, please feel free it to me at [email protected], or ask in the Ask Dave/Mac Support Boards. I'll see you next time!

P.S. Have a Nice Day.