Steve DeLassus reminded me that NICs are dirt-cheap at Buy.com right now. A Netgear FA311 runs $10.50 after rebate. (Hint: these cards use the NatSemi module in Linux, and yes, you have to have a pretty recent distribution to have that module, though you can certainly download the source and compile it if you want.)
A Netgear 4-port 100-meg hub runs about 35 bucks. A Netgear 5-port 10/100 switch runs about 40. Very nice. Pricing at mwave.com is very similar.

If you prefer a tier-1 NIC, you can pick up Intel cards for $19 at Directron.com. Or if $10.50 will break you, you can get a generic RealTek-based card from Directron for $9.50 (it uses the rtl8139 module; 8139too will work as well, but the prior module is better). Be aware that the RealTek 8139 is anything but a high-end chip; and generic 8139s ought to be considered tier-3 cards. But if you’re on a budget and need something that’ll work with Linux, no questions asked, it’ll do.

Cheap cables? Directron’s got 7-footers for 3 bucks. Your choice of a 14′ or 25′ is 5 bucks. Pricing at Newegg.com is even a little lower.

I built my first home network in late 1998. I bought a SOHOware kit that included a 4-port 10-meg hub, a pair of 25′ cables, and a pair of 10/100 PCI NICs with a DEC Tulip knockoff chipset. I was pretty proud of myself for finding it for less than $100. That hub fell over dead within a few months. Now for that price you can have first-tier stuff.

I’m out of here for a couple of days. I’ve sent Steve DeLassus some stuff that he can post while I’m gone, so things shouldn’t be too different around here. Unless Steve decides he wants to write something, that is, in which case you’ll just see a marked increase in quality that day…

Well, and you won’t see immediate responses to comments from me.