Have you ever heard the term router or wireless router and wondered what it was? A router is a piece of equipment that is connected to your network or internet connection and directs the information received and sent to it. Routers are important because they allow multiple computers to share one common connection and provide some protection from unwanted access by deciding what is and is not allowed to pass through it.
Routers come in two types: wired and wireless. A wired router most commonly has four ethernet connection ports for computers and one ethernet connection port for the network link or internet connection. A wireless router has all the ports of a wired router with the addition of a built-in wireless antenna system to send and receive information over wireless signals.
Routers have a few different specifications to understand and evaluate when purchasing one.
- Ethernet/LAN Ports – These are the ports you plug in computers you want to wire directly to the router. Most routers include four of these ports but home/small business models are made with up to sixteen ports.
- Wireless Signal Type – Many routers today have built in wireless capability but the speeds can vary greatly. The fastest newest standard is 802.11AC, the slower but more common 802.11N, to the oldest but most common 802.11G. No matter what speed your router is rated for your internet connection speed will dictate the speed you can access the internet.The most important thing to remember is that both the router and the computers wireless need to match for maximum speed. If a router has 802.11N 600 Mbps but your laptop only has the ability to transmit at 802.11G 54 Mbps you can only communicate to the router at 54 Mbps speed. Most routers are backwards compatible so the connection will fall back to the lower speed if the computer connecting to it doesn’t support the faster speeds.
- Antenna Design – Wireless routers can feature internal or external antennas. External antennas generally perform better and while the rule is bigger is better when it comes to antennas it’s a good idea to remember that walls and interference play a big part in the range of the signal. Some routers support the ability to add-on an external antenna which can be helpful if you need a boost to the signal.
- Extra Features – Routers can have a host of extra features including the ability to connect USB hard drives and printers, have guest Wi-Fi networks and advanced firewalls. Keep in mind that many of these features have limitations and in the case of USB connections may only work with certain types of devices and printers.
The best way to choose a wireless router is to look at independent testing sites and customer reviews. SmallNetBuilder is a website that provides independent testing of many routers and can be accessed by going to http://www.smallnetbuilder.com. You can find customer reviews by going to many major electronic retailers websites and searching for router.
P.S. One final bit of advice when purchasing a router: make sure the store has a good return policy. Since router performance, especially wireless routers, can vary based on where it is placed and the construction of your building you may find a well reviewed router does not meet your needs.