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Router Buying Guide: Everything You Need to Know

written by: M. C. Cosmin•edited by: M.S. Smith•updated: 11/9/2011

Routers are the heart of any network. Choosing the best router for your needs can be difficult. Fear not! This article will guide you through the steps of choosing the router that best suits your needs.

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    Routers come in all shapes and forms, with a lot of individual and unique features and sometimes choosing between them is very difficult. This article will guide you through the maze of router networking and will also explain the relevant networking concepts.

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    First, You Must Understand What a Router Is

    A router is a piece of hardware used to forward data between several members of a private or public network. The main function of a router is to split a single Internet connection between several machines, be them computers, printers or other similar devices.

    Bandwidth: What It Is And Its Role In Networking

    The hidden trait of Internet connection, bandwidth is probably the most important aspect in communications. It dictates the amount of data that can be exchanged on the network in a certain period of time. Understanding what it is and how it affects data exchange across a network is very important when choosing your router.

    Wired vs Wireless Router: Connection Speed

    If several computers are to share an Internet connection at the same time, there could be a lot of wires running around the place. Luckily, there is the option of wireless connections. However, each has its advantages and disadvantages. So which is the best option?

    What Is Ethernet?

    Among the cable connections, one stands out - Ethernet. It is probably the best available cable connection on the market, and it provides a great support for broadband (large bandwidth) connections.

    Ethernet vs Wireless: General Advantages And Disadvantages

    In most cases, wireless routers will have a couple of sockets designed for Ethernet. This way, users can avoid unpleasant problems when the wireless signal becomes too unstable or when the available bandwidth is too small for user applications.

    How Does A Wireless Router Work?

    The ability to turn a wired connection into a wireless one is very useful, but we need to understand how exactly the wireless router works, to avoid unpleasant surprises later on. The one thing you should remember is that regardless of what router you buy, it will require some sort of physical connection to an Internet service provider network.

    Wireless Connections: The G Connection

    The most common wireless connection is the 802.11g. But there are a few things you should know about it before choosing a router with this standard. They have been around for almost 10 years by now, and they are easy to come across and inexpensive to replace if something bad it to happen to them. However, the bandwidth made available is no longer cutting-edge.

    Wireless Connections: The N Connection

    The heavy hitter of wireless technologies, 802.11n connection is the newest, most advanced and most secure wireless connection available on the market, but prices are also a little higher compared to wirelsss g routers, and older computers will have to be upgraded with compatible LAN cards.

    Wireless Connection: N vs G

    Still not sure which wireless connection is best for you? Have no worries, we will explain the differences for you. 802.11n tends to have a higher maximum speed, going up to 300MB/second, whereas 802.11g has a maximum speed of 108 MB/second. However, there are costs to 802.11n that may not make the additional bandwidth worthwhile.

    Wireless Routers and Printers

    If you plan on building a network around your router, you should know that printers and similar devices will require a special wireless router so that they become available for all the computers on the network.

    Choosing The Best Wireless Router

    Wireless communications are an important breakthrough when it comes to sharing information. But wireless networks are also very complex and sometimes you might be unsure what the best solution is. Routers have all sorts of features for wireless connections and this can become confusing even for the most knowledgeable individuals.

    Security Threats: Data Encryption

    Because routers are not as advanced pieces of hardware as a computer or similar machine, they lack the security solutions of the later, becoming a favorite target for hackers. Data encryption partially fixes this security issue. If you are performing private tasks on the Internet, such as online transactions, data encryption will keep your passwords and usernames safe from hackers. The bigger the number of bites used to encrypt the data, the more effective the encryption becomes.

    Security Threats: Routers With Data Filtering And Access Passwords

    Aside from data encryption, many routers provide data filtering and network access passwords. The passwords are especially useful as they prevent unauthorized access to the wireless network. However, data filtering can sometimes be more of annoyance than an actual tool to keep you safe. While another layer of protection is always welcomed, there are trade-offs between security and usability that must be considered.

    Network Firewalls

    Some routers come with built-in firewalls. Although the individual computers in a network should have their own firewall, getting a router with network firewall is a good idea if you perform a lot of sensitive tasks from your computer, such as managing your bank accounts, online transactions and other similar tasks.

    The Balance Between Bandwidth And Network Security

    Security is important. Especially when it comes to routers, as they can easily be hacked or infested with viruses/trojans/malware. But too much security can sometimes take a toll on the overall available bandwidth; choosing the router with most security features which still retaining most of the bandwidth is essential.