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NETWORKING HARDWARE

How to Shop for a Wireless Router
By: wubayou
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    2012-04-18

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    Do you need a wireless router for your home or business, but have no idea how to differentiate one from another? If so, this article will let you know what to look for when shopping so that you purchase the wireless router that fits your needs.

    Connectivity has become an essential part of many homes and offices.  Whether it is used to gain internet access or share content across a network, a wireless router is a must-have piece of machinery if you want to maximize an environment’s overall connectivity. 

    So, while you now know that a wireless router is a must, how do you go about selecting the right one if you have no technical knowledge of wireless networking?  What do you look for?  Do you purchase the cheapest one, or the one with the most bells and whistles?  This article will help you make that determination.  There is no reason to let a lack of knowledge keep you from picking out and setting up a wireless router, so let us begin taking a look at what you need to know when shopping for one.

    Before we jump into the factors you should consider when shopping for a wireless router, we should discuss some of the issues that seem to make wireless networking such a tricky subject for many.

    If you want to single out one factor as the culprit behind the trickiness of wireless networking as a topic, wireless signals would be a good choice.  Since these fickle signals are often affected by outside interference in the form of physical obstacles, other routers and devices, and more, manufacturers continue to try and implement new and improved technologies into their routers.  Over time, it seems as if this innovation has led to an excess of features and boastful promises of what certain routers can do, making the process of actually setting up and using a router more complicated than it should be.

    To avoid the hassle that often comes with such complication, many casual users and business owners hire professionals to handle the router selection and setup process.  While this offers peace of mind that the job is getting done correctly, it can be expensive.  To help you save money and tackle the task on your own, here are things to factor in when shopping for a wireless router.

    Is a Wireless Router Necessary?

    The first thing you want to ask yourself before jumping into shopping for a wireless router is if you really need one.  A router’s basic purpose is to transmit network traffic from the internet connection supplied by your internet service provider to your network, be it home or office.  The router acts as the gateway between the internet connection and your devices, and also allows those devices to interact and share data with each other.

    Now, if you just have one computer in your home or office that can be in a fixed location, you can simply depend on a wired connection from your device to a cable or DSL modem.  If you are like most people, however, you probably have multiple devices with wireless capability, such as laptops, gaming systems, smartphones, tablets, and the like.  To be able to use these devices as you please and to allow them to share data with one another, you will need a wireless router.

    What Will You Use it for?

    When shopping for a wireless router, you have to consider what it will be used for.  Will the devices that connect to it be used for casual Web browsing, or will they require better performance for tasks like gaming, streaming video, or business purposes?  If the router will be used for casual tasks, a budget-priced single-band router that is easy to install and use should be good enough. 

    If the wireless router will be used for heftier tasks such as the aforementioned gaming, streaming video, or business purposes, you are better off selecting a dual-band router that could cost double the amount of its simpler counterparts.  The more expensive routers usually come with more bells and whistles to play with, but do not assume that their performance will always outdo cheaper selections.

    Security is Important

    You do not want outsiders snooping around on your network, so router security is vital.  The wireless router should support WPA2, as it is the highest level of security available.  If you are using the router for a home setup and have children, you might want to consider one that offers extended functionality in the form of parental controls.

    What’s the Difference between Single-Band and Dual-Band?

    When it comes to wireless routers, you basically have two bands - 2.4GHz and 5GHz.  These are basically the frequencies in which the wireless communications operate, and they differ in their defining characteristics.  The 2.4GHz band offers a better signal at longer distances, while the 5GHz band is more ideal for tasks such as gaming and video streaming since less devices actually run on that frequency.  A single-band router should be fine for casual users, while a dual-band router will give those with more sophisticated needs some added functionality since it can take advantage of both bands.

    What About Router Speeds?

    As you shop for a wireless router, you will notice such speed specifications as 300 Mbps, 450 Mbps, and 900 Mbps.  These numbers really represent router speeds in a perfect environment, so a real world situation with interference from other sources will not give you such gaudy stats.  Regardless, the router speed listed on the box does not refer to the internet speed you will achieve.  That depends on your internet service provider.  What it does indicate is how fast performance will be on your internal network when performing tasks such as sharing files and streaming media.  The fancier wireless routers will offer 900 Mbps specs, while simpler ones will give you a more modest 300 Mbps.

    Since we are discussing numbers, you should purchase an 802.11n router.  It can function in a mixed mode that supplies connectivity for a wider range of devices.  Stay away from 802.11n draft routers that will limit you.

    Conclusion

    Hopefully we cleared a few things up regarding wireless routers with this brief overview.  Use it as a guide when you are shopping for a new wireless router, and remember that you should purchase a router that coincides with your needs.  Just because a router is more expensive does not necessarily mean it will offer easier configuration, and there is no need to pay for a device with a host of extra features that you will never use.


    DISCLAIMER: The content provided in this article is not warranted or guaranteed by Developer Shed, Inc. The content provided is intended for entertainment and/or educational purposes in order to introduce to the reader key ideas, concepts, and/or product reviews. As such it is incumbent upon the reader to employ real-world tactics for security and implementation of best practices. We are not liable for any negative consequences that may result from implementing any information covered in our articles or tutorials. If this is a hardware review, it is not recommended to open and/or modify your hardware.

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