Yet again I had to go and reset the router for our wireless connections at home so that the computers and printers that are connected can interact once more saving the alternative hassle of having actual wiring running every which way in the house. Maybe time to upgrade my old router.
There was a time when
routers were a serious expense and they were slow and not too reliable. The latest versions are a big step forward and very much more affordable, but it pays to look closely at the specifications because you may find that you don’t actually need the very latest for your usage nor the speed they are now capable of transmitting at, or you may want to just use wired connections rather than wireless, or a mix of both.
The router is a network device that acts as a traffic cop. It is a bit like a small computer with a small amount of memory and limited processing capabilities. When a device is connected to your network it needs to be given a unique ‘address’ on the network, so that communications between your various devices is managed without any clashes to the flow of data between them. The router does all of this by managing the wired and wirelessly connected devices.
Most routers let you connect devices to your network with an Ethernet cable. Modern routers come with two types of wired connection: 10/100 or Gigabit Ethernet. The Gigabit is the fastest connection and is rated as 10 times faster than 10/100 connections. So if you plan to move lots of large files between computers on your network, it’s worth investing in a dearer router that supports Gigabit connections and won’t slow down the data traffic through lack of memory or for other reasons.
In addition most routers offer four ports for wired connections. If you’re planning to connect more than four wired devices, then you may need to spend a little more and look for a router that has more ports, or switch over to wireless connection.
The wireless network routers have been around for a while so while newer standards have evolved they continue to upgrade. The likely wireless standards that you may come across will usually be labelled on the side of the router. Before buying your first router or upgrading an earlier version keep in mind what you want it to be able to do for you, are you connecting both wired and wireless devices, do you want speed, how much do you want to spend. Here are some of the classifications you’ll see:
802.11b: This was the first, widely used wireless networking system. Up to 11Mbps of speed and used the public 2.4GHz wireless frequency range. It’s still popular with wireless hotspots and is supported in modern routers for connecting older computers.
802.11g: The earlier model at 11Mbps was slow. The new 802.11g delivered a significant speed improvement to 54Mbps still using the 2.4GHz band.
802.11a: Then came a new wireless standard that used the 5GHz frequency. Like the previous 802.11g it was rated at a speed of 54Mbps but it wasn’t backwards compatible with the popular 802.11b.
802.11n: This version upped the ante with speeds of up to 600Mbps and support for both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz frequencies. You’ll read about “dual-band” routers – that means they support both frequencies. Cheaper routers only support 2.4GHz. And if you really need it then there is a nifty extra with dual-band routers as they make it possible to create two wireless networks – one for you and one for staying guests perhaps, or if you work from home then one for business and one for home.
802.11ac: This is newest wireless standard. The new routers support all or most of the previous standards as well but unless your hardware devices also support the new standard it may be overkill to invest in one.
Prices for routers of good standards and capability range from around $125 to over $400 for the very latest and best and when you have assessed your needs decide whether you want speed or just connectivity, or whether both are essential. If wireless performance is the main thing and you won’t be connecting wired devices, then a dual-band wireless router will suffice.
There is also something called a Range Extender which can improve the range your router can manage without deteriorating signal, but for home use the newer routers have sufficient range for most users.
Remember that routers do occasionally freeze up and needs a reset. Most routers do not have a reset button so it is a case of unplugging the power input, count to 10 and reinsert the power plug. The better routers like Linksys, Cisco or D-Link are known to work well.
Whatever you decide, have fun and check out the various brands before buying. If you would like some more help then you know where to go – Kapiti SeniorNet, of course.