What is a network router and why worry about buying one? A fair number of computer owners don't need a network router, but if you expect to run a small office or home office with more than one computer, or connect even a single computer to a wireless network, a network router is the solution.
Think of a network router like a traffic cop. When two or more computers share a printer, or a Web connection, something has to connect them and do the work of deciding who goes first. Network routers are not big nor particularly complex, but they are useful for keeping your small office productive at the lowest possible cost. And they're not even expensive!
Covered in this guide to network routers:
1. When you will need a network router
2. Why buy a wireless router to network your office
3. When a switch will do, and when a network router is better
4. Tips on economizing and simplifying network router systems
When you need to consider a network router
Got a single desktop in your home office, a Web connection and a printer? You're done. No network router needed. But add a second desk or move into an office space, and a number of tasks -- sharing files between computers, dividing the Internet connection, connecting two or more people to a single printer -- and you'll be network router shopping.
Find out if you need a network adapter
An additional part is often prescribed when setting up a home network, called a "network adapter." This is exactly what it sounds like, an small part that allows your computer to physically connect to a network router. On a desktop computer, this is a PCI card, which is installed inside. For laptops, it's often a PCMCIA card, also called a PC card, which is the size of a credit card and goes in the side of the machine.
PCMCIA and network adapters is at Business.com
If you go wireless, you'll need a wireless router
Even if you expect to connect only one computer wirelessly, say a laptop with Wi-Fi capability, the way to get your small office or home office space going is to set up a wireless network. Even for small teams of five or more computers, a wireless network router is a painless, cable-free way to link up.
What a router switch is and what it is not
Some people use "network router" and "switch" interchangeably. This is an error. They often look the same, but a network router does much more.
- A modem router is just the latest wrinkle in simplicity. Manufacturers realized that desk space was at a premium in home offices and combined the modem, which intercepts broadband Web from a cable or phone line, and a network router into one unit.
- An Internet router is not just for home use, and not just for computers. Increasingly, routers serve to connect Web-based phone systems, Internet radio, digital TV and other Web content -- even newer game consoles.
- A hub and router combo is useful for extending a wireless system over a larger area, like in a school or older office building with thick walls. The hub repeats the signal from the router, extending network coverage.