I like to think of modern home routers as your first line of defense against the bad things out there on the internet. They are super important, and everyone with internet access should have one. Most new routers have a lot of features that surpass “route traffic to the internet and back”. Your basic Linksys router will have the following features, and a lot more right out of the box.
- Basic Routing – Get your traffic to the internet, and the internet’s traffic to the right computer. Some of them can even do internal routing.
- Network Address Translation – Lets you have more than one computer share an internet connection without your ISP really knowing it.
- Wireless Networking – Connect your laptops and other wireless devices to the home network.
- Basic Firewall – Protect your stuff from basic attacks originating from the internet.
- VPN Passthrough – Lets you connect to your work without any re-configuring your firewall.
- Quality of Service, Port Forwarding, MAC address restrictions, Diagnostic Tools, Data Usage Tools, DNS, DHCP and tons more.
Your basic $50-$80 wireless router will have at least all these features, and probably a lot more. Most people just use them to put Wi-Fi in their house if their internet provider didn’t just ship them one.
One major reason to get a router is that it will actually save you money in the long run. It’s not terribly surprising if your cable modem or DSL modem goes out a year after you buy it, and you’ll have to get a new one. If you have a combination router/modem then it’s going to be a lot more expensive. A good router that wasn’t the low-end $20 one at Wal-Mart will typically last five years without much more maintenance than occasionally unplugging it and plugging it back in. So instead of having to buy that $200 router/modem combo just because the modem part when out, you can just go get a $30-$80 modem once every year or so and be fine.
The other reason is the firewall. Most routers have basic firewalls that just work, no configuring by you is needed. If you’re hooking your PC directly to the modem, you will be depending on Windows Firewall, or whatever Apple uses. This isn’t a good idea. Windows Firewall isn’t that great, and a lot of malware just flat turns it off. Router firewalls can be a lot tougher to get around.
What Routers Are Compatible With My ISP?
Unlike modems, there’s not a lot to router compatibility. If you go to your local Best Buy, you’ll see about two dozen models of wireless router. They’ll range from $30 to $250 and have all sorts of guarantees on the front about gaming and video streaming.
The reality is, most of those claims are utter bull. At very least they are misleading. They’ll compare their routers to a competitors low-end router, show how much better it is then make a bunch of claims about speeding up video streaming from the internet. The competitor’s router will have the same thing on their box. Some will even say “Compatible with Suddenlink!”. Yeah, they’re all compatible.
All routers work with TCP/IP and the only major differences are speed, chipset and features you probably don’t care about. Wireless network speed is the biggest thing to look for. You want to get a Wireless N router. It has a range of roughly a thousand feet as opposed to the 300 feet a G router provides, and you get get data speeds up to 300Mbps as opposed to 54Mbps (depending on the security you choose). Even the speed is misleading because you’ll be lucky to get 64-75Mbps on your wireless if you secure it right. A lot of that depends on your network card and what your house is made of.
Now I know you probably just want me to suggest a model. I prefer Linksys E2500’s. They’re right at the $80 mark and have just about everything even an advanced user could want. Here’s a link if your ad-blocking software are hiding the ads: Cisco E2500 Router
If you are an Apple user, I suggest either the AirPort Extreme 5th Generation
or the Base Station
with the print server port on it. The only drawback to these for a PC network (other than price) is they don’t have as many wired ports. Otherwise there aren’t any real differences between the Apple product and the Cisco product except the base station has a print server and some iTunes features you can take advantage of on your Mac, iDevices, or PC.