Whats a router + Why do i need one

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Just a set of simple notes for people looking to buy a router, followed by a lightweight guide on what a router is, how to use, etc.. - I have purposely kept this guide simple, so's to make it accessible to all people regardless of their level of computer literacy.  Additionally, I intend to add to this + expand it (including links), so it is fairly brief at the moment:

Please Note: Whilst this guide is lightweight, it is also aimed more at people wanting to do more than simply share their internet connection with their XBox or create a VOIP setup. - The notes towards the bottom of this guide could still be helpful, but for these users, generally only requiring a simple configuration that most new routers will handle pretty much automatically, it probably does not matter much the make or model of the router as long as they can get connected with it.

I have so far received 1 comment on this article from another eBay member + have implemented what they had to say into this guide. - You know who you are. - Thank-you.

Of all other viewers who have not given me any constructive comments or criticism + who have stated that they did not find this guide useful, I would ask that if you cannot find what you are looking for with a guide (any guide, not just mine) then notify the author(s) to tell them what you found to be unclear or to be missing before stating that you did not find the guide to be helpful.  This way the author can make improvements, like adding addtional content, to ensure that your problem is not a problem for future users of the guide.



i:) Some models sold unsecure (ie: the default setup leaves your system wide open to attack online).

ii:) The default setup on some is obscure + very difficult to configure for a home LAN setup.

iii:) NAT configuration problems with other BT routers compromise connectivity + also leave your system wide open to attack.

iv:) Can run slow with P2P + randomly disconnect (mainly affects USB connections).

v:) Watch out for models that have been configured specifically for use with BT as the ISP. - Especially 'used' routers + older models.



i:) Documentation can be poor with very limited support, but decent quality hardware.



i:) Bad P2P problems with some models.

ii:) Poor customer support.


Safecom: Beware of terrible firmware on some models, like the SART2-4115, + also connectivity problems with Via Rhine II onboard ethernet (again, the SART2-4115).


No Make or Model: There are several sellers selling routers/router combinations with no make/model information. - Avoid. - The selller may be perfectly reputable, but no information means that you are buying blind + probably buying junk. - All the specifications given for the router being sold don't mean a thing because most of them are pretty standard features anyway for most routers + without a make + model # you cannot make any checks of your own prior to purchasing to see whether the item is worth buying or a load of junk.



So, What's A Router?

A router is a hardware unit designed for monitoring, controlling, + managing network traffic.  Coupled with a modem (whether built-in or external) it will do the same for your internet connectivity.  Some also advertise firewall capability, - see Do I Still Need A Firewall?


How Do I Connect It?

A router will typically have it's own power-supply unit, so a spare socket would be handy.  Additionally they work on low voltage, so they use an adaptor (problematic if you have a one of those multi-socket extension cables with the sockets in flat block rather than the strip variety).

If the router is the wired variety you will also require a spare USB connection or spare network port (many computers now have onboard ethernet, but some routers may have problems with this).  Additionally onboard ethernet may be turned off in your BIOS + will require driver files (which may be dowloadable from the web).  As with a normal modem, the cable for the telephone line should just connect to the ADSL port on your router, 'though broadband users should remember that filters will still be required on their telephone lines or (in the case of extension cables with telephone line surge protection) on the extension cable telephone cable out socket (ie: the one that you would plug one end of the cable to your router into to).

Connecting your router via USB will require drivers.  USB can also make a big drain on system resources, is not as fast as ethernet, + can cause connectivity problems (random disconnections, etc. whilst online).  Connecting your router to an ethernet connection on your computer or network card using a network cable should not require drivers, does not drain system resources like USB connections do, + will also allow for faster connections. - You may have several ports on the back of your router, marked LAN1, LAN2, etc. + any one will do for an ethernet connection, but it is best to use the first unoccupied port (eg: LAN1).

Don't forget that if your intended setup is wireless you will also require a wireless network card or wireless USB device


What If I Have A Laptop Or Notebook?

First of all check to see if your laptop is wireless capable.

- Does it have a built-in compartment (in the base) containing a network card or MiniPCI wireless network card? - This may be detailed on the original paperwork that came with the laptop + a network card may be shown, but as an optional item (in which case you probably will not have one installed unless you specifically requested one at the time of purchase).  Note:  A Bluetooth USB dongle (a device that plugs into USB port on your laptop or PC can also be used for connecting up to the internet through some wireless routers [search Google or Metacrawler for "bluetooth router" (minus the speech marks + ensuring to select "Pages From The UK" if you are wanting to buy in the UK)].

Aside from needing a wireless transceiver in the form of a MiniPCI card or USB device (often referred to as a dongle) for your laptop (if you don't already have one), you will also require a wireless router.  It is likely that you will have a dial-up modem in your laptop, but no ADSL modem (this is actually a network card, but is usually referred to incorrectly as a modem), so a wireless router with ADSL modem + NAT should take care of all your requirements, in providing you with a modem, firewall (through the NAT side of your router) + internet connectivity for your laptop of course.  Some wireless routers are also packaged with a USB dongle + will therefore save you the additional cost of having to purchase this seperately, as well as ensuring a minimum likelihood of compatibility issues between your router + transceiver device (the dongle or card attached to/installed in your laptop or notebook.

It is also possible to connect your laptop through a wireless connection with dial-up. - Not all routers can handle dial-up connectivity, though, whilst others can handle both dial-up + broadband (these might require that the laptop be connected by cable to the router for dial-up sessions).  Some routers are also designed specifically for use with dial-up

Do I Still Need A Firewall?

If you are using a router with NAT (Network Address Translation) enabled then you do not need a software firewall (this includes the rather inappropriately named software on Windows XP that is supposed to pass as one + also the firewall component on certain virus-checkers).  This is because on a properly configured setup any potential hacker 'probing' your network will only 'see' the IP address of your router.  Most routers are secured by default, ie: the default setup is a 'safe' configuration for connecting to the internet without needing any adjustments.

NAT allows the router to change the IP address header of any data packets sent from your PC to those of the router or other IP address configured by yourself or your system administrator.  Therefore when a hacker 'probes' your network any replies they receive will be from the router, not your PC. - In effect your PC is 'hidden' behind the router.  This will also mean that if you carry out any "leak tests" on your router you may get a warning resulting in the test system believing that your system is partially insecure due to being able to detect an IP address from what it believes to be your PC, but which is actually the IP address currently being given out by your router.

If your router is not NAT enabled, you will still need a software firewall.

I have been told by one eBay member that a firewall is still necessary, as NAT will not prevent outbound connection attempts from your system. - This is true, but a properly configured system + NAT-enabled router still overide the need for a firewall. - A firewall program works as a network filter + is by default set to 'Paranoid' mode in that, prior to setting any rules or permissions, most of them will query all traffic (inbound + outbound), but a NAT-enabled router does just the same without the querying (it's up to you to set permissions on programs + specify port connection parameters + also to install a decent virus-checker or spyware software if you are concerned about malicious programs on your system freely connecting up to locations on the internet behind your back).


What Do I Need If I've Got Cable Broadband?

Just make sure that your router is a cable router or cable modem-router depending on what hardware you already have. - As long as you have a threaded connector on the back of the box for attaching your cable you should be sorted.  Other than that, you should just be able to connect your system as usual by USB or ethernet.

As eBay user Sillywalker pointed out, if you already have a cable modem you should be able to use any standalone router. - As your cable connection is connected to a cable modem already, you only need to connect your modem to a USB or ethernet port on your router + then to connect your router to your system (unless already connected through a wireless connection).


Do I need more than one router?

Not unless you have more than one telephone line, no.  Properly configured, a single router should easily be capable of servicing your entire household, including mobile devices.  If you find your requirements exceed the capacity of the router (eg: four LAN/Ethernet connections required when the router can only handle two), a replacement router with greater capacity should be used.  Do not attempt to plug multiple USB connectors or LAN connectors into one socket using a splitter or hub!


That's It?

Not quite.  After installing your router you will need to setup + configure it.

You should find somewhere in the instruction (or possibly on a sticker on the box) an IP address, which you need to type into the address bar of your internet browser (just as if you were entering a web address).  You should then find yourself faced with a login screen (the default login details should also be wherever you found the IP address + there is usually a way of resetting the router in the event of the login details being different to those shown).  Once you have successfully logged-in you will be faced with the router configuration + there will be somewhere here where you can input your login details for connecting to the internet.  Every time you then want to change any part of the router configuration you simply type in that IP address from the box or instructions + login. - It is a very good idea to change the default login details to something of your own (you should be able to do this through the configuration).



802.11b/ 802.11g?

These are wireless interface standards for wireless interface cards.  In simple terms 802.11b wireless devices will support data transfer rates upto 11Mbps, whilst 802.11g devices will support data transfer rates upto 54Mbps.


BT, AOL, + Kingston?

These ISPs (internet service providers) all have networking configurations that can cause connectivity problems with some routers.  For this reason you will often see lines like "compatible with BT, AOL, + Kingston" in router descriptions to indicate that the router will work OK with these ISPs.


ADSL 2 or ADSL 2/2+?

This is the next generation of ADSL. - This standard is intended for ADSL speeds upto 24Mbps, so it is something to think about if you are prepared to buy a decent router + require something that won't require a replacement for some time (well, until ADSL 3/3+ anyway =] ).  Some D-Link routers advertise the capacity to be upgraded with a firmware upgrade at a later date + doubtless some other routers will also be upgradeable this way too.



Hardware: The mechanical + electrical components of a computer.  Software: Typically information stored to some kind of magnetic medium or burnt onto a specially treated surface, both usually requiring some kind of hardware for the initial writing + for later retrieval of the stored information; some exceptions, eg: hard-drives, which are technically hardware.

Firmware is the name given to the instruction sets that many hardware devices use to control their operational parameters (or how they should function).  These instruction sets are usually stored in a chip on the hardware device they have been designed for.  In this respect firmware forms a combination of hardware + software in that these instruction sets can be accessed + modified.

On most routers the firmware is upgradeable in order to allow the manufacturer to make it possible for users of their routers to fix functionality problems, internal connectivity issues +, in some cases, to allow their routers to be upgraded (eg: certain Linksys routers, which will be upgradeable to ADSL2/2+ standard with later firmware releases).



RJ on its own stands for Registered Jack, whilst the 11 + 45 indicate the type or design.  Both are cable terminators.

If you look closely at the connectors on ADSL cables you will notice that there are six wire positions + two gold coloured strips (or pins). - These are RJ-11 connectors, making the cable an RJ-11 cable, + meaning that the cable is designed to work with an RJ-11 port on a laptop/router/network card/modem/whatever.  Typically there will be a small connector at one end of the cable with a larger connector at the other end (UK setup).

RJ-45 connectors have 8 pins + are used with cables containing 4 sets of 2 twisted pair wires.  These are for ethernet use, + are designed to work with RJ-45 ports on a laptop/router/network card/modem/whatever.  Typically the connector will be the same at either end of the cable.


If you have anything (constructive) to add to this article please feel free to contact me. - It is not perfect, I know, but hopefully it will answer some people's questions + help others avoid potentially expensive mistakes.


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