Most home computer users now have a high speed or broadband Internet connection. This makes surfing the web and sending email a breeze. Did you know you can share that high speed Internet connection between several computers? This is a relatively simple thing to do if you have the right components.
If you have a single computer connected to the Internet, you likely have your cable modem or DSL modem connected directly to the back of your computer. This connection may be through an ethernet cable or through a USB cable. In order to connect multiple computers to your cable or DSL internet service, you need an ethernet router. A router will allow all of your computers to access the Internet independently of each other. There are many router models available that are suitable for home use. Most have a built in switch that allows you to connect as many as four computers via ethernet cable. Wireless versions are also available that allow you to connect four computers via ethernet cable and as many as thirty-two or more computers via an antenna.
There is, as with anything, an upside and a downside to using a wireless connection. The obvious upside is that you don't have to run wires throughout your house to setup your network. You can simply add a wireless adapter to your computer (most laptops already have this) and locate the computer just about anywhere in the house within reason. With a wireless laptop, you can sit out by the pool, at the kitchen table or wherever you choose and maintain a high speed connection to the Internet. In homes larger than about 4000 square feet, distance can become an issue, but this can often be remedied with additional signal boosting or repeating equipment. The downside is two fold. First of all, a wireless connection is not as secure as a wired connection. The reason is that someone can sit outside of your house and gain access to your network and, potentially, your sensitive data. If your wireless network is secured properly (see your router's documentation) when it is setup, then you are relatively safe, but a serious hacker could get in if they wanted to. With a wired network, they would have to be inside your home to get that kind of access to the network. The second downside to using wireless is stability. It is just not quite as stable as a wired connection. It is a more complex system, so naturally there are more things that can act up. Cordless phones, microwave ovens and your next door neighbor's wireless network all have the potential to interfere with your wireless connection. All in all, a wireless connection is worth the occasional hiccup if you want the ability to move your laptop around the house or have a desktop that is not close enough to the router and high speed modem to run a wire.
In addition to sharing your high speed Internet connection with all of your home computers, there is another advantage that having a router give you. You can setup file and printer sharing on your Windows computers to allow them to use each other's printers and files. Now when you are sitting by the pool with your wireless laptop, you can print to a printer connected to a desktop computer in the family room. At the same time, someone sitting at the computer in the family room could play a music file that is stored on your laptop.
As far as brands are concerned, steer clear of Linksys, though that's the first thing the big stores will try to sell you. Most of the bad routers we replace are Linksys. Netgear and Belkin are both good and reasonably priced around $50 to $70.