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Routers & Switches

Buyin Guide
A Router or a switch, which do you need? And of course you might ask what'...
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Buyin Guide

A Router or a switch, which do you need? And of course you might ask what's the difference between the two. They are similar in their basic jobs, routing traffic on your network, but routers are more specialized with many more features integrated within them.

There was a time when devices like these could only be found in offices and businesses but with the proliferation of broadband internet you can find them in most homes today that have internet access. These devices allow several computers or other network enabled components to share a single internet connection, and of course allow you to create your own personal network as well.

Routers can provide increased security through built-in firewalls, DHCP or Dynamic Host Configuration Protocols which is basically the automatic assignment of IP addresses to anything hooked to the router, and of course other features that can be specific to the brand/model of router purchased.

Many companies include features specific to their own line of products as well, like a gaming specific router that is made to be used with consoles or PC gaming, for a lower latency or latency free gaming experience.

Now, Network Switches do the same thing as routers, but just don't have all of the features you'd find in a router, they basically just move the traffic through the network, they do however have the ability to figure out what traffic goes where on your network, so it works more efficiently than a network hub will.

With the ever increasing popularity of wireless devices, many routers now come with an access point integrated into them, this allows you to setup your own wireless network. This network can be public or private, basically you can allow anyone to access your internet if you wish, but it's strongly advised against doing so. Having a wireless network is a very nice feature as you don't have to rely on cables and you won't have to run cable through your house or building. I love my wireless network as I can go anywhere in my house, or even outside, and have a connection to the internet. It's this freedom that has contributed to the popularity of wireless networks, and for good reason it's very convenient to go without wires, it allows us to be more productive and gives us a lot of freedom of movement.

When you've decided that it's time to build your own network you'll have to decide a few things before you know which device you'll need.

Personally I feel switches are not as secure as routers, they're fine for private networks, or LANs (local area networks) but I'm not sure if I'd want to use one as my networks main gateway to the world wide web. Sure you can use a switch and a router together if need be, a switch is a great product to use behind your router to connect more devices to your network but still have access to the internet for those devices.

The things you need to consider when buying a Switch or Router:

How many devices do you need to attach to your network?
Routers and Switches comes with varying numbers of ports, of course though if most of your devices are wireless capable then it's not a big decision as you can use an infinite number of wireless devices on a wireless network. For the most part Switches are usually hard wired, but you can purchase wireless switches, though they usually cost quite a bit of money and are normally reserved for businesses or corporations.

Wired or Wireless?
This sort of fits with the above question, but it does deserve a separate section. Do you really need a wireless router? My advice is yes, even if you have no devices that are WIFI enabled, they don't cost much more than a non-wireless version and it'll save you from having to buy a new one later when you do get WIFI capability.

What features do you need?
This is kind of more for the advanced users, but you have to ask yourself what features do you need? This pertains more to routers than switches but it can apply there as well. As I mentioned above some routers are specifically made for gaming but they can be optimized for HD Video Streaming or even feature extended range for the wireless.

Do you need an integrated modem?
Often times when you get cable internet or DSL they'll give you a modem, which of course you pay for or rent from them, this will add to the overall expense and add yet another device in your house. If you get a router with integrated modem you could save yourself some money in the long run, and have one less piece of hardware to worry about.

This pertains to wireless specifically. How far do you want to be able to get from your router? Wireless routers vary differently in their ranges from company to company. Some include extra antennas as well to lengthen the range, and make the quality of the signal better.

One thing to know about routers and their features is that oftentimes they are company specific. Some companies advertise extended range etc for the wireless, but it only if you use their products together, for example their router and their wireless PCI card must be used together to achieve the advertised speeds, but this is usually in fine print somewhere not easily noticeable. It's sort of deceiving, but that's marketing for you!

You've got many choices when it comes to routers and switches, I would highly suggest buying from a well known and reputable company, not only for the quality of the products but for the support as well. If you've got a popular product chances are help will be very easy to find from the manufacturer or elsewhere on the internet.

Most manufacturers keep up with support very well in the form of firmware updates to enable more features and functionality in their products, so if you've got a problem check to see if you've got the latest firmware installed, many time products will ship with outdated firmware, updating the firmware will solve most problems people encounter.

Obviously I can recommend looking around for reviews and ratings of the product you finally decide to purchase, you can learn quite a a bit from the reviews and average peoples experiences with products.


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