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What About Your Network Router?

By Matt Simpson - Wednesday, January 11, 2012

That little box sits somewhere in your house. You see its lights blinking and you know that without it, you know that when it’s not working, your home networked devices can’t connect to the internet. But what do you really know about that little box that gives us our connection to that life bringing stream of information we call the internet? 

Many people are surprised to find out how very important and powerful these devices really are. They connect all of our networked devices into our home network, connect that network of devices to the internet, and provide basic security between the dangers of the internet and our precious data. Some models even do much more than that. The router is often underappreciated for all it does for us.

What Does A Router Do?

At its simplest, a router is a device that connects one network to another one. It examines the header information on incoming packets and using the IP address information within the header, it decides whether the packet is to be forwarded to an address on its own network or routed to an address on another network. This is based on the information in the routing table. In this way, it acts as a gateway device between the networks.

This is perhaps an overly simple explanation, but will suffice to give you an idea. There are good jobs that only incorporate dealing with specific routers, so all there is to know about routing has not been included in the previous paragraph. Home and small business routers are very simple versions of the router design though, so they are much simpler in their operation and configurability than larger routers.

Do Routers Do Anything Else?

Home routers operate as a gateway between your network and the ISP. They also act as a switch to transfer data on your local network such as from a PC to a network printer. Most home routers also have wireless, or Wi-Fi radios. This allows for wireless devices such as smart phones to connect to the local network and enjoy all of the benefits of having their packets routed to the internet.

For better or worse, the router we have in home is also our primary security device against outside intrusion of our network. Home routers all contain some kind of firewall, which at its core, should identify and block any unauthorized incoming or outgoing data packets. Sadly, on many of the more inexpensive routers, this is simply a matter of turning the firewall option on or off and they are not terribly effective. It is much more effective than no protection at all however.

Differences

One of the most confusing things when shopping for a new router is figuring out why some routers cost 20 bucks and some cost 200. They look identical and they all connect your home network to the ISP and allow wireless devices to connect, so why the price difference and do I need the 200 dollar one?

Like most technology, the power of the device affects price, 20 dollar routers may have a 100 MHz processor and 32mb ram to work with. Some of the higher end home routers have 680 MHz or higher speed CPU’s and 1 or 2 GB of ram. This makes them able to do their jobs much more effectively.

Additional features abound on the higher end models. Many have USB ports allowing them to be used as either Networked attached storage or network print servers. Some even have built in Web or Bit Torrent Servers. One of the more popular high end features is to have simultaneous 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz radios that offer both guest and private wireless connections on both frequencies. Essentially, this makes them able to offer quad wireless networks from a single device.




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