A home cable/DSL router may be the second best improvement you can make to your home computer and network as far as making your broadband connection usable, and keeping your home computer safe. For a very little bit of time and effort (and roughly $40 American) you can prevent all sorts of headaches.
First of all, what is a router? According to my Techno Babble page it is:
A piece of hardware that connects two separate networks together and routes information between them…
The two networks we are talking about are the internet, and one that likely didn’t exist until you installed the router – your home network. The second you plug your computer into the port marked “LAN”, or one of the numbered ports (if the router has a built-in switch), you have an instant, if very small network made up of your computer and the router. The second you attach the router to the cable modem or DSL modem, you have added the router to the network we call the internet.
How to tell if you need a router:
Some DSL modems provided by companies like Bellsouth already act as routers. If this is the case, then you do not need to add a router, though you may want to add a switch and/or a wireless access point to allow more computers onto the internet, or to free yourself up from being tethered to the desk. In order to tell if you are behind a router:
If you have a Windows machine, click on “Start”, then “Run”. In the box provided type:
…and click OK (If you’re still using windows Me or Windows 98 you will have to type in the full word “command” instead of “cmd”). When the black box with the “>” prompt appears, type the following:
… and hit the enter key. You will get a short list of numbers.
For Macintoshes running OS X, open up the system preferences and look at the network preferences. For older versions of OS X you may have to specify “built-in-ethernet” in a drop-down menu.
What you are looking for is a line that starts with “IP Address.” Following it will be a series of four numbers separated by periods. If the first number is a 192, a 172, a 169, or a 10, and you are able to get online, then you can stop worrying. You’re good to go. If not, your standard mail-order place like CDW, newegg, or PC zone can help you, as well as any local Staples, Radio Shack, or electronics store that sells computer equipment.
Setting Up The Router
Hook it up between your modem and your computer as shown in the diagram below:
You will likely have to do one or more of the following three things: First, if you have a cable modem, unplug your cable modem completely for a few minutes. Don’t just turn it off. The reason for this is that it whatever computer or router it first sees is the only piece of equipment the modem will talk to. Unplugging the modem clears this memory and allows it to start talking to your router.
Knology and some other providers may ask you to provide the “MAC” address of your computer. As opposed to “Mac” computers from Apple, the MAC is a unique ID number given to every network card. Your router will have this number on the outside of its’ casing.
Finally, there is a percentage of internet companies like Time Warner that require your computer or router to log in. In this case you will also have to follow your setup instructions for configuring the router and find the option (often on the main page), to have the router connect to the internet using “PPPOE.” You will also have to type in a user name and a password that your ISP gives you. This can unfortunately be problematical and confusing, made worse because most ISP’s don’t support home routers, even though it is unsafe to put your computer directly on the internet without one.
When this is all set up, the router decides if any information it sees on the internet needs to be forwarded to your home computers, and if anything your computer is asking for needs to be sent out to the internet in order to download a web page or file. Without any further configuration or setup, you already have the following benefits:
- Because of a firewall technology called NAT that is built into nearly all home routers, your computer and home network is now one step removed from the internet. By creating a separate network it just became significantly harder to crack into. More importantly, it is almost impossible for most “worms” (a type of virus that scans nearby networks every few minutes) to get into your computer.
- On some ISP networks, it’s fairly easy to browse and find computers in your neighborhood. While this is less common these days, having a router prevents anyone else your neighborhood from seeing what computers you have running and from looking into any files you may accidentally share out.
Also, if your router has a built-in switch, or if you are using an separate switch, you can now connect more than one computer to the internet without paying up for more than one internet account. Finally, if you bought a wireless router or add a wireless access point, you can also access the internet from any wireless computers in your household.