Attention: The forums will be placed on read only mode this Saturday (Oct. 20, 2018)

During this outage (6:30 AM to 8 PM PDT) the forums will be placed on read only mode. We apologize for this inconvenience. Click here to read details

Computer Newbies forum

Question

What exactly is a router, and should I buy one?

by ilo_v / June 24, 2012 1:01 PM PDT

Sorry, stupid question asked by a stupid person here. I have an AT&T DSL connection. I have the thick yellow cord that has to always be connected to my laptop and my motorola thingy, in order to get internet. The motorola thingy is connected to the phone hole by the thin, gray phone cord. I hear of these things called routers, and it seems like people are using them to cordlessly get internet. But are they dealing with DSL connections as well? I'm considering purchasing a router, so I don't have to be tethered by the yellow ethernet cord. Any help would be appreciated. Thank you very much.

Discussion is locked
You are posting a reply to: What exactly is a router, and should I buy one?
The posting of advertisements, profanity, or personal attacks is prohibited. Please refer to our CNET Forums policies for details. All submitted content is subject to our Terms of Use.
Track this discussion and email me when there are updates

If you're asking for technical help, please be sure to include all your system info, including operating system, model number, and any other specifics related to the problem. Also please exercise your best judgment when posting in the forums--revealing personal information such as your e-mail address, telephone number, and address is not recommended.

You are reporting the following post: What exactly is a router, and should I buy one?
This post has been flagged and will be reviewed by our staff. Thank you for helping us maintain CNET's great community.
Sorry, there was a problem flagging this post. Please try again now or at a later time.
If you believe this post is offensive or violates the CNET Forums' Usage policies, you can report it below (this will not automatically remove the post). Once reported, our moderators will be notified and the post will be reviewed.

All Answers

Collapse -
Answer
Typically a router can give wireless
by lacsr / June 24, 2012 9:28 PM PDT

Or multiple computers access. The newer routers will just about install themselves (using the supplied software) after they are connected. It would appear from the post that a knowledgeable friend should be on hand for assistance with the installation, however. DSL connection should work the same as another but do not use a router if this is really dial-up. Get the model numbers from the equipment that is installed and Google for them (or post here for additional assistance on what to do next).

Collapse -
Answer
DSL
by pgc3 / June 25, 2012 1:21 AM PDT

If it is DSL and I wasn't aware AT&T used a DSL hook up, I would probably call them to see what they recommend before I went out and purchased a bunch of hardware. DSL is a different hook up than cable and generally requires slightly different hardware since DSL uses a phone line hook up as opposed to cable/fiber. Most DSL servers use (offer) a device called a GATEWAY which is basically a modem/router combination unit, usually with wireless capability for use with wireless devices such as laptops, etc. As I said, I'd proably get some more advice before I went out and bought something.

Collapse -
Answer
Router's aren't for the purpose of removing the cord
by Steven Haninger / June 25, 2012 1:37 AM PDT

What is called a "router" is often multiple devices in one box. The router itself helps facilitate setting up a local network and connecting it to a remote one. The internet is your remote connection. A router also adds an additional security level called a NAT firewall. You can look that up and read about the benefits. What you're describing is a wireless router. This just means it has a built in radio device. Most consumer routers also have a small built in switch...usually 4 ports. These are for wired use. Thus, a router may be 3 or more devices in one package. Some allow the connection of printers and/or USB hard drives. Pick the features you might are useful and buy a reputable brand. You will need to configure it somewhat and, with wireless, configuring security is imperative. Otherwise, your network is open to be used or abused by anyone within signal range. Hope this helps.

Collapse -
Answer
What is a router?
by Zouch / June 30, 2012 12:22 AM PDT

Hi, let's try and sort this out for you. Simply, a router is designed to route a digital signal to one or more connected devices. There are various types of routers, with different characteristics and uses.

I'm not quite sure what you mean by your "Motorolo thingy", so I'll just limit my comments to your laptop internet connection. Also, I should point out that I'm not in America, so I don't know exactly what AT&T supplies but I'm going to assume it's the same as DSL/ADSL connections in the rest of the world. I'll start by assuming your telephone line is copper, not fibre optical (we'll note the differences along the way).

On copper, the phone company supplies voice and data on the same physical line. at the point it enters your house, the first thing needed is a filter to separate the voice from the data. Usually, this is a small box with a single RJ11 or RJ12 socket on the input side and two such sockets on the output side, one for data and one for voice. The line into your house plugs into the input side and your regular house phone plugs directly into the voice socket on the output side. The DSL modem plugs into the data socket on the output side. Usually, all these cables are thin grey 2 or 4 wire. The output side of your DSL modem will have an RJ45 socket (wider, usually coloured yellow). You then plug a CAT5 or CAT6 Ethernet cable into the output side of the modem and the other end into the device you want to connect to the internet, in your case, currently, your laptop. Conventionally, this cable is yellow and contains 4 twisted pairs of wires to connect the modem to the laptop.

Some phone carriers combine the splitter and the modem, so that you have just one box, with a single RJ11 or RJ12 socket on the input side. connected to the incoming phone line and on the output side, one RJ11 or RJ12 socket, into which you plug your house phone and one RJ45 Ethernet connection into which you plug the yellow Cat5/6 cable to your laptop.

If you have a fibre optic connection from the phone company, the voice and data signals are provided on separate fibres and so you do not need the filter. The wall socket will have two connections, one RJ11 or RJ12 for the house phone and one RJ45 socket for the modem.

OK, one of these schemes will apply to what you have already. If you want to connect more than one PC you would use a router to do it, essentially setting up a home network. The router contains a DHCP server which will assign a separate Internet Protocol (IP) address to each computer on your internal home network. It will use these IP addresses to separate the signals for each of the connected computers and route data between them. It will also use a function called Network Address Translation (NAT) to translate your internal IP addresses to the external IP address your phone company supplies. This enables multiple internal network computers to share the single Internet line supplied by the phone company. Most routers also contain a hardware firewall, which provides your internal home network with an additional layer of protection against viruses and malware. To perform these functions, the router can either be wired (all computers are tied into the router by RJ45 Ethernet cables) or wireless, where the cable is replaced with a wireless signal. Note that all wireless routers also have at least one and usually more wired connections to allow you to configure the wireless network. Each computer connected wirelessly will require a Network Interface Card (NIC) to "connect" to the wireless network. Most laptops have had a NIC built in for several years but if you have an older laptop that doesn't, you can add one, either via a USB dongle or a PCMCIA card.

One other variant here, sometimes, the modem and the router are combined into a single unit, imaginatively called a "Modem Router" or sometimes a Gateway. Some phone companies supply such Gateways in place of the modem, usually for an additional charge.

Wireless routers come in different speeds. designated by a letter after the protocol (802.11). The designations are "A" short distance high speed, "B" short distance (but longer than A) low speed (11 Megabits per second (Mbps), "G" medium distance medium speed (54 Mbps), N long distance high speed (150 Mbps). There are also N variants, N300 (300 Mbps), N600 (600 Mbps) and N900 (900 Mbps). You are unlikely to find any of the older A or B routers nowadays and Gs are being phased out. So I'd recommend you go for an N and as you appear to have only one connected machine at present, a straight N (150 Mbps) should suffice. It SHOULD be faster than the speed AT&T are supplying to you and should match the NICs in your attached machines. Within the internal different speed router and NICs can coexist and will establish the appropriate connection speed at sign on.

SO looking at what you asked in your question, if you want to untether your laptop, you need to ensure it has a NIC installed (check in device managed, Network Adapters) or get a USB dongle or PCMCIA card, get a wireless router, unplug the yellow cable from your laptop and plug it into the modem port on the router (this is also usually coloured yellow), ensure the NIC is enabled and follow the installation instructions in the router manual (you may need to plug your laptop into one of the router's wired ports for the installation, for which you will need another RJ45 cable). You can now wander all over your house with your laptop! Always assuming it isn't a steel framed house, of course, wireless signals are shielded by metal!

Most routers are supplied set up to enable an easy first connection, which should include a minimum security set up but once your network is working, you will need to customize your settings through the router's control panel (usually accessed from your browser). I would suggest that you should change the SSID (the name of your network) and stop broadcasting it (you then need to check the box in your NIC setup on the laptop to say connect even if the network isn't broadcasting), change the password on the router control panel, set up MAC control so that the router will only respond to the MAC address on the NIC cards in your network and not some passing stranger, and MOST IMPORTANT, configure the security setting to WPA2-PSK with a strong passphrase. Your router manual will explain all this Note that your NIC settings must match your router settings.

It might sound a bit complicated but it is straightforward as you work your way through it.

Hope that helps, good luck!

Collapse -
Thank you
by ilo_v / July 6, 2012 3:39 AM PDT
In reply to: What is a router?

OP here, and thanks to everyone for your detailed replies. I've realized that all I'm really after is wireless internet in my home. I have a motorola modem that tethers my computer via the ethernet cord that connects my laptop to the modem. It's a bit of a pain. There is only one computer using internet in my home, so I haven't decided yet if I should bother buying a router.

I just got my boyfriend's old Linksys NH1005. I'm reading online, though, that this is NOT a router, but merely a "hub". Sooo this means it's worthless to me? I was thinking of getting a second ethernet cable so I can try to set this all up, but this hub thing makes me wonder if I just have the wrong product.

Collapse -
Answer
Get one now!
by porsche10x / June 30, 2012 7:28 AM PDT

This was already stated, but bears repeating. You should get a router just for the firewall. Even if you don't need the wireless, even if you don't need to connect other devices to the internet, even if you don't need your own local network, the hardware firewall provided by a router is absolutely essential. If you don't already have a router, (if the Motorola thingy is a modem, not a modem/router), then get one immediately. Your PC can be hacked, just by plugging in the ethernet cable and turning the PC on. You don't even have to open up a browser window.

Collapse -
Should I keep my router hooked up then?
by morninglory / July 1, 2012 1:36 AM PDT
In reply to: Get one now!

I bought a router to be able to use my Nook, which I did not like and I returned it to the store. I kept the router and it is still connected to my PC. I was going to disconnect it today until I read your post. So if it is not using an extreme amount of electricity I think I will keep the connection. And I may purchase a Kindle later.

Thanks, Betsy

Collapse -
Doesn't hurt and might help...keep it.
by Steven Haninger / July 3, 2012 11:45 PM PDT

Think of it's firewall as being something like a one way mirror. You're on the inside looking out and potential hackers are on the outside trying to look in. It's not foolproof and they'll slip you a mickey if you're not vigilant. If it's paid for, make use of it.

Collapse -
Keeping my router on
by morninglory / July 4, 2012 3:13 AM PDT

Thanks for your reply. It is a Netgear so I know it's a good one. I am going to keep it on since I'm prone to visiting most anything on the 'net that piques my interest. Happy 4th of July.

Betsy

Collapse -
Answer
Wireless Combo Modem/DSL Router
by baybreeze / July 1, 2012 6:56 AM PDT

I personally have used and really like the Netgear combo modem and router, model DGND3700. I used mine with Verizon DSL, though, not AT&T, but it would probably work. I had great wireless range and never had any problems. Netgears, at least to me, seem a bit more user friendly. They come with a CD to help you through the installation, and they usually autodetect everything and pretty much set it up for you. If you do ever get one, when the install wizard asks you for your username and password, you need to enter the email address and password that you use to access your AT&T DSL. The very first time I installed one of these, I had no clue LOL. I have had several Netgear routers and combo/modem routers and never had any issues with them. I bought one for my sis this past Xmas and she didn't know anything about it, but did figure it out on her own. Then again, I have another sister who tried to install one by herself and I ended up having to help her. Personally I have found buying my own always makes my service much better and faster, with less internet issues.

Popular Forums

icon
Computer Newbies 10,686 discussions
icon
Computer Help 54,365 discussions
icon
Laptops 21,181 discussions
icon
Networking & Wireless 16,313 discussions
icon
Phones 17,137 discussions
icon
Security 31,287 discussions
icon
TVs & Home Theaters 22,101 discussions
icon
Windows 7 8,164 discussions
icon
Windows 10 2,657 discussions

FALL TV PREMIERES

Your favorite shows are back!

Don’t miss your dramas, sitcoms and reality shows. Find out when and where they’re airing!