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A router gives network-enabled devices such as laptop or desktop computers, tablets, game consoles or televisions access to the Internet or a private local network. They can provide a hard-wired connection via Ethernet ports, wireless access or both. The many routers available at Staples include those from brands such as Netgear, Linksys and D-Link, and they handle the networking needs of most home or business users.
Connect All Your Devices with a Router These products provide an Internet connection that multiple devices can share. Almost all models have an Ethernet port that connects to an Internet service provider's modem or wall plug. The other ports and the Wi-Fi signal are part of a local network that you can connect to your computers or other devices. The best routers have high-speed gigabit Ethernet ports and support a broad range of Wi-Fi protocols, so they're compatible with almost any computer, tablet or network-capable appliance.
Setting up a network can be challenging, but routers have features that simplify the process. Most have Ethernet ports that automatically adjust their transfer speed to match the connected device. Wireless devices use WPS technology, which lets you configure connections by pressing a button. Many products also include apps that provide quick access to network control options.
A Router Maximizes Network Performance Modern homes and businesses have multiple networked devices, and many of these products have features designed to ensure each gets the access it needs to perform reliably. Beamforming technology provides a directed Wi-Fi signal that maximizes bandwidth to each receiver. Dual-band wireless routers offer flexible channel options that reduce interference from appliances such as baby monitors and microwave ovens and let users avoid congested channels in crowded locations. Many models include automatic load-balancing features that ensure each device receives its fair share of the available bandwidth. Products with built-in USB ports make it simple to connect peripherals such as external hard drives or printers to the network, so you can provide shared access to these devices without using a dedicated host computer.
Are Routers and Modems the Same Thing? While these devices perform similar tasks, they're not the same thing. A modem translates the signals used by Internet service providers into network data that computers and mobile devices understand. A router creates connections between two or more computer networks. Many service providers provide separate modems that work with almost any router, but combination router/modems are available.
Are Routers Secure? Most of these products include features that protect your computers and mobile devices from external threats. Network address translation hides all local systems behind a single public address, protecting them from casual network snooping. WPA and WPA2 Wi-Fi protocols secure wireless access with a password. Many router models designed for home use also include controls that let parents restrict access to specific sites or limit access from individual devices. Some products support guest networks that let you grant visitors Internet access without putting your personal computer at risk.
How Many Devices Can You Connect to a Router? While the theoretical limit for most routers is 255 connections, the practical limit is typically much lower. Products with Ethernet ports can support one device per available port. Many wireless models include guidelines for the number of simultaneous connections they provide, but network performance will vary depending on what's connected. Data-hungry streaming televisions use much more bandwidth than a computer running a web browser, for example.