Maybe there was a time, in the distant-past, when it was okay to plug your broadband modem (cable or DSL or fiber or satellite, whatever you've got) directly into your computer. Maybe. But doing that today is tantamount to leaving your front door wide open for malicious jerks to deposit trash in your foyer while stealing your hard-earned cash.
There should always be something between you and your broadband for protection: a router. Here's why you need one for safety, plus all the other benefits a router provides.
|1)||It's an Internet Splitter |
First and foremost, you have multiple devices. They all want—nay, NEED—Internet connectivity. The router is the "splitter" that makes that happens. By plugging the broadband into the WAN port, you can then get Internet out to all the other devices, both wired and wireless.
|2)||It Networks All Devices |
The ultimate reason to have a router: you have multiple computers, phones, and other devices, not to mention multiple peripherals (printers, etc.). Wouldn't it be nice if they all talked to each other? The router is the heart of all that communication.
The modern "wireless router" does more than hand only Internet traffic. It has a built in Ethernet switch (those are the Ethernet ports for the wired devices on the network) as well as an access point for wireless. That term seems to be falling out of vogue these days, but never-the-less the AP is the part that handles all the Wi-Fi traffic and security. A wireless router just ties all these functions into one neat package.
Even without broadband, the switch/AP can still get every device on the network talking. (We won't pretend that actually setting up a network is a breeze for the layman, but the days of directly connecting a couple of computers are gone. Don't even try it. A router, even a cheap one, makes all the difference.)
|3)||It Provides PC Safety |
Routers typically have two built in firewalls. The first is simple NAT for network address translation, which isn't so much for protection as it is for simply making the Internet connection work to all your computers. The second is SPI or stateful packet inspection. Most modern routers have SPI, which keeps extra track of data in network packets and makes sure it's kosher (i.e., you requested it), protecting both the router and your computers by filtering out the bad.
Note that these are not a replacement for software firewalls on your PC—every computer should have one running. Windows comes with a weak firewall built in, but you can always get a freebie from Comodo.
Other security you get from a router is: limiting a network to just computers you trust with MAC address filtering, secure wireless transmission, parental controls, web site filters, and more.
|4)||It Gives You Wireless Freedom |
Why be tied to one place with your computer or phone? Modern Wi-Fi is the brand name for a technology called 802.11, which comes in many flavors, all with different speeds and ranges. Buy 802.11n products, especially if they're dual-band, and you'll be covered. They're slightly more expensive, but you get what you pay for. In this case, you'll have speed almost as good as a wired network, with extended range. Even the performance is improved in spots where signals used to get hung up. All that means is: you can move around and stay connected, even in your own home or office.
|5)||It Shares Your Connection with Others |
You learned this in Kindergarten: it's nice to share with friends and neighbors. The right router can let you do that with your own Internet connection. You effectively get two networks, one that's just for you and one for guest access. That way outsiders can use the Web and e-mail, but can't see your stuff. Small retail establishments can use this to be a free hotspot for customers. Offices can use it for visitors in for meetings. And everyone will leave happy they had access.