A router is a device that performs, much as its namesake would indicate, “routing” of data across a computer network. They are arbiters that dictate where information needs to be sent and are usually connected to the Internet either directly or indirectly. They can also be used to transport information efficiently across a large corporation or university network. Because of their central role in establishing communication, it is important to select the right one for your needs.
Routers vary from simple to extremely complex. If you only need to connect a few home computers to a cable, DSL or fiber optic modem, it is only necessary to purchase a consumer grade router such as those manufactured by Linksys, Netgear, D-Link or Buffalo. These devices typically have five or less ports and support a wireless protocol such as 802.11 A, B, G or Draft-N. Others are wired only and do not incorporate any radio transceivers.
In the event that you are setting up a more complex network, such as one for a large office or school, you might be better served with a higher end router. The most famous of these are built by Cisco, of which Linksys is a subsidiary. These routers are more difficult to configure and substantially more expensive. However, they can be more precisely programmed and are able to handle more substantial network loads. More advanced models also contain hardware and software that enhances security, prevents the propagation of malware, blocks spam and minimizes packet collisions that can severely degrade network performance.
Always remember to buy only as much machine as you will reasonably need. For example, if you are operating a closed network with no wireless clients, opt for a wired-only router. Also remember that it is often a great value to purchase used equipment, provided that you give it a proper inspection before purchasing it.