If you'd like the ability to add three or more PCs, or you don't want to depend on your desktop being on all the time to provide Internet access for your notebook, then you'll need to purchase a wireless access point (AP). What's the difference between a wireless AP and router?
- A (non-wireless) DSL/cable broadband router provides Internet connection sharing for stations (PCs) on a local area network. Most routers have basic firewall features to permit outgoing traffic but block incoming connections. Some broadband routers have a built-in cable or DSL modem; others have a "WAN" Ethernet port that you connect to your cable or DSL modem.
- A wireless AP bridges traffic from wireless stations (PCs) onto an Ethernet local area network. Most APs have one radio card for communicating with wireless stations and one Ethernet port for communicating with a wired LAN. APs just provide physical LAN connectivity; they do not route/firewall traffic to the Internet.
- A wireless router combines both broadband router and wireless AP features inside one box. A wireless router can have a built-in cable or DSL modem or a "WAN" Ethernet port that connects to your existing modem. It provides basic firewall features, including Internet connection sharing, and an AP for connecting wireless stations. Most also have a built-in Ethernet switch to connect ~4 wired stations to the LAN.
All of these are 802.11g wireless routers, which you will find is a little more expensive than 802.11b. Choosing 802.11g provides you more flexibility -- for example, the ability to use an 802.11b adapter that might already be in your notebook along with an 802.11g USB adapter you might buy for your desktop. But you'll find bargain-priced 802.11b products out there right now and 802.11b is probably sufficient for your two DSL-connected PCs. If you want to save a little money, go with 802.11b, because 802.11g is really needed only if you want to send large quantities of data between your notebook and desktop.
This was first published in September 2003