My needs were simple: I wanted a device which would let me connect several computers to the internet at the same time without any hassle or physical switches. Disliking wireless technology, it needed to connect them using old fashioned ethernet cables - I think wired connections spew less unnecessary electromagnetic radiation around the house and are less likely to go wrong than wireless. I discovered that what I needed was a router. Basically this is a modem which plugs into your phone line and acts, as its name suggests, to correctly route data from the internet to each connected computer.
Netgear has a good reputation for routers and other networking equipment, so I plumped for the Netgear 834. This comes in a small box and is about 6 inches wide, 4 inches deep and an inch thick. It comes with a mains power supply, some cables and a set up CD. It was very easy to set up, the wizard on the CD guides you through the process efficiently. It comes with everything you need, including an ADSL filter. You plug this into your phone socket to separate out voice phone calls from the signals to your computer. One cable leads from this to the router, then there are four ethernet ports to connect to up to four computers at once.
Once you've got the equipment physically set up the wizard logs you onto the router's set up page. Again the installation process was automatic, all I had to do was input my ISP username and password. Once it's running you can just forget all about it. It sits vertically on a couple of plastic feet - positioning it like this helps keep it cool, and though it doesn't seem to get especially hot, this is a wise precaution. There is a set of lights indicating its status - if it's on, connected to the internet and which ports are in use.
It takes a couple of minutes to switch on, going through a startup process which can be followed by seeing how the lights change. I now watch this more carefully than I used to. A few weeks ago it stopped working and it turned out that it had somehow lost the settings. I reinstalled these, but it still didn't work, so I was left thinking that I'd have to buy a new router - actually quite tricky without internet access! Luckily I continued to fiddle with the settings and managed to get it to work. When I spoke to the ISP support desk about this, he categorically told me that some of the settings were wrong and shouldn't work, even though they clearly do! We agreed it was best to let sleeping dragons lie, but it means I am somewhat on tenterhooks each day when I come to use the computer again.
That aside, it has been a very reliable machine, and when I have had problems with my connection it has always been down to failures elsewhere, either with my ISP or the phone line. As one who uses the internet a lot, that is a significant advantage. It comes with a built in firewall which provides some protection from the rogues of cyberspace. This may be more of a psychological benefit than a real one, but it makes me feel safer knowing it is there!
How long this particular router will last I'm not sure. I've had this one several years, and although it would be irritating to have to replace it, I feel it's done all right. I will probably get another similar one, especially as you can get a second hand one from ebay for only a few pounds (this one was about £40 new as far as I remember).
Or rather not quite £66, more like £61.99 but then I wouldnt have been able to pun on the famous Rolling Stones track in the title and that would have been an opportunity missed! So what is a router? And why am I writing a review about one? Well, a router is used when you want to share an internet connection between two or more computers, and I find myself writing about the Netgear ADSL Firewall Router DG834 thanks to my Sister asking me to set up a network on her two computers so that her AOL broadband connection could be shared. Of course therein lay the first issue, AOL is not like other ISP`s in that it has up to now been impossible to sign on with more than one screen-name, but thanks to AOL finally embracing the whole Networking ethos and offering support to a handful of routers there was to be no more barriers in spreading the connection around. Of the three wired routers that AOL offered support and instructions for I settled on the Netgear DG834 because it seemed to offer the best features at a reasonable price. However, rather than buy it from the AOL recommended retailer for £89.99 I did a little price comparison work and chose Simply.co.uk who were offering the same product for £28 less always worth shopping around then!
Whats in the box?
A couple of days later the router arrived and I could finally start to setup the network. Included is the router which is roughly the size of a cheese sandwich, an installation CD, a two page installation leaflet, one broadband filter socket, a frankly pitiful length of Ethernet cable, and an assortment of warranty, licence and amendment leaflets. The installation leaflet is about as much help as a two page leaflet can be but thankfully I printed more detailed instructions directly from AOL. It should be noted that Ethernet adapters or cards for the computers you wish to network are NOT included; typically these can be bought as PCI cards for around £10 each. Luckily the two computers I was networking together came ready supplied with Ethernet ports to save the time and trouble of buying and fitting them.
Why the Netgear DG834 router?
Well, I wish there was some technical explanation as to why I decided on this particular router but the truth is that it simply looked the best. AOL only support 3 wired routers and this one is the mid priced of the trio. It also has double firewall protection (NAT and SPI) built in to stop unwanted security breaches, this and the fact that it is future proof and upgradeable to ADSL 2+ means it really was the only choice to have. Also worth noting is the fact that an access point can be added should the desire for a wireless network become too much. The router has four Ethernet ports for connecting any combination of computers, games consoles or printers and as detailed below is simplicity itself to get up and running.
Setting up the physical connections
Of course before you can install the software and configure the router to work with your ISP you have to physically join it to the computers you wish to network. I elected to stand the router next to the phone socket and joined it using the filter socket provided. For some unknown reason only one length of Ethernet cable is provided despite this being a networking product, it is also ridiculously short at just 2 meters! A quick bit of measuring between the router and the two computers ascertained that I needed two lengths of Ethernet cable measuring 20 and 15 meters respectively, and that they needed to be of the non cross over type. A trip to PC World soon told me that they would want £56 for that amount of cable, however I live about ten miles from a small concern called AUT Distribution where I was able to get the exact same lengths for just £8 How do PC World get away with it! Some nifty hammer and cable grip work later the computers were connected to the router which in turn was connected to the phone line, and thus we were ready to setup the system to work harmoniously together.
Installing the Router to work with AOL
Now that the hardware is in position it is time to insert the installation CD and let it do its work. I have to say that this part of the operation was simplicity itself thanks to good and detailed instructions from AOL. A default username and password need to be entered on the first screen to protect all of your settings from unauthorised access, then a few simple instructions need to be inputted such as country and language. A smart wizard then does the hard work by detecting the type of internet connection available and then auto configuring itself. Once this has completed it is time to input your AOL master screen name details, it is worth noting that a new master screen name should be created as this will be connected to the internet all of the time, if you use your current master screen name then there could be problems if you log into your AOL master screen name from another location. Once this section is completed the router has enough information to enable a network connection and it displays two screens for you to check against instructions, if all is ok and the screen matches the pictures in the printed instructions then the router has authenticated itself and is ready for use. The good thing about this whole process is that you do not have to do it on both computers; the first computer that is configured simply sends all of the relative information to all other computers connected to the network.
Getting AOL to connect via the router
This is the last part of the whole setup process and simple involves a few mouse clicks. The two computers being networked were both running AOL version 8 so it was a simple matter of clicking setup on the sign on screen and clicking add modem from the four options displayed. The detection process is automatic and takes little more than twenty seconds, once finished there should be displayed the option to connect via TCP/IP (transmission control protocol / Internet protocol). When you go back to the sign on screen and select ISP/LAN connection under the select location tab and you are off and running with a fully networked setup.
Well, my sister is delighted with her newly setup network so in turn I am happy. She elected to upgrade to AOL Platinum at the same time and enjoys download speeds of around 120 kbps even with both computers using the internet. Some good shopping around on my part meant that the whole network cost a few pennies short of £70 all in which really is a good price to share an internet connection. A 2 year warranty means that the router is well protected in the event of a fault and its smooth and thus far trouble free performance means it gets four stars out of five from me.