Tech Talk: A router update could being online benefits

A router upgrade could speed up the flow of data through your home
A router upgrade could speed up the flow of data through your home
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IF you have broadband in your house – and these days, who doesn’t? – the chances are you’re still using the router supplied free by your internet company.

And it probably works fine. But for a modest outlay you could upgrade to something altogether more connected.

The router is the piece of kit that takes in the signal from your phone line and distributes it to all the internet devices in your home. Most now do this wirelessly and can connect to phones and tablets just as readily as conventional computers.

But they vary enormously in the speed at which they do this and in how effectively they reach the furthest-flung corners of your house. Higher-spec models add functionality to your home network with USB ports and sometimes extended parental controls over what content can be accessed and by whom.

It’s a good rule of thumb in computing that if something ain’t broke it’s not worth trying to fix – but if you’re frustrated by “dead areas” in your home or the speed at which some of your devices connect to the net, a new router is something you should consider.

The first thing you will need to know is what kind of broadband connection you have: regular, cable or fibre. Regular connections need an ADSL router; others usually require a cable model, but check with your internet company before you buy.

It’s standard practice for internet firms to supply the most basic router they can lay their hands on, so most of the alternatives out there will represent an upgrade. In particular, if the one you have been given is classed as “Wireless G” you’ll get faster data flow around your home by switching to a “Wireless N” model. About 10 times faster, in fact.

But the router isn’t the only potential bottleneck in your network, and each of your devices must also be capable of working in “N” mode to see the benefit. Newer ones will be fine but an old PC may need an upgrade. The plethora of different speeds has driven the popularity of “dual band” routers, which can transmit at different rates at the same time, maximising the potential speed of each device.

But it’s the addition of a USB port on your router which will add most benefit to your network. This lets you connect a portable hard drive on which you can store media files, backups or anything else, for instant access by every computer on your network, at any time. If you have a media player wired to your TV, this arrangement is ideal for sending music, pictures and movies around your house.

Router prices vary from £30 to more than £200, but a mid-range model for about £70 is the happiest medium.