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What's a router?

It's a question you shouldn't feel embarrassed to ask! Many folks with home networks aren't sure either.

OK, so what is a router? That thing Uncle Stanley had in his wood shop?

Well... no. True, that's one kind of router. But we're talking about a different kind of router... a network router!

A network router (sometimes referred to as a gateway) is the box that shares the Internet connection from your cable modem or your DSL modem to one or more of your home computers.

Generally, routers offer two basic connections: wired and wireless. They connect directly to your modem via an Ethernet cable, and in turn, they "route" this connection to your various computers. A wired connection uses an Ethernet cable to connect to your computer. A wireless connection connects your computer, well, wirelessly!

A router prepares the Internet data so several computers can share it. But there also has to be a way to physically share the Internet service. In other words, you need to be able to physically plug in the additional computers so they can share this data. Most network routers do that too, by providing several ports, or places to connect computers, on the back panel. A network router is kind of like a power strip for your home network: it enables every computer in the house to share one modem.

Of course, if your computers connect wirelessly, then the number of ports your router has on its back panel is moot, since no cables are needed.

What if you only have one computer? Do you still need a network router? Yes, you should strongly consider having one. First of all, you have more than one device that needs to connect to your network: you have your Slingbox! That makes (at least) two devices right there.

Just as importantly, home network routers usually also have a firewall built in. A firewall provides a layer of defense for your computer against intrusion. If your router is handling firewall duties, your computer's operating system usually doesn't have to, which can often be helpful.

You probably already know that your Slingbox also connects to the router via Ethernet. Together, your cable modem, router, computers, cables, and Slingbox make up what is referred to as your home network.

One more thing: Your Slingbox will work with most modern routers from reputable companies.

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