The broadband revolution is here, and thus the bit of hardware we call the router is gaining in popularity. The word conjures up images of people with computer science degrees attempting to solve problems of little importance to the rest of us, but if you have DSL or another broadband Internet connection and more than one computer, you'd best know about routers.
What Is a Router?
The primary job of a router is to share a single Internet connection with several (as many as 254) computers at the same time. Routers with a built-in hub or switch will also allow computers on your network, or intranet, to share files easily. Routers provide a security element as well: They include a form of firewall security via a NAT (Network Address Translation), which essentially masks your internal IP address from the rest of the world.
How Do Routers Work?
Most routers are assigned an IP address by your ISP (Internet Service Provider), and the router then assigns its own internal addresses to each computer on your network. The individual machines on the network make requests to the router, which in turn makes requests to the Internet. When the information returns to the router, it is passed back to the computer that made the original request. Neither Internet servers nor other machines on the network (unless they're "sniffing traffic," as some companies do) are aware of the transaction. This form of firewall is quite secure, but you can add a firewall via a hardware or software solution to make your system even more protected from prying eyes and evildoers.
Setting Up Your Router
If you have recently purchased a router and have concerns that the instruction manual is for PCs, don't panic. Many router manuals show the Windows OS only although the router works across platforms. To spare you the somewhat annoying task of translating the manual into Mac language, we're providing Mac-specific instructions. We recommend that you print out this article before you begin setting up your router, so you can have a copy in front of you while you are setting up your connection.
This step-by-step article shows setup of the Linksys EtherFast router, which we rated highly in our review of Broadband Internet Routers. However, you can use the same instructions to set up any of the routers in the review.
Step 1: Connect Your Broadband Modem to the Router
Using a standard Category 5 Ethernet cable, plug in your cable or DSL modem to the port on the router marked WAN, or Internet, as shown above.
Step 2: Connect the Router to Your Computer(s)
Connect another Ethernet cable (it's the red one in the diagram above) from the router's LAN port to each computer, or to your network's Ethernet hub.
If we were to connect this one-port router to a network, the red cable would connect to an Ethernet hub (not pictured) using the hub's Uplink port. Then the other Ethernet cables on the hub would connect to each computer in the network.
TIP: If you have a router with four or more ports, the LAN ports will be marked 1 through 4 (or more). Connect an Ethernet cable to each of these ports and out to each of the individual computers, or Ethernet hubs, in your setup.
Step 3: Configure the TCP/IP Control Panel
On each of your computers, open your TCP/IP control panel and set it up as shown above.
Close the panel and save the changes.
Step 4: Configure Your Router via Your Web Browser
NOTE: You need to complete the rest of the steps in this article on only one of your computers.
Open your Web browser. It's best to use one of the newer versions of either Netscape Communicator or Microsoft Internet Explorer.
In the Location (Netscape) or Address (Internet Explorer) window, enter the IP address provided in your router's manual. In most cases, it will be the address shown above.
Step 5: Access Your Router Settings
To access the router settings, enter the name and password assigned in the user's manual. You will be able to change the default name and password once you are in the settings area, which appears after you complete fields in the above window.
Step 6: Configure According to the Type of IP Address You Have
You must configure your router differently depending on the type of IP address you have. When you called your ISP for your cable modem or DSL broadband service, you may have been given a choice of dynamic IP address (a new IP address is assigned to your computer each time you access the Internet) or static IP address (your computer hangs onto the same IP address, which is unchanged from one session to the next). If the person you spoke with did not give you this option and your service costs about $40, you can safely assume that you have dynamic IP. A static IP connection will often cost twice as much. If you're still confused, phone your ISP.
If Your Router Uses Static IP Addresses
If you have a static IP address, select the Specify an IP Address button and enter the information provided by your ISP here.
If Your Router Uses Dynamic Addresses
Scroll down to the PPPoE setup area in your browser window.
Enable PPPoE and enter the user name and password information your ISP has provided you.
Choose to enable or disable Connect on Demand. If Connect on Demand is disabled, your router will keep the last IP address assigned to it, even when your computer is off. When enabled, Connect on Demand will only request an IP when you are using an application that requires an Internet connection. If in doubt, choose to enable this option.
Step 7: Keep Your Firmware Current
Eventually, you should update the firmware on your router to enable the latest features and updates. The best way to do this is to download a TFTP (trivial file transfer program) client. You can download MacTFTP Client from http://www.mactechnologies.com/pages/download.html.
Download the firmware update from the Web site of the company that made your router.
Open the TFTP client and enter the information as shown above. Enter the address of the router, as in Step 2 when you accessed the control settings page through your Web browser.
You must then tell the TFTP client which file to use to update the firmware. To do this, click on the File button and choose the firmware update file that you downloaded from the router manufacturer's Web site.
After all fields have been filled, click on the Start button, and the client will update your router's firmware.
Step 8: Restart Your Computer
Restart your computer to make your new router settings take effect.
You're all set! Now, all of the computers in your network should be able to connect to the Internet via your new router setup.
JASON COX is responsible for testing and inventory in the Macworld Lab. Assistant Editor BRETT LARSON spends his time ruining Jason's testing and reducing his inventory.