How to Buy Computer Network Equipment for Home

Two routers under one roof
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Many people view shopping for home network gear as a daunting task. Different models of equipment tend to offer similar sounding features making it difficult to differentiate one from another. Marketers tend to cloak these products in overly vague or technical terminology difficult for more inexperienced consumers to follow. And for almost any single piece of network gear, someone studying online product reviews is liable to find a wide range of both highly positive and negative commentary.

Some General Guidelines for Choosing Network Gear

First and foremost, avoid paying full retail price for networking products. Vendors almost always offer discounts from full price through discount sales or rebates (except sometimes when a product is newly released). Resist the temptation to buy a brand new product within the first 30 or 60 days of its launch for this reason.

Buying equipment all from the same vendor was a recommended practice many years ago when the variations between product standards and proprietary features were greater. Nowadays, mixing products from different vendors should not pose any significant limitations and in fact is sometimes necessary to maximize a network’s capability. Households using Apple devices, for example, need not limit their choice of home network routers to just the Airport brand.

Be wary of networking product reviews posted online or advice from strangers. Most network equipment supports a wide range of uses, and the experiences (positive or negative) of a few consumers may not correlate with the needs of others. Watch carefully for biased language and possible hidden agendas particularly in reviews posted on online retailer sites. Where possible, seek out acquaintances or family members who have experience with related products instead.

Buying Home Network Routers and Internet Modems

Choosing a home router ultimately comes down to an individual household’s circumstances and some personal preferences. Consider these factors:

  • Which Wi-Fi standards should the router support? For example, is it more important to have 802.11ac level Wi-Fi capability or would an 802.11n router at a relatively lower price make more sense?
  • Is a travel router needed, or preferred for portability, to a standard one?
  • Rather than upgrading a current router, should you add a second router instead?

Most high-speed Internet service providers supply their own selected brands of broadband modems (and sometimes also routers). Keeping their customers on common hardware helps simplify technical support.

Buying Add-On Components for Home Networks

Some home network setups may require purchasing additional hardware components. Older game consoles and other consumer gadgets, for example, lacked built-in Wi-Fi capability, necessitating the use of wireless network bridge devices. Wi-Fi antennas or signal booster devices can be essential gear for extending the signal range of Wi-Fi routers. Ethernet cables also can be essential for hard-wiring certain devices directly to the router.

Consumers generally face the most difficulty choosing this kind of equipment as it’s often not obvious which products will meet their needs. Besides the general guidelines above, be sure to purchase such products from outlets with generous return policies in case they do not work as desired.

Choosing Software for Managing Home Networks

Smartphone and tablet apps can be easy ways for a household to monitor and tap into their home network either from inside the house or remotely. Some apps can be installed for free while others can be purchased for relatively low prices. Be skeptical of software with higher price tags; the average household has no need for higher-end network management products while businesses may find them essential.