A router is the hardware version of software firewalls such as Norton Personal Firewall, ZoneAlarm, BlackICE Defender, and those included in suites such as Norton Internet Security and McAfee Internet Security. They have some advantages over software firewalls, though.
First, they are much more secure. The analogy that many of my clients have heard over the years is a comparison to doors. Having no firewall (software or hardware) is like leaving one's front door wide open: anyone who wants to can come right in. Having a software firewall is like putting up a screen door. It keeps the honest people out but it can also very easily be defeated in a matter of seconds by any hacker or Internet worm. A hardware firewall (in other words, a router) is like installing a bank vault door. Only the most determined can defeat it and only after much effort. The typical hacker isn't going to waste his time as there are too many softer targets out there that can be violated in the time that it would take to crack that router-protected system. Additionally, if the router is configured correctly, the hacker would never even know that anything was installed at your IP address since a router can--and should--be set to ignore ping requests from the Internet. This is how hackers find their victims: they send ping requests to the IP addresses they wish to check and make note of those that respond because that means that some type of hardware is there. Software firewalls do not have the capability to turn off Internet ping requests and, as such, the computer is left open to attack since it is easily found.
Second, they are cheaper over the long haul. Yes, to start, they can cost about twice as much as a software firewall (or more) but that cost is easily recovered when you realize that, unlike a software firewall that needs to be replaced every year with a new version at the same price you paid (or more) the year before. A router is bought only once and protects you from that time forward for many years. It needs no updates like the software does because it protects you in a different way. Rather than monitoring your computer for virus-like activity, the router prevents anything that is not authorized to come through.
Some people reading this may be thinking "What about the firmware updates that the manufacturers release for the routers from time to time?" Those updates typically have nothing to do with the firewall functionality of the router. Instead, they have to do with bugs in the configuration interface, adding more functionality, making changes to the way that they operate for use with game consoles (such as the latest PlayStation), or other changes that do not affect the vast majority of end users. Thus, unless told by technical support personnel to update the firmware, which is always free, there is no compelling need to do so. (Also, unless the firmware update is installed correctly, it could ruin the router. Because of this, unless you have experience doing this, it is best to leave it to a professional such as those here at Best Deal Computers.)
Third, a router is something you set up once and then can forget about. A software firewall, on the other hand, will frequently ask for a determination as to whether a program should be allowed to access the Internet. For each new program that is installed on the computer, if it tries to do anything from across your Internet connection, you will receive a pop-up window that asks whether it should be allowed. Many people get nervous when seeing such programs and click "No" or "Always Block," which then disallows the software from doing whatever it needs. If it is a nefarious software, that works but if it is something legitimate such as a new version of Internet Explorer or Mozilla Thunderbird, then it causes problems since it can be quite confusing trying to find the way through the configuration of the software to undo that mistake (and most people eventually call a professional to correct the problem, thus spending even more money on a piece of software that is less than ideal). A router will never have that problem since it does not care what software is installed on the computer. It knows only to protect the computer from anything that is not authorized to access the computers.
Fourth, if there is more than one machine within your home, they are all protected by the one router whereas a software firewall solution would mean that every computer would need to have that software installed at the cost of $40-50 per machine. Thus, if you have at least two computers, you have already saved money by investing in a router. (A good router costs around $70.)
Now you should be aware that it is still possible for infections to get onto your machine even if you have a router in place. This is because viruses can be included in emails (as attachments) or bundled with downloaded software. Further, there are some game and many adult-oriented websites that install spyware on one's machine. This is why a top-quality antivirus software is required. The best on the market is Norton Security. (To learn more about why it is recommended and the answers to some of the more common complaints that nay-sayers tend to voice, read the article I have posted, which you can get to by clicking here.)
So, now comes the question of what router to buy as there are so many choices. The simplest answer is to buy the one that matches your needs. Our top choice for brands is TP-Link, followed by Trendnet, Edimax, Netgear, and D-Link. The brands are listed in order of preference. They are all nearly equal in quality and are all equal in terms of protection. The primary reasons for the ranking order are ease of configuration and availability of technical support if there is a problem. Certain brands to avoid, however, are Belkin, Buffalo, and (unfortunately) Linksys due to their lack of quality of workmanship, thus equating to short service lives, and abysmal configuration interfaces, often leaving out important options for best operation. As for the differences in wired, 802.11b, 802.11g, 802.11n, 802.11ac, and so much more, read the article posted here.
Best Deal Computers sells all the routers and other hardware that you need, so give us a call anytime and we will be glad to help you. Also, if you live in the Douglas County (Kansas) area, we install and configure the router for the best operation at no extra charge. (This includes configuration of wireless routers and setting up any machines on-site at time of delivery for accessing the wireless router.)