Networking Hardware Quick Guide

This document describes the basic hardware components of networking.

A modem is a device that interprets data that it is receiving from an Internet Service Provider (ISP) and translates that data into information that is usable in a home network (ie through wifi or ethernet). When setting up a service with an ISP like AT&T or Charter Internet, the service provider will feed a wire into your house that will provide the data for a modem to receive. Modems are often provided by your ISP.
There are two types of modems:

  1. DSL Modem - used for DSL internet, the cable that your ISP will feed into your house is a phone line.
  2. Cable Modem - used for cable internet (television lines), the cable that your ISP will feed into your house is a television cable (coaxial)

NOTE: These types of modems are NOT compatible with each other


A switch is a device that takes one LAN/Ethernet port and splits that data into multiple LAN/Ethernet ports. A switch does not broadcast a wireless signal.
There are two types of switches:

  1. Fast Ethernet Switches which have a maximum transfer speed of 100Mbps (Megabits per second)
  2. Gigabit Ethernet Switches which have a maximum transfer speed of 1Gbps (Gigabit per second, 1Gbps is approximately equal to 1000Mbps)

A router is a device that controls and coordinates data between the network it is connected to and remote networks. To explain this a little further, when the modem recieves a packet of information from the web it sends that information to the router and the router determines which device on the network that information belongs to. Likewise when a device on the network sends a packet of information to the web the router will determine where that packet needs to go and send it on to the modem.

A personal router is a device that can be plugged into a modem and will serve as a router, an access point (something that broadcasts a wireless signal to create a Wi-Fi network), and a switch, Some times routers and modems can be built into the same unit but these are not too common and DoIT does not sell these

Major Specifications

  • Speed
    • This is the speed that the router is capable broadcasting at, note that often times getting a faster router does not mean that you will get faster speeds as the speed of a network is usually limited by the Internet Service Provider or ISP (ie AT&T or Charter Internet).
  • Dual Band
    • A dual band router is equipped to broadcast the network at two different networks, one that is at 2.4GHz and another that is at 5.0GHz
    • Tri Band routers also exist but they are not widely available.
  • Ports
    • Routers will always have LAN or Ethernet ports - these are used to plug devices directly into the network via an Ethernet cable
    • Routers will also always have a single WAN port - this is the port that the router uses to get data from the modem, it must be plugged in in order for a network to be broadcasted
    • Some higher end routers will also have USB ports on them, which can be used with devices like wireless printers
  • Quality of Service (QoS)
    • QoS is a method for controlling traffic priority on networks. It is analogous to a traffic cop, when there is a lot of traffic on the network it decides which is more important than the rest. The rules for how QoS decides what is most important can be decided by the user and is often based on criteria such as IP address or MAC address.

Why pay more for a higher end router

  • Features generally only found on more expensive routers:
    • Dual Band
    • Quality of Service
    • Higher Speeds
    • Larger Broadcast Range
  • So who needs these features?
    • Households with a lot of people/devices using the network at once (~5 or more devices).
    • Users that use lots of media entertainment (music, videos, games, etc.) should look into using Dual Band to set up a network only for media devices.
    • Users with a large household

Network adapters are designed for computers that do not have the capability to connect to either a wired or wireless network themselves. Network adapters such as Ethernet to USB or Ethernet to Thunderbolt are used to allow a computer to plug directly into the network. Network adapters such as a USB wireless adapter are used for receiving wireless signals and delivering them to the computer.


Like the name suggests, an extender is another broadcasting node of a wireless network. Thes are used in larger houses where a router alone isn't enough to get a good signal everywhere. Extenders are most effective when they are placed at the 'edge' of a home network to maximize the extended range.

Note: Always ask where the router is located in the house first and suggest that it be moved to a more central location if necessary.


Networking cards are installed inside a computer to provide more networking functionality. Wired network cards, when installed inside of a computer give an additional Ethernet port. Likewise you can have a wireless networking card that gives the computer wireless functionality.

Note: PCI vs PCI-Express connections - There are two different types of connections in which a network card can be plugged into a computer, they are NOT compatible


Here is an illustration of how a home network functions:


Keywords:modems switches routers network adapters range extenders cards simple home network   Doc ID:65396
Owner:Ray S.Group:DoIT Tech Store
Created:2016-07-22 17:19 CSTUpdated:2021-01-29 13:08 CST
Sites:DoIT Departmental Support, DoIT Help Desk, DoIT Repair, DoIT Tech Store
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