For Seniors: Laptop Buying Decisions —Internet Connection

You have to decide how you’ll connect to the Internet. You can use a dial-up connection over a standard phone line or pay a fee to get a broadband connection such as DSL. (Check with AARP to find out if they offer discounted connections in your area.)

However, if you want a wireless connection that picks up a signal in range of a wireless home network, or have a laptop and want to access certain public networks called hotspots, you have to be sure to buy a laptop with wireless capabilities (and luckily, most new model laptops have these). Here’s how these connections work:

  • Dial-up: If you intend to use a dial-up connection (that is, connect over your phone line), your laptop has to have a dial-up modem either built in or in an external model. Dial-up connections can be very slow, and while you’re using them you can’t use your phone to make or receive calls. Don’t use dial-up unless you absolutely have to.

  • Wireless: These connections require that you have a laptop equipped with wireless capability. You can access the Internet wirelessly through a wireless network set up in your home, or when you’re near a wireless hotspot (a place that offers wireless service), and many hotspots are available at public places such as hotels, airports, and restaurants.

    You can also subscribe to a Wireless Wide Area Network (WWAN) service from a mobile phone provider to tap into its connection, or use a technology called tethering to connect via your smartphone’s 3G or 4G connection. Check laptop models to be sure they are wireless-enabled. There are various techy standards for wireless, such as 802.11a, b, or g. The very latest standard is 802.11n, which delivers better wireless performance.

  • Broadband: These connections typically come through a DSL (digital subscriber line) or cable modem in your home. In both cases, you pay a fee to a provider, which might be your phone company or cable company. DSL works over your phone line but doesn’t prohibit you from using the phone when you’re online.

    Cable runs over your cable TV line and is a bit faster than DSL, although connections can be less dependable. Both are considered always-on connections, meaning that you don’t have to wait to dial up to a phone connection or connect to a wireless network — you’re always connected.

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