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What Hardware Do You Need to Share your Mac's Internet Connection?

Probably the most popular way to share an Internet connection on your Mac OS X Snow Leopard is to buy a cable/DSL router, which is a hardware device that connects to your Internet connection, which then connects to your LAN. The main downside to a hardware Internet connection-sharing device is that it costs more than a software solution.

Cable/DSL routers are nice because they’re easy to set up and configure. You can leave them on, which means constant Internet access for those on your LAN. You don’t have to worry about turning on another computer to connect to the Internet as you do with a software solution.

Apple’s AirPort Extreme Base Station is not only a Wireless Access Point (WAP) for your network, but also acts as an Internet connection-sharing device. (AirPort Express can’t share an Internet connection . . . sorry.) Some older flavors of AirPort Base Station even have a built-in v.90 modem for sharing a single 56 Kbps connection using a dialup account! A base station typically has several Ethernet connections for sharing a high-speed Internet connection, including a dedicated port to connect to a cable/DSL router and two or four ports to connect to other computers on the LAN.

If you think that a cable/DSL router or an AirPort Extreme Base Station could be the karma pathway for you to achieve your goal of sharing your Internet connection, here are some things to consider when deciding which device to buy for your LAN:

  • Do you need a switch? Most cable/DSL routers have a small 3-, 4-, or 5-port switch built in. This multiport capability is nice because the same cable/DSL router that shares your Internet connection is also the centerpiece of your LAN where all your connections meet, thus saving you from having to buy a switch on top of the cost of the cable/DSL router.

    Some cable/DSL routers, however, have only a single Ethernet connection to connect to your LAN. So keep in mind that if you choose a device with a single LAN connection, you must supply your own switch that would then connect the cable/DSL router to the rest of your LAN.

  • Got modem? If your only Internet connection is through a dial-up modem account, look for a built-in analog telephone modem on your cable/DSL router. You must have this feature if you want to use a hardware device to share your Internet connection. (Again, older versions of the AirPort Base Station are great for this because the modem is built in, but you’ll have to do some shopping on eBay.) Even if you have cable/DSL service, some ISPs also include a dial-up account with your broadband access. With such a bountiful selection of connections, you can plug in your cable or DSL service to the cable/DSL router as well as use the dial-up account as a back-up in case your main service has problems.

  • Want a printer with that? Some cable/DSL routers also have a port for connecting a printer ¯ a great feature to have because it allows you to leave the printer connected and turned on so that anyone on the network can print to it anytime. (This is much better than connecting the printer to a computer and sharing it because then the computer doing the sharing must always be on in order to make the printer available.) Mac OS X can send a print job to a printer by using Bonjour or TCP/IP, so just make sure that your printer is compatible with TCP/IP printing, also called LPR (Line Printer Remote).

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