A Plea for Geek Advice

If you’re still reading after that title, thanks already.

Here’s the deal: For the last two and a half years, I’ve been living in campus housing, in which pretty much every room was hardwired onto the campus network. There was thus no reason for me to think at all seriously about networking technologies, because, plug this cable into that outlet, and lo but there was the broadband. And in the places I lived prior to that, the proximity of desk and phone jack and the simplicity of networking needs — am I connected to the Internet? Then I’m done — made a wired network the obvious choice.

Things are not so simple now. I’ve gotten my equipment from Verizon, and as of February 17, my DSL should be fully activated. But of course the spot where I want to put my desk is nowhere near a phone jack. And, once R. is here, he’s going to want to use the broadband, too, and not from the very same spot where I’ll be working. So it’s now necessary for me to go wireless. Which, great.

But I could use some advice on what hardware to get to build this wifi network. That first-gen flat-panel iMac is now about three years old, but still runs like a champ, and I really don’t want to replace it until absolutely necessary — which means I need to buy an Airport card for it. And I need a wireless router of some variety. Here are the choices, as I currently understand them:

— an Airport Extreme base station

— an Airport Express

— a non-Apple wireless router, such as the Linksys WRT54G

I’ve been trying to track down some comparison data among these options, and am coming up only with the obvious stuff. I’ve got a good sense of the spec differences among these three, but not of how they actually operate in the real world. We’re an all-Mac household, so that needs to be taken into consideration, as well as the 2.4 GHz wireless phones we’re using all over the house, which I understand can interfere with a wifi signal.

So what do you use? And how does it work for you?


  1. I’m a technoidiot, but this I can say – Since last summer I’ve used Airport Extreme with my Powerbook G4 and found it to be excellent: at home, at work, pretty much wherever I take it on the road. It works well with our RoadRunner service through TimeWarner.

  2. I live in a 3br apt with wireless phones everywhere. We’ve got a network with various wireless cards all working together. We use a Linksys g, in fact the very one you mentioned in your post. Everything works pretty easily, and that’s with a bunch of windows machines. I suspect macs would be even easier to get set up (we’ve had a mac connected to this network before with no problems). I’d get either an Airport Extreme or the Linksys, whichever’s cheaper. Another consideration is that some routers come with ethernet ports, which are good if you ever want to just plug a laptop in by the DSL modem without cutting off other people’s internet access.

  3. I would recommend the Airport Express since you have a small network and it doesn’t sound like you would need all the extra options of a full-blown Airport Extreme network (like I have), plus is would be 100% compatible right out of the box with the iMac and Powerbook. One thing you might have problems with is getting the Airport card (802.11b) for the iMac since it is a first gen and Apple has officially quit offering them. You can pick up an Airport Express cheap at the Rancho store in the refresh bin towards the end of the month when they put them out. I was seriously looking at one two weeks ago ($99!).

  4. I managed to come up with an original Airport card online over the weekend, I’m pleased to say — you gotta love those internets. But here’s the most appalling part of my response to your comment, Scott:

    There’s an Apple store? In Rancho Cucamonga?

    When on earth did that happen? And how it is possible that I didn’t know about it? I’m nothing short of flabbergasted.

  5. I’ve always been happy with Linksys routers (I have both a wired and a wireless), though I use all Windows machines so I have no idea how well they do with Macs.

    Linksys does offer some nice security features to protect your network though. I’m sure the Airports probably do as well.

    Or you could just offer free internet to the whole of your condo complex 😉

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