Best available routers: The Belkin N+ Wireless Router ($120) has a separate software configuration utility that works for both Windows and Mac systems and needs to be run only once to set up the external shared drive. After that, you can connect to the shared drive by entering its IP address, such as \\192.168.1.1\sharename. The product isn't perfect, though: There is no way to password-protect the files on the shared drive.
The Netgear RangeMax doesn't require any additional software and can password-protect the files. It also offers a wide variety of access methods, including FTP and Web sharing, from its setup screen.
3. Performing firmware updates
The problem: Router firmware is an important first line of security defense on your network and needs to be kept up to date. But finding firmware updates on a vendor's Web site is not for everyone, and many vendors don't make it easy.
You have to bring up your browser, go to the vendor's support site and try to track down the current version for your particular router model. You then have to download the file to your PC and upload it to your router in the right place in the router's Web control panel screen.
To complicate matters, vendors often have several different versions for each router model, because they make frequent improvements to the router, often changing chip sets but keeping the version number the same.
Possible solutions: Make the update automatic or at least easily selectable, so you don't have to go through the tortured process of downloading and uploading the file.
Check the firmware update section in each router's Web setup screens to see if the router can automatically upgrade itself.
Best available routers: Belkin's N+ Wireless and Netgear's RangeMax both have a menu-selectable software switch to enable the updates. Once this is set, you can forget about it and be confident that you will always have the latest firmware.
4. Enabling temporary wireless access
The problem: If you have visitors or needy neighbors, do you really want them to have permanent access to your entire network? Even if you trust them on your network, do you know how good their own security is? (For example, will your neighbor's notebook end up in the hands of his teenager?) If you simply give a visitor your router password, then you probably need to change this information when he leaves your home or office -- which is a real pain.
Possible solutions: A good idea would be to grant them temporary guest access that gives them just an Internet connection and nothing else on your network, such as shared drives or printers.