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Wireless Routers Made Easy

You don't need a computer science degree to set up and use these devices.

Cisco Valet

The goal of Cisco's Valet line of wireless routers is to "make home wireless simple and accessible for everyone." After playing around with one for a few weeks, we can confirm the company has achieved this lofty goal.

Along with the small white router and power cable, the only thing you'll find in the box is an "Easy Setup Key," a USB drive you snap into your computer (PC or Mac) to initiate the setup process. There's no manual or CD, as you won't need one. On the USB key is Cisco Connect software, which launches an onscreen "wizard" that helps you step-by-step. A few mouse clicks later, you've set up your wireless network name (such as MARYHOME) and a password. In less than three minutes, you'll be up and running.

The process is even easier when you want other computers in the home to join the network as you simply insert the same Easy Setup Key; because the USB drive retains all setup information, it quickly joins other computers to the existing wireless network. If it's another device, such as a wireless printer or iPod touch, simply have the device look for wireless networks in the area, select the name you gave your home network and punch in the password (only required once).

If you don't give your wireless network a password, your neighbors can steal your high-speed Internet connection, cause a slowdown on your performance and possibly use up your monthly broadband data allowance

On a related note, a neat feature with the Cisco Valet is the ability to set up a separate guest network for visiting friends or family. Rather than giving out your password (not recommended), you can set up a secondary password just for guests.

Another option is setting up time limits on devices; if you believe your kids or grandkids are on the computer or gaming system too long, you can set up specific times of the day for Internet access.

The Valet is perfect for users who live in small- to medium-sized homes and primarily use wireless devices. For users who live in larger homes and need multiple, faster wired ports, they might opt for the more expensive Cisco Valet Plus ($119). Wireless performance of the Valet Plus was quite good, including the ability to stream media from a PC to Apple TV in another room.

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