A more common question on the Macworld Forums is about using a Mac as a wireless base station. I’ve done it several times and at one point, it was a cost saving thing to do. That was back when Airport Base Stations cost $300 and WiFi wasn’t a household name. I freaked out my friends by surfing the net wirelessly.
Things are different now. In a pinch, using Internet Sharing to facilitate the use of a Mac as a base station is a good idea. However, using it as a long term solution isn’t. Apple hasn’t really dropped pricing on its base stations much however, causing many Mac users to think that it is a cost effective solution. Really, $129 for an Airport Express is a bit excessive. The Airport Express Base Station has even less value per dollar for consumers at $199.
That’s the power of using your own naming for standards based devices. You can fool many consumers into thinking that they’re not the same thing. Despite popular rumor, Airport is just fancy naming for 802.11b just as Airport Extreme is for 802.11g. That’s what makes Airport so seemingly ubiquitous.
What Apple doesn’t advertise is that third-party 802.11b/g devices work just as well as Airport Express and Airport Extreme Base Stations. I personally prefer the third-party devices for a myriad of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that due to poor power supply design, my original Airport Base Station nearly died. Apple owned up to the flaw, but because they carefully chose a series of serial numbers to get most, but not all ABS owners with the flaw such that the remaining victims couldn’t mount an effective class action lawsuit. Clever. I swore I’d never buy another Apple Base Station. I’ve stuck to that.
Anyway, that prompted the purchase of my D-Link router when I wanted to move up to 802.11g. I found I got much better range and reception. Best of all, it only cost me $40 (compare that with $300). Third-party routers are an excellent solution and much better than using Internet Sharing for several reasons.
You need to leave your sharing computer on all the time. That’s not cheap. It’s likely to get more expensive.
The range is not as good as a dedicated device.
You have less options. You can’t configure Internet Sharing like you can a router.
You have to screw around with OS X’s firewall to get anything to work well. It’s painful. Very painful.
The router is cheaper. $20 is a lot cheaper than $80.
Do yourself a favor. Do it the easy way.