Well, you need several things (most basic to most complex):
1. An internet connection, preferably broadband (DSL or cable modem).
2. A router.
3. A wired switch.
4. A wireless access point.
5. Wireless cards for each computer you plan to hook up to the network.
The short answer is that you don't need the airport base station. Read on for more info.
Before you get overwhelmed with the list of stuff, please recognize that you can get (2), (3), and (4) together in one box, typically called a wireless router.
For the internet connection, if you couldn't handle that you probably wouldn't be here.
For the Router/switch/access point, you have a couple of options:
- Airport base station (ABS).
- Pros: easy to set up, looks cool, Apple-supported.
- Cons: expensive, old version only supports 40-bit WEP.
- 3rd-party routers from Belkin, D-Link, Netgear, others.
- Pros: much cheap, often better range than ABS, more expandable (can have multiple wired network ports, ability to log traffic, built-in firewall, etc).
- Cons: slightly more difficult to set up (typically a browser-based configuration page), some models don't pass Appletalk packets (for services like appleshare and networked printers that use the Apple Laserwriter extension).
For the computers that will use your wireless network, you have a couple of choices. The following machines support Apple's built-in Airport cards
- most PowerMac G4's (Gigabit Ethernet models - 450MHz+ essentially)
- most slot-loading iMacs (see this thread for more discussion of the slot-loaders)
- all LCD iMacs
- all eMacs
- all Powerbook G4's
- Powerbook G3's that have Firewire (Pismo)
- all iBooks
- and, of course, the Cube.
All Apple powerbooks since the 190 (190, 5300, 1400, 2400, 3400, PB G3, PB G4) have PC Card (formerly PCMCIA) slots that support wireless networking cards from companies like Farallon and Cisco.
Note:The Airport card slot looks like a PC Card Slot, but they are not the same. PC Cards don't work in Airport slots, and Airport cards don't work in PC Card slots.
Finally, if you don't want to, or can't, connect your other Apple computer to the network with wires, you can get PCI "wireless carrier cards" for your PCI-capable PowerMac (7300,7500,7600,8500,8600,9500,9600,6500,6360,5400, and certain other mac models) which will hold a wireless networking card like the ones that work for Apple powerbooks.
This answer is long enough-we'll get to "setting up your wireless network" in another question...