I found myself in the market for a router last week after my 2-year-old Linksys E3000 gave up the ghost.
My home is fairly connected, with each room needing to support a variety of wired and wireless devices, so I didn’t take the search lightly.
I had to find the right router that would both support my current level of Internet service and capably handle heavy concurrent traffic from several devices.
Here’s the thought process I went through when looking for a new wireless router:
The new wireless protocol being pushed by router manufacturers is 802.11ac, technology that will theoretically allow for faster wireless transfer speeds.
Also called “Gigabit Wi-Fi,” 802.11ac is the follow-up to Wireless N, 802.11n. Most newer wireless devices support Wireless N, while older devices with Wi-Fi support at least Wireless B or G, the standard before N.
To make use of the extra speed and features available via 802.11ac, both the router and the devices connecting to it need to have 802.11ac capabilities. In my home, I have no devices with 802.11ac compatibility, so I wouldn’t see any benefit from the tech.
Because 802.11ac routers also are currently more expensive than those that top out with Wireless N, I opted for a router without it. However, users with devices that support the technology, such as the latest version of the MacBook Air, might find the extra speed valuable.
Routers with 802.11ac are also the way to go for users interested in somewhat “future-proofing” their home network, though it may take a while for the extra investment to pay off.
While the convenience of wireless technology has pushed it aside, wired cables are still valuable in the connected home.
Users who need to transfer files between machines or support streaming and traffic from several devices might find their router’s wireless network quickly saturated. Because wired connections can offer speeds that dwarf those of wireless, they are the superior option for homes or living spaces that allow for it.
Fortunately, my living space was prewired with ethernet to each room, so I’m able to take advantage of the more reliable wired connection.
Because I want faster wired speeds, I’m looking for a router that supports Gigabit wired networking with 1000 Mbps ports. Routers that support this will be a little more expensive, but not by too much. Users with less strenuous traffic requirements should have no problem with 100 Mbps ports, which are common on non-Gigabit routers.
Quirks and X-factors
With homes now supporting multiple computers, tablets, phones and other smart devices, routers are being stressed like never before. This makes reading up reviews and performance impressions online a must. Sites such as SmallNetBuilder (www.smallnetbuilder.com) are invaluable when looking for router benchmarks and reviews.
Often, discussions online will reveal quirks or issues surrounding routers that will help them perform better or mitigate problems.
Talk around my previous router, the Linksys E3000, centered on how hot it ran. Forum posters online often suggest position, cooling and preference changes that will help extend a router’s life or increase performance. Before purchasing, check online for any quirks surrounding the router you’re looking at and make sure they aren’t deal breakers.
An online search will also reveal if a router has the ability to run custom firmware, third party software that usually adds features, fixes and/or performance tweaks. There’s a subset of router owners, myself included, that swear by custom firmware packages such as DD-WRT and Tomato. My DD-WRT routers have been rock solid and provide additional features not found in the router’s stock software. I added custom firmware support to my list of router requirements.
I ended up purchasing an ASUS RT-N66U, a Wireless N router with Gigabit wired ports and support for custom firmware. The router also has solid internals, which I’m hoping will help support a high amount of traffic from multiple devices.
I was also considering the ASUS RT-AC66U and Netgear AC1900 Nighthawk, but both were 802.11ac routers and more expensive. I don’t foresee obtaining enough 802.11ac devices in the next few years to make the upfront premium worth it.