The wireless router is an essential piece of modern technology, but there are a ton of huge differences which can make all the difference between a seamless online experience and a frustrating life filled with buffering and dropped connections.
If you’re looking to upgrade, and a lot of us are, then you’ll be pleased to know that we’ve managed to break things down for the layman to help you get the best online experience possible.
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Top 10 Wireless Routers
|Nighthawk AC1900||AC1900||Best Value for Money|
|TP-Link Archer C7||AC1750||Tight Budgets|
|Securifi Almond||N300||Easy Setup|
|TP-Link N450||N450||Super Cheap Upgrade of Outdated Equipment|
|ASUS RT-ACRH13||AC1300||Small Living Quarters|
|Linksys Velop Tri-band||AC2200||Best Whole Home Solution|
- Top 10 Wireless Routers
- Best for Gamers
- Best Overall
- Best Value for the Money
- Best Range
- For the Technophile
- Best for a Tight Budget
- Easiest Possible Setup
- Best in a Pinch
- Best for Tight Living Quarters
- Best Whole Home Solution
- Doing Your Wireless Router Research
Doing Your Wireless Router Research
With the bevvy of specific technical qualities which go into choosing a wireless router, it can be awfully tempting to just spend as much as you can afford and hope for the best. You don’t want to do this. Instead, it’s best that you spend just a little bit of time learning what you need to allow you to make sure you have the perfect router for your needs.
You don’t need to break the bank if all you want to do is watch YouTube videos without waiting around for things to buffer for extended periods after all.
This will definitely mean a little bit of reading, but the whole subject really isn’t as complex as you might think at first glance. There’s a definite middle ground between being an IT expert and not knowing what you’re looking at and hoping for the best.
The requirements for someone who’s doing a lot of high-speed gaming and someone who’s just casually browsing the internet are going to be quite a bit different. You’ll also need to take into account the distance to your router from your computer, since speed and range aren’t necessarily a linear function.
Figuring out exactly what you’re planning on doing is your best bet.
The Qualities You Need in a Wireless Router
Things can get pretty technical when you’re looking into picking up new networking equipment. We’re going to break things down to make them easy to understand. If you’re in a hurry, the bolded parts are what you’re going to need to know, so let’s get started.
The range of a router is actually hard to predict. You not only have physical barriers which can impede your signal, like walls, but you also have to deal with the fact that pretty much everyone around you is using a signal as well. Most people can pick up at least a half dozen other routers from their devices, and some of them will be operating on the same channels which causes interference.
Each barrier that a signal has to pass through weakens it. This means floors, walls, and can even implicate furniture in a particularly crowded home. Think of the range as starting out as a sphere, and with each object that is passed through the router’s signal is weakened.
5gHz connections are actually weaker than 2.4gHz. The higher speed has something of a trade off, but most routers which boast a 5gHz connection will still allow you to connect with the slower signal if you’re out of range.
This also means that you can end up having some issues if you bought a wireless router designed for extreme speeds but you’re using your computer three or four rooms away.
If you’re looking for maximum range, say to cover an exceptionally large house, then you have a couple of options.
Looking for replaceable antennae is the first option. You can upgrade these in order to boost the signal and try to get things going as best as possible.
Your second option is to look into picking up a repeater or extender. These devices are pretty easy to set up and can expand coverage by quite a bit. They don’t work miracles, however, and the stronger the signal is in the first place the better off you’ll be.
The 802.11 Standard
Don’t get confused by the numbers, this is actually a pretty easy quality to give you a quick idea of what a router is capable of. The 802.11 is followed by a letter, a/b/g/n/ac are the current standards in ascending order of technology.
The backwards and forwards compatibility offered by this part of the router makes it a pretty much moot point. The biggest difference for the consumer is that all versions prior to 802.11n don’t support a 5gHz channel.
Just make sure that whatever you buy is either 802.11n or 802.11ac since the other signals are pretty much obsolete in the modern world and can cause issues.
Single and Dual Band
Single and dual band routers have a pretty significant difference.
To identify which you’re dealing with you have a classification number which is begun with either an N or AC. N is single band, AC is dual band.
You’re looking at a pretty significant difference here. N routers only support a 2.4gHz signal. This is a weaker signal as far as speed goes, but it’s less impeded by obstacles and has a better range.
An AC router will allow access to both a 2.4gHz and 5gHz signal. The latter is much faster, but it’s something of a trade off since the signal will be affected more by obstacles and have a lower range.
This is further broken down into simultaneous dual band, which transmits both signals at the same time and selectable dual band which only transmits one or the other.
For the most part, any wireless router worth its price is going to be a simultaneous dual band router and there’s no need to bother with the other types.
The classification ID of a router can tell you a lot without the need to dig much deeper. If you’re not inclined to press into things too much, just note whether it’s an N or AC router and know that the higher the number the quicker things will be.
For those with a serious interest, consult the following table:
|Classification||Max 2.4gHz in Mbp/s||Max 5gHz in Mbp/s|
Keep in mind, these are theoretical maximum speeds. In practice you’ll usually be limited to about 50% of these speeds in excellent conditions and 25% or so is closer to standard.
For truly high speed routers, you’re probably also going to run into limits with the hardware of your computer. Not everyone’s machine is fast enough to take advantage of all of the speed which can be offered by a high-end router.
You also need to keep in mind that Mbp/s is a different measurement than download speeds which are rated in MB/s. You can divide by eight in order to get the true measurements, for instance a 1300Mbp/s connection operating at full speed would give you a 162.5 MB/s download if operating at 100% efficiency.
For the laymen, a higher classificiation means higher speeds. In practice, it’s best to find something which fits cleanly into your budget rather than purchasing the fastest router you can find unless you have the hardware necessary to take advantage of it and a real need for ridiculous amounts of speed.
The trade-off at the higher ends versus the cost gives you diminishing returns pretty quickly as well, in this case staying a couple of generations behind the newest technology is usually the best for the end consumer.
Software and Security
The software which a router utilizes and the security features it offers can be of greater or lesser importance depending on your need for privacy and technical abilities.
Advanced software allows for more customization of the way your network runs. Most people with a little bit of technical ability should be able to modify things to suit themselves with a little bit of study, whereas laymen are more likely to just utilize the software “out of box.”
It’s worth checking to see if the software included with your router is able to be modified to your liking if that’s your thing.
Security features, on the other hand, can keep people out of your network. This is the most important part for many people, since keeping people off the network preserves speeds and can keep them from accessing your devices if you’re working with an interconnected household.
No one wants their printer being accessed after all. Most routers have this well covered with a key and encryption protocol.
If you regularly deal with sensitive data, however, you may want to focus on more security features to keep people out of your data stream. These features are a bit outside the purview of this article but can include firewalls and the ability to use add on firmware to make things much more secure.
You can actually make things a lot more specialized with some features.
A USB drive is sometimes included to allow for access to data across the network. With a lightning quick USB 3.0 connection, for instance, you could easily store a ton of movies and access them from any device on the network to create a centralized home theater system.
LAN connections are great for gamers and secure data. While they used to come standard, they’re not on all modern routers. If you’re planning on engaging in a highly competitive game then a LAN connection is pretty much essential, since it will reduce latency greatly and let you operate at much higher speeds.
When it comes to secure data, a direct connection to the router can offer some other advantages: namely, by physically connecting to your router you’re able to avoid any hacking attempts which rely on decrypting wifi data.
Picking Out Your Wireless Router
So, now that you know about the specifications which go into your networking equipment it can still be a tough choice to make sure that you have the right router for what you’re planning on doing.
There’s one more vital thing to keep in mind before you decide on a router, however, which is the speed of your internet connection.
You’ll have to keep in mind that quite often the advertised speed is much lower than the speed which you’re actually receiving at the end of the line.
A cheap connection might only run around 10Mbp/s after all, which works out to only a little bit more than 1 MBp/s. This means that buying a high speed router is a losing game even if you’re receiving one hundred percent of the bandwidth that is advertised.
For general streaming you’ll need around 5.0Mbp/s for HD. This means that, in many cases, that you’re pretty much good to go with any modern wireless router and range is going to be the main concern to make sure you get a strong enough signal to not have to deal with buffering.
Gamers are in need of a solid and fast connection. For this application, the faster the better. While a couple seconds of buffering can be irritating during a movie, it can be absolutely “fatal” in a game. Most serious gamers will run a hardline, but that’s not always available so overdoing it definitely helps in this instance.
And finally, you need to take into account how many devices are on your network. Keep in mind that Bluetooth technology will run interference with 2.4gHz connections but basically every wifi connected device you own will be using some ambient bandwidth even when it’s not actively being used. How many times have you come back to updates on your phone about a program updating?
By keeping the above in mind, you should be able to easily pick out the router which makes the most sense for you by matching your specifications to what you need. It’s not nearly as hard as you think, you just need to be aware.