Extra features that most consumers don't need can drive up the price of routers
So you've decided that it's time to buy a new router. Like any conscientious consumer, you decide to do your homework and research your options before you buy. As you shop around, you see many more new features than you knew about, features that affect the prices of the devices. You're on a budget, so you don't want any more features than you need.
Fortunately, you don't have to get those unnecessary extras if you don't want them. Although there are features that are part of every router, there are some that are available on only the most high-end devices. But which ones are unnecessary?
- Multiple Antennae
- Processor Speeds and Cores
Beamforming—also known as spatial filtering—is a common feature on new routers. It's a technology for processing signals that lets your router maintain strong speeds around physical obstacles and so-called "dead spots"—places in your home where wireless signal doesn't reach—such as wood floors, thick walls, and rooms containing lots of interfering equipment. It lets your router figure out where it's dropping signal and adjust accordingly.
There are two types of beamforming: implicit and explicit. Explicit works when both endpoints on the wireless link—such as your router and your laptop—use the same standard to communicate information about the radio channel and their locations relative to the access point. Implicit is when the router tries to do everything itself, inferring everything it can from the device on the other end.
Beamforming is useful, but really only with devices that use the same standard. If one of your devices uses 802.11n and the other uses 802.11ac, it's not going to work as well. If the router you're looking at includes beamforming, try to make sure it uses the same standard as your other devices; otherwise, you'll be paying for a feature that you can't use.
You've probably noticed that some routers have several antennae, while others have none. How much does this feature matter?
Routers with several antennae are meant more for power users than for the everyday consumer. They help users to customize their network to a much greater extent than they can with devices that don't include antennae. However, most users are not interested in heavy customization. Unless you're a power user, don't worry about the antennae.
Multiple-input, multiple-output (MIMO) is the use of several antennae to provide better performance and speed. This feature can help users to connect more devices at faster speeds without experiencing as much interference as they would otherwise. If your router doesn't have antennae, or only has two or three, MIMO probably isn't worth the extra cost.
Many routers advertise their processor speeds and the number of cores they contain. Power users are the only people who need to worry about such features. If you don't have a particular need for a faster processor, don't pay for one.
Some newer routers claim to be "tri-band" rather than "dual-band." This is little more than sneaky marketing. While dual-band routers actually work on two different radio frequencies, tri-band routers simply add a second radio to one of the bands and isolates it from the other, multiplying potential speed by three.
The numbers provided by the manufacturers, such as AC3200/1700/etc., are actually the combined speeds of all available signals tested in environments that contained zero interference. These conditions do not exist in the real world. "Tri-band" is a misleading claim, so be wary when you see it.