In the Market for a New Router? Here Are the Features You Should Keep in Mind

There are many features to consider when you're buying a new router

In the Market for a New Router? Here Are the Features You Should Keep in Mind
Image: Pixabay
February 27, 2017

The router is the crux of your home wireless network. It can make the difference between a smooth connection and one that is constantly being interrupted. So when you're in the market for a new one, it is important that you know as much about the available options as possible so you can make the best choice for your needs.

Many internet service providers (ISPs) will offer you a modem/router combination to rent when you sign up for their services. This equipment will generally work well, more or less, but it's not going to be the best on the market. Plus, you'll be paying a small fee to the ISP every month to rent it in addition to your regular cable/internet payment.

For many people, this scenario is not a problem. Others, however, may want more control over the equipment they use or may want to save money in the long term by buying their own instead of renting from the ISP. If you fall into either of these categories, read below to find out which features you should consider when buying your own router.

  1. Separate or Combined
  2. When you decide to use your own equipment, you'll need to decide if a combination modem/router is the best fit for your needs or if it would be better to have two separate devices.

    For many people, having a combination device is simpler. Separate modems and routers can sometimes have trouble communicating with each other, forcing users to perform troubleshooting on both to figure out the problem. In addition, two devices means two power outlets being used instead of one, which can be inconvenient.

    For these reasons, many people often choose to have a combination modem/router rather than two separate devices.

  3. Wireless Standards
  4. The past ten years have seen many changes in wireless technology standards. Today, most new laptops, smartphones, and tablets use the newer 802.11ac standard instead of the older 802.11n. This means that these devices can reach faster speeds over Wi-Fi networks. If your ISP's internet package tells you that you'll be getting speeds higher than 100Mbps but your router uses the 802.11n standard, the router may become a bottleneck for your network because it can't handle the higher speeds.

    History shows that speeds are only going to get faster as time goes on and technology improves, so if you're in the market for a new router now, it would be wise to buy an AC router.

  5. Hardware Life Spans
  6. Networking hardware does not last forever. It experiences a great deal of stress on a daily basis, stretching your Wi-Fi connection across numerous devices in your household: your computer, gaming console, smartphone, tablet, and streaming devices. And as more and more devices become "smarter" (able to connect to the Internet), that load is only going to grow over time. This will lead to a decrease in router performance.

    If you've had one router for several years and your network has started to become unreliable for no reason, you may want to think about replacing it.

  7. Price
  8. Router prices vary widely from $15 to more than $400. Take a look at both your budget and your needs, then choose the appropriate device.

    There are two reasons why the average consumer should probably avoid high-end routers. First, because technology is advancing as fast as it is, a top-of-the-line router will probably need to be replaced almost as soon as one that costs half as much. Second, networking hardware is advancing more quickly than ISPs, so routers that fall in the middle in terms of price are usually more than enough for the average consumer as well as even some power users.

    Unless you need a top-of-the-line device, a router in the range of $100-$200 will probably be your best bet.

  9. Fiber and Gigabit
  10. Although Fiber Internet is becoming more common, it is not yet the norm, especially for budget-conscious consumers. And Gigabit speeds—speeds of 1,000Mbps—are even more rare.

    However, these technologies are likely the future of wireless internet, so you'll probably want to make sure your router will be compatible with them if you don't want to buy another router in a few years.

  11. Bands
  12. Routers use two different radio frequency bands: 2.4GHz and 4GHz. The first is used by many devices in your household and is more susceptible to congestion and interference; the second is usually less congested and provides faster connections. Dual-band routers offer both frequencies and often use both at the same time so that no individual band becomes overloaded and slow.

    It's a simple choice when deciding between a single-band and dual-band router. If you live in a crowded or densely-populated area, dual-band routers are the way to go. If you don't have any neighbors nearby with a wireless network that may interfere with yours and you don't need faster speeds, a single-band router will be fine.

  13. Range
  14. It is extremely important where you put your router. It needs to be in a central location, preferably high up and away from other devices and obstructions.

    Even if you position your router ideally, however, you are still likely to find so-called "dead spots" in your house—places where the wireless signal just can't get to.

    Most of the time, you can solve this problem by purchasing a more affordable router (or two) and a few power-line adapters. The adapters use the electrical wiring already in your walls to extend the reach of your network. They aren't all made the same, though, so be sure to note their speed limitations.

  15. Keep Your Old Router
  16. If you own your old router, don't throw it out when you buy a new one. If it still works, you can turn it into a wireless bridge that will extend the reach of your network with around half of the original speed or an access point using power-line adapters.

  17. USB Ports
  18. USB ports on routers used to be important to connect your printer to your network before there were printers with wireless capabilities built in. Now they are more often used as a cheap networked storage solution. By plugging in a hard disk drive or flash drive into the back of your router, you can share its data with any device on the network as well as creating a networked media hub for streaming movies, music, or TV shows you own locally.

    Don't need to network to a printer without wireless capability? Don't need networked storage? Then don't worry about USB support on routers.

  19. Smart Routers
  20. Routers—like nearly every item in your house today—are getting smarter. Smart routers allow users to prioritize bandwidth for tasks such as streaming movies and video games from a companion smartphone app, and updates are automatic.

    Keep in mind, however, that smart devices are vulnerable to hackers. If you have many devices connected to your network, make sure to take steps to keep them secure.

  21. QoS
  22. Quality of Service (Qos) features give users control over their home network and how it performs. Are you trying to stream Netflix in the living room while your roommate is downloading a ton of files in another room? You can limit his or her downloading as long as you're streaming, or you can set up the network to limit downloads at certain times of the day and allow more during others.

    If you want this level of control, make sure the router you're considering has QoS options.