How to Choose a Router
Choosing a new router can be a daunting task: there are thousands of brands and models to choose from.
To help narrow down your search, we’re sharing our tips on what you should consider before buying your own router. Starting with compatibility and making sure the router supports your internet speeds, these are the specs we considered when making router recommendations, plus a few extras that could improve your online experience.
So let’s dig in and find you some new gear to help you put that equipment rental fee back in your pocket.
1. Consider how much you want to spend on a router
Routers can vary in price, all the way from less than $100 to $300 or more. How much you should spend on a router depends mostly on your budget.
But also, you’ll want to make sure you’re getting the features you need in order to use your internet services to their full potential.
You’ll likely fork over more cash for a router that supports faster speeds and has features like MU-MIMO and beamforming. Not to mention that tri-band routers and those that support telephone service will cost more as well.
MU-MIMO stands for Multi-User, Multiple-Input, Multiple Output. It basically means your router can communicate with multiple devices at the same time.
Beamforming lets your router aim a signal directly at devices that need an internet connection. It improves efficiency and creates stronger signals.
So, when considering what price you want to pay for a router, also consider what features you need to have.
2. Check to see if your new router is compatible with your ISP
Most every router should be compatible with any internet service provider (ISP), but it’s a good idea to check anyway. Especially if you’re considering a modem-router combo.
Modems use technology based on the type of connection your internet provider uses, and if you’re using a cable modem with DSL internet, well. Your internet just won’t work. So checking compatibility is critical.
Most ISPs publish lists of modems and routers that are compatible with their service or guides on what to look for. Here’s where you can find lists of compatible equipment for some of the top internet providers in the US:
3. Make sure your router supports the internet speed you pay for
You’ll want a router that offers more speed than what’s advertised with your internet plan. This gives you the best chances of getting the fastest Wi-Fi speeds available even when you have multiple devices and people connecting at the same time. And it ensures the speed you pay for won’t go to waste.
But keep in mind that most routers advertise a combination of the speeds on the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz frequencies. Most devices don’t use both Wi-Fi frequencies at the same time, so this combined speed is a little misleading. So be sure to look at the max speed supported by your router’s 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz frequencies.
And remember, wireless speeds are prone to slow down because they have to travel through the air—or worse, solid objects like walls, floors, and furniture. So if you need the max speeds you can get from your router for your CS:GO gaming session, connect to your router with an Ethernet cable.
4. Look for a newer wireless protocol
You’ll see the numbers 802.11 plus a letter or combination of letters when looking at routers. This is called the wireless protocol or Wi-Fi standard, and it tells you how good the router’s throughput and range are.
But you don’t need to get technical to understand these Wi-Fi standards. Just look for a router that supports one of the newest wireless protocols:
- 11ax (Wi-Fi 6): The newest standard is expected to deliver speeds up to 10 Gbps, but many devices and internet connections don’t support these speeds. So you may not need to upgrade to Wi-Fi 6 just yet.
- 11ac (Wi-Fi 5): You’ll likely see this standard on most routers, and it’s perfectly capable of keeping you connected since it supports speeds up to 3.5 Gbps.
- 11n (Wi-Fi 4): This standard was the first to allow you to use both the 2.4 GHz or 5 GHz frequencies, and it supports speeds up to 600 Mbps.
5. Use mesh Wi-Fi or extenders to spread Wi-Fi through your house
This tip almost goes without saying: you’ll need a router with a range that covers all or most of your home.
All routers should give you an idea of the amount of square footage they can cover, though some get more specific than others. For example, we recommend the TP-Link Archer A20 and xFi Pods, but both of those give an estimated range based on how many bedrooms are in your house.
But don’t worry. If you get your router set up and it doesn’t beam a Wi-Fi signal to the farthest reaches of your home, you can grab a Wi-Fi extender or mesh Wi-Fi system to amplify the reach of your Wi-Fi signal.
6. Don’t forget optional features
Router brands are releasing new technology all the time, and some of the more recent upgrades can make a positive impact on your online experience. Here are a few features you might want to look for when shopping for your new router:
Quality of Service (QoS)
QoS lets you tell your router which devices and internet connections to prioritize over others. So, if you’re a gamer and need to make sure your internet connection is stable even if your partner or kids turns on Netflix, you can tell your router to prioritize your Xbox’s internet connection over your smart TV.
Multi-User, Multiple-Input, Multiple-Output (MU-MIMO)
With MU-MIMO, your router can support multiple wired and wireless connections more efficiently. Without MU-MIMO, your router can send bandwidth to only one device at a time, even if they’re both connected at the same time. But MU-MIMO lets your router divide up your bandwidth and support all of your connected devices at the same time.
Modern routers use beamforming to direct a Wi-Fi signal to a device. Before beamforming, routers would blast a Wi-Fi signal in all directions. You can think of beamforming as a more efficient, laser-targeted Wi-Fi signal that also results in a stronger connection.
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How long will a router last?
A quality router should last four to five years. But if you’re experiencing slow internet speeds and have tried every trick in the book to speed up your internet, it might be time to upgrade your router.
Which brand router is best?
We recommend routers from brands like NETGEAR, TP-Link, ASUS, and Linksys. Other brands to consider are Google, D-Link, and Synology. But, no matter the brand, you’ll still want to make sure a router meets your needs and has good reviews before buying it.
What’s the proper placement for my router?
You’ll want to position your router in a central location, away from other electronics, and as high as possible. And if your router has movable antennas, point them strategically at rooms and devices that use your Wi-Fi—and don’t point them all in the same direction.