Buying a new wireless router can be overwhelming — there are hundreds of options, and new ones are released all the time. Sorting through all of the information can take days. But if you know the right questions to ask, the process will be much easier and you’ll be happy with your purchase.
Here are eight questions you should ask when buying a new wireless router.
What will you use it for?
Knowing the answer to this question will influence the answers to all of the other questions you’ll need to ask. Do you just use the Internet for sending email and checking stock prices? If so, a basic wireless router will suffice.
If you watch TV or movies through a streaming service, you might want something a little more powerful. If you play demanding online games or spend a lot of time working online from home, it might be worth going all out to maximize the speed of your router.
Keep this in mind as you look at wireless routers, and try to be honest with yourself. You don’t always need the latest and greatest, as much fun as it is. Buying something that meets your needs without breaking your budget is the most important goal you should have in buying a router.
How much should you spend?
This question almost always comes up, and it’s a difficult one to answer. The amount that you spend will be determined by your answers to the questions that follow. I use the $125 TRENDnet AC1900 TEW-818DRU, a dual-band wireless router with a mid-range set of features, and it’s fantastic.
Don’t get too caught up on the price. Find the right specs, check out a few different models, and you’ll have an idea of what you’ll need to pay to get the performance you’re looking for.
How many bands?
One of the first things that you’ll notice about routers is that there are single-, dual-, and tri-band routers. To put it simply, what this means is that you’ll have one, two, or three different wireless networks available in your house.
A single-band router will likely give you a single 2.4GHz network, while a dual-band router will offer a 2.4GHz network and a 5GHz network. The difference between these primarily lies in speed; the 5GHz band will transmit data much at a much faster rate. Of course, there are also drawbacks, as the higher frequency signal has more trouble penetrating through walls and other obstacles.
Tri-band routers will generally provide a 2.4GHz and two 5GHz networks. Why would you want this? To separate higher- and lower-speed devices onto two networks so that the slower devices don’t slow down the fast ones. This article on tri-band routers explains it all very clearly.
In general, a dual-band router that provides one network at each frequency is going to be the most versatile. It provides the highest speed, but also accounts for older devices that can’t connect to the faster network. If you’re very concerned about your wireless speed, operate multiple (perhaps 10 or more) wireless devices in your home or business, a tri-band router might be worth the increased expense.
Which wireless standard?
There are a number of wireless standards — 802.11a, 802.11b/g/n, and 802.11ac. If you’ve bought a computer in the past few years, you’ll almost certainly be able to connect to an 802.11n network, which has been the primary wireless standard for the past six years or so. It has the potential to allow connections to 2.4GHz or 5GHz networks, depending on your computer.
The newer 802.11ac standard is significantly faster than any of the other standards, but because it’s still new and evolving, many computers aren’t equipped to handle it. However, if you’re also planning on upgrading your computer to support wireless-AC, then a 802.11ac router is probably your best bet, because it’s also backward-compatible with older wireless devices.
If you’re not sure which wireless standards your computer can use, you’ll need to run some sort of system report. On my Mac, I went to to the Apple menu > About this Mac > System Report > Wi-Fi, and you can see above that it works with any of the standards listed above.
Router specifications often include a number of transmission speeds listed in megabits per second (Mbps). Because it’s listed in the same units as your promised Internet speed, it can be a bit confusing — this has nothing to do with how fast your Internet connection is. It’s only how fast your router can transmit data. So if you have a 300 Mbps Internet connection, a 900 Mbps router won’t make it any faster.
For this reason, routers with extremely high speeds are rarely taken full advantage of. To find the speed of your Internet connection, run a speed test to see what sort of upload and download speeds you get when you’re connected via an ethernet cable — you won’t need a router any faster than that, unless you’re planning on upgrading your connection in the near future.
However, if you often stream files between devices in your home — like sending music from a wireless hard drive to your stereo, or using a Raspberry Pi media center to watch movies, having a high-speed router will help. Because this isn’t limited by your Internet connection speed, you’ll see benefits from owning a faster router.
What kind of security?
You’re likely to send all sorts of sensitive information over your home network, so getting a router with strong security settings is a must. The latest security standard is WPA2, so make sure your router supports it. The vast majority of new routers will, but if you’re considering buying a used router, make sure it has this level of security (WEP, formerly a common wireless security standard, isn’t good enough).
Will you be using accessories?
You can plug all sorts of things into your router to give them access to your network, like printers, hard drives, TVs, and smart home devices. If you plan on connecting a number of devices to your router, make sure it has enough USB or ethernet ports to support all of those devices.
Which brand of Wi-Fi router is best?
It used to be that Linksys was the biggest name in routers, but the product space has become much larger over the past ten years or so. Linksys is still big, but Netgear, TP-LINK, ASUS, Securifi, TRENDnet, and others have released high-quality routers that are worth your money. Even Google has released a router.
Just about any brand of wireless router will serve its purpose. If you find the right specs at a reasonable price, it’s probably from a reputable company. If you find one from a brand you’ve never heard of, it might be a good idea to do some research — check reviews on Amazon and look at other products they make.
Find the Best Router for You
If you have a good idea of what you need, finding the best router for your home or business isn’t too difficult. Spend some time figuring out exactly what you’ll require of your router with these eight questions, and then do some price comparisons. And don’t forget to properly configure your router once you get it home!
What other questions do you have about buying a new wireless router? We’re here to help! Share your questions and comments below.