Choosing a new router can be a daunting prospect for many homeowners. Here are some tips that will make selecting a new router for your home a much simpler and less stressful process.
Set a Budget
You can spend as little as $25 for a router, but we would not recommend it. A good router will last a long time, and investing in it will pay great dividends in regard to wireless radio strength and quality. If you are willing to spend $80-$120, you can afford one of the best routers on the market, and if you are willing to spend $200, you can afford the sleekest and most sophisticated routers available. While there are routers that cost more than $200, we would not advise it unless you are considering mesh.
Single vs. Mesh
If you have a high speed internet at home, and yet you still experience lagging or sometimes you lose internet connection or deal with dead zones because your home is large and/or features internal obstructions, such as brick walls, you may want to consider a mesh system. a single router is fine for the average home, but sometimes, this is not enough to cover your entire house. Mesh costs more but is more effective than access points, range extenders and so forth.
IEEE 802.11 is the standard for wireless networking. There have been numerous iterations over the years, and each new version is backward compatible. All routers indicate which version they support. While you will still find 802.11n routers on the market, 802.11ac is newer and a safer option for the average consumer. There is also 802.11ax, which is even newer, but most internet connections cannot support those speeds yet, and early adoption simply is not worth it for most users.
Most routers currently on the market support two bands: 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz. You want both bands, and while it would actually be uncommon to find a router without both, it is worth checking. There are also tri-band devices becoming available, and while tri-band will eventually be the standard, it likely is not worth paying more for yet. There also routers that have band steering, which means that they present users with a single network and automatically select the right band based on the device.
Top Theoretical Speed
As an example, a router that supports 802.11ac and provides 1,300 Mbps on its 5GHz band and 450 Mbps on its 2.4GHz band will often indicate that on the box with the label AC1750. The important number here for most users is the 1,300 Mbps, but be mindful that it is a theoretical maximum and not the speed you are likely to achieve in your home. As a general rule, AC1200 is enough for most users. However, if you have a particularly fast connection, you may want to invest in an even faster router.
There is a natural inclination to think that more antennas are better, but this is not necessarily the case. What is far more important is the quality of the antennas and support for features like MU-MIMO and beamforming. It is also advisable to choose a router with antennas that are detachable and upgradeable, which will give you options in the event of any wireless signal troubles.
Quality of service is perhaps the most underappreciated and underutilized router feature. Nevertheless, it is strongly recommended for households because it allows you to prioritize devices and in some cases activities, such as online gaming and watching Tv shows or movies on your favorite streaming services. If you have a home office, you can set that workstation as the top priority so that video conferences, for instance, are never affected due to other usage.
Software is an important consideration as well. Most routers now let you interface with them via your smartphone. Before purchasing a router, use YouTube or a similar site to get an idea about how useful and user-friendly the router app is. Also, the topic of router security can be simplified with this general rule: never buy a router unless it supports WPA2, which is what the experts recommend.