Wireless Router Buying Guide
While reading the abovementioned reviews, you might have felt lost encountering terms i.e. MU-MIMO, Beamforming or dual-band connectivity. To explain those very terms – and how they will help you – this buying guide comes to your rescue.
802.11ac Wi-Fi is a Must
Visit the market, and you’d see that Wi-Fi routers are available in two standards: 802.11n and 802.11ac, with the latter being the latest. Still, it being the latest isn’t the only reason we’re recommending the 802.11ac Wi-Fi.
Instead, as experts tell us, 802.11ac Wi-Fi offers more speed than 802.11n. If you have a supporting network connection, an 802.11ac connection will provide speed up to 1300MBPS per second. Whereas, the 802.11n would die down at 450Mbps.
Another reason why we recommend going for the 802.11ac is its cost. That is, despite being technologically advanced, it won’t cost you a fortune, which means you won’t have to pay over the odds for it.
Before selecting the 802.11ac Wi-Fi, check whether your device supports it or not.
Wireless routers use frequencies to transmit signals to the connected devices. Also known as bands, these frequencies are either 2.4GHz or 5GHz. And that is where the controversy lies.
For, since they are relatively new, most people think that 5GHz bands are better, which they are – as they provide better speed and tolerate less interference. Still, the 5GHz band is NOT the best for everybody out there.
The majority of the devices you see in the market DO NOT support the 5GHz band. That is because the antenna (or the receptor, in layman terms) which devices need to have to intercept the 5GHz band signal is costly. Consequently, they turn to the 2.4GHz band to cut costs.
Still, having an older device doesn’t mean you should go for the 2.4GHz band. Instead, what you need is a router which provides dual-band connectivity. That is, it should support both the 2.4GHz band as well as the 5GHz band.
Thanks to its dual-band connectivity, a dual-band router can pick and choose. That is, after taking stock of the signals of both bands, a dual-band router would choose the one with less interference. The reduction in interference means that the signal strength would never drop.
Another advantage of dual-band connectivity is the speed which it provides. Taking advantage of 802.11ac Wi-Fi – which is a given with a dual-band router, it would provide speeds between 500 and 900MBps.
Finally, while 5 GHz bands are known for their speed, 2 GHz bands provide more range.
To summarize, if more people use the same Wi-Fi at the same time, but they still want better speed and less signal interference as well as more range, dual-band connectivity is what they need.
In the bad old days, your laptop, smartphone, and smart TV took turns while receiving data from the router. Only after one device was done receiving data from the router that the other’s turn came. It means that regardless of your internet speed, the download speed was bound to be negligible.
With the MU-MIMO technology, however, the situation has changed for the good
As implied by its very name – the Multiple Input, Multiple Output technology – the MU-MIMO technology lets your modem send data to more than one devices at the same time. The technology does that by doing two things.
First of all, since it is only available in dual-band routers, the MU-MIMO technology will utilize the 5GHz band to make your network faster. Second, it would increase the bandwidth of your router, which means it would make the router capable of handling multiple devices at the same time. As a result, none of the multiple devices would remain bereft of data.
Quality of Service
Does your Wi-Fi opens Twitter in a second but takes an eternity to load videos on it? If your answer to this question is in the affirmative, it means your router doesn’t have Quality of Service (QoS).
Routers who have QoS prefer critical data over the trivial traffic. For instance, if you are browsing Twitter and playing Call of Duty simultaneously, it is obviously the latter which requires uninterrupted data flow.
Guess what, if your router has the QoS feature, it would know this as well, before supplying more data to the game so that you could play it without less interference.
Another advantage which QoS service provides is by allowing you to prioritize sites – or computers – as a priority. That is, if more than one devices are connected at the same time, you could decide which should receive uninterrupted data.
While MU-MIMO is concerned only with increasing the speed of your Wi-Fi, Beamforming is related to its range. Therefore, if you live in a large house, here is a technology which you might want your router to have to gain impeccable signal strength.
Ordinary routers, those which don’t have beamforming, just distribute signals into the air and let your device do the work to reach them. Beamforming-enabled routers, however, does exactly the opposite. They create a beam of the signals which, after sensing where the connected devices are, is directed towards them.
In other words, regardless of the location of your device, the signals will detect its presence and provide full strength. So you would no longer have to abandon your room in quest for more signal strength.
Finally, when searching for a router which offers this feature, make sure it offers 802.11ac Wi-Fi alongside. Conversely, if your router has 802.11n Wi-Fi, it would need your device to come from the same manufacturer for the beamforming to work.
However, in new, 802.11ac routers, this restriction doesn’t exist which means regardless of the brand of your device, you could take advantage of the beamforming technology.
Open Source Firmware
Like your laptop, your router would have a built-in firmware to make your Wi-Fi safe. That said, the firmware of your router needs to be constantly updated for it to resist attacks coming its way. As a result, your Wi-Fi remains safe.
Sadly, the argument mentioned above would remain true for only a few years. That is, with the passage of time, the manufacturer of even the best routers stop sending firmware updates, hence exposing your Wi-Fi to risk. They do so because they think that people would have upgraded their router.
And that is why we want you to go for an open source firmware.
Even when the manufacturer stops sending updates, you could have the updates installed from the market for a minimal price. In other words, even when the manufacturer updates stop, you could still keep your firmware updated to keep it secure.
In this way, not only will your router stay protected for long, but you could also use it for years without replacement.
Remember, a router which has beamforming, MU-MIMO, and Quality of service with low bandwidth would be no better than a router which has none of these technologies. For, the speed of your internet is directly dependent on your bandwidth.
So, you may ask, how much bandwidth is optimal? 160Hz, to be precise. This figure is written on the back of most routers, so make sure to check it. Otherwise, there are routers out there which are still offering the outdated 40Hz bandwidth. Buy those, and streaming HD videos would become a dream.
Currently, I’m using the Archer C60 in my home. This router comes with a very good app – whose name is Tether – which not only allows me to manage my dual-band connectivity, but also gives me the option to set Parental Controls, limit data consumption, and set a guest network.
Similarly, if I want to manage my Wi-Fi from remote locations, it also gives me the option to set up a TP-Link cloud. Finally, I can block intruders (if there are any) who manage to break into my Wi-Fi.
As you might guess, such features are not exclusive to TP-Link routers, with the likes of ASUS, Netgear, and D-link also offering similar apps. Therefore, if you want full control over your router, make sure it comes alongside an app.
High-Gain detachable Antennas
It goes without saying that the greater the number of antennas, the better your router would perform. Not only do multiple antennas provide more Wi-Fi speed, but they also increase Wi-Fi range – apart from solidifying the strength of signals.
Some people complain that external antennas make the Wi-Fi router look ugly. To solve it, companies have now turned to churning out routers with internal antennas which are supplemented by LED Lights on the router. Despite their different location, the internal antennas provide same signal strength as their external counterparts.
What to Look For in a Router’s Software/App?
In the past, you could control Wi-Fi routers with a software which could be accessed by entering the network address. Currently, things have changed for the good and the router app on your smartphone would do the same.
Here are some features you might want your router’s app/software to have …
This feature is doubly important for those of you who want a router for an office. In this way, you could create a separate network for the guests – with separate a separate password – so that their trivial online activities do not disrupt your more important tasks.
More importantly, it shields your network from the attacks of the hackers by not allowing everyone to access your entire network.
List of Connected Devices
Have a limited data connection? It means you need to keep a check on who is using your data, and by how much. You could do that if your router provides the list of connected devices.
If you are the one who would be picking the tab at the end of the month, you might want to control the bandwidth. What’s more, some routers also give you the option of limiting bandwidth for each user, which means you could prevent any user from monopolizing all of it.
Routers with dual-band connectivity allow channel configuration for you to have maximum control over your router. They give you the option to choose between 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands while also allowing you to block any intruders in your system.
Tips for Placement of Your Router
Signal is supreme. If it dies down, all/any of the functions mentioned so far in this article would be good for nothing. And to get maximum signal strength, nothing is as important as the placement of your router.
- Keep ‘them’ away
Devices such as refrigerators, cordless phones, and microwave ovens generate RF signals. These signals interfere with the Wi-Fi signals to reduce their strength, as well as the range.
While the abovementioned devices interfere with Wi-Fi signals, there are others – such as mirrors and large metal places, which would reflect them. Then there are others like closets and walls which would absorb Wi-Fi signals.
Consequently, if you don’t want your Wi-Fi signals to dissipate into thin air, keep the router away from all the objects we have just mentioned.
- Central Location
In most cases, what we do is to setup the router in the room’s corner, so as to make sure its wires do not come in the way of those walking around. That is a WRONG approach and one you could do without.
Unless you are the only one who would be the recipient of Wi-Fi signals – in which case you might install it next to your bed, placing your router in a central location is recommended.
- Antenna Position
A rule of thumb commonly applies when we talk about the position of the antennas. If you want better horizontal reach, point the antenna up. In a multi-story home, the reverse is true as you might want to position the antenna sideways to get better signal strength upstairs.
Next, most routers offer detachable antennas, and if your router does the same, make sure to replace its antenna with the one which is offering ‘higher gain’. Don’t worry, higher gain antennas are available at everyday electronic stores.
Mistakes to Avoid
All of us want our routers to work seamless, right? Guess what, we could help it by not making these mistakes.
– Keep using its default channel
All of us have that one tendency to start using a new product the moment it reaches our doorstep. And when it is a router – who would open the world of internet for us – the excitement could barely be contained.
You need to contain that excitement, for the first five minutes.
For, our routers come with a default channel which is no different than the channel your neighbor would be using on their router, and his neighbor, and his… You got my point.
With so many persons using the same channel, interference is bound to occur with weak wireless signals in its tow.
Therefore, the moment you install your router, change its Wi-Fi channel. The whole process shouldn’t take more than five minutes.
– Not updating it regularly
In the past few years, manufacturers have churned out routers which automatically download and install updates on their own. That said, if your router is a bit old, it won’t offer that facility, which means you’d need to manually check for firmware updates.
But I don’t need Wi-Fi security, I hear you say?
Well, security might be the most feature of any new firmware update, there are other updates as well. They include new settings, performance improvements – features that would greatly enhance the performance of your router.
– Not enabling 5GHz band
Most people think that once they have opted for a dual-band router, their work stops right there and the router would do the rest.
Sadly, that is not how things work.
For, routers know that not every device comes enabled with the 5GHz band. Therefore, their default setting is to keep running the 2GHz band. It means you might need to manually activate the 5GHz frequency band of your router. Otherwise, if you keep using the default settings, 2.4GHz band, being more cluttered, would provide weak signal strength and less Wi-Fi speed.
– Going for 802.11ac when your device only supports 802.11n
Yes, not all devices in the world support 802.11ac, and if your device isn’t relatively new, there is a very good chance it doesn’t, either.
Therefore, before you go out there and purchase a brand new 802.11ac router, check whether your computer supports it or not. As for your mobile phone, you’d have to check its specs for the same.
How to Clean your Router?
Want your router to have a long shelf life? Then you need to know how to clean it. For, just like any other electronic device, the greatest danger posed to a router is by the heat buildup inside it.
To prevent the heat buildup, most routers come with built-in vents. By allowing the heat a safe passage out, these vents keep the router’s temperature at an optimal level. Still, that doesn’t mean that you’re absolved of your responsibility of cleaning the router.
For, while the vents would do their job, most often than not they get clogged with dirt – hence stopping the heat from a safe exit. That is the reason why you need to know how to clean your router.
Get an Air Blower
The easiest way to rid your router of the dust building up inside it is by blowing air through it. Here’s how you could do it.
- Switch off the router and unplug it.
- Tilt it to the side from where the vents become visible
- Turn on the blower, and turn its nozzle to face the vents.
- Afterwards, it might be the case that small specks of dirt may still be visible. To poke them out, use a cotton swab. What you need to do is to scoop the dust out, as poking it would only drive the specs further into the router, making them more difficult to remove.
Your search for the best wi-fi router for a large house ends here. Apart from providing you with a detailed review of the top ten routers out there, we have given you a low down on each so that you could take away the veneer of popularity which any router might have to decide whether or not it would suit you. What’s more, you now have the buying guide as well which should help you in making an informed decision.
Good luck with your decision!