How to Choose a WiFi Router1/30/2022 4:57:53 PM GMT
The goal, of course, is to pick a wireless WiFi router that delivers fast and reliable service over as large a coverage area as possible. The evaluation and selection process is complicated by manufacturers using various acronyms and marketing terms that provide little real-world meaning. And, although typically a more expensive router will perform better than a cheaper model, there are some notable exceptions.
To help you get through all the clutter and decide how to choose a router that meets your needs at a reasonable price, we've compiled the most important elements that need to be considered to make a good decision.
What is a Wireless or WiFi Router?
In it simplest form, a WiFi router is an electronic device that sends data received from an Internet connection to other devices (laptops, TVs, smartphones, etc.), either wirelessly or through Ethernet cable connections. When connected to a device wirelessly, it shares data from the Internet, or between devices, through the use of radio signals, on either the 2.4GHz or 5GHz bandwidth.
Should I but a WiFi 6 or WiFi 5 Router?
The next generation of network technology is WiFi 6 (designated by an AX prefix), and the WiFi routers that support this new standard are now available from all the major manufacturers at a price point that makes these new routers as affordable as the previous generation of WiFi 5 routers (designated by an AC prefix). Of course, your device will need an AX network interface to communicate on this network protocol, but don't worry, WiFi 6 is backward compatible.
Today, the biggest advantages of the new WiFi 6 standard are speed, range, bandwidth, and persistence; meaning your AX equipped devices will communicate faster, at longer ranges, with less interference from other devices, and with greater consistency. WiFi 6 routers also handle more simultaneous Wi Fi connections, so all your devices can have Internet access.
Cell phone manufacturers already integrate WiFi 6 AX network adapters into premium models, and are accelerating the use of AX adapters into mid-range and budget models - laptop manufacturers have followed a similar path. Bottom line, if you need a new router, buy a WiFi 6 router no matter what.
Should I get an AX1200, AX1800, AX6000 Router, or greater?
The speed designations (1200, 1800, etc.) in a router's name are very misleading, as they are the sum of the router's total theoretical bandwidth, not the speed at which each device connected to the router can send or receive data.
When choosing a router, the real value of these designations is to see which router will handle the total bandwidth demands put on your network for the number of devices you'll be connecting to your network simultaneously.
If you've got TV streaming, gaming, web browsing, and conferencing going on at the same time, you might want the huge bandwidth available on the ASUS ROG Rapture GT-AX1100 router; if you've only got TV streaming and browsing running in a smaller location, then the TP-Link AX1500 router will be plenty capable; or, for a medium sized environment with intermediate network demands, the TP-Link AX6000 would be an excellent choice.
So basically, the larger the space and the greater the number of devices simultaneously demanding bandwidth on your network, the greater total bandwidth you'll need for things to run smoothly. Although you shouldn't overpay, you'll be happier in the long run if you estimated your needs on the high-side, rather than on the low-side.
What are the Most Important Hardware Considerations?
The most important hardware considerations are the processor and the quantity of RAM. With the demands put on your WiFi network from new activities like TV streaming and online gaming, this increased data handling puts a lot more demand on the processor.
Router processors can be of a single-core, dual-core, tri-core, or quad-core processor design: the more cores, the greater the processing power. To meet today's demands, your router's processor should be at least a dual-core design.
To support processing capability, your router's processor also needs adequate RAM memory, just like your computer. The more RAM available for the processor to perform its tasks, the faster and more efficient the router will perform. Your router's RAM should be a minimum 128MB, with 256 MB of RAM being preferable; 512 MB or 1 GB is even better. Get as much RAM as you can comfortably afford.
How many Bands should be on my Router?
Your new router should be at least dual-band, meaning that the router broadcasts the wireless signal on two different radio frequencies (or bands). One frequency will be at 2.4 GHz and the other will be at 5 GHz. Tri-band routers with expanded data handling capabilities include a second 5 GHz radio.
The 2.4 GHz band guarantees that the router will be compatible with older networking devices (like printers), and it helps extend the distance at which devices can connect wirelessly to the router. The 5GHz band offers faster data throughput, and allows more devices to be connected to the network simultaneously without causing congestion when multiple device connections increase the load demand on the network.
What USB Ports do I Need on my Router?
Although there are several specialized exceptions, a USB port on your router is primarily used to share a particular device over your network, making it accessible to multiple users or devices at the same time.
The most common uses are for sharing of an external storage device (thumb drive or external USB hard drive), or for sharing an older printer that cannot be connected to the network wirelessly. Today, most routers have at least one USB port, either a USB 2.0 or 3.0, with more advanced routers also offering a USB-Type C port for connecting modern mobile devices.
What Quality of Service (QoS) capability do I need?
Quality of Service (QoS) is a feature of routers that prioritizes traffic for certain devices or applications so that more important traffic can pass first, resulting in a performance improvement for critical network traffic (like TV streaming or gaming). Most modern routers have this capability, but often it must be set manually, which can lead to spotty results. If you can, get a router that manages QoS automatically based on smart algorithms to get the maximum benefit.
There is no industry standard term for this advanced QoS functionality, but you might encounter it under names like Adaptive QoS, Intelligent QoS, or Dynamic QoS. Routers claiming enhanced gaming qualities usually have advanced QoS, as they're really just regular routers that use advancing QoS to ensure that gamers can get priority access to the network to avoid lag in their game's performance.
Do I need a Mesh Router?
Mesh WiFi, sometimes called Whole Home WiFi systems, consist of a main router that connects directly to your Internet modem, and a series of satellite modules, or nodes, placed around your house for full WiFi coverage. Working together seamlessly, they make up a single wireless network and share the same network name (SSID) and password.
This approach allows you to extend your WiFi network across very large spaces. If you have a large house with multiple floors, or a smaller house with lots of barriers that interrupt your signal in different locations of your house, a mesh router is a game changer. If you're living environment does have these characteristics, then you don't need to worry about mesh capability.
What about VPN, Antivirus, Firewall, and other Advanced Features?
Virtually all internet routers today have these types of capabilities, so you don't really have to disect the idiosyncrsies of each manufacturer's approach. Just keep in mind that the more capabilities a router possesses, the more processor power and RAM memory will be needed to keep your router running smoothly.
For the best WiFi 6 router, see our reviews of the best wireless routers available to make your search a short one.