You know, I still remember the days when we didn’t so much have router/modem combos, as we did modems that fit inside your PC. We also didn’t so much have DSL, as we had dial-up. Finally, we didn’t so much have Google, as we had running around like headless chickens on fire.
All my nostalgic reminiscing aside, routers have taken a huge leap over the last couple of decades. With the advent of digital distribution for games, films, music and everything in between, routers have become an integral part of our lives. It’s not all unicorns and rainbows though, and with great variety comes great confusion.
So, what are the best routers for your home?
As routers become more and more flashy, it’s certainly nice to have a simple, back-to-basics router that has some great functionality.
For starters you have a ton of connectivity, from the 4 LAN ports to the USB ports on the side. If you want, you also get the added feature of combining two LAN ports together to get yourself 2 gigabit speeds. You also got both a Wi-Fi on/off button and a WPS button, super handy additions if you turn them on/off frequently.
The big selling point though, is the software and features, the best of which being smart connect, TP-Link’s own software which tries to avoid interference by picking the best suited radio band. You also get Home Care, which hosts anti-malware and antivurs software, and even parental controls. You can also control the quality of the service for specific applications and specific devices, such as ‘Streaming’ for your TV or ‘Gaming’ for your gaming rig.
The routers UI is also pretty good and user-friendly, easy to navigate and more importantly easy to understand, and one of the better ones you’ll see.
Unfortunately, it does offer mixed performance, with the 2.4Ghz band being average and getting worse the further away you go. 5 Ghz fairs much better, although it can’t necessarily compete with all the routers at this price point.
All in all though, it’s a great little mid-range router, and certainly a good choice that balances price with performance and features.
Many of you who are reading this might be interested in a router that’s good for gaming, and you won’t be surprised to see that Asus has an unbeatable entry for this category.
Connectivity is just as good as the previous router, with four LAN ports, and two USB ports, as well as two side buttons for WPS and Wi-FI on/off. Speeds are really good, with it actually being able to achieve close to the advertised 2 gigabit speed. That being said, at 50 meters you’ll lose around 35% of your maximum download speed and 20% of your maximum upload speed.
Another thing that’s rather annoying, is that it’s made to be standing upright, with all the ports on the back. So if you plan on getting a wall mounted router or want to a router that lays flat, you’re out of luck I’m afraid. Thankfully the design is smart nonetheless, and you even get an LED on/off button on the back if those lights tend to annoy you (which they do for me, so I appreciate the inclusion).
And since we’re speaking of advantages and disadvantages, one big double edged sword is the included software, which has a lot of customization and features, but is a lot to take in. Thankfully, the features are good, with everything from prioritization to data usage tracking. It also has a signal booster feature that extends the range a slight amount, which you’ll almost certainly need since it only has two Wi-Fi radios.
The final verdict here is that it’s a great router for wireless gaming, and while it might be a bit expensive and a lot to handle, it’s still one of the best routers in the category.
We all know the bane of having terrible Wi-Fi coverage, from dead spots to increasingly diminishing returns the further you get away from the router. There is a solution though, in the form of mesh technology, which syncs two or more devices to increase your coverage. That’s where the Orbi comes in.
Inside the box you’ll find two different units: One router or base unit and one satellite unit. They’re essentially the same thing, except that the satellite unit has an extra ethernet port where the internet port would be. You also get a single USB 2.0 port on each, which is a bit of a let down compared to other routers, but I guess it is what it is.
Setup is pretty simple: You spread out two units throughout your house, hook them up to power (and internet for the router) and then just hit the sync button. That’s when the magic happens.
You see, the Orbi is tri-band, with one 2.4Ghz connection and two 5Ghz connections. What that allows it to do is use that second 5Ghz to communicate with it’s satellite unit.
You actually have no access to that second 5Ghz connection, so that channel is completely reserved for communication between the two units. This ensures no interference when you’re using the satellite unit and allows you to get your full internet speed. It’s actually pretty neat and smart.
There is one big downside though, and that’s the included software and UI, which is simple at best, and a pain at worse. It’s possible you might even skip the complimentary app completely and just log in directly through a browser, it’s that irritating. That being said, it does have a lot of features if you’re willing to bear with it.
So the final analysis is that while it has one or two annoying sniggles (such as the price and UI), overall it’s range performance as a mesh router is unbeatable. Oh, and if you want even more coverage, you can buy more satellites, although the two units you buy should cover around 4,000 square feet.
Of course, not everybody has a few hundred bucks to blow on a router, especially if they don’t need that much space covered. Lucky for you, there’s the Nighthawk AC1750. Much to my dismay, it is not in fact the router equivalent of knightrider, that TV show from the 80s, but it’s still pretty good.
Connectivity is pretty good for such a cheap router, with four LAN ports, and one USB 2.0 for printers (annoying) and one USB 3.0 for storage devices (great!). The inclusion of the USB 3.0 port at the front is pretty handy, and the angle down design means that it should be easy to see all your indicator LEDs without any problems. You’ll also be happy to know that this router does have wall mounts, although I feel it might look a bit weird mounted on a wall, rather than set on a desk or other flat surface.
Performance is impressive to say the least, especially when compared to higher end routers like the Asus RT-AC86U. At 5-10 meters it can easily match competitors, although it tends to drop off significantly at the 15-20 meter range, which is fair for a router this cheap. File transfer performance is similarly one of the best in-class, hitting roughly 59 MB/s Read and 38 MB/s Write.
There is a downside though, and that’s the firmware and software (this seems to be a running theme). The software is a bit hard to use, and while initial setup is easy, the configurator might be hard to deal with for those who don’t have much tech experience. As for the firmware, it should be fine for most, but I’d suggest an upgrade to Tomato or dd-wrt, especially if you use a VPN.
So yes, Nighthawk AC1750 does have its issues, especially if you have a large home or don’t have much tech experience. That being said, it’s certainly does the basics very well, and has some of the best performance you’ll find at this price point.
Ok, I know what you’re thinking “Another Archer unit? But from TP-Link? What’s going on here?!”
Well, the truth is that both of these routers are essentially the same thing, with the minor difference being the top speed for the AC1750 vs the C1200. I won’t waste your time going over the same exact features, but instead I’ll tell you why the C1200 is on the list; It’s one of the cheapest routers you’ll find while still maintaining 1 gigabit speeds and a quality product.
In terms of physical design, the only real difference is that it doesn’t have a second 3.0 USB port in the front like the AC1750.
So, if you’re looking for a bare-bones router that is both cheap and can support 1 gigabit speeds, this is the router for you. It offers nearly identical features and performance (except for the cap) as the AC1750 while doing it for $20 cheaper.
While home routers aren’t necessarily complicated to run or use, there are a few things you need to think about before rushing out and buying one. Considering the few items mentioned below could absolutely save you some money, especially in terms of not spending on features you don’t absolutely need.
In most modern routers, speed is a combination of two different frequencies: 2.8 Ghz and 5Ghz. As you might have guessed, 2.8Ghz speeds tend to be up to 60% slower, which is why manufacturers have begun to embrace dual-band technology wholeheartedly. Of course, the frequency isn’t the only thing that affects the speed, with the internal hardware of the device, specifically the CPU, also having an effect.
Now the technical aspect of this isn’t so important, as the speed that your individual line can handle. If your line can only do 100 megabits, there’s very little reason to get a 1 gigabit router. Similarly, if you’re line can handle 1 gigabit, you won’t get your full speed if you get a 750 megabit router.
While this may seem incredibly obvious, a lot of people end up buying waaaay more expensive routers than they need, simply because ‘more speed is better’ when the reality is that a high speed router doesn’t necessarily give you higher speeds.
The LAN ports is where your ethernet cables go in, and this will essentially decide what kind of wired options you have for your home. The majority of routers out there come with four LAN ports, but you can actually find some that have more. This might not actually be much use to you if you want a wireless home, but it’s certainly something to keep in mind, since wired connections will always beat out wireless in terms of performance.
With old school modems/routers, the numbers of antenna were mostly used as redundancy, and as a way to offer higher efficiency by picking and choosing and switching to the best performing antenna on a dynamic basis. Nowadays though, manufacturers use something called MIMO or Multiple-In, Multiple-Out technology. What this technology does is essentially aggregate the throughput of each individual antenna, meaning that you are adding all their combined speeds together.
As a quick theoretical example, with MIMO you can combine two 100 megabit antennas to get 200 megabit, whereas with older modems, having two 100 megabit antennas still meant you only got 100 megabit, either using one or the other.
Now, how important this is to you again depends on your speed. Having 8 antennas won’t do you much good if your line can only use up half of them.
This one is probably the absolute hardest metric to measure because of the insane amount of different barriers a signal can face. Walls could be brick, concrete or plastered. Floors can have thich tiles or hardwood. Even cupboards and all the stuff in them can act to disrupt your signal in some way.
This is why we used to rely on Wifi repeaters to extend the range (although they haven’t gone out of fashion completely). Nowadays though, we tend to use mesh technology, which aggregates different routers together to extend the range.
Keep in mind though that this hasn’t become a mix and match technology yet. You can’t just take any old router and mesh it with any other old router. Most mesh router/modems tend to come in packages and from the main manufacturer, and are made specifically for that manufacturer.
Unfortunately they do. The general rule of thumb is to replace any electronic device once it’s hit the 5-6 year mark, since that’s when faults begin to appear.
Most importantly you need to place it as centrally as you can. All signals radiate in a sphere from the source, and so putting it in the center of your home will make sure you get as much of that signal as you possibly can.
They absolutely can, but you can take basic security steps to mitigate the risk. Some things you can do is:
Yes and no. A new router can’t give you faster internet or improve a slow internet connection, but it can allow you take advantage of a fast internet connection. As I mentioned above in the Speed category, your internet speed will have a big bearing on what router you need. There’s very little point in getting a 1 gigabit router if your landline can only handle 500 megabits.
Yes absolutely! There’s only one caveat and that’s to make sure that your replacement router runs on the same technology as your ISP is using. If they’re using ADSL, you need an ADSL router, and if they are using VDSL then you need a VDSL router. Other than that, get whatever router you like!
Much like any electronic device these days, routers have a lot of different features, performance and uses. I hope that the list above has given you a slightly better idea of what to aim for in terms of routers and your specific needs, but if you haven’t found what you’re looking for, you could check out some of our other related articles.