Even if you’re relatively tech-savvy, routers can be a complete mystery – aside from recognizing the word “WiFi”, you probably don’t have a clue what most of the other specifications indicate. That’s completely fine – you don’t have to. We’re here to help.
Below, you’ll find a short, all-inclusive guide to picking the perfect wireless router. At the end of reading this page, you’ll be an expert, and you’ll be able to select a router that will make your internet experience a pleasant one – and not one that makes you want to throw your laptop into the wall.
The first thing to consider: the range of your router
Wireless routers all have different signal ranges. If you’re within this range, then you’ll get a clear signal, and you’ll have optimal browsing speeds. If you’re not in this range, your speed will suffer, and your connection might intermittently cut out on you. This is a hassle that you want to avoid.
You can avoid it with some simple measuring. Locate the center of wherever you’ll be using the router – your home, your office, etc. – and then measure outwards to the furthest place that you’ll need a signal at.
That’s hypothetically the signal range that you need, but keep in mind that the advertised signal range isn’t always what you’ll actually get. Walls and other obstructions can make the signal weaker, causing locations that are technically within the signal range to receive a less-than-desirable signal. Always increase the signal range by 25% – 50%, just to be safe.
Next up: what do you use the internet for?
You may already know this, but different internet activities put more strain on your router than others – playing World of Warcraft at the maximum resolution settings will require a much more powerful router than if you’re just checking Facebook and sending emails.
As you research routers, you’ll come across the term “band”. There are both single and dual band routers – the band doesn’t make a huge difference in the performance of the router, but remember, we’re going for the best router, and not just a functional one.
Single band routers get the job done for simple networks – if you just need to get a network up and running that multiple people can connect to, then you’re fine rolling solo. By and large, they cost less than dual band routers.
Dual band routers are good for singular, intensive activities, such as playing a videogame on the highest resolution settings, where you’ll be sending tons of data back and forth at a very rapid pace. Dual band routers don’t “speed you up” – they just harness what speed you do have more effectively. You’ll experience faster speeds on everything that’s labor intensive – streaming movies, listening to Spotify, etc.
Almost done: need any bells or whistles?
Routers are kind of like smartphones – there are feature-packed phones that cost well above $500, and there are other, simpler models that are only $200 or so. If you need the features, you might be able to technically get by with the $200 phone, but it’ll be a hassle. At the same time, if you go with the $500 phone but don’t need the features, you’re just wasting money.
Carefully assess what you need from your router. Have kids and need parental controls? Then you’re going to have to upgrade. But if you’re a bachelor who just wants to be able to watch Netflix in his bed, then you’re probably fine with a barebones one. (Product descriptions of the routers will always tell you any extras that are included.)
Final point: your budget
Although it’d be nice to get the best of everything, it’s not always realistic. Routers can easily run above $150, some even breaching the $200 mark.
That being said, your router is incredibly important. Think about how often you use the internet – if you can save yourself everyday headache by spending a few extra bucks, do it. Still, though – don’t go crazy and think that it’ll speed you up exponentially. It won’t.
How to pick the perfect router: quick summary
- Measure the signal range that you need from your router – most important
- Select single or dual band, depending on what you use the internet for
- Find one that has what you need, but not much more
- Pick one that’s in your price range, but don’t be afraid to slightly splurge on something you’ll be using daily for years – it’s kind of liking saving yourself years of back problems by getting a good mattress
See? That wasn’t so hard. Above all else, make sure to look at the customer reviews for each and every router you’re considering. Routers are notoriously fickle, and even those that claim certain features can’t always deliver. Reviewers will let you know if they walk the walk, or just talk the talk. Good luck!