Buying a router can be a confusing process, even for long-time users. The constantly shifting shape of the market combined with a few less than helpful advertising schemes can leave users wondering – what is it that I really need, and how much of a difference is there between the different products?
Wi-Fi routers run the range from hundreds of dollars to thousands, and ending up with the wrong one can leave you with wasted money, or a product which does not perform as you demand.
What if you are somebody who already knows what you need, but you are unsure about what products are currently on the market? We’ll lay things out in a way that, hopefully, makes sense to you.
So, what is it that you, as a user, really need to keep in mind when you purchase your next router? Here we hope to clarify a few common issues, to help you end up with a product which is right for you.
Before we start looking into the specifics we need to take into account the purpose of the device. Are you a larger company, looking to offer Wi-Fi to hundreds of users, or are you a single person who just wants to be able to use the internet anywhere in your house?
As is typical with electronic devices – the less you demand from your router the less you will have to spend. For a single person or a couple of less demanding people, the lower end of routers will likely meet all of your requirements. This means you won’t have to break the bank in buying one of the more intimidating options out there.
Don’t just run out and get one just yet though, as you will also have to keep in mind…
A common problem with routers, across all types of users, is that of range. Cheaper and lower end routers can offer everything the user needs within a room or two of where the router is placed, but any distance greater than that and you run the risk of hitting the limits of the device.
A simple way to view this is by looking at the range of the device as volume. If someone is speaking to you in the same room they are easy to hear. Over a distance, and through walls, the voice of a person will become muffled, so the speaker is going to have to start to yell. Luckily for us, humans cannot hear the signals sent over these frequencies.
When you start to get further out of range of your router you will start to see some rather ugly and annoying issues raise their head. These typically come down to speed and reliability of the connection, which are both symptoms of the same problem.
Simply put – the further away from the Wi-Fi router a user is, the more data will be lost on its way between the router and the connected device. This means that your internet or home network will start to operate slower than usual, leading to longer download times and dropped connections. These dropped connections can be especially frustrating, as those who have had videos cut out part way can attest.
Generally speaking – the cheapest of routers will not offer great range, and although signal boosters are available it can be cheaper overall to simply purchase a router with increased range.
Another thing to keep in mind is that range is not entirely predictable. Walls can be an especially hindering factor, and one whose interference might not be knowable until a router is first tested. Because of this, it can be a good idea to make sure the router you purchase allows for refunds. This way you can change or upgrade router if it does not perform as expected.
Remember to check all areas where you think the router might be used from before you settle in and declare it a success. This coming back to bite you further down the line is never fun.
When looking at the speed of a router we have to first look at the speed of our internet connection. If you have a fast internet connection then buying a low-cost router might mean that your connection does not reach its full potential. Here a slower router can act as a bottleneck, which means your fast internet connection might be going to waste. Because of this, it is important to check that your router has the capacity to operate at or above the speed of your connection.
This is especially important to those users on faster connections, such as fiber-optics.
The total number of accepted connections and types of connections are also an incredibly important factor to take into account when it comes to finding the right Wi-Fi router for you. Some routers might only work when supplied with ADSL connections, while other might only accept fiber inputs, so be sure to know which your internet runs on before you buy. This issue of connection also ties into the concept of speed.
A router has a set limit for how much data can be transmitted through it at one time. One connection running at full capacity will be able to take as much bandwidth, or information, from the router as it can dole out. Two connections running at full demand will cut the total speed of each user, as the data use is now split between two users. This trend continues, with more users meaning that less data is available to each user, in peak use conditions. Not only that, but some cheaper routers can have issues when attempting to cater to many users at once This can lead to an uneven and often frustrating experience for one or more users. In the worst case, it can even lead to the router to crash, requiring it to be powered off and on again.
Before buying a Wi-Fi router, then, it is important to know how many connections are expected to be working simultaneously. If it is only one or two people whose demands are regular internet and light video streaming then a cheap router should suffice. For a full family of users or a small business, it’s best to look into a router which allows a greater number of connections. While cheaper routers can often supply a lot of users this can lead to poor performance, so it is not recommended.
If the router is expected to be used by more than just a few people then it will be necessary to look into one of the more specialized heavy-duty models.
If history has taught us anything about the internet it is the importance of safety. While modern computers are expected to be running at least some form of virus and malware protection, it is possible for the router itself to come with some types of safety features.
These commonly include functions such as flood protection, which stops your connection being overloaded by those who might wish to block you off from the internet. The most expensive security options are not going to be useful for everyone, but users unsure or inexperienced with digital security should ensure that their routers at least have basic WPA functionality.
If the network you intend to use this router for contains more sensitive information then you will want to invest in the more expensive safety heavy devices, though these might require some help from IT professionals in order to have them operating at peak performance.
As with any mainstream product, there are going to be those that are targeted towards specific types of users. If you need extreme range then you will want to invest in a router which comes with long-range capabilities, for example.
More common is the demand for gaming performance. While it is not recommended to use Wi-Fi for gaming, due to the dropped connections and speed issues this creates, sometimes the alternative might not be feasible. For this type of use, you are going to want to look for a router specifically designed for gaming. These can help cut down on response time, lost packets of information, and ensure a smoother overall experience.
Now knowing what we do, the next step is finding a product within your price range. Take into account what you need the product for, what you will need the product for, and what you want but might not really need.
Weighing these options can be difficult, especially for a first-time buyer. Remember that rushing out and getting the first fit you find can really come back to bite you. Take your time, ask a tech-savvy friend to come with you, if possible, and try for those routers with refund policies. This way, even if you do make a mistake, you can slowly narrow your choices down into the perfect for you.