Is Your Wireless Router
Due for an Upgrade?

Walk down just about any street in any city and watch while the Wi-Fi access points appear and disappear on your smartphone. With Internet penetration in the United States running close to 80% and some countries getting closer to 100%, you have to think there are an awful lot if Internet routers in homes across the country and we suspect most of them are wireless. With such a high percentage of homes with routers you might wonder who is buying routers. The fact is, like most other computer gear, your router is probably already obsolete or approaching obsolescence. If your router is more than a few years old you might benefit from an upgrade. Routers are not that expensive costing around $100 and with a big performance boost, it might turn out to the best investment you’ve made lately. The newest wireless routers are coming with the draft standard for the latest protocol, 802.11ac which includes new provisions for dual-band use, beamforming and other enhancements, which could deliver data rates in the gigabits per second range. Here’s a roundup of some routers we like best along with some things you should consider when shopping for a new router.

These new aio computers look as good on desktops as kitchen coutertops
Things to consider when shopping for a router
Wi-Fi technology time line
Dual Bands Means Higher Data Rates

The latest wireless routers, including some 802.11n ones, offer a feature call dual-band which uses two frequencies (2.4 and 5 GHz) to send and receive data. Among older single band routers, one of the older standards, 802.11a, used a single 5 GHz band while other single band standards favored 2.4 GHz. The 2.4 GHz band offers greater range than 5 GHz but can also clash with other common household wireless gear like cordless phones and baby monitors not to mention other routers in adjacent apartments in your building. The 5 GHz band is less crowded (at least for now) which means you’ll get fewer collisions and theoretically better performance especially for demanding tasks like streaming or online gaming. Dual-band routers can not only use either band, they have another advantage and that is the ability to “bond” both channels together and double the throughput to, in some cases, a theoretical rate of 2 x 450 Mbps or 900 Mbps.

Shop For Dual-band Wireless Routers
802.11ac What’s So Great About the Latest 802.11ac
Wi-Fi Standard?

Although it’s still in draft mode, the latest Wi-Fi standard, 802.11ac, also referred to as 5G Wi-Fi or Gigabit Wi-Fi is starting to show up in routers and even devices like the new Samsung Galaxy S 4 smartphone. An 802.11ac router should add speed and range to your home network and should improve performance for demanding tasks like video streaming and game playing. You can expect realistic data rates in the 450 Mbps range which should be about twice as fast as your old 802.11n router. A new modulation technique along with the use of multiple antennas will ultimately help 802.11ac exceed data rates of Gigabit Ethernet.

Shop For 802.11ac Routers
Guest Mode is One More Reason to Upgrade Guest Mode is One More Reason to Upgrade

In a typical home network if you give someone access to your wireless router and you don’t have your computers password protected, that person could have access to a lot more than the Internet; meaning personal information stored on your computer. New routers include a guest mode feature that has its own password and only allows users access to the Internet. This is a great feature to have on your home or small business network.

Beamforming Can "Focus" Data Transmissions Beamforming Can “Focus” Data Transmissions

Although higher frequency bands like 5GHz typically offer shorter range than lower frequency signals the new 802.11ac employs a technique called beamforming that can compensate for this drawback. Most 802.11n devices transmit in a circular or omnidirectional manner however, devices using beamforming, which is an optional feature in 802.11ac devices, can “learn” to focus their streams into a narrower more efficient signal which reduces reflections and provides a more efficient connection.

Traffic Monitor A Traffic Monitor is a Useful Feature to Look For

Asus includes this traffic monitor in their control panel which makes it easy to keep an eye on what the traffic load looks like in your home or small business network. Other routers offer similar tools and we think it’s a useful feature to look for when shopping for a router.

Router Roundup
Cisco Linksys E4200 Cisco Linksys E4200*

The Linksys E4200 and other Linksys “E” series routers are the successors to the popular Linksys WRT54G series routers. The Linksys E4200 is a dual-band router that is capable of bonding two bands for higher throughput. The E4200 is not only nice looking but also gets high marks for ease of installation and setup as well as signal strength and range. It offers a USB port that can be used for a media server or other shared storage device. Its MSRP is $179 but you can usually find it for less.

*Linksys was recently acquired by Belkin and we suspect the “Cisco” in the name will be replaced at some point soon.

Shop For Linksys E4200
D-Link DIR-857 HD Media Router 3000 D-Link DIR-857 HD Media Router 3000

The D-Link DIR-857 Media Router is one of the few new routers with a USB 3.0 port which can be used to move data on and off a shared storage device. The DIR-857 is another dual-band 802.11n router that can bond channels for theoretical speeds up to 450Mbps. D-Link includes a feature call HD Fuel that claims to be able to deliver multiple HD streams without any interruptions. You can buy one of these routers for around $149.

Shop For D-Link DIR-857 HD Media Router
ASUS RT-AC66U ASUS RT-AC66U Is Currently a Favorite
Among Reviewers

Asus is the same company that made one of the first Netbooks (Eee PC), the popular Transformer tablet and now offers one of the highest rated routers on the market. The Asus RT-AC66U is a dual-band 802.11ac router with three external antennas that some reviewers claim offers some of the fastest speeds and longest range of any router in its class. The RT-AC66U has two USB ports, (unfortunately not 3.0) that can be used to connect a printer, NAS or other shared media device. The RT-AC66U also offers a built-in VPN and something they call AiCloud which allows fast data transfers among devices.

Shop For ASUS RT-AC66U
Netgear N900 WNDR4500 Netgear N900 WNDR4500 Very Fast 802.11n Router

The Netgear N900/WNDR4500 is a dual-band 802.11n router that, as the N900 name implies, can deliver a theoretical maximum data rate of 900Mbps making it one of the fastest 802.11n routers on the market. Many Netgear routers offer features like parental controls, NAS support and more that are sometimes only available if you flash your firmware. The WNDR4500 is a highly rated router that may cost you as much as one of the newer 802.11ac routers; something you should consider before you buy one.

Shop For Netgear N900 WNDR4500
Apple Airport Express and Airport Extreme
Apple Airport Express and Airport Extreme

It’s hard to buy a router that’s easier to setup and use than an Apple Airport Extreme or Apple Airport Express. Although Apple routers are 802.11n and support dual-band connections they haven’t upgraded any of their networking gear or products to 802.11ac. We suspect you’ll start to see it appear in MacBooks and their routers very soon which could be a reason to hold off for just a little while. Both Apple routers are pretty similar in feature however, the $99 Airport Express has older 10/100Base-T Ethernet connections while the $179 Airport Extreme offers four Gigabit Ethernet ports (one in each case is used to connect to the cable modem or other source). The Airport Extreme’s USB port can also be used for an external hard drive unlike the Extreme’s USB port that can be used for printers only. Of course, both routers can be managed through an iOS app. While the Airport Express is going to be very easy to set up will work well with all you Apple gear, for $179 you could buy one of the latest 802.11ac routers.

Shop For Apple Airport Extreme   |    Shop For Apple Airport Express