The increasing demand for fast Wi-Fi connectivity always leads to a point where your old router does not make the cut anymore and you start looking for an upgrade. The typical evening of many families includes Netflix, gaming, browsing through the social networks and uploading pictures from their last vacation, transferring large files and so on, all on Wi-Fi. In addition, every contemporary household hooks up mobile devices that also slow down the Wi-Fi signal. If you recognize yourself in the above description, you should totally switch to a more powerful router capable of meeting the Wi-Fi needs of your family. Likewise, you should ensure a strong Wi-Fi router for your office if you want to enjoy a smooth workflow.
However, looking through the top-rated Wi-Fi routers can make you spoilt for choice, especially if you are not familiar with all the bells and whistles of modern technologies. Routers are constantly working and distributing Wi-Fi connection to your smartphone, laptop, tablet, desktop computer, streaming media devices such as Roku, Apple TV, etc. You should always keep in mind the increasing Wi-Fi traffic needs of your household/ office and opt for a router that has a little bit more bandwidth capacity than you currently need. You never know how many new devices you are going to connect to the router in the coming months.If Xbox One is already one of them, you might want to check out our “Best Router for Xbox One“ guide to make sure you have decent Wi-Fi speeds for gaming.
Here is everything you need to know before you dive into the Wi-Fi jungle and hunt for the best wireless router for your network.
- The Most Important Wi-Fi Router Features
- Single-Band, Dual-Band or Tri-Band Router. What’s the Difference?
- Wi-Fi Signal Strength and Router Positioning
- Wireless Protocols and Range of a Wi-Fi Router
- When You Should Buy a G Router
- When You Should Buy an AC Router
- When You Should Buy an N Router
- Other Features to Consider in a Router
- The Lifespan of the Router
- Wrap up
When you choose a router, you should pay attention to several essential factors. First of all, you have to consider the number of people you will be sharing your Wi-Fi network with and make an approximate estimate of the devices you will connect.
The rapid development of the wireless technologies made Wi-Fi router manufacturers compete with one another with the aim of providing customers with fancy add-ons. In this respect, you have to make an evaluation of the Wi-Fi router features and decide whether you actually need advanced features. Top-rated devices come with some pretty sophisticated technical specs and they are capable of handling intense Wi-Fi use. If you want to stream a Netflix movie and your spouse wants to play online games, a well-chosen router can make a world difference in the quality of the video streaming and gaming sessions. That’s why it’s worth putting in the effort to research what router is best for your needs.
The Most Important Wi-Fi Router Features
- Wi-Fi speed
- Supported wireless protocols
- Is your router of choice a single-band, dual-band or tri-band
- How many connections your router can support at once
- What kind of Wi-Fi network security options it has
These features greatly vary from device to device, so it is important to pick a router that covers as many of your requirements as possible. Now, let’s get started with the thorough explanation of the features top-rated Wi-Fi routers possess.
Single-Band, Dual-Band or Tri-Band Router. What’s the Difference?
For the time being, dual-band devices are the most widespread ones. However, you are going to hear a lot about the tri-band routers in future. Although they are expected to take the wireless technologies to new heights, they already have a lot of opponents who would recommend sticking to the dual-band routers.
Anyway, the point is that not all routers and all Wi-Fi networks are created equal. The single-band Wi-Fi devices communicate on the 2.4GHz frequency band, while dual-band units can use two – one 2.4GHz and one 5GHz band, respectively. As you have already presumed, the single-band routers are the least expensive ones, but they cannot be defined as the most powerful or the fastest devices out there. If you use the Internet for updating your status on the social networks and checking your email, a single-band router will suffice. The reason for its limited capabilities is the fact that single-band devices have to compete with the other home devices on the same radio band, including Bluetooth devices, microwaves, and smartphones.
In other words, if you want to find the best wireless router for streaming video from Netflix or online gaming from Xbox Live, consider the purchase of a dual-band router. They can broadcast a 5GHz Wi-Fi signal and a 2.4GHz Wi-Fi signal. Basically, your dual-band router can host two different Wi-Fi networks at once. Therefore, you are enabled to upgrade to 5GHz Wi-Fi for the compatible devices without losing the compatibility with older devices.
As for the tri-band routers, they broadcast three different signals- one 2.4GHz Wi-Fi signal, and two separate 5GHz Wi-Fi signals. The tri-band router automatically sorts devices into different networks, which improves the Internet speed. The latest models come with a Wi-Fi speed of 3Gbps and higher. That’s crazy throughput, but don’t get too excited. Tri-band routers are intended to efficiently handle multiple devices connected to the Wi-Fi network at once. You should not expect the throughput to go well beyond the standard Wi-Fi speed of 1300mbps at 5GHz.
Wi-Fi Signal Strength and Router Positioning
As far as the Wi-Fi signal strength is concerned, the layout of your home can affect the performance of even the most sophisticated device. The more floors, and walls stay between your router and your device, the worse the Wi-Fi signal is. Keep in mind that even the most powerful routers are incapable of ensuring a good Wi-Fi signal if they have to overcome aluminum studs, insulated walls, drywall, hollow doors, solid bricks, and stones.
The positioning of your router is very important. You have to do your best to place it away from gadgets that can interfere with it, ideally on a high shelf. However, beware of the dead spots inside your home or office. You can use a heat map software to figure out how to maximize your Wi-Fi coverage.
If you live in a small apartment, opting for the best wireless router currently in existence or the least expensive device you find on the market, won’t make a huge difference in terms of Wi-Fi performance. However, if you live in a spacious house and you share it with several people, you should not compromise on quality when it comes to Wi-Fi. It is important to note that you should place the device in a central location so that it has a good throughput in “far” situations.
Wireless Protocols and Range of a Wi-Fi Router
Now, let’s outline the pros and cons of the most common wireless protocols.
The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers created the standard for Wi-Fi technology called 802.11 and all Wi-Fi routers follow it.
During the years, this Wi-Fi standard has undergone a few enhancements and today, there are different letter designations.
The 802.11b are no longer manufactured but some routers still support wireless b. The latter ensures a good Wi-Fi signal for up to 150 feet and offers a maximum transfer rate of up to 11Mbps. It operates only at the 2.4GHz Wi-Fi frequency range. The 802.11g also operates at the unregulated 2.4GHz frequency but offers a transfer rate of 54Mbps. The wireless network offers a theoretical transfer rate of 300mbps with 2 antennas and up to 450Mbps with three antennas. It operates at both 2.4GHz and 5GHz Wi-Fi band frequency. In addition, the 802.11n can operate on the so-called multiple-in multiple-out (MIMO) signals. The majority of people keen on new gadgets define the wireless AC as the next big thing in the Wi-Fi routers’ development. It offers a great Wi-Fi coverage area and a stronger signal. If you are looking for top-rated wireless routers, you will inevitably stumble upon 802.11ac models.
When You Should Buy a G Router
- You will connect no more than one or two devices to Wi-Fi
- You will use the Internet for checking your inbox, reading the news, or posting on the social media
- If you want to watch Netflix or Youtube or play games online, you’d better opt for a more powerful router
When You Should Buy an AC Router
- You have a large household and you demand great Wi-Fi signal coverage
- You want a strong Wi-Fi router for your office
- You live in a highly populated area (a block of flats, near a park, etc). Using an AC router will give you a serious Wi-Fi speed advantage as it is still a new technology and not so many people will be running their networks on the 5GHz band.
- You play Xbox One or PS4 against other people and you want your other computers to stream video at the same time without any lags.
When You Should Buy an N Router
- You are going to connect several devices to Wi-Fi at once
- You want to watch Netflix, Youtube or play computer games online
- You download large files on Wi-Fi
Other Features to Consider in a Router
Used to connect a computer to the router via an Ethernet cable. Pick up a device that has at least four Gigabit Ethernet ports, so that you will be able to hook up home automation hubs, NAS drives or desktop PCs
Wi-Fi routers come with at least one USB 2.0 port. Still, you are advised to look out for a device that features both a USB 2.0 and a USB 3.0, so that you can plug in a printer and an external hard drive simultaneously. You can also utilize the external storage to create a Wi-Fi network media hub for streaming movies or TV shows.
Quality of Service (QoS)
Also known as Traffic Control or Media Prioritization feature. The QoS allows you to optimize the performance of your router and assign a higher priority to a certain device. For example, if you want to watch your Netflix series on your laptop and somebody else is downloading a big file on the same Wi-Fi network, you can give your laptop a priority and avoid lagging.
A Router with a Guest network or AirBnB Host
Contemporary routers allow you to set at least one guest Wi-Fi network. It can have a different password from the one of your primary network. It is a great option if you have guests visiting your house regularly or you own a club or a restaurant and want to provide your customers with a strong Wi-Fi connection. This way, they will be able to connect to your router, but they will not have access to your private Wi-Fi network.
What About Routers with Parental Control?
If you have kids and you want to limit the time they spend on the Internet or block their access to certain websites, you have to go for a router with a Parental Control feature. The latter enables you to set a time during which certain sites are blocked or block them permanently. Depending on the router you buy, you can block a limited/unlimited number of sites.
How much security is enough for a Router?
If Wi-Fi security is of paramount priority to you, you’d better opt for WPA2 encryption. You will be required to enter the password of your router every time you want to hook up a new device. The best Wi-Fi routers usually come with WPA2 encryption. It is particularly useful if you live in a crowded urban area or an apartment building where other internet users can take advantage of your network. The WPS protection is considered weak. It enables you to connect a device to Wi-Fi with one push of a button.
Detachable Wi-Fi Router Antennas
Antennas play an important role in the provision of a strong Wi-Fi signal. You are advised to search for a device with detachable antennas
Internet Protocol Version (IPv4 and IPv6)
Internet Protocol version 4 (called IPv4 for short) is the technology used for assigning IP addresses. However, the IPv6 is expected to take over and more and more routers are slated to have a built-in support for IPv6. What makes it superior to the IPv4 is the fact that the IPv6 ensures an infinite number of IPs that can be connected to the Internet.
The Lifespan of the Router
Even the most sophisticated pieces of engineering are prone to damages and you cannot expect your router to last forever. After all, it will be constantly working behind the scenes to provide you with a fast and secure Internet access, which results in a lot of wear and tear. As the time passes, you will notice that the performance of your device degrades. If you cannot find any reasonable explanation for the troubles with your network, you should start looking for a more advanced router that can handle the smartphone, the gaming console, the streaming devices, and computers at your home or office.
Of course, you don’t have to rush with the purchase of a new router as soon as you notice the irritating buffering symbol. You can try to clean the router or contact the manufacturer if the warranty is still valid. Speaking of warranties, take your time to read about the damages the warranty covers. Don’t underestimate the warranty period, too.
To sum up, the main features the best wireless routers have are:
- Good Wi-Fi range
- Fast throughput wireless speeds
- High level of network security
- User-friendly software is always a plus for a router
- A wealth of customization options helps you have your router just the way you want
- Decent quality-price ratio
Check out some of the best routers at Amazon.