Wireless routers allow us to more-easily connect to all of our computers and devices. Though the initial Wi-Fi network setup may be a bit involved, once it is activated, that’s it. No more fumbling for a spare Ethernet cable, or considering where to place a device that has a RJ-45 Ethernet jack.
Though we list our top 5 wireless routers for home (see bottom of article), we want this to be more of a ‘guide’ in helping you select the best wireless router. Our approach is to provide you a number of purchase aspects and attributes to compare, along with a listing of those wireless routers we felt matched up best, at the time of publication.
Sure, a side-by-side comparison of various wireless routers may look convenient, but by the time such an article reaches the first page of the search results, it probably is outdated. The reason for this? Wireless router technology changes with enough frequency, that it would make it difficult to truly narrow-down a list.
This guide will provide an introduction to wireless routers, the various factors you should consider in making a purchase decision, and finally, and our top wireless router picks. Please use what we discovered as your roadmap in selecting the best wireless router for your network.
Wireless Router Introduction
At the time of this writing, wireless-N had become the standard for new wireless products hitting the shelves. This wireless protocol, 802.11n, is one of several set by the IEEE, including 802.11a/b/g/n. Although wireless-N is the present standard, you will find that there are probably more wireless-G network devices in use.
More function-rich wireless networking products typically provide multiple wireless protocols. Just note though that you can only utilize one at a time, unless your wireless router is a dual-band router. Dual-band allows a wireless router to receive and send both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz traffic at the same time.
Many of the newer, high-end routers utilize a technology called MIMO, which stands for ‘multiple-input and multiple-output’, characterized by multiple antennas, to allow dual-band technology to work.
You also will find most modern wireless routers to also have built-in Ethernet ports. The more expensive models will have Gigabit Ethernet, while reasonably priced models will only utilize Fast Ethernet. The only consideration here is if you actually have a need to connect devices to your network via Ethernet cable.
Wireless Router Considerations
Here is a list of considerations you may wish to answer to help narrow your search.
What will you utilize the wireless router for? Will you be playing online games, streaming media to a media server, or directly to your TV, how manually intensive are your backup routines, or are you primarily looking to simply connect to the network to surf the net and transfer the occasional document?
Avoid the marketing hype regarding wireless-N routers…If you’re simply looking to connect your laptop to the Internet, for instance, for web surfing and occasional sharing of documents, you really only need a wireless-G router.
Just remember, the speed at which you surf the net is limited to the speed of your Internet connection. For most, your Internet connection will be substantially slower than any network configuration you have, so why pay for the latest and greatest technology, if you cannot utilize it.
If, on the other hand, you will be streaming media, you may opt for the wireless-N router, assuming all connected devices can utilize that standard.
What networking components do you already have in use? If you have numerous components that will be connecting to the network, and you have no near-future plans to replace those components, that equals the speed of those wireless-compatible components you have.
Do your devices already have a compatible wireless adapter? If you’re upgrading from an Ethernet cabling-based network, consider any additional expense in wireless adapters. This is also were you want to consider the speed of any wireless adapter you already have.
When considering which protocol to utilize, take into consideration any other wireless devices you have in the house that may have a conflict with the same FM band that your wireless router will use.
Wireless range. You’ll find the range that most brands indicate on their packaging to be over-estimated. In most cases, this range, or distance is calculated for a clean line of sight connection. The rated range you see does not take in consideration were your wireless router may be located, as compared to the connected devices.
Wireless Router Attributes
Compare and consider this list of attributes before making your final selection. For wireless connectivity, your decision should go well beyond price.
Wireless Security: The security function of a wireless router includes a firewall and authentication settings.
The firewall will come in one of three flavors, NAT (Network Address Translation), SPI (Stateful Packet Inspection), or both. NAT will provide network-connected devices anonymity, as it will only show outside traffic your main ISP (Internet Service Provider)-provided IP address, while SPI watches for hacker-patterned traffic.
The authentication settings will also have various options, including WEP, WPA, WPA2, and WPA-PSK. The most recommended security is WPA-PSK (Wi-Fi Protected Access- Personal, or Pre-shared key). If you will be remotely connecting into your home computer via VPN, consider a product that supports VPN pass-through.
Functions and Features: The function that makes wireless connections a breeze after initial setup, as mentioned in the opening of this article, is UPnP (Universal Plug and Play). This function allows you to easily connect multimedia devices and components to your network.
As far as features…more may not be better, especially if your PC experience level is low, or you would rather not mess with it.
Brand Support: How can your wireless router brand help you troubleshoot problems? Is support limited to email and support tickets, or do they have live chat, or telephone support? Not that this is a perquisite, but as in all things bought, you get what you pay for.
If you would like more general information about wireless routers, please see: What is a Wireless Router?
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Here’s a look at our top five wireless router picks. These are listed in any particular order.
Linksys E1200 Wireless-N Router
The Linksys E1200 by Cisco provides speed as well as reliability to enable you to make a good wireless home network. With this Wireless-N Router, you will be able to connect computers, wireless printers, as well as other Wi-Fi devices at a speed of up to 300 Mbps.
SMC Barricade N Wireless Broadband Router
The Barricade N 150Mbps Wireless Broadband Router (Model SMCWBR14S-N4) is the perfect all-in-one networking solution for connecting and sharing your high speed cable/xDSL internet connection. The integrated NAT firewall with SPI provides protection from hackers and Denial of Service attacks by analyzing individual data packets, to ensure that only authorized packets are allowed access to the network.
Cisco Valet Wireless Router
Cisco Valet is a wireless router that enables you to simply and quickly enjoy wireless connectivity in your home. With the Valet, you can setup the wireless connection in 3 easy steps. No longer is connecting a complicated and frustrating process.
NETGEAR Wireless-N 150 Router
The NETGEAR Wireless-N 150 Router Modem DGN1000 with built-in DSL Modem is a combination of a high-performance router and a modem, which saves you space, the money you would otherwise spend on leasing a router, and the trouble of managing extra wires.
ASUS RT-10 EZ N
ASUS – RT-N10 EZ N Wireless Router – 4 x 10/100Base-TX Network LAN, 1 x 10/100Base-TX Network WAN – IEEE 802.11n (draft) – 150Mbps.