Not long ago most households could get by with a basic single-band router to keep a handful of devices connected to the home network. These days you’d be hard pressed to find a home that doesn’t have multiple smartphones, gaming consoles, tablets, and laptops vying for online access. If you’re constantly losing your wireless signal, experiencing choppy video when streaming Netflix, or have to wait for Web pages to load, there’s a good chance your router is having trouble keeping up with your networking demands, in which case it’s time for an upgrade (for more common issues, see 5 Signs Your Wi-Fi Network Isn’t Up To Par). Here’s what you should consider when choosing your next wireless router.
What’s Your Budget? How Many Bands Do You Need?
Price will be a determining factor in the kind of performance and features you can expect from your new router. Single-band routers are typically at the low end of the price spectrum (around $50) and are designed for basic networking. They operate on the 2.4GHz radio band and are generally well suited for Web browsing, connecting to social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, and wireless printing. But they have to compete with other 2.4GHz devices such as microwave ovens, cordless phones, and Bluetooth hardware.
A dual-band router is your best bet if you’ll be connecting gaming consoles, media servers, or smart HDTVs. They operate on the widely used 2.4GHz band and the less crowded 5GHz band, which offers better throughput and less interference. With a dual-band router you can have your smartphones and laptops connect on the 2.4GHz band, and save the 5GHz band for content that requires stronger bandwith, like streaming HD video and playing video games. For maximum coverage in a high traffic home network, consider a tri-band router which gives you one 2.4GHz radio band and two 5GHz bands to share among your devices. Expect to pay upward of $150 for a multi-band router.
If You Can Afford It, Futureproof With Advanced Features
When shopping for a router you’ll have to decide if you want an 802.11n model or an 802.11ac model. Most laptops, smartphones, and printers currently use the 802.11n protocol, which is capable of maximum throughput speeds of up to 600Mbps. These routers work well in households that only have a handful of devices wirelessly connecting to the network, but 802.11n is an aging technology. If you’re using newer devices equipped with 802.11ac Wi-Fi adapters, you’ll need an 802.11ac router to take advantage of the increased speed and bandwidth that this Wi-Fi protocol delivers. For example, an AC1750 dual-band router can achieve a maximum link rate of 450Mbps on the 2.4GHz band and 1,300Mbps on the 5GHz band, while a tri-band AC3200 router can reach speeds of 600Mbps on the 2.4GHz band and 1,300Mbps on each of the two 5GHz bands.