Routers are electronic devices responsible for interconnecting computers in a single network by sending packets of information from one to the other. Back in the old days (in the 1990s, not that long ago actually), almost everybody used a dial-up connection with a very slow 56 Kbps modem. The modem used home telephone lines to establish an internet connection. Fast forward to present day, and modems are all but dead; they have become obsolete and have been replaced by routers to facilitate a wireless connection or an Ethernet connection for connecting computers to a network. In addition, routers are much faster now. Some of the best routers of 2017, like the Netgear AC-1200 and the Asus RT-AC68U, offer connection speeds near 1000 MBps.
Routers have now become commonplace in both home and office environments. When buying a router for your home or for your office, you need to consider many key features to find the best router for your application. You can purchase cheaper ones from TP-Link or splurge on the more expensive ones from Netgear if you want added benefits. You must consider specs such as signal strength, speed, antennas, connectivity, and security to get the best performance.
Types of routers
When you are looking for routers, you will frequently come across the terms single band and dual band. Routers essentially come in these two flavors – single band and dual band. Information packets can be sent via routers either on a 2.4 GHz band channel and/or on a 5 GHz band channel. The keyword here is and/or. Single band routers can only use one of the frequency channels depending on the Wi-Fi connection type, whereas dual band routers, as the name suggests, can utilize both frequency bands. Why are there two frequency bands?
Traditionally, routers only used the 2.4 GHz band to transit packets of data. Due to the overabundance of users and connections, manufacturers decided to use the 5 GHz frequency band in addition to the pre-existing one. This made routers faster. In dual band routers, the 2.4 GHz band is for simple applications, like web browsing and sending emails, whereas the 5 GHz band is more for heavy-duty tasks, for example streaming videos and playing online games. In a single band router, all activities take place over the same frequency channel.
You will need to decide which router you require based on your needs. If you run bandwidth intensive programs and apps and you do not want to experience interference from other nearby networks, then you require a dual band router like the Netgear R8000 or the Asus RT-AC56U. If you are fine with the lower speed of a single band router, then you can opt for the Asus RT-N16.
Another very important aspect to consider is the class of your Wi-Fi router. You may have heard of the IEEE 802.11 standard on many router boxes, but there are also a bunch of letters associated with these. You will find letters like a, g, and n on many of the router standard classifications. The table below details the difference between each of these classes.
|IEEE 802.11 protocol||Frequency (GHz)||Bandwidth (MHz)||Max Data rate (MBps)||Indoor Range (m)|
The key differences between the various classes are speed and range. 802.11b was the most common standard for Wi-Fi connections for several years until it was supplanted by the much faster 802.11g, which is now the de facto standard for routers on the market. However, due to the ever-increasing problem of interference, two new standards, 802.11n and 802.11ac, came out and offer extremely high speeds, utilizing both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz frequency bands. In most cases, you are good with an 802.11g router. For example, if you need the higher speeds and want the enhanced signal range, then go for the newer 802.11n (Linksys E2500) and 802.11ac (Netgear R7000 Nighthawk).
A chief parameter of connectivity that should not be overlooked is the Quality of Service (QoS). When many devices on your network compete to use the limited bandwidth, generally the more bandwidth hogging applications will always get precedence, leaving behind other apps, although those apps that consume less bandwidth may be the more important ones. In such a scenario, you want a router with good QoS technology service that prevents this problem. QoS optimizes performance by allocating a set amount of bandwidth for each application so that none of them consume too much. If you like to watch movies or play games online AND download files at the same time, you do not want a bad user experience. QoS will ensure that your experience is unhindered while you are downloading large files in the background. QoS ultimately shapes your traffic.
All routers you buy will have LAN (Local Area Network) and WAN (Wide Area Network) ports, the latter being synonymous with the internet. When you have many computers in your network, then you want a router than can accommodate all of the machines with an Ethernet cable. This allows for very fast connections between the computers, much faster than if they were interconnected wirelessly via WLAN (Wireless Local Area Network). Most routers will have one WAN port to connect to the central computer that is hosting the network or centrally accessing the internet. Routers will have multiple LAN ports to allow several computers to connect with a cable to the router, thereby being connected to the internet itself.
Routers these days even have USB ports to allow you to connect peripherals to your computer. If your computer lacks USB ports, then investing in a router that has multiple USB ports will let you connect, for example, a printer or an external hard drive. Every computer on the network can then access the devices that are connected to the router via the USB ports. For instance, the Asus RT-5300 has 1 WAN port, 4 LAN ports, and 2 USB ports.
Most routers have no external antennas. The antennas they are housed within the chassis of the router and protrude slightly from the sides of the device. Conventional wisdom says that external antennas have much better reception than internal ones, allowing for higher speeds and better penetration through walls with the enhanced signal strength. This is usually true, with users being able to manipulate the antenna on a router (as they would handle the antennas of a very old TV set) to get the best possible signal. Routers with external antennas pose one problem – they take up too much space sometimes. If you lack space in your home or office and just need to nestle your router in a tiny area, then only invest in a router that has internal antennas. However, if you need the boost in signal strength, then buy a pair of standalone external antennas and connect them to your router.
Security is perhaps the most important feature you should consider when buying a router. Speed is important but it means nothing if you lose your personal data, such as contact details and credit card information. You want to browse the web in a protected and secure manner and that is achieved by the security parameters and measures your router incorporates. All routers have a built-in firewall to protect your computer network against intrusive online snoopers and data thieves. Typically, a firewall software will only allow certain types of incoming traffic if they have been selected in the Stateful Packet Inspection (SPI) section of the software. As a result, your network will not be exposed to or be threatened by unwanted incoming traffic that you do not authorize. Buy a router that has a built-in firewall with SPI features.
Asus routers have a technology known as Network Service Filter that blocks LAN and WAN packet exchanges and can prevent certain devices from using your network. If you have a device that you want to block from your network, simply input that device into your router configurations and it will be filtered. The Asus RT-AC66U is a great router that exhibits this feature.
If your router has it, make sure to turn on IPsec Passthrough to permit encrypted data to pass through your router. This will enhance your security, keeping you safe against hackers and breaches. Another protocol you should definitely consider to enable is L2TP (Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol). L2TP is a VPN (Virtual Private Network) protocol for carrying data from one machine to another in a very secure and protected manner. This protocol encrypts the data and safeguards it as it is being transferred online. If you plan on using a VPN connection on your network, you must buy a router that has the L2TP feature. Consider the TP-Link TL-WR940N router, which has L2TP technology.