When you sign up for internet, your service provider probably will give you a wireless router. It may do the job just fine ... or it may leave you with a weak signal that doesn't give you the performance you want. To gain the best possible WiFi performance, consider purchasing your own wireless router -- one that you know will deliver the signal power and reliability you need. This is especially important if you plan to do any online gaming or streaming.
Considerations when choosing wireless routers
A wireless router is a piece of hardware that allows multiple devices to access the internet via WiFi. While some routers have a modem built into them, others are daisy-chained to the modem and to the internet. The router allows computers and other devices (tablets, smartphones, TVs, security cameras) to connect to other computers and devices in the household or out in the world.
A router with a "wireless" designation provides WiFi connectivity. A router without a wireless option (which is rare) only allows hard-line connections to it. People generally prefer the convenience of making a connection with a wireless router.
To gain a hard-wired connection using your appliance, you can plug Ethernet cables into the router. For a x or TV, an Ethernet connection may yield faster speeds than a WiFi connection. Because these devices don't move, an Ethernet connection from the wireless router works nicely.
When choosing among different wireless router options, pay attention to the wireless transmission bands that are supported. A basic router will only offer one band, while more expensive wireless routers will have two or three bands.
A single-band wireless router works in the 2.4 GHz frequency range. Because common devices operate in the 2.4 GHz band, your router may experience interference here.
A dual-band wireless router is a better choice for a lot of people. This router can use either the 2.4 GHz band or the 5 GHz band. The 5 GHz band tends to run faster and have less interference than the 2.4 GHz band.
Some routers use a tri-band design, but these are rare. They have the ability to handle many connections at once. Few people will need the capabilities of a tri-band router at home.
Wireless routers cost anywhere from $20 to several hundred dollars. Costlier devices will provide multiple network standards. Less-expensive wireless routers may only give you one network standard.
Different routers will provide one or more network protocols. Newer protocols, like 802.11n or 802.11ac, provide fast data transfer rates at 600 Mbps or more. Older, cheaper routers may only support 802.11b or 802.11g, which maxes out at 54 Mbps.
If you plan to use your router for online gaming or streaming video, you'll want a big coverage area. You'll pay extra for it, but it will be worth it, as skips in coverage or unreliable signals would ruin the experience for you.
Q. Why does my router have some bad coverage spots?
A. Some wireless routers provide a stronger signal than others. Weaker signals can lead to bad coverage spots. More commonly, though, interference in the building causes dead signal spots. If a signal must travel through multiple walls or floors, its strength degrades.
Q. Do I need external antennas on the router?
A. Adjustable external antennas allow you to direct the wireless signal. If your router has more than one antenna, it's recommended to aim one horizontally and one vertically. This configuration yields the widest coverage area. However, a wireless router doesn't have to have external antennas to operate adequately.
Wireless routers we recommend
Best of the best: ASUS Wireless Dual Band Router
Our take: Extremely fast WiFi performance that can service multiple users at a time. Connectivity is reliable, even with many devices online.
What we like: Those who like online gaming will appreciate the level of performance and desirable coverage range this router provides.
What we dislike: Price ranks at the top end of the wireless router market.
Best bang for your buck: Netgear Nighthawk AC1900 Router
Our take: An excellent price considering the speed and features it provides. You can easily set up this router, even if you're in a hurry.
What we like: Speeds are well above those of other wireless routers in this price range. Maintains stable connections, even with a lot of activity on it.
What we dislike: Pricier than some other routers, though it gives a good value.
Choice 3: Actiontec 300 Mbps Wireless Router
Our take: A good deal for a device that combines router and modem, and it's easier to set up than some others.
What we like: Lower price than similar pieces of hardware. Router gives you a long-range signal.
What we dislike: Modem will not work with every internet provider's service.
Kyle Schurman is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.
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