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4 Things to Know about Wi-Fi Routers

4 Things to Know about Wi-Fi Routers

They're small, they're compact, and they affect the entire outcome of a war. Unfortunately, we’re not talking about hobbits. It’s your Wi-Fi router.

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They're small, they're compact, and they affect the entire outcome of a war.

Unfortunately, we’re not talking about hobbits.

It’s your Wi-Fi router.

Wi-Fi, the wireless internet connection used in almost all homes and businesses, is made available through a Wi-Fi router. Most Wi-Fi customers get their Wi-Fi through the router provided by their ISP (internet service provider) or cable company. These do a good job of handling the basics of wireless uploading and downloading.

They’re not the worst routers out there. At the same time, they aren’t the best. They do an average job.

But there are brands out there producing above-average routers. You’ve probably already heard of their names; Asus, Netgear, D-Link, and Linksys.

There are more, and a quick search of PC Mag, CNet, and Tom’s Guide can give you a more thorough overview of the various and sundry brands out there.

The inevitable next question you’re thinking is “Which one’s the best?”

A Wi-Fi is essential these days for internet connectivity. This makes Wi-Fi routers essential, even if every home doesn't have one. ISPs and cable companies provide these as part of their basic package. There are some consumers out there who want something better though.

Should you decide to buy your own, you’ll have to make the decision based on a few factors. Near the top of the list would be cost and customer reviews. While there are some that cost more than others, it doesn’t mean it’s the best.

Your home, like you, is unique.

Don’t just go with the router that is labelled “the best” by a source that doesn’t know you.

That's like saying Frodo was the best hobbit.

You know, hobbits, from The Lord of the Rings.

In J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy world, there were wizards, humans, elves, dwarves, orcs, and dragons. The smallest of these creatures were the hobbits. These were the guys who were half the height of dwarves. Being that dwarves were half the height of humans, this made hobbits very, very short.

As a result, hobbits were seen as unimportant. Irrelevant even.

And the hobbits, as Tolkien explained, were happy with this. They were fine to stay in their part of the world and not bother with international politics. If the outside world didn't interfere with them, they would leave the outside world alone.

One such hobbit, Frodo Baggins, came into possession of the One Ring- the one thing that could decide whether good or evil prevailed.

And so Frodo, small and unimpressive, set out with his friends to take care of the ring. Journeying with him was Samwise Gamgee otherwise known as Sam, Peregrin Took aka Perry, and Meriadoc Brandybuck aka Merry. Each was unique with their own quirks and personality.

These four hobbits, though small and “irrelevant” ended up becoming the deciding factor in entire battle for the soul of the world; Merry would go on to help slay the Witch-King, Perry would play a vital role in distracting the leader of the evil forces, and Sam would help Fordo get all the way to Mt. Doom, where Frodo tossed the One Ring into open lava.

Peace was restored.

Not bad for four hobbits.

While it would be easy to say that Frodo was the best hobbit of all because he destroyed the One Ring, that’d be a little presumptuous. He did have the hardest job, but without help from the other three, Frodo would have never gotten close to Mt. Doom.

It's okay then to prefer Sam, Merry, or Perry to Frodo. People have their reasons for liking one over the other. Just like they have their reasons for not choosing "the best" product out there.

Like when it comes to picking a Wi-Fi router.

Bands and Numbers

Before picking a router, take stock of your Wi-Fi needs at home.

For those using one device on a consistent basis, 5 Mbps is the download speed that works best for you. With that in mind, you can save some money by avoiding the higher end routers.

If you’re downloading content on multiple devices--like Netflix through your Apple TV and streaming a game on your PlayStation 4--getting a download speed of 45 Mbps is best to handle the larger amount of data going back and forth.

Knowing this will help you decide which router is best for your home.

For homes with light internet usage, a single-band router is best. For homes with heavy internet usage, a dual-band router would be best.

Single-band

Single-band routers use just one frequency.

This is great if you’re using a few devices throughout your home. They can handle the usual amount of data going back and forth.

The downside is the frequency they use, 2.4 GHz. This frequency is usually used by Bluetooth devices, microwaves, and wireless phones. Those devices can inadvertently disrupt your Wi-Fi signal.

The dual-band routers use the 2.4 GHz frequency and a second frequency of 5 GHz. That 5 GHz frequency is less common. This second frequency is better used for third-party devices, giving you a less-impeded channel to work with.

Dual-band routers are great for homes where multiple devices are downloading at once. You can even assign a channel to a specific device. And with more than one frequency in use, downloads can be performed simultaneously instead of one at a time.

As you would expect, dual-band routers are more expensive, so take that into account when you decide to purchase.

No matter the router you decide to buy, you’ll notice that all will come with a number and the letters “AC.”

AC refers to Wi-Fi protocol number, 802.11ac. AC is the version of the protocol in use. There’s 802.11b, 802.11m, and others. The letters denote the gradual improvements and modifications over previous versions.

When it comes to designing routers, the engineers involved decided to use this "AC" for labeling purposes. The AC is for the protocol number. 802.11ac indicates the level of the Multiple-Input, Multiple-Output (MIMO) the router is capable of. For example; Of all the data streaming through the router at one time, the projected maximum speed the router can handle is something like 1300 Mbps. You won’t get that speed exactly, but the router can hypothetically handle the volume of 1300 Mbps. Therefore, if you’re downloading 50 Mbps in one room and 30 Mbps in another, an AC1300 router will handle that just fine.

Of all the numbers on your router, look for the one that starts with “AC.” This is the best indicator of whether your router can handle the amount of data you plan to be downloading and uploading at one time.

The Brands

Now that we’ve gotten the numbers and bands bit out of the way, let’s talk about the brand themselves. All brands listed below come highly rated. This doesn’t mean they’re the top brands, but professional reviewers have marked them highly and on a consistent basis.

You can also check out the best brands after you’ve found the best internet providers in your zip code.

If you’re looking into a brand not listed, drop us a comment to let us know what you think, why you like/don’t like it, and whether you’d recommend it over the ones listed below.

You may have recognized the name from the laptops, tablets, smartphones, and other electronics. They’re the fifth largest PC vendor in the world. This means their products are a good alternative to Apple and Microsoft.

Their Wi-Fi routers are consistently ranking highly among review sites like PC Mag, CNet, and Tom’s Guide. While this may mean they’re a little bit more expensive than other brands, they’re worth the price tag to ensure your stream devices run smoothly.

Unlike Asus, Netgear focuses on networking hardware almost exclusively. This gives them an edge over their competition here. It does limit them a little bit when it comes to other products.

Taking the “D” from its founding company, Datex Systems, D-Link is also based out of Taipei along with Asus. Like Netgear, they focus solely on networking equipment.

Owned by Belkin, Linksys is a networking equipment company that creates networking equipment for consumers and small businesses. Unlike Asus, Netgear, and D-Link that provide business and enterprise networking solutions, Linksys prefers to keep it small.

One Brand to Rule Them All?

When it comes to reliability, Asus and Netgear rank the highest among their competitors. Brands like Linksys are generally cheaper and easier to use. And the rest will fall somewhere between the two.

This doesn’t mean one brand is the best out of every single one of them. That’s a choice that will b depend on your needs and well as what your home can accommodate.

So which brand do you prefer? Is there a brand that’s not listed here you think should be included?

Leave a comment and let us know.

In the meantime, stay up-to-date with On The Download.


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