What Do I (Really) Need To Know Before I Choose A Router?

There’s a huge price range when it comes to best wireless routers and we’d hate to see you spending more than you should. Ask yourself the questions below to work out what you need, then choose a router that gives you what you’re looking for at a price you can afford.

best wireless router

How big is my house? Or apartment, or store, or office, or whatever. If you’re in small business, or an old house with thick walls, you’re going to want a router that promises better range than if you’re in a three-room apartment. Also, check out our note on antennas, below: it might be cheaper to buy a router with a lower range, then improve the performance by swapping for better antennas.

How many devices will be connecting to this router? And what types of devices? This is where you’ll want to look at the wireless protocols: that’s those long strings of numbers beginning with 8. Your laptop and your smartphone almost certainly use 802.11n Wi-Fi, so if all you’re just using a few of those sorts of devices, you’re most likely fine with an 802.11n router. But if we’re talking a lot of mobile devices, plus smart TVs, game consoles, etc, etc, then you may want to take a look at the latest, more powerful Wi-Fi tech, like the 802.11ac protocol with beamforming capability (that’s where Wi-Fi signals go directly to your device, instead of bouncing all over your house at random), or MU-MIMO technology (which should provide faster performance for multiple devices but only benefits certain devices, so check out whether your laptop, smart TV or whatever is MU-MIMO-enabled before splurging on this feature).

And what will people be doing with those devices? For basic web and social media tasks – email, Facebook, Twitter and so on – a single-band router, operating on the 2.4GHz frequency band (along with other appliances that are likely to be in your home, such as microwave ovens and cordless phones) should be fine. But if anyone in your home is going to be playing online games or watching Netflix, you’re probably going to need a dual-band router. This allows you to connect to the both the 2.4GHz frequency band and the 5GHz band, which avoids signal interference and has better throughput speeds. Meanwhile, if everyone using your router is going to be gaming and/or streaming videos – or otherwise hammering the bandwidth – all at once, consider a tri-band router: these have two radios operating at 5GHz and one at 2.4GHz.

Do I need additional features? Consider the following:

  •     the number of available USB ports (to plug in printers, etc)
  •     removable antennas (so you can swap them out for high-performing antennas to boost your range, if you choose to)
  •     guest networks (so visitors to your home can use your Wi-Fi without getting access to your stuff)
  •     parental controls (so you can keep your child’s internet use within safe limits – check out this article on how to set up parental controls)

QoS (see the explanation in the first video above).