Updated February 2015 to include newest wireless routers in recommendations…

Your wireless router is the quarterback for your home’s internet connection. It takes your internet signal from your internet service provider (ISP) and broadcasts it wirelessly throughout your home. Then, it becomes air traffic controller as your laptop, tablet, mobile phone, Roku, and other devices request access to the internet. If your wireless router is outdated, it may be a bottleneck in your network, and you may be paying monthly for internet speeds you will never achieve. So, is it time to buy a new wireless router?

Test #1: Internet Connection Speed

Wireless routers have made significant advances in past years to provide a better signal, blast your internet further throughout your home, and make sure you are getting the best speed possible. To decide if you need a new wireless router, you need to take some metrics of your current home network. This won’t take long to do, and the payoff is to ensure that your home network is getting the internet speeds that you are paying for as well as minimizing buffering, lag, and other atrocities.

Theoretical ISP Speed

First, you need to figure out the internet speed you are supposed to be getting from your internet service provider or ISP. You may know this already, but if you don’t, take the time and give them a call or look at your monthly bill. Ask for the “Downstream Speed” since that is the higher speed that your network needs to be running at.

Wireless Router Speed TestSpeedtest.net

Next, head over to your wireless router and bring along with you a laptop or computer. Using an ethernet cable, connect your computer to one of the ports in the back of your wireless router. Then, turn off your computer’s Wi-Fi.  Open a browser and go to speedtest.net. This website will test to see how fast you can connect to the internet. Run the first test (connected directly to wireless router with Wi-Fi off) and make a note of your download speed. For the next test, unplug the ethernet cord from your laptop and turn Wi-Fi back on to connect to the internet through Wi-Fi and run the test again making note of this download speed as well.

Evaluating the Results

So now, you should have three different numbers: the theoretical ISP speed (Speed #1), the speedtest.net download speed when connected directly to your wireless router (Speed #2), and the speedtest.net speed when connected through Wi-Fi (Speed #3).

Speeds #1 and #2 should be within 1-2 Mbps of each other or else you need to call your ISP and get grumpy with them. If you aren’t getting the speed you are paying for when connected directly to your wireless router, then they need to do something to make sure you do.

We are most interested in the difference between #2 and #3 since this will dictate whether or not your wireless router is a bottleneck for your connection speed to the internet. If speeds #2 and #3 are very close (within 1 Mbps), your wireless router is capable of getting you the internet speed you are paying for.  If speeds #2 and #3 are further apart, run a few more tests to make sure this remains true. After additional testing, if you still see a greater than 1 Mbps difference, you probably need to buy a new wireless router.

Test #2: Intranet Connection Speed

Today’s technology also communicates from device to device within your home network. Technologies that require a zippy LAN speed are AirPlay from Apple, IP Cameras, Network attached storage devices, backing up your computers wirelessly, or simply sharing files between computers. While most wireless routers can achieve the speed you require for internet, it takes a newer router to make sure the above technologies operate to their potential on your home network.

Wireless Networking Standards

New wireless routers increase speed802.11b, 802.11g, 802.11n, and 802.11ac are different wireless standards available for wireless routers. Most people call these standards “wireless B”, “wireless G”, “wireless N”, and “wireless AC”. Wireless B is the oldest and slowest standard, and wireless AC is the newest and fastest. The maximum speed your devices can connect to your router (and therefore to each other) is heavily determined by this standard. Figure out which standard your router is capable of by googling the model number or your wireless router.

Transmit Rate

Depending on your router’s wireless standard, your transmit rate should fall within the below ranges:

Wireless B: 8-11 Mbit/s
Wireless G: 36-54 Mbit/s
Wireless N: 130-450 Mbit/s
Wireless AC: 400-1600 Mbit/s

If you are interested in the transmit rate you are getting on your network, follow the instructions below.

Transmit Rate Screenshot to help know whether or not to buy a new wireless routerMac Users:
If you are running OSX, hold down the option key and click the wireless button Mac Wireless Icon at the top of your screen in the toolbar.

Windows Users:
Get the properties of the wireless network you are connected to, and you will see a wireless connection speed (If someone could post a screenshot of what this looks like I’d really appreciate it! I don’t have a Windows computer on-hand.).

So, Do I Need to Buy a New Wireless Router?

While Test #1 provides a definite answer whether or not an upgrade is in tow, Test #2 is more subjective. Some homes would be fine using a wireless G router as long as they don’t have a need for fast device-to-device network communications. However, a wireless N or wireless AC router is required if you want the best range or need to push your network to higher speeds to facilitate wireless backups, streaming files or data locally from device to device (like using AirPlay, a NAS, or an IP Camera).

 

Easiest Setup and Best Wireless Router for Apple Users

Look no further than Apple’s Airport Extreme if you are in Apple’s “ecosystem” and have an iPhone, Mac, or other Apple products. The Airport Extreme boasts top notch features, an easy setup process, and an easy setup process. You can’t go wrong here.

 

ASUS N Wireless RouterBest Value Wireless Router

If you are itching for a wireless router upgrade, I would recommend the ASUS RT-N66U router. It is considered the best buy wireless router by most and boasts the following features.

  • Wireless N
  • Dual Band
  • Up to 450 Mbit/s (that’s really fast!)
  • 3 Antennas
  • $150

Best Wireless AC Router

But, if you want to “future-proof” a bit and don’t mind spending a little more to do so the ASUS RT-AC66U is similar but has the new wireless AC standard along with the folAsus AC Wireless Routerlowing features.

  • Wireless AC
  • Dual Band
  • Up to 1300 Mbit/s (ridiculous!!)
  • 3 Antennas
  • $185

How zippy is your wireless network and are you considering an upgrade? I’d like to know! Let me know in the comments section below.


39 Comments

  1. AJ says:

    Brock, I’ve been looking at both routers you suggested for a upgrade from my wrt54g. Does one have better range than the other? I will use strictly for Internet connection with 15mps service. So really N is all I would need plus I read AC has less range have you found this true?

  2. AJ says:

    My main concern is signal strength and range. I’m thinking with the $40 savings by going N instead of AC I could upgrade the antennae

  3. Brock Thompson says:

    Hey AJ!

    Thanks for the comment! I’d save the $40 in that case. Wireless AC uses the 5ghz band while N can use both 2.4 and 5ghz bands. All things equal (antennae, transmit power, noise) the 2.4ghz band goes through walls better and can get you a better range.

    But, the 2.4ghz band is crowded nowadays, so there is more noise which can be an issue.

    But I’d still go with the N router since you’re not doing much on your intranet/LAN, and then you can test out both 2.4ghz and 5ghz to see which works best.

    Let me know how it goes if you decide to pull the trigger. That wrt54g is one tried and true router though!

  4. […] already talked about how to know when you need to buy a new wireless router, and tests to see if your wireless router is causing a […]

  5. CP3 says:

    Great article. Very helpful. I need a new router, but the AC model you recommend isn’t on my list or “approved” routers by my ISP, comcast. Guessing that doesn’t matter, but are there other models you recommend?

    • Hi CP3,

      The Almond+ or regular Almond router is a nice router as well. I like Asus routers the best, followed by Linksys and Buffalo. I wouldn’t worry about Comcast’s list personally.

      Thanks for the comment!

  6. Ed says:

    Awesome! Thanks for the article, I would like to add on that when you test your internet connection speed through speedtest.net, it’s best to choose servers that are a distant away from your location, this way you will take note of your actual internet connection speed, as using a closer server will result at higher download speed because the server is closer to you.

  7. Lynn Peterson says:

    I hav a Netgear Dual N router that is on the third floor of my house. It has given me internet access for several years, on the first floor and even outside. However, lately, my computer keeps dropping the connection if I am downstairs. If the laptop is next to the router, I have no problems. The speed using the tests is within normal range, but I have to be next to the router to get the test to run. So do I need a new router? One other thing to note is that my iPad does not have a problem, only my old MacBook and new MacBook Air. I would love some help with this! Thank you!

  8. Hi Lynn,

    Thanks for your comment!

    Sorry for the slow reply, I’m usually much snappier with responses. That Netgear sounds like a newer wireless router, and it should do fine. You noted that it is a dual band router.

    Dual band routers use both 2.4ghz and 5ghz simultaneously. The main advantage is that few people use the 5ghz yet since this is only supported by newer wireless routers, so this allows you to broadcast your wireless signal in a less crowded frequency.

    Interestingly, the 5ghz frequency of the dual band signal doesn’t go through walls and floors as well as the more common 2.4 ghz signal. So, it’s likely this is the cause of your problem since you said your signal drops on a different floor or outside.

    It’s an easy fix!

    Login to your router and disable the 5ghz frequency. Here’s a forum with some screenshots that should help. http://forum1.netgear.com/showthread.php?p=413982

    As always, let me know if you have any other trouble.

  9. Steve Freeman says:

    Hey Brock (and Lynn),

    I was reading through your Foscam site and finally made my way here…really good info…thanks. I had a Netgear DGN2000 for a couple of years (actually got one for my mom, too). They worked fairly well until they didn’t. 🙂 After several frustrating days of investigation, I wound up tearing into the boxes and found several blown capacitors. I bought new capacitors (less than $10.00) from DigiKey. The tricky part was removing the old ones and soldering in the new ones…but kind of fun. I believe I got another year or so of life out of them until I upgraded to newer units that don’t run quite as hot.

    Thanks again for taking the time to make this info available.

  10. Ashley says:

    Hi Brock!
    For a non-tech person, this article was super helpful and easy to understand! I think we are definitely in need of a new router – our wired download speeds averaged 31.32mbps and the wireless averaged 12.71 mpbs over 3 tests each (yikes!). I also noticed something about the transmit rate – our router is on one end of the house (in an office, where we need a wired connection) and in that office the transmit rate is between 120 – 150, but on the other end of the house (and it’s not a big house) the transmit rate was 20 (again, yikes!). We have a Netgear N-300 WNR 2000 router circa 2010.

    So here’s my issue – in addition to a range issue (from one end of the house to the other), we also seem to be getting some interference from our video baby monitor. Would a dual band router solve this issue? We also stream with a Roku, and usually have two iPhones and a laptop all connected to the network, but the monitor seems to have completely crowded out the Roku and significantly slowed down the phones and computer.

    Thanks for taking the time to read this!

    • Hi Ashley!

      Thanks for your comment. Great questions!

      A dual band router will provide a 2.4 ghz and 5ghz signal. The baby monitor would likely interfere with the 2.4 ghz band only. So, in that way a dual band router will help since the 5ghz signal would provide a connection with less interference.

      The only remaining problem is the range. 5ghz signals don’t go through many walls without deteriorating, so I’m not sure if the range issue will be solved. However, a router upgrade will surely have a more powerful signal, so I would expect some improvements anyways.

      Ideally, you could place the router more centrally, if possible.

      Does this help?

      • Ashley says:

        It does! That’s what I was thinking too. Unfortunately, I think we’re locked into the router placement, but hopefully the dual band will help. Thanks for getting back to me so quickly!

  11. Robert says:

    Brock, I have a d-link dgl 4500 extreme n gaming router. It’s been a good router but would it be advantageous to purchase a newer router for even faster speeds especially for gaming?

  12. Edmundo says:

    Thanks for the excellent article Brock. I have a chance to buy a new gigabit dual-band AC router for a great deal, a Linksys AC1900. Currently, I lose connection a couple times a day and have to reboot my router (and the modem along with it). I assume this is due to spotty service from my ISP. Is it possible a “smart” router will stay connected and re-connect with less “interventions?”

    • Hi Edmundo! Thanks for the comment.

      I’d be interested by the results of this test. Next, time you see connection is lost, turn off your computer’s wireless and connect to the wireless router by using an Ethernet cord. Let me know if you are able to connect to the internet.

      • Edmundo says:

        Performed the test as you described. Plugged in the Ethernet cable and had immediate connection to the internet. To return Wi-Fi, I had to reboot (power off – power on) twice. I think my old router is biting the turf!

          • Edmundo says:

            My new (well, factory reconditioned…) NETGEAR Wireless Router, an N900 Dual Band Gigabit (WNDR4500v1) from the Amazombies is running quite perfectly, getting fast speeds and excellent range. It hasn’t required a single re-boot in the 3 weeks its been in. Installation was a fairly easy- my ISP had to reconnect me but that was all done by automatic phone beeping. The USB connection to my printer works 100% of the time. That was about the best 80 bucks I ever spent on computing. Sold the old router on Craig’s for $15 and bought lunch too– America is a great town!

  13. A different Eric says:

    Brock,

    Thanks for the great article. I previously used your Foscam article to get my baby monitor hooked up. Thanks again! Baby due 05 MAR 2014 … so any day now to use the monitor.

    I just tested my wireless and wired connection … about 3.6 Mbps for both. I tested both near the router (2nd floor bedroom) and in the basement (another wireless desktop that runs slow and “hangs up”) … both locations test the same.

    I don’t have the “delivered speed” listed on my internet bill so I will have to call to find the “delivered speed”.

    Question: does 3.6Mbps sound slow to you? It seems really slow based on seeing “130” from the screen shot that you showed above in the article.

    • Hi Eric,

      Thanks for the comment!

      It all depends on that delivered speed that you’re paying for. You might be paying for 3.6Mbps. If that’s the case, then you don’t need a new wireless router. Today, I would say the average delivered speed from an internet service provider is 6Mbps, so you may have a bottleneck somewhere on your network.

      I’d suggest a quick call to your ISP and see what you’re paying for. Let me know!

  14. Susan says:

    This was a very helpful article. Gave me the information I needed to make a decision. Thank you!!!

  15. Marnie says:

    Hi Brock,
    Great article. As with technology, I’m sure your suggested routers are now outdated and you might have new favorites.
    I’m guessing I need a new router because we are getting “limited connectivity” messages more and more and now resetting the router is not getting a wifi signal anymore at all!!! So my question is what’s your new recommendations and also why do routers need replacing? Do they have a max amount of download or wifi time???
    Thanks!
    Marnie

    • Hi Marnie! Thanks for your post! These routers are still at the top of the heap currently. If you’re an Apple user, the Airport Express makes a great router too. Let me know what you decide!

  16. Marnie says:

    I was finally able to do all my 3 tests to figure out where our internet issues were and it’s the wifi download speed!! Router and ISP box connected with Ethernet cables got just over 50mbps while on the wifi network we are getting between 9 and 20!! My guess is we need a new router, right?!!!
    We’re on Pc’s so no apple products other than cell phones.

  17. Carrie says:

    Got anything simpler? Like if your router is X years old, you need a new one?

  18. Lori says:

    Oh boy. Mine’s almost 4 years old. I bought a Belkin N300 N-router about the time my fiance (now hubby) moved in with me for his laptop. Now that we got our Kindle Fire with wifi settings…and my hubby got a new laptop, we noticed that the connection will stay on for a few days then drops. I don’t think my router can handle the connection from all the devices, so it poops out. Is that usually case with any router? If so, will I need a MIMO router to handle the devices connecting to ONE router?

  19. mat mccoy says:

    I’ve just upgraded my Internet to 25 mps, but haven’t been happy just hooked up my old net gear r6300v2 router. Now I’m getting between 4 and 6 mps on speed test (that’s better) when conected threw ethernet I’m getting 25 to 26 mps. Feeling dust rated and at a loss. Do I get a new router?

  20. newton lawson says:

    is there any web site that can tell me how to put WPA Personal password on my old G dlink router. it is still in the default unprotected mode, have been to the dlink website and it says my system doesn’t support the emulator and I should use the disc that came with it ten years ago, forget that, cant even find my car keys some days, much less a disc from 10 years ago. setup wizard is out, manual set up wont SAVE when I click the save button. this is a simpleton problem, but after more than three weeks of trying everything I can think of except getting a new router , but mine works fine, though is still unprotected and after CYBER NCIS show on Tuesday I want to put a password on mine. Best Buy said to just come in and get a new router, same for Office Depot and Walmart. But I still want to put a password on the router even if I get a new one like the one you recommend wrt54g, whatever that is. thanks

  21. Chris jenkins says:

    Hello, my Internet speed is very high, however, I’m being disconnected from the Internet quite a bit. I’ve had my ISP come out and check my wiring numerous times and even replace my modem/router combo and it still continues to give me trouble. Should I buy my own router and ditch my ISP provided device? Thanks for any help.

  22. Christa says:

    Hello, thanks for the great articlce.
    I have a question, it might seem dumb.
    My ISP provided me with only a ROUTER, not also a modem. (Maybe the modem is incorporated there too? 2 in 1 device?)
    If I buy a new router, will it work? I just insert the card from my ISP into it and it works?

  23. Caitlin says:

    Hey, so I ran the internet speed test and it was at 3 for download (I have highspeed 25), but when I connected the ethernet to the modem it was at 25. So I’m thinking it’s the router. My question is, how much do I need to really spend to improve the speed? My current one is a linksys wrt54g from about a decade ago. I’m debating between the Linksys AC1200 Dual Band Smart Wireless Router and the Linksys AC1900 Dual Band Smart Wireless Router with Gigabit and USB. The first one is only $55 on amazon and the other is $150. Should I just go with the cheaper one? Is it worth it to get a more expensive one? Please help!

    • Hi Caitlin, I would recommend at least a “wireless N” router. A “wireless AC” router would be ideal, but you could get away with a “wireless N” router. Either way, you’ll see a substantial speed improvement!

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