Buying the perfect router: Everything you need to know

If the idea of buying a router is a minefield of jargon, we’ve come up with some handy pointers to make sure you pick up the right one for your home  

A router isn’t just used for accessing the internet, it’s

also a wireless access point, network switch, privacy gateway, and resource

sharing device. Virtually every item of technology, in some cases even fridges

and ovens, these days can expand its capabilities by connecting to a router and

having access to these elements.

The router we receive when we take out

an ISP contract is generally fit for purpose. But buying our own can lead to

more features, better speeds, and the ability to connect more devices. But what

should a good router be able to do? And what features should you look for when

buying one beyond the standard model supplied by your ISP?

In

this guide we’ll have a look at some of the key features, and briefly examine a

range of routers to help you answer those questions. 

Key features

Security

Encryption
– Wireless security is an absolute must have feature in any

router. To gain access to your house you need a key, the same applies for

accessing your home network and your internet connection.

Wireless

security modes have changed a lot in recent years. We have WEP, the weakest of

the security algorithms, WPA, and WPA-2, which is the strongest of the current

home-based router security protocols.

Most

recent ISP supplied routers will feature WPA-2, however, if you’re using an

older model router it might be worth checking your settings to make sure that

its capable of WPA-2 and that it’s using it.

Port Forwarding

– While most of us will never use Port Forwarding, it’s a handy feature to have

available should you ever consider using it. Basically, port forwarding directs

internet traffic to a targeted application, such as a game server.

Related: Google OnHub – Why Google’s first router is the key to smart home 2.0

router 5

There’s

a lot more to it naturally, but in essence if you decide one day to host a

Minecraft server, then port forwarding is something you’ll need to look into.

Gigabit Ethernet

and USB
– We’ll approach the wireless speeds and standard next, but for those

systems that are wired gigabit Ethernet is a must.

With

a gigabit connection your backups to a NAS drive, and access to local video

streaming will make a huge difference over a 100Mbps Ethernet connection.

Related: 802.11ac vs 802.11n – What’s the difference?

router

USB

ports allow for external hard drive to be attached, acting as Network Attached

Storage for backups or media streaming.

Wireless Standards and Speeds – Wireless access speeds all depend on the

standard the device is using to communicate with the router. Currently we have

802.11, the original, followed by a letter: a, b, g, n, and ac. The protocol

standards up to 802.11g are pretty much obsolete these days, so 802.11n/ac are

the ones you need to concentrate on.

To

put it simply, 802.11ac is the newest standard for a modern home router. It

doesn’t have the range of 802.11n, but its bandwidth is significantly higher

and it’s backwards compatible with older standards.

802.11n

is dual band technology, so it operates at 2.4GHz and 5GHz, and 802.11ac

provides high bandwidth at 5GHz, with theoretical speeds up to 1,733Mpbs.

router 7

IPv6 support – In

layman’s terms, the internet/local network communicates using IPv4, that’s the

212.58.244.20 type addresses you’ve probably come across. IPv4 was exhausted

some time ago, and to future proof the internet, as it were, the IPv6 standard

was created.

However

IPv6 hasn’t quite took over just yet, but it probably will, so it’s a good idea

to have it ready from the off.


Interchangeable

Antennas –
If you live in a three-bed terrace, then the chances are most

common routers will be able to reach all the rooms in the house with relative

ease. If you’re lucky enough to live in something bigger then you may not get a

decent enough signal throughout, and you may encounter WiFi deadspots.

A

better antenna will usually remedy this, as will careful placement of the

router itself. Imagine a 10+ metre signal radius around the router and take it

from there. There’s much trial and error involved, but having the right router

to begin with takes much of the hassle out of the equation. 

Budget, mid and top

of the range examples

While we won’t specifically tell you to buy a particular make

or model, here are three good examples of what a budget, mid-range and top of

the line router has to offer; and how much you’re looking at.

Budget – the Zoom 5792

costs just £25, but it’s a budget wireless N model router offers decent speeds

for the average home user as well as a simple to use interface.

There

are cheaper, such as the wired only TP-Link TL-R460 for only £12, but the Zoom

covers most features with relative ease. Be warned though, it’s rated with a

maximum ADSL speed of 27Mbps, so if your broadband speed is quicker you may

have issues.

Related: Octa-core vs Quad-core – Does it make a difference?

routerZoom 5792

Mid-range

The Belkin Wireless AC1200 is fast, has plenty of features including four

gigabit Ethernet ports, and is extremely reliable and good for games and media

streaming.

It’s

certainly a capable router, and will be able to run rings around most, if not

all, of the ISP provided models. For around £100, it’s one to look out for.

belkinBelkin Wireless AC1200

Top of the line

– The Asus RT-AC87u is an expensive, but exceedingly capable router that does

pretty much everything you could think of.

It’s

multi-band, has gigabit Ethernet, USB ports, and a host of features and

services that put many other routers to shame. It does cost the best part of

£200 mind you, but it’s one of the best routers currently available and is

perfect for streaming media and for gaming.

Of course, there are examples between each of these so it

necessary to do some research and single out the one that’s best for your

network and wallet.

asusAsus RT-AC87u

A

non-ISP provided router can be better, but weigh up your needs first and

consider how easy it is to log into your ISP from a new router. Take time to

browse your ISP forums, and ask other members for their insights. A little

knowledge goes a long way when dealing with a router.