In 2016, I got spiffy new Internet service that promised to be a little faster than 100 megabits. So I got a spiffy new gigabit router to work with it. It worked for six months. That got me thinking about how long should a router last.
For a while, routers were so cheap I didn’t really care how long they lasted. You could get a good-enough router for 20 bucks. But to get the features we want today, you’re looking at $100 or more. And at that price point, you should expect it to last a while.
Routers should last forever. Why don’t they?
In theory, a router should last decades, essentially forever. After all, they have exactly zero moving parts to fail. They should be every bit as reliable as a 1980s game console like an Atari 2600. Atari made millions of them, and you can still find millions of them working perfectly, because they don’t have any moving parts.
And some routers do last essentially forever. I find secondhand working Linksys WRT54G routers all the time. They’re obsolete, because they only work on a 2.4ghz network and they can’t keep up with modern Internet speeds, but they still route packets happily. That’s why Linksys still makes them, because people get fed up with cheap routers that break after six months and they buy a WRT54G because they know it’ll work. It’ll be the slowest, cruddiest wi fi on the block, but it’ll work.
Ironically, one of those cheapo good-enough routers, a TP-Link TL-WR841N, lasted about five years for me before a power outage took it out.
I don’t recommend using older routers like a Linksys WRT54G, at least not as your primary router, because it wasn’t designed for the number of Internet connected wireless devices most home users have these days. When I first got a WRT54G, I had a desktop computer and a laptop plugged into it. This past weekend I counted 17 devices on my network. That sounds ridiculous, but if every family member has a phone, a tablet and a laptop, and if every TV has a game console or a streaming device connected to it, and you have a network-enabled printer, 17 devices starts to sound normal.
A newer wireless router typically will have a faster CPU to handle more concurrent traffic, faster networking to handle Internet connections faster than 100 megabits, and it will also have dual band wireless to reduce interference from cordless phones and microwaves.
The other reason routers don’t last forever is because of hardware failure. Not all routers are built with top-grade parts, and not all of them have adequate cooling inside.
That was what happened with my nice shiny new dual band router. It was great while it worked. Then one Thursday morning it decided to conk out and ruin my work-from-home day. I knew the router had heat issues but I’d taken precautions to try to alleviate them. One day, it wasn’t enough and the router just quit responding altogether. I’d turn it on and get a power light but none of the other lights worked.
Having a router die after just six months is unusual. But having one die after two or three years is sadly all too common. The computer you plug into the router will probably outlive it, which doesn’t quite seem right.
What routers do I recommend?
I’ve had good luck with TP-Link and Asus routers. Right now I recommend the Asus RT-AC68U because of its combination of speed and reliability and its ability to run the alternative Merlin firmware. It’s expensive, but it works reliably and the Merlin firmware provides a lot of nice functionality without making it complicated.
Normally, I say not to buy extended warranties. But on routers, I flip-flop back and forth. I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad idea. That way, if the router breaks within a year or two, the store will give you another one.
Keeping your router plugged into a good surge protector or UPS certainly helps increase its life expectancy. Try to place it somewhere that it gets plenty of airflow. Putting it in a basket makes it look nicer, but it will restrict airflow, and may lower its life expectancy as a result.
How long should a router last if you buy a good quality one, give it lots of airflow and plug it into a UPS? Around five years, I would estimate. And if all goes well, hopefully more like 10. But the Linksys WRT54G seems to have spoiled us.