Last Updated on November 19, 2018 by Dave Farquhar
How often should you replace your router? That’s a harder question than how often you should change the oil in your car, or how often you should replace your hot water heater. Unlike a laptop, I can’t really predict when your router is going to break. And a router may go obsolete for me faster than it goes obsolete for you. But I can give you some guidance.
Sometimes your ISP will provide a router. They may or may not charge for this. It’s worth making a phone call to see. If they charge you some kind of a rental fee, it’s cheaper to buy your own router. If they don’t charge you, and keeping it running and maintained is their problem, not yours, you might as well take them up on the offer. I think the potential to save $100 is worth a phone call.
How often should you replace your router?
While I can’t tell you specifically how often you should replace your router, I can give you eight good reasons to replace your router if you haven’t replaced yours in several years. I can also tell you what brands I recommend and why. I’ve pretty much used them all at this point and I’ve definitely had better experience with some than with others.
I’ve had routers conk out two months after their warranty period expired. Obviously I wasn’t happy about that. I also own a couple of routers from 2003 that still function, although they aren’t very useful to me anymore. For some people they’d still be OK though.
When it breaks
Routers don’t last forever. And obviously, if your router breaks, you need a new one. One morning, my kids woke me up and told me we didn’t have any Internet. So I dragged myself out of bed, walked downstairs to check the router, and found our Linksys EA6200 was dead. It lit up, and it let wired connections out, but no wireless, and I couldn’t log in to its web interface either. It wasn’t completely dead, I guess, but its usefulness was severely degraded. My house is wired, but that didn’t help the kids’ tablets.
The router was a couple of months outside of its warranty period, so we made a trip to Micro Center to pick up an Asus RT-AC66U. Realistically, your routers shouldn’t break very often. Dedicated routers should last longer than modems.
When you get a new device
If your phones and tablets all top out at 802.11g or 802.11n speeds, there’s no need to spend a lot of money on an 802.11ac router. That’s a waste of money until you get devices that use 802.11ac. It’s not like 802.11ac is getting more expensive over time. It’s the opposite. Technology gets cheaper with time. If everything you own is 802.11n and it all still works, you might as well wait to replace your router with a newer, faster 802.11ac router around the time you get devices that can take advantage of it.
When your networking range degrades
If you have dead spots in your house, newer routers do a better job of dealing with dead spots than older ones did. So you may be able to remedy those dead spots by upgrading your router.
If your router used to reach your whole house but suddenly it doesn’t, that can be a sign that it’s time to replace your router. I’m not convinced that routers automatically decrease in range as they age. It’s more likely that the airwaves get more crowded over time, and older routers have a harder time adapting once all your neighbors have newer routers than you.
When your Internet service provider upgrades your speed
From time to time, Internet service providers will upgrade your speed incrementally. My mother in law’s ISP, for example, is going to upgrade her minimum speed to 200 megabits at some point in the near future. She’s at 50 megabits right now. That ancient Linksys WRT54G I set her up with is theoretically adequate for a 50 megabit Internet connection. Her phone and tablet can communicate at much faster than that old Linksys relic’s 54-megabit speed, but with a 50-megabit Internet connection, it’s not like it was possible to notice a difference.
I replaced that old Linksys device with an 802.11n-capable router until I find a good deal on an 802.11ac router for her.
In many parts of the country, 25 megabits is all you can get because that’s all the FCC requires even though 25 megabits isn’t enough bandwidth to stream 4K video and leave enough left over to do anything else. If your Internet connection is stuck at previous-decade speeds, there’s not a lot of sense in replacing your old router unless you have another compelling reason to do it. On the other end of the spectrum, if you’re able to get gigabit, you need a gigabit-capable router.
I’ve explained Internet speed before if you need more clarification.
When you have a crowded house
Routers have lighter-weight CPUs in them than even the cheapest tablets or phones you can buy these days. Routing packets for a couple of computers and devices isn’t difficult. If you’re a family of four or more and all of you have a computer or tablet and you stream music or video on another device while you’re using a computer, your router may struggle under that load. Getting a newer, faster 802.11ac router with gigabit and a fast multi-core CPU may make your Internet connection faster under these circumstances even if your Internet connection tops out around 100 megabits.
If you frequently have visitors, newer routers can let you set up a guest network. This lets you give them access to the Internet without their computer having access to your network. So if your guests bring infected devices over to your house, this keeps them from infecting your computers if they use your wifi.
If you want to consolidate other devices
Newer routers can do a lot more than just route packets and act like a firewall to protect your devices. Newer routers often have USB ports so they can serve as a NAS and a USB print server on top of being a router. This makes sense to do, since your router is probably always on, it might as well take on the work of other devices that people tend to always leave on. A router won’t make the most capable NAS device in the world, but it’s fine for providing a central place to save office documents and stream your MP3 music to your various devices. It’s probably not fast enough to transcode video on the fly so a router may not make a great video streaming device. But not everyone transcodes video on the fly.
Does the idea of having a simple media server and being able to print from any computer on your network without having the computer the printer is connected to powered on all the time sound good? That can be a good reason to replace your router.
If you want better parental controls
If you have kids, it’s not a bad idea to cut off wifi access to their tablets, game consoles, computers, and streaming media devices after bedtime. This keeps them from getting up in the middle of the night and going online. Asus routers that use the AsusWRT operating system make it easy to do this. They even let you assign a different lights-out time each day, so you can let them use them later on Friday and Saturday nights than you do during school nights. You can cut off access during times they’re supposed to be doing homework, too.
If you have a lot of IoT-type devices
I think putting light bulbs, smoke detectors, and thermostats on wifi causes bigger problems than it solves, but some people buy these devices and like them. If you’ve got a house full of that kind of stuff, you probably need a more powerful router to support all of that. You at least need a more powerful router to deal with the security issues they cause.
Newer routers let you create a couple of guest networks, which is useful. Put your light bulbs and stuff like that on one of those guest networks, to give them Internet access without risking the security of your computer and things you care about.
What routers I recommend
I prefer Asus routers that run the AsusWRT operating system. Presently this includes the Asus RT-AC3100, RT-AC3200, RT-AC5300, RT-AC56U, RT-AC68U, RT-AC88U, or RT-AC86U.
AsusWRT is powerful and easy to use, and Asus does a reasonably good job of releasing updates for it. Asus generally makes good quality hardware that lasts a long time. I’ve been buying their motherboards for more than 20 years, and their stuff almost always goes obsolete on me before it breaks.
My second favorite type of router is TP-Link, specifically the TP-Link Archer series. TP-Link’s cheap routers aren’t very good, but the TP-Link Archers are good quality and well thought out.
I’m not enamored with other brands like Belkin, D-Link, Linksys, and Netgear. They know how to make good stuff, but they don’t always choose to. I’ve had routers from each of them die on me without there being any good reason for it. If you’re going to ask how often should you replace your router, I want you to be asking because your router is slow and seems light on capabilities, not because it broke. If your routers break more often than your televisions, it’s time to try one of my favorite brands.
How often should you replace your router: In conclusion
So, how often should you replace your router? I can’t tell you in years, but when one or more of the above eight things happens, you’re probably due to replace your router. I hope this helps you keep your network safe and high-performing.
David Farquhar is a computer security professional, entrepreneur, and author. He started his career as a part-time computer technician in 1994, worked his way up to system administrator by 1997, and has specialized in vulnerability management since 2013. He invests in real estate on the side and his hobbies include O gauge trains, baseball cards, and retro computers and video games. A University of Missouri graduate, he holds CISSP and Security+ certifications. He lives in St. Louis with his family.