You might need a new router

Last Updated on February 10, 2018 by Dave Farquhar

Do you need a new router? If your Internet is slow after upgrading to a faster service, and if your wifi range and reception is poor, or your Internet connection just generally misbehaves a lot, you might need a new router.

Even the New York Times, of all places, has published articles extolling the virtues of new routers. If your wi-fi at home is bad, they say, think about picking up a TP-Link Archer C7 router. I like the Asus RT-AC66U myself,  but in my experience, and the experience of my colleagues, a new router makes a huge difference.

When one longtime friend upgraded to a TP-Link Archer, he told me his wi-fi improved so much his wired network was suddenly struggling to keep up with it. That’s fixable. He’s a candidate for Gigabit Ethernet.

When you’re shopping for a new router, you probably have a lot of questions. Can a new router improve Internet speed? Do new routers have better range? Are new routers faster? Are new routers better?

The answer to all of these questions depends on a few things, of course, but I’m happy to tell you that the answer is yes more often than you may think.

Can a new router improve Internet speed?

It depends. When I upgraded to 50-megabit service, I got closer to 20 megabits. Then I experimented with other routers. What I found was that most older routers had problems with an Internet connection that fast. But newer, 802.11AC-capable routers had no problem. When I bought an AC-capable router, I got almost all the speed I pay for.

I figured an old router shouldn’t have trouble keeping up with 100-megabit service. But it seems I figured wrong.

Newer routers have much faster CPUs in them, and these newer routers are much more capable of dealing with the demands the modern Internet puts on them.

You also need to be careful. Many 802.11ac-capable routers don’t have gigabit ports in them. Make sure the one you buy does. 100-megabit ports limit their speed too much.

If your Internet speed is 20 megabits or slower, a new router probably won’t make a ton of difference. But if it’s much faster than that, I think it will, based on my own experience and my experience of other colleagues. I’ve talked about the venerable Linksys WRT54G and its obsolescence before. I wrote that piece reluctantly, but in 2017, I’m feeling it. It can still function as an access point on the fringes of your network, but don’t plug it straight into your modem anymore.

Are new routers faster?

Are new routers faster? Yes they are, in several regards. Their wireless speed is faster, which means you’ll be able to copy and print files locally at a faster rate than before. I find their upstream performance is faster. Their faster CPUs and larger internal memory allows them to have features older routers didn’t have.

So yes, when you upgrade to 802.11ac, you get faster wireless speed. But you gain additional capability as well.

Do new routers have better range?

This also depends on the router, but new routers often do have better range. In my 1400-sqft house, I used to need a router and two access points to cover it. My Asus RT-AC66U covers the whole thing on its own at 2.4 GHz. Its 5 GHz range doesn’t reach the whole house, so I am thinking about adding another 5 GHz access point, but its 2.4 GHz range is impressive.

Are new routers better?

There’s no doubt new routers are better than the ones available just a few years ago. To get a router that really treats you right, look for a router with 802.11ac capability and wired gigabit speed. Many inexexpensive 802.11ac and 802.11n routers only have 100-megabit wired connections, which means if your upstream Internet speed is faster than 100 megabits, you’ll never see it. You don’t want your router to artificially cap your Internet speed.

If you need more specific advice on what to buy, see my other post, what to look for in a router.

If your house is only wired for 100-megabit, you’ll need to upgrade that wiring to get the full benefit of gigabit. Fortunately, many houses already are wired for gigabit if they’re wired at all. I have advice on wiring an old house for Ethernet if you need it.

New routers often also have USB ports to share out hard drives and printers. This is nice if your printer doesn’t have built-in networking. And being able to share out a hard drive centrally from your router is nice for making backups.

What else might you need?

If you still have regular telephones in your house, keep in mind that 2.4 and 5 GHz phones interfere with wi-fi. Here’s my advice on keeping cordless phones from interfering with wi-fi.

It also helps to know if your Internet connection is fast enough. You may be surprised how little you actually need. Here’s my blog post on sizing your Internet connection.

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