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Gabriel Gomez
Gabriel Gomez

How To Buy A Router For Internet

Before spending any money, it's a good idea to make certain that you're getting the most out of the router you've already got. Wi-Fi is finicky, and it doesn't take much to disrupt those wireless signals, so if your connection seems slower than you need, it might not be your router's fault.

how to buy a router for internet


There are lots of things you can do to help a router perform its best, but the main points of note are that you want it out in the open and up off of the floor. Stashing it away in a closet or on the back of a dusty shelf beneath your TV might help keep the wires at bay, but you'll also end up blocking the Wi-Fi's signal strength. In that case, swapping a new router into the same spot might not help you much at all.

Along with physical obstructions like furniture, keep an eye out for large electronics like appliances and televisions, as those might interfere with the connection from a nearby router, too. Wi-Fi struggles to penetrate through water, so if you've got any large aquariums at home, consider positioning the router somewhere where they won't block the signal.

For minor tweaks to your signal, try experimenting with the angles of your router's antennas -- straight up and down is best for horizontal coverage in a single-story home, but folding the antenna flat or at an angle might help you direct the signal up or down to help cover a basement or an upper floor. And if you just need an extra room's worth of range or so from your router, you might be able to get the speed you need by buying a Wi-Fi range extender, which will cost you a lot less than buying a new router outright.

Lastly, it's probably worth it to check with your internet provider to make sure you're using its latest hardware. In a lot of cases, if it has a newer modem or gateway device available, it'll send it to you for free. And hey, speaking of your ISP...

Keep in mind that it doesn't matter how fast your router is -- if you're pulling data from the web, then you'll only be able to do so as fast as the plan from your internet service provider allows. If you're paying for download speeds of, say, 100Mbps, then that's as fast as your router will go when you're browsing the web or streaming video. Period.

That's a significant limitation these days. In our own top speed tests, we're seeing a growing number of routers that can comfortably hit speeds of 1 gigabit per second or faster -- but with the average fixed broadband speed in the US currently sitting at just over 150Mbps (or less, if your ISP throttles your connection), few of us can hope to surf the web as fast as that anytime soon.

That isn't to say that fast routers aren't worthwhile. For instance, you'll still be able to hit those top speeds during local transfers -- when you're using the router to pull files from one computer to another on your local network. Your ISP speeds don't matter at all for transfers like that, because you're not sending or receiving data beyond your local home network.

Beyond that, upgrading to a faster, more powerful router can help you get the most out of your home's internet connection, especially when you're connecting at range. To that end, be sure to keep an eye on our latest reviews as you shop around to get a good sense of the specific routers that might be the best fit for your home. We're constantly testing new models and updating our best lists with new test data.

"Combined speeds" is a meaningless, misleading term. For instance, this router makes it seem like it can hit speeds of 2.2Gbps (2,200Mbps), but in reality, its fastest band has a top speed of 867Mbps -- and that's only in a controlled lab environment.

I'm talking about figures like "AC1200" and "AX6000." The letters there tell you what version of Wi-Fi the router supports -- "AC" for Wi-Fi 5, or 802.11ac and "AX" for Wi-Fi 6, also known as 802.11ax. The numbers give you a rough sense of the combined top download speeds of each of the router's bands -- typically 2.4 and 5GHz, and perhaps a second 5GHz band if we're talking about a triband router, or 6GHz with Wi-Fi 6E routers.

The problem is that you can only connect to one of those bands at a time. When you add their top speeds together, the result is a highly inflated figure that doesn't represent the speeds you'll actually experience. If it's a triband mesh router that uses that third band as a dedicated connection between the router and its extenders, then that band's speeds don't directly apply to your device connections at all.

None of that stops manufacturers from using those speed ratings to describe how fast their products are. For instance, that hypothetical AX6000 router might claim to support speeds of up to 6,000 megabits per second -- which is nonsense. A router is only as fast as its fastest band. Don't be fooled.

Wi-Fi 6 is the newest, fastest version of Wi-Fi, and it's the main reason we've seen so many new routers in recent years capable of hitting gigabit speeds with ease. You can read more about the way the speedy new standard works in my full Wi-Fi 6 explainer, but the quick gist is that it lets your router send more information more efficiently to multiple devices at once.

Wi-Fi 6 is pretty well-entrenched at this point, and the newest phones, laptops and and even peripheral devices like gaming consoles and media streamers are taking advantage of it. If you want devices like those to put Wi-Fi 6 to work in your home, then you'll need a Wi-Fi 6 router running your network.

The good news is that you've got lots of Wi-Fi 6 routers to pick from at this point, including lots that probably cost a lot less than you think. Wi-Fi 6 is backward-compatible, mind you, so a new Wi-Fi 6 router still work with your existing, older-gen Wi-Fi devices. It just won't do as much to speed them up, because those older devices don't support the new features that make Wi-Fi 6 faster than before.

We're also seeing a growing number of routers that support Wi-Fi 6E, a new designation for Wi-Fi 6 routers equipped to tap into new, exclusive bandwidth in the 6GHz band recently opened up for unlicensed use by an FCC vote. Access to that massive swath of open bandwidth makes Wi-Fi 6E routers some of the most advanced routers you can buy, but there still aren't very many Wi-Fi 6E devices capable of putting that 6GHz to work -- and even then we haven't seen much benefit to using that band for home Wi-Fi purposes in our tests.

We tend to fixate on speeds when we talk about routers, but the truth is that there are really only two Wi-Fi speeds that matter in most cases: "fast enough," and "not fast enough." After all, having a blazing fast connection in the same room as the router is great, but it means little if you can't get a strong signal when you're trying to stream a late-night Netflix binge in your bedroom on the other side of the house. That's especially true these days, with lots of people still staying home and depending on their home networks more than ever before.

That's why, for most people, the most meaningful move you can make for that home network is to upgrade from a stand-alone, single-point router to an expandable mesh system that uses multiple devices to better spread a reliably speedy signal throughout your house. Mesh systems like those typically won't hit top speeds that are quite as high as a single-point router, but they make up for it by delivering Wi-Fi that's "fast enough" to all corners of your home.

Over the past several years, upgrading to mesh was an expensive proposition, with most options costing at least $300 or even $500. Then the pandemic hit, and mesh routers soared in popularity -- which, in turn, led manufacturers to start cranking out lots of new options, many of which cost significantly less than before.

Everyone wants reliable and fast internet, and a good router can help. The trick is to work out how the complicated mess of standards, confusing acronyms, and sci-fi-sounding features translate to better Wi-Fi in your home. Join us as we tear back the curtain to reveal the pertinent facts about Wi-Fi, routers, mesh systems, and other jargon. Hopefully, you'll be better equipped to buy a router by the end.

I'd love to give you a list of routers that will 100 percent work for you, but the problem with home networking is that everyone's environment is different. Your neighbors' Wi-Fi, older devices, walls, floors and even your microwave can affect your Wi-Fi signal.

Most ISPs offer a modem/router combo that you can rent, but you can also purchase your own router, add an extender if you need additional coverage, or try a whole-home mesh Wi-Fi system. Even if you don't know anything about networking, you can adjust some settings to improve performance when you run into trouble.

The newest routers are defined as 802.11ac. The letters are what's important. The "ac" standard was set by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) for Wi-Fi and refers to the generation and maximum theoretical speed of the router (more than one gigabit per second in this case). Previous IEEE 802.11 standards were a, b, g and n. Most routers are backward-compatible with devices using these older standards, but almost all devices you use today are either ac or n, from laptops to smartphones to media steamers.

Technically, 802.11ac is only available on the 5GHz band (I'll explain this more later), while 802.11n is available on both the 5GHz and 2.4GHz bands. However, you will often see routers with both bands defined as "AC1900" or "AC3000." This is the combined theoretical data transfer speed of all the bands, measured in megabits per second (Mbps). For instance, AC1900 denotes a max speed of 600Mbps on 2.4GHz and 1,300Mbps on 5GHz. This is misleading, because one device can't be on both bands at the same time, and due to environmental factors, your router won't get close to those individual speeds either.

It's also important to know that in networking there are a bunch of links in the Wi-Fi chain, and each one has a limit. The slowest one (e.g., router, internet speed, device hardware) will determine your top speeds. An 802.11ac router won't make an 802.11n device exceed the limits of 802.11n. If your current internet connection is 50Mbps, a $400 router that boasts gigabit speeds won't make your device go faster than 50Mbps. 041b061a72


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