Why do mine keep breaking?
January 7, 2009 12:58 PM   Subscribe

What's the normal lifespan of a wireless router for home use?

I'm asking because mine seem to fail awfully quickly. We've had two, both basic linksys models. The first lasted about 2 years before the wireless part quit (computers hardwired to it still worked fine). The replacement we bought barely seemed to outlast its warranty, lasting maybe a year before failing the same way.

The technician for our ISP says he sees failures like this all the time, that wireless routers are inherently unreliable. I don't want to believe him. I want to believe that I can buy a decent router and expect it to last several years if I don't abuse it.

So, how long should they last? Did I get two consecutive lemons? Is Linksys junk? I'd like to have wireless at home, but I'm getting gun shy about throwing more money at the problem without understanding what's going on.
posted by jon1270 to Computers & Internet (34 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
My two have had been about the same - each has lasted a couple years. They seem to run hot and my guess is that eventually they bake one of the cheap components way outside of its original specs.
posted by GuyZero at 1:02 PM on January 7, 2009

Anecdotally, I've had a Linksys router for about five years and it works fine. Are you running custom firmware and increasing the transmission power?
posted by DMan at 1:05 PM on January 7, 2009

I'd think this is really difficult, next to impossible to determine with the major brands. You have situations where a manufacturer modifies model 500xyz greatly reducing heat (major factor) but doesn't change the model number. This means while Joe is angry about his 500xyz, Jane has been using hers without a hitch for years. Also, consider where this thing lives -dust, heat, vibration? I had a USR die on me a couple years ago and an autopsy revealed one of the resisters had become unwound, wiggled on the board. Was this a cheap component, cheap soldering, cheap manufacturing or the same stupid mistake that has damaged guitars, framed photographs, etc. (heat, lack of humidity, etc.).
posted by ezekieldas at 1:10 PM on January 7, 2009

Linksys isnt junk per-se but its close to the bottom. Two years aint bad for a 40 dollar device. I find that belkin is terrible and D-link and Netgear are about Linksys quality. If you want enterprise quality then go with a Cisco, but be prepared to pay over 200 dollars.

How long should things last? Im not sure how to answer that. Ive had a linksys last 3 years and another last two months. Things really arent designed to last past their warranty period. Getting two years out a wireless router seems average to me. You may also want to check its not in a place where its overheating.

There's a slim chance you have "dirty power" which would be sending out little surges now and again. This would usually be a whole-house issue and other things would be frying too, but you can try getting a high quality home UPS/surge protector for your new router if you suspect this is true.
posted by damn dirty ape at 1:10 PM on January 7, 2009

Are you running custom firmware and increasing the transmission power?

Heck no. We are plain vanilla users. The only thing I can think of that might be an issue is that we've left the router turned on pretty much 24/7.
posted by jon1270 at 1:11 PM on January 7, 2009

I've had pretty good luck with Linksys. The one I have at home ( I believe its a WRT54G) is several years old (atleast 2.. probably closer to 4?.. I know I've had it for a long while now). Its typically under pretty heavy load (all ports are filled, wireless in use, 24x7 uptime). For the first couple years I used the default Linksys firmware, but for the past year or so I've run DD-WRT without any problems. I'm also OCD about having a high quality surge protector and APC battery backup.
posted by jmnugent at 1:12 PM on January 7, 2009

I've had a couple of Linksyses and a D-Link go just like you describe, each after a year or two, always plugged into an APC UPS. Seems to be the way of wireless routers.

When I worked at a company that did a lot of microwave transmission, we had cheap amplifiers crap out regularly, so I'm betting on that. The only things that made a difference was keeping them from overheating and never running them with no load connected (that is, without the antenna properly connected.) Apparently that causes the amplified signal to reflect back into the transmitter - don't know if that will apply on consumer routers or not, though.
posted by pocams at 1:15 PM on January 7, 2009

I have a box of broken wireless routers (it's a small box - maybe 4 of them in there!). I find it reassuring I'm not the only person who has these things fail on them every 1-2 years.
posted by Xhris at 1:22 PM on January 7, 2009

Since you're a plain vanilla user, is the router tucked away in a closet, a drawer, deep in a shelf or elsewhere where it can't get a nice circulation of fresh cool air?

I have two routers and a DSL Model right out in the open in my living room, on a little stand that allows plenty of air movement. There is also a ceiling fan blowing on them, for unrelated reasons, pretty much 24/7/365. I know a lot of people like to hide the this kind of stuff, but I like the idea of technical stuff flashing LEDs in my living room. I'm a nerd. Try giving them even more space to breathe.
posted by Science! at 1:25 PM on January 7, 2009

I've been using my WRT54G since July 2004. It's still going strong. It was a very well reviewed router at the time, linux based, etc. I never ever turn my router off. I don't know anyone who does.
posted by chunking express at 1:25 PM on January 7, 2009

I've either owned or at least used a bunch of linksys routers over the years, and none of them have had a long lifespan. It's what you get for the low price. If it helps, I installed an apple airport extreme in my parents' house when they first came out and the thing has run flawlessly since then without them ever needing to call me for maintenance concerns. It is, however, more expensive. When I had put a linksys in there, after a couple of months, they were constantly calling me about "the internet being off" because the router needed to be reset or whatever little annoyance was constantly happening.
posted by shmegegge at 1:29 PM on January 7, 2009

And to add to something mentioned up thread, the current WRT54G isn't the same as the one I bought. You'd need to buy the WRT54GL to match what I have. So you might read a review telling you how awesome the WRT54G is, only to find the modern incarnation has nothing to do with its predecessor. I suspect many companies do this.
posted by chunking express at 1:29 PM on January 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

My WRT54G fried itself exactly as you describe after 4 years. So there's one more data point.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 1:34 PM on January 7, 2009

is the router tucked away in a closet, a drawer, deep in a shelf or elsewhere where it can't get a nice circulation of fresh cool air?

I think the first one was pretty much out in the open, but the second one was on a shelf in the computer desk, next to the cable modem and above the PC tower -- definitely a few degrees warmer than room temperature. So, not ideal. It still seems like they should be engineered to tolerate that sort of environment. Makes me want to superglue a little 12v laptop fan right on top of the thing. Or maybe I should stick it in the basement for the geothermal effect...
posted by jon1270 at 1:35 PM on January 7, 2009

BTW, our last one (maybe the first, too) was a WRT54G.
posted by jon1270 at 1:37 PM on January 7, 2009

My wireless Linksys access point (not router) has been chugging along since about 2005. Still rock solid.

Except, as many people have mentioned, Linksys (and all the brands) regularly drastically change internal design without changing model numbers. And, I'm lead to believe that since Linksys was purchased by Cisco the quality level has dropped massively.

I used to love Linksys gear. Now I'm starting to think I have to buy Cisco next time around.
posted by Netzapper at 1:39 PM on January 7, 2009

BTW, our last one (maybe the first, too) was a WRT54G.

Damn it, I hope my router doesn't explode when I get home.
posted by chunking express at 1:45 PM on January 7, 2009

Followup question: I was just looking at new routers on CNET and amazon, and I'm seeing that wireless-g routers seem to be on their way out. CNET's best router pics are all Wireless-N, which I know nothing about. Our g router has been fine for us, but we're flirting with the idea of getting a Netflix Roku box to stream shows up to our TV. Would there be any advantage in our getting an n-type router, or would it be ineffectual because it would be connected to older, slower computers?
posted by jon1270 at 1:47 PM on January 7, 2009

you won't get a speed increase from your wireless N router unless the other hardware has 802.11n wifi capability. luckily, usb wireless n dongles are cheap and widely available.

I don't know how well draft N streams video, though. I tend not to trust wifi for video streaming regardless and just hook up all my video devices via wired ethernet to the same router. If at all possible, I recommend you keep your router near your roku box and tv.
posted by shmegegge at 1:53 PM on January 7, 2009

For what it's worth I've been running a WRT54GS with custom firmware for 5+ years, and I keep the output cranked up over 3 times higher than the default factory setting. No problems and I only reboot the router once a year or so.
posted by JFitzpatrick at 1:59 PM on January 7, 2009

I have two of the older WRT54Gs that are ~5 years old. They are still working, and, if anything, have become more reliable with time thanks to firmware improvements. They are reasonably well ventilated, but I've not always been good about keeping dust off of them and sometimes things end up on top of them.

There are lots of people with your kind of luck though. In fact, I had a wired linksys router that died after a year or two.

As for Cisco...
I'm not too impressed with the 871W that I'm into for over $500, including the service contract that seems to do little good, and the VPN licenses that we don't use because it caused the router to lock. I've been spending way to much time troubleshooting a problem with it rejecting wireless clients after a while and, well, the configuration can be a bit opaque.
posted by Good Brain at 2:01 PM on January 7, 2009

I did work for a consulting company for years -- my experience was this:

Power > anything else.

The power bricks die, and the router craps out. We almost never had an actual router death. Even flakey routers worked fine with new power supplies. On the rare occasion the power supply might fry the router (ie, in testing the power supply failed to work with another unit).

This was observed on cheap routers (<2>4 years of uptime).

At home my three WRT54G's are all humming along years later.

I would say a building with a poor ground, or brown outs is MUCH more likely to filter through routers.
posted by SirStan at 2:05 PM on January 7, 2009

My routers last about 2 years usually.

Had an Apple airport express that waited 1 week after the 1 year warranty to crap out. Netgear one lasted 2.5 years, currently have a Linksys WRT54GL that's been good since I bought it 6 months ago.

At this price point, I wouldn't expect them to last forever.
posted by arcticseal at 2:08 PM on January 7, 2009

Would there be any advantage in our getting an n-type router, or would it be ineffectual because it would be connected to older, slower computers?

The n-standard isnt finalized yet, so if you buy one of these devices your new n-cards may not work. Dont bother until December 2009, unless youre willing to take a chance.

Your Roku box should work over G. My understanding is that the box uses a 3mbit or less connection to the internet to get the highly compressed video. A solid G connection can handle 3mbps easily .Less compressed HD video, say from your computer to your xbox, is 20+ mbps which can be trouble for a wireless-g connection.
posted by damn dirty ape at 2:27 PM on January 7, 2009

and i really do mean "solid." A little interference or just a few dropped packets can mean disaster for video.
posted by damn dirty ape at 2:35 PM on January 7, 2009

A search of AskMe will turn up quite a few posts of people looking for good wireless routers. Unfortunately they don't seem to be particularly reliable at the consumer level. I've never found anything near approaching a consensus as to what the best consumer level brand or model is and you'll find people dissatisfied with just about all of them as well as people who've been using XYZ for five years with nary a problem. Personally, after having gone through two Linksys, I've had better luck with Netgear and D-Link.

It's easier to have low expectations than to find the holy grail of the inexpensive wireless router.
posted by 6550 at 2:54 PM on January 7, 2009

I bought a Westell from my ISP when I moved into my current apartment. It lasted about 4 years. Then I got the one I have now, and it's been good for 2 1/2. It's a Westell 327W. I'm not sure what your expectations are for how long one of these things are supposed to last, but I reckon about 3 or 4 years is doing rather well by the standards I'm reading above.

No one has a vested interest in creating a product that lasts, I fear. Planned obsolescence FTW! :P
posted by droplet at 3:09 PM on January 7, 2009

Anecdotal evidence: I had one WRT-54GL die after about 12 months, due to overheating. I think what killed it was that I moved it "temporarily" onto a carpet when my old roommate moved out, and the lack of circulation below the device caused it to overheat. I have the new one sitting on a piece of flat plastic, and it's been trucking along fine for about six months now. We'll see what happens, though..
posted by Alterscape at 3:25 PM on January 7, 2009

The technician for our ISP says he sees failures like this all the time, that wireless routers are inherently unreliable. I don't want to believe him. I want to believe that I can buy a decent router and expect it to last several years if I don't abuse it.

I asked basically the same question in November and received this very informative pointer.

For what it's worth, I scored some very cheap Airports off of eBay and ended up doing my whole network with those.
posted by tkolar at 3:59 PM on January 7, 2009

FWIW I have over 1000 Wireless Access Points, OMG industrial strength APs, failure rate is about the same, unpredictable. Some go for forever in harsh environments, some go belly-up after six months. We tend to loose a handful a week.
posted by zengargoyle at 5:08 PM on January 7, 2009

I'm really surprised by the problems people have with these things. I suspect that the wireless part is more susceptible than the rest of it, but even so they are very reliable. Here is a previous answer of mine that discusses reliability of electronics.

On the anecdotal side.. My primary wireless router is a "Network Everywhere", which is about as generic as possible, and it has been working for 4 years. I pick up networking gear in second hand stores all the time, and invariably I plug it in and it just works. Perhaps people are just being good citizens, and not donating the broken stuff, but I doubt that. I think it just doesn't break very often.

SirStan is right on the money, if a device with external power brick fails, it is almost always the power brick (like 90% of the time, maybe?).
posted by Chuckles at 5:34 PM on January 7, 2009

I've had the same router for probably 5 years, a WRT54g. Always well ventilated and always plugged into a good UPS. All of my electronic equipment has suddenly become much more reliable since putting them all on UPSs
posted by gjc at 6:34 PM on January 7, 2009

I have used just about every brand of router, and they all seem to die in about two years. Belkin, Netgear, D-Link, Airport... all junked.

I've had a Linksys for the past 6 months, no problems thus far. I forget the name, but it's a newer version of the WRT54G. Hopefully this is the one, I hate settting up networks.
posted by Orrorin at 11:18 PM on January 7, 2009

Okay, nice to know that I'm at least in good company. I'll check the brick on my current (broken) router if I can figure out how. If I need a new unit, I'll make sure it's well-ventilated. Best of all, I won't get quite as ramped up about it next time it fails.

Thanks everyone.
posted by jon1270 at 5:41 AM on January 8, 2009

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