What is the best OS X wireless router.
January 18, 2009 8:19 AM   Subscribe

What is the best wireless router for a Mac based household?

most of the family is Mac. We're now using an old Airport (graphite) router. When I upgraded my Internet connection to 10 meg from 5, I get great, fast connections when connected directly to the modem via Ethernet, but, when I switch to the airport, I get about 4 meg download speeds.

We use a variety of Macs, all running at least 10.3, two running 10.5.

Should I spring for a new Airport, or is there a non-apple router that will do the job just as well?
posted by HuronBob to Computers & Internet (25 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Define "best" and "just as well."

There are plenty of routers out there that are 1/3 of the costs.

There are routers out there with Open Source firmware (so if you're super geeky you can hack the range output, make it act as a bridge from another router, etc.).

There are routers that only do N. Some do N & G, etc.

I tend to prefer Linksys routers. 1/3 the price, but I can't do fancy things like hang drives off them and plug in printers and such (mine are also a couple years old).

I've used quite a few though, have configured even more, and it always comes down to cost and features.

For example, I have a second wireless router that does nothing more than act as a repeater for my first. This way I can hang my non-wireless macs off it.

Long story short, I'd only buy the Apple one if you aren't the type that likes messing with things, are willing to pay a bit of extra cash to have ease, reliability, and extra features, otherwise research what's most important to you and look into which ones do that best.
posted by cjorgensen at 8:34 AM on January 18, 2009

I just installed a Belkin N+ router and the speed increase over my old one (a Netgear g version) is stunning. My MacBook has the new 80211.n card, but my daughter's has the old g card, and her connection is faster as well.

Installation was easy. I ran the provided CD, followed the instructions, and it worked the first time.

Here's a CNET review.

I've never used an Airport router, so I have no direct opinion about it.
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 8:36 AM on January 18, 2009

Response by poster: Good question..

By "best" I mean good range, reliable operation, good speed. I'm not interested in plugging a drive or printers into it. I want an intuitive, understandable interface. I don't mind spending $170 for the airport, but if there is a less expensive option that will do the above, I'm open to it.
posted by HuronBob at 8:39 AM on January 18, 2009

Best answer: Airport Extreme, it's faster than router you have. It's expensive compared to other routers, but worth every penny, IMO. There's also the cheaper Airport Express which is great if you have under 10 computers, all wireless, well worth it too. Both use the 802.11n protocol, which is faster than the 802.11b protocol on your current router.

I like the Apple routers for their ease and reliability, as cjorgensen says. I set it up'em once and they're solid performers without me having to fiddle with settings.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:40 AM on January 18, 2009

As for range, I can get signal anywhere in our rectangle shaped, two story house (router is on the bottom floor) and also from street in the front and back yard.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:42 AM on January 18, 2009

Best answer: Seconding the actual Apple routers. If your family is all Mac people, they'll appreciate the ease of use too. I know enough to fiddle with the settings on a router without all the UI between me and it, but frankly, I'd rather not.

You can set up more complex networks with Airport if you need to; we run a dual g/n network so we can use our iPhones and our Apple TV.
posted by immlass at 8:47 AM on January 18, 2009

Best answer: I'd second the vote for an Airport Extreme. I'm hard on routers due to a large amount of traffic coming from various machines for various purposes (for example, I typically have to reset a Linksys (with factory firmware) every couple of hours to keep it running), but I have very few problems with the Airport Extreme.

Second, it has much better wireless range than anything else I've used; I can get a reliable signal in parts of the house that no other router ever reaches.

Last but not least, not surprisingly, it works extremely well with Macs; as a Mac user you've possibly noticed the occasional little tweak coming down software update for both Macs and for the Airport Extreme -- these do tend to make a bit of a difference in just how smoothly everything works, if you're using both pieces.
posted by nonliteral at 8:52 AM on January 18, 2009

Best answer: An Apple router will be the easiest to set up with your existing hardware, but I've also been very happy with Linksys (now Cisco) routers in the past.

Right now I use an Apple Time Capsule so I can do wireless Time Machine backups and printer sharing, and these features work fantastically well. I've had no problems with the Time Capsule, and find the wireless coverage to be very good. I even get a signal two floors down, in my basement.
posted by sriracha at 8:59 AM on January 18, 2009

Best answer: Apple's Airport routers are quite surpassingly not really over priced when comparing core features, but every other router company sells 1/2 price versions without hard drive support. So avoid Apple's if you don't need the drive option. Afaik, some routers will support printers without supporting drives, likely much cheaper. Btw, I'd also avoid buying Apple's routers without first researching the antennas.
posted by jeffburdges at 8:59 AM on January 18, 2009

I dig the Airport Express.

I like the setup tool on the Mac much more than the web based utilities on Linksys routers. It's probably faster than what you have, small, and I get a lot of use out of the remote speaker feature, which lets you stream music from iTunes to a stereo.

I've also found cheaper Linksys routers to be fairly flakey.

Bottom line: if you want to hack your router, get a Linksys, otherwise, you'll be happy with an Airport Express.
posted by zpaine at 9:09 AM on January 18, 2009

If you've got the time and the patience to set it up, the best wireless router is simply one that's capable of loading DD-WRT or Tomato firmware.

In short, these third-party, open source firmwares replaces the existing firmware on a compatible router. With it, you can do all sorts of advanced configuration. If it were me, I'd choose an N-capable wireless router from this compatibility list and load it up with DD-WRT. You'll have more control, more security, more speed, and even the capability of jacking up the transmit power on the wireless.
posted by JuiceBoxHero at 9:11 AM on January 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: My first choice in a Mac-centric house would be the Airport Extreme. They've done a great job.

My second choice would be the Linksys. The build quality is not up to Apple snuff, but if they fail they fail in the first few days, in my experience. Other than that, I've had many in very mixed Mac/Windows/Unix/Linux networks and they've always been fine.

Avoid D-Link at all costs. Every wifi problem I've ever had = D-Link.
posted by rokusan at 9:23 AM on January 18, 2009

I have found that the Airport Express in my parents' house does not have anywhere near the range of the Time Capsule in my apartment. The wireless signal strength is completely done in by walls at my parents' house, whereas I can take my laptop outside and walk completely around the block where my apartment building sits, and never drop the signal. I'm recommending the Time Capsule over anything else, based on the (seemingly) better range and the added bonus of a built-in hard drive for easy backups.
posted by emelenjr at 9:28 AM on January 18, 2009

I am a huge fan of my Time Capsule, which is an Airport Extreme with a large hard drive that does automatic backups for you. It has saved my bacon on numerous occasions and I would buy it again in a heartbeat.
posted by ikkyu2 at 9:36 AM on January 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

I have had a D-Link DGL-4300 for a few years and it's been a great wireless router, but apparently the innards are actually made by Ubicom. (The Zyxel X-550 is the same basic unit but has dual antennae.) Downside is it's not 802.11n (just g), and a bit pricey compared to Linksys, but I've been very happy with it.
posted by kindall at 9:44 AM on January 18, 2009

Over the years I've spent more money on routers that turned out to be utter dreck and unreliable than I'd hoped to save by not buying an Airport Extreme. When I finally gave in, it was bliss: i can now get wifi in my entire house, it's stupidly fast, and works with all the Macs perfectly. And no firefox-only cruftastic web configuration neither.
posted by bonaldi at 9:49 AM on January 18, 2009

I use a 802.11n Airport Extreme. I hang 3 USB drives off of it (you can plug a USB router into it) and also a printer. I use Time Machine on one of the drives so I have the Time Capule-esque wireless backups without the Time Capsule. The network is speedy and I can stream videos across it almost instantaneously (WMV files need to be completely downloaded first so Flip4Mac can play it in Quicktime, but VOB files, mp4, mov and avi files "just work" almost as if they were on my MacBook Pro).

I live in an apartment building and get about 10 of my neighbors' networks. My older Linksys and Buffalo routers would seem to always need to be reset. I broke down and bought the older Airport Extreme (the spaceship shaped one) and it rarely needed to be reset. When I got my Apple TV and new MacBook with 802.11n I broke down and bought the new Airport Extreme.

I was running it in the mixed n/g mode for the sake of my work Windows computer and iPhone and found that sometimes my MacBook Pro would choke on giant file transfers and since it happened near the same time each evening I figured it may be due to interference from my neighbors. I switched to pure 802.11n and it is in a completely difference block of frequencies than my neighbors. I rarely used the iPhone on my wifi network anyway and when I had to use my work XP machine I'd go into the Airport app switched to the mixed network temporarily.
posted by birdherder at 10:01 AM on January 18, 2009

I have found that the Airport Express in my parents' house does not have anywhere near the range of the Time Capsule in my apartment.

This probably has more to do with the difference between their house and your apartment than with time capsule vs. airport express. I've gotten wildly different range with the same AE in different buildings (I swear our basement is a faraday cage), and while I've only dinked around with this a bit have seen no significant difference between the range of our airport expresses and our time capsule.

It may also be that your parents have an older b/g airport express instead of one of the newer n ones (they look identical.)
posted by ook at 10:33 AM on January 18, 2009

To piggyback onto this question, are there any routers that let you directly share an external hard drive with the network, other than the Airport Extreme?
posted by ignignokt at 10:50 AM on January 18, 2009

(for example, I typically have to reset a Linksys (with factory firmware) every couple of hours

That's 100% atypical. You have a bad router.
posted by damn dirty ape at 12:26 PM on January 18, 2009

An Airport Extreme used in conjunction with modern MacBooks/iMacs is very fast. I find that copying huge files to/from my macbook over the wireless link is just as fast as a wired ethernet (100MB) connection. I also don't have any crazy association issues or addressing issues with the Airport. I open the lid on the MacBook and it is associated and online within 3 seconds most of the time.

It can also support a few thousand concurrent TCP connections (useful if you use bittorrent or other peer-to-peer/multiple connection apps).

The only downside is it is not as customizable as a WRT54GL with aftermarket firmware Tomato or DD-WRT loaded onto it.

If you want ease of use and the highest speed possible, stick to an Airport Extreme.
posted by ijoyner at 1:03 PM on January 18, 2009

We do just fine with a generic Netgear wireless router. I had two Linksys WAPs die on me, possibly due to overheating, so I'm a bit wary of 'em. May have just been bad luck.
posted by dws at 2:12 PM on January 18, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone for the input... I just got back from BestBuy with an airport extreme and a new usb drive... set up was 99% painless.. speed is fantastic 10 meg(on the MacBook), speed on the powerbook G4 is only about 6.5 megs.

The signal is MUCH stronger than the old graphite airport base station.

you guys were a great help.

The kicker was asking the Mac guy at the store, "why should I buy the Airport instead of a cheaper router?"...his answer, "for the same reason that you bought a mac instead of a PC."... ok then... bob's your uncle.. :)
posted by HuronBob at 2:27 PM on January 18, 2009

I don't view that answer as universally valid. Apple's monitors are an extreme example. Apple may take more care with the glass, supposedly insuring the colors are more accurate, but almost no users will ever care. You can buy exactly the same physical hardware for 1/4 the price elsewhere.
posted by jeffburdges at 10:20 PM on January 18, 2009

Mac guy at the store: "why should I buy the Airport instead of a cheaper router?"...his answer, "for the same reason that you bought a mac instead of a PC."

Best Buy Mac guy FTW. You should Best Answer him.
posted by rokusan at 5:32 AM on January 19, 2009

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