Help me find a rangy router!
September 2, 2009 5:51 PM   Subscribe

Help me buy a Wireless (WiFi) router with exceptional signal/range for not a boatload of cash.

I am, right now, using a cheapie Netgear b/g refurbished router I bought about 6 months ago. It has no external antenna. It disconnects randomly, seems to have terrible range, and needs to be recycled all the time. I only get about 2Mbits download when connected to it from about 2 feet away (20Mbits cable connection). It sucks.

I live in a dense apartment building with about 20 wireless connections, lots of walls, etc. Help me find a wireless router that will break through all that without breaking the bank (ha!)

I have been looking at this one, and it seems OK. Pretty good reviews, but it's hard to know with those things.

Am I under the right impression that an 802.11n router is going to give me better signal? Especially if most (if not all) of the "competing" routers around me are a/b/g?

If anyone has personal experience with a router with great range, that's bonus points! Or if there is a website/page with comparisons of a bunch of available consumer routers, that would be great too.

PS, I don't have any plans to use enhanced (Linux) firmware like DD-WRT or Tomato as I don't have much use for it. Don't want to run a server or a PBX or anything like that. If that would help me with range/power, I definitely would, but it's far from a requirement.

posted by jckll to Technology (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I just set up wireless in my apartment a few days ago and bought a D-Link Wireless Router. The router is in my roommate's room, but I get a great connection which does not drop out intermittently. I was worried about the cost as well, but even after taxes it was just under $40.00 at Fry's. (It may have been on sale.)

Best of luck to you!
posted by too bad you're not me at 6:30 PM on September 2, 2009

In reverse order,

DD-WRT or tomato, that have the ability to "crank" the radio, will get you a bit more range. They are built to be conservative in firmware--for longevity of the chip, versus range of the product.

802.11n routers come in a few different varieties. One big thing is that 802.11n can use the 5GHz space. But, 5GHz signals don't travel as far (but, will have more bandwidth). The big "other" thing that 802.11n brings is a technology called "mimo". it is why it has 3 antennas. In general, i find 3 big black antennas outside tend to work better than internal antenna solutions.

Most people don't set the channel on their WiFi APs. If you can, use an open source tool to see what channels people are already using, and try to get on a free set of frequencies.

Maybe something like inssider?

Good luck...
posted by wflanagan at 6:33 PM on September 2, 2009

Range is all about antennas and transmitter power. Unfortunately, even if your router allows you to tune the Tx power, your computer's wifi card probably doesn't. A one-way power boost isn't terribly useful, since both ends need to transmit.

So, buy a good router (I recommend the WRT54GL, coincidentally on sale right now), and a high gain antenna. A directional antenna will get you a bigger signal boost, if you only need the signal to go in one direction, otherwise stick with omnidirectional. If your computer has an external antenna, you can also connect a bigger antenna to it.
posted by knave at 6:35 PM on September 2, 2009

Response by poster: I have used inSSIDer and noticed that most of the networks in my building are on 6 and 11, which I guess you'd expect as those are the defaults. I changed mine to 3 (all alone) and it has been a little better. But still only getting around 2Mbits download.

I know that theoretically my connection should max out underneath the spec of a g router, but my impression has been that an n will give me better reception. Is that not the case?

Also, in regards to bumping the power on DD-WRT or Tomato, is that not going to burn out my router? Over-heat it?

I'm also thinking of buying a PCI card like this one that should get some good power the other way...

I guess the overarching question here is am I better getting a DD-WRT/Tomato compatible router even if it's "g" over a less fully featured "n" router? FWIW, the distance from router to computers is never more than maybe 30 feet, although it is through a couple walls...
posted by jckll at 6:46 PM on September 2, 2009

  • using a cheapie Netgear b/g refurbished router I bought about 6 months ago.
  • It disconnects randomly
  • needs to be recycled all the time.
  • I only get about 2Mbits download when connected to it from about 2 feet away (20Mbits cable connection). It sucks.

  • Before you get too hung up on tweaking output power or buying directional & hi-gain antennas, consider the fact that of the four problems I quote above, NONE are signs that your router lacks sufficient range or power and ALL are signs that your router is a piece of shit (yes, being 'Netgear' is a sign of shittiness).

    Seriously, consider borrowing any random non-ass router from a friend before investing more time and money in figuring out the deal with long-distance routers or hacking firmware to increase Tx power. Or just buy any decent router, like a WRT-54xxx and see how that works. I bet that will solve your problem.
    posted by jeb at 7:14 PM on September 2, 2009

    I wouldn't recommend d-link. I had one of their routers and I would lose connections when downloading big files (in both torrents and itunes). I use linksys router now and its pretty solid.
    posted by kylej at 8:35 PM on September 2, 2009

    get a router where you can load tomato / ddwrt. The biggest advantage of these is not added features, but rock solid stability. No funny dropouts, no router reboots.

    Also, change your channel to 1. 1, 6, and 11 don't overlap. All the other channels overlap partially with the ones above. (so 3 partially overlaps both 1 and 6, 6 being generally very congested).

    Also, you don't get any of the advantages of an 'n' router unless you're connecting to it with an 'n' compatible card. The wrt54gl recommended above will probably do you just fine. Check though before that if you can load ddwrt on your existing router. A couple of minutes work could save you some $.
    posted by defcom1 at 9:20 PM on September 2, 2009

    Agreed that most of your problems are indications that there's something wrong with your AP, not that you're necessarily in a difficult environment for wifi. Replace it with something that isn't obviously faulty and see how well you do.

    If you really are having congestion problems, using a 5 GHz version (802.11a, which is always at 5 GHz, or 802.11n which can be in either band) might do better because it has shorter range— your neighbors' signals won't be able to interfere with yours as easily. Plus, of course, there's more total bandwidth in the 5GHz allocations than the 2.5 GHz allocations, and since the 5 GHz band isn't an ISM band you don't have to compete with cordless phones, baby monitors, leaky microwave ovens, etc.
    posted by hattifattener at 12:09 AM on September 3, 2009

    FWIW, the "n" successor to the venerable WRT54GL is the WRT160NL (also on sale), though it appears to only have preliminary support in OpenWrt at this time (so, realistically no third party firmware at this time). I couldn't tell you how it works, as I just ordered mine tonight.

    Also note that both the card and the router must support 802.11n, and since it's technically still not finalized, there can still be incompatibilities between card and router.
    posted by dirigibleman at 12:52 AM on September 3, 2009

    Response by poster: I guess 5GHz is the spec that I need in order to "get above" some of the noise.

    Does anyone have recommendations for a router that will broadcast 802.11n at 5GHz and 802.11b/g at 2.4GHz simultaneously?
    posted by jckll at 3:19 PM on September 3, 2009

    The WRT54G was built for different global markets with differing output restrictions. In the US the regulatory body defines what is acceptable and the firmware is set to those levels. This is not to say that it can't run at more power. You can access these higher power setting with the right firmware.

    I would recommend you look at as they seem to have the slickest firmware version. It does nothing to your router except offer a configurable power setting on one of the settings web pages.

    So in summary, download the firmware, flash your router, crank up the power settings and off you go.

    Note: You should discontinue use if you find you or your loved ones are getting unexplained burns or your cellphone starts to buzz loudly.
    posted by fingerbang at 11:47 AM on September 4, 2009

    I know that theoretically my connection should max out underneath the spec of a g router, but my impression has been that an n will give me better reception. Is that not the case?

    One thing when I went to an "n" router myself was that I would not get full speed connections UNTIL I enabled WPA2 security. (Which is converse to all of my previous experience with WiFi routers and multiple, different-brand devices)
    posted by jkaczor at 7:35 AM on September 6, 2009

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