Best basic wireless router?
December 14, 2009 6:12 PM   Subscribe

I am in need of a new wireless router. Please talk to me like I know nothing about routers, computers, or technology in general (this is maybe 75% true) and help me choose.

I have TimeWarner Cable's internet access. We have the "standard" access, which is "up to 7mbps" (we can upgrade to Turbo -- "up to 22 mbps" -- should we?). I have a Lenovo T61 laptop that is about a year old, and a Toshiba satellite laptop that's at least two years old. I use the Toshiba to VPN to my office and so would like something that's pretty stable. Other than that, mostly email and basic websurfing. We are also networking a Tivo (our old one has a wireless adapter. A new HD Tivo is currently enroute. Not sure how that one will work.) Someday I'd like to add a wireless printer.

Other wireless devices in the house: Iphone, another cell phone, one cordless phone with three handsets, and a baby monitor.

What kind of wireless router should I get? How much should I spend? Will these devices talk nice to one another or should I use my parents old Belkin (I forget the number, I think it was pre-N?) router? Help me please.
posted by dpx.mfx to Computers & Internet (14 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
If you're already successfully networking multiple devices to a single cable Internet connection, then you already have a router (it's built into your cable modem), and adding an extra one will cause complexities you don't need to deal with. What you're actually in need of is a wireless access point or WAP.

I currently use and am very happy with this one, but I don't know if it's available where you live. There's also an 802.11n version for a little more money.

Both these units are 2.4GHz only, and that means they're susceptible to interference from other 2.4GHz-band devices; these include microwave ovens, some portable phones, and some baby monitors. In my house, the portable phones are 1.8GHz DECT models, the baby monitor is on 900MHz and the microwave doesn't seem to matter much.
posted by flabdablet at 6:26 PM on December 14, 2009

I'm also not clear from your question whether you have wireless running already or not. Do you want to implement wireless in a house that doesn't have it, or are you looking to replace your existing wireless internet access? And if so, why?

FWIW I would prefer to tear out every hair on my body one by one rather than use VPN over a wireless connection. Wireless gets you about 1/10th the connection speed compared to a wired connection. Couple wireless with VPN's notorious sluggishness and... ouch!
posted by ErikaB at 6:45 PM on December 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

The HD Tivo has an Ethernet port built in. (we just upgraded too!) if you're interested in Tivo-to-Tivo transfer or Netflix on demand ( or any other broadband feature using streaming video) I recommend plugging the Tibo directly in to the network rather than using the wireless adapter. I just ran a cable to the TV stand, threw a hub underneath it and plug in from there. Plug the other end of the cable into one of the LAN ports on your wireless router.

A Draft N router would be faster, but a wireless G will be cheaper. Stick with a brand that has decent support. I like the ones that can be modded to run the alternative Linux firmware, but if you aren't into mucking with it you may not care for that ability. The Tomato firmware did take an older Linksys router I had and made it useful again though - the interface is so much nicer (and much more user-friendly and configurable) than the original firmware was...
posted by caution live frogs at 7:03 PM on December 14, 2009

I agree with those above. Also:

Wireless for either VPNs or video is going to be sluggish unless you have a tiny house with a very strong signal. Use wired whenever possible for these things.

Cordless phones and baby monitors are red herrings in your question. Modern wifi doesn't interfere with those.

Netgear stuff is crap. Linksys/Cisco (same thing now) is good.
posted by rokusan at 7:18 PM on December 14, 2009

Netgear stuff is crap. Linksys/Cisco (same thing now) is good.

I've found the opposite true but read enough to believe that basically all consumer level wireless routers are crappy and should be treated as consumables.
posted by 6550 at 8:06 PM on December 14, 2009

Uhm, I guess if I were going for the most simple, straightforward advice, I'd say this:

1. If coverage has not been an issue in the past, get the cheapest name-brand router you can find that has WPA support.

2. If coverage has been an issue in the past, get the cheapest router you can find that has downloadable open-source firmware allowing you to boost the signal illegally and/or attach a better antenna or two, that has WPA support.
posted by davejay at 9:43 PM on December 14, 2009

Oh, yes, and: wireless sucks for video, no doubt about it, period, end of story. Hook your HD TiVo up with a wire, and ditto any other video-playing sources. I can pass this nugget of info along to you from personal experience with my HD TiVo (on which I stream NetFlix.)
posted by davejay at 9:45 PM on December 14, 2009

I've read that people have had a lot of problems getting Linksys routers to work with iPhones/ iPod Touches. I had to toss my 5-year-old D-Link router which wouldn't work with my new iPod Touch, and got a NetGear which plays nicely with it.
posted by IndigoRain at 11:08 PM on December 14, 2009

For what it's worth, the Freenet UltraWAP I recommended above works fine with my neighbor's iPhone.
posted by flabdablet at 2:45 AM on December 15, 2009

Only problem I have had using a Linksys router + iPhone / Mac household is that even with the alternate firmware it will only accept security codes in hexadecimal - which is a HUGE pain in the ass to type in but no issue once it's done. No clue why the simple passphrase isn't accepted, only the much longer and impossible to remember hex variant of the passphrase will work.
posted by caution live frogs at 4:52 AM on December 15, 2009

For what it's worth, the Freenet UltraWAP I recommended above doesn't make you jump through bizarre technical hoops to make WPA passwords work.
posted by flabdablet at 5:35 AM on December 15, 2009

We don't have wireless now. We have wired access that we use on the Toshiba laptop. But now that we're trying to link the second laptop and the tivo, I thought wireless was the way to go. Huh. I'll move the Tivo to the tv that's by the cable modem and wire that one directly. Not sure if that will work for the VPN, though. I only have one cable modem (it's near our downstairs tv). We have a second cable outlet upstairs -- it has two hook up things (?) - I assume one for the tv (that's what we're using it for now) and one for the internet. Any idea if I can just plug a cable modem into it? (I have an extra one somewhere from a few years ago?)
posted by dpx.mfx at 5:37 AM on December 15, 2009

I've never encountered a simpler wireless router than the Apple Airport Express. Having wrangled with any number of routers and their relative setups, none is easier. Sure, there's a cost premium, but I've found it worth it just for the pleasure it is to use utility rather than a poorly-designed web interface.

If it matters to you, you can also plug an audio cable into it and listen to your iTunes through it, which is pretty sweet. And it has a USB port for a printer.
posted by General Malaise at 9:11 AM on December 15, 2009

You won't want to plug a cable modem directly into a cable modem. I'm not actually sure what would happen if you did that. It's not like your house would explode or anything, but the results would probably not be useful.

So what you're trying to do in your revised question is figure out how to get internet to your second laptop (the Lenovo), correct? And you are not planning on doing either VPN or video with this laptop.

If I understand your setup, you have two cable modems, one upstairs and one downstairs. I just checked my cable modem, and it has two jacks for an ethernet cable. (This is the internet cable for your computer - looks like a fat phone cord.)

Luckily, this kind of thing is easy. The rule is that if it will fit in the jack, that's the right jack.

Would it work for you to plug your Lenovo into the upstairs cable modem?

If not, if this is more of a roving internet appliance/email checker/mefi browsing machine, then a wireless router may be the answer for that specific machine.
posted by ErikaB at 5:52 PM on December 15, 2009

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