What wireless router do you recommend?
June 10, 2013 12:34 PM   Subscribe

If you had to buy a wireless router, which one would you buy?

Our nearly ten-year old Netgear wireless router is finally about to kick the bucket. It requires a physical unplugging/reboot every day now, and performance just feels slow.

I've started looking on CNET and Amazon, and I'm very confused by all the options. So I'm turning to the Green.

Here's the setup:
  1. Three laptops of various age that do basic tasks (email, Web, Skype to grandparents, etc.)
  2. One laptop I connect to a VPN at work
  3. Various devices of different flavors (Android phone, iPhone, etc.)
  4. Cable Internet connection via Comcast Xfinity
I'm not a networking whiz, so I'm looking for something that's very basic. Plug it in, connect, and forget about it. Someday, I'll probably end up buying a NAS, installing a media server like Plex on an old laptop, and the like, but not at the moment.

Any recommendations? Budget is an issue, so I'm looking for something that won't cost me an arm and a leg, either, for an overfeatured router stuffed to the gills with stuff I'll never use. Ideally something under $120 or so.
posted by zooropa to Computers & Internet (28 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
I've always bought the Belkin one. Not the top of the line (which allows some external harddrive sharing) but the second to the top and have never had any complaints.

For reference: I'm a pretty lazy user. I don't want to install custom firmware. I want an easy installation/port forwarding/wifi setup. We have a desktop, a laptop, a TV, a DVD player, a tablet, an android, and an iPhone that connects to the internet.
posted by ethidda at 12:54 PM on June 10, 2013

I asked this question about a year and a half ago and got some good advice. Enough to help tide me over until I really do need to upgrade. Good luck!
posted by blurker at 1:09 PM on June 10, 2013

We had a variety of crappy $50-ish routers, and finally bit the bullet and bought an Apple AirPort Express. Couldn't be happier. Very consistent. We have all Apple devices, and the AirPlay feature is amazing.
posted by radioamy at 1:13 PM on June 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

I just bought the ASUS RT-N66U Dual-Band Wireless-N900 Gigabit Router. It's awesome. I have Comcast Xfinity and it's been surprisingly steady, something I had a lot of trouble with. It's slightly above the 120 mark at 145, but this is the article that convinced me and I've been very very happy. Great coverage, everything I need.

Here's another review article as well.
posted by Carillon at 1:21 PM on June 10, 2013

I'm a huge fan of the ASUS RT-N16. They pack a lot of punch for a pretty reasonable price. I have several running as access points in coffeeshops, and they're able to handle 40+ consecutive clients without any trouble at all.

If you're in a particularly wifi-dense area and you'd benefit from a 5GHZ router, I've heard that the RT-N66U is fantastic (as I now see Carillon has mentioned).

I use the K26 NoUSB STD build of TomatoUSB, and it's fantastic. Rock solid and very fast.
posted by god hates math at 1:28 PM on June 10, 2013

I also suggest the ASUS RT-N66U. I bought mine based on this ranking as the "best" WiFi Router. I DO consider myself techie, yet I am (currently) satisfied with the settings/performance in the very easy-to-use basic configuration utilities. If I want more options/performance in the future, I have the ability to install a custom firmware to trick it out in all sorts of interesting ways.
posted by JJtheJetPlane at 1:29 PM on June 10, 2013

Asus RT-N66U- running the Merlin code branch.

It is simply fantastic, I t=run the AC66U model but it's overkill unless you run AC radios. It's not stuffed to the gills with features *but it can be* as it's based on the linux kernel and Asus releases the source code for everything but the wireless card driver.
posted by iamabot at 1:39 PM on June 10, 2013

Best answer: I feel weird saying this, since i used strongly be a linksys(or netgear) router+dd-wrt guy, but ever since 802.11n came out i've had crap luck with several higher end(up to TOTL even) linksys and netgear routers.

Finally, after a day of randomly dealing with the signal dropping off over and over even when close to the router i ran in to a used airport extreme(the current dual band one) at a second hand store and snatched it up.

I've had utterly zero issues since then. I set it up once, and it's just purring along. It also has a built in NAS function with a powered USB port which i plan to make use of soon(but have already played around with, and it works as good as any router-based NAS i've used).

I think the $180 or whatever retail price is highway robbery, but a used fairly-new one can be had for under $100 on ebay and it's the most reliable router i've owned since my old wrt54g running dd-wrt.

Oh, and it somehow covers to the back of my farraday cage-like spread out apartment(100 year old building, plaster and lath with i think that chicken wire stuff behind it and possibly old lead paint underneath the latex stuff, bomb shelter thick walls, weird floor plan. Basically a DMZ of anything wireless. I regularly get one bar on my phone in bed and 5 if i hold it out the window) way better than even the new-ish, maybe 2-3 year old "super ultra rangemax!" netgear router did, which was previously the longest range one i had ever used.

If you don't want to buy apple though, i will say that several of my friends who are also meganerds/do network stuff like i do for a living have given a double thumbs up to Asus. You'll like have a very good experience if you go that route too. I just enjoy that this is the only router i've ever owned that i only needed to configure once.
posted by emptythought at 1:47 PM on June 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'd call my Internet provider and see what they sell. Sometimes you just want what they have so when you call tech support, you don't have to hear, "We don't support that."
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:55 PM on June 10, 2013

I went through a few wireless routers (Linksys, Belkin, Netgear) until I found a refurbished Apple Airport Extreme on Amazon. That was... uhm... 3 years ago? Maybe more? That thing has been flawless. It never needs to be rebooted. It works with my friends' laptops / phones / iPads / etc, regardless of whether they run Apple, Android, Windows... it sees them all and it just works.
posted by 2oh1 at 2:00 PM on June 10, 2013

Oh, and I'd also buy a cheap modem for your internet - a separate modem, not built into the router. It's silly to pay Comcast $7 a month to rent a $50 modem. Or have they raised it up to $9? Sheesh.
posted by 2oh1 at 2:02 PM on June 10, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks for all the opinions and information, folks. This is very helpful!

Out of curiosity, has anyone had any experience with the Hawking Technology Hi-Gain Dual-Band Wireless-N Router (HD45R)?
posted by zooropa at 2:19 PM on June 10, 2013

i wish i could point you to all the places i read up on routers, it's been a year or so - but after a few days of research and talking to people and figuring out what i needed, i settled on the netgear WNDR3700. under 100 bucks, good reviews, solid mid-tier option.

when i was researching the airport kept coming up, but we don't have any apple products and i didn't want to shell out the money for it - that said - i've rarely heard a bad word spoken about it. if i were wanting something in that price tier i'd probably lean towards the ASUS RT-N66U, though.

i like to use this page as a jumping off spot when i'm researching small electronics/appliances.
posted by nadawi at 2:46 PM on June 10, 2013

Having suffered through problems with the Verizon-issued FiOS wireless router, a few years ago I bridged a 4th generation Airport Extreme (purchased used off of CL).

Amazed at the coverage, simplicity of setup, reliability in a mixed iPhone / Windows laptops (2) / iPad / Android household.
posted by scooterdog at 2:47 PM on June 10, 2013

I've used a number of B-brand/off brand routers like that hawking one you linked to... briefly. I've also interacted with them in situations in which i was troubleshooting someone elses setup.

I wouldn't use that thing if it was free, and that price is far too high for what it is. Sure, it probably uses a similar chipset to some other name brand routers, but with their own crappy(and probably not frequently if ever updated) firmware on it and no options of running a better 3rd party firmware.

Stick to asus/linksys-cisco/netgear or a couple other big brand like buffalo. Look at whats popular on the DD-WRT or smallnetbuilder forums. I would honestly rather have an older brand name, well liked router than a brand new off-brand unproven router with no real community support. And this is coming from someone who has spent a lot of time i'll never get back troubleshooting stupid router issues and network problems both at home, at work, and at friends or clients homes/offices/etc.
posted by emptythought at 3:24 PM on June 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

I've had nothing but trouble with my Buffalo, one they specifically advertise as compatible with DD-WRT (it's not, I had to go back to their wonky stock firmware and the thing is still buggy and suffers slowdowns and freezes). I'd advise against Buffalo.

I still have enough functioning earlier-version WRT54Gs that I haven't been forced off that hardware yet.

However, I am looking forward to receiving a Securifi Almond+ when it comes out. I signed on to their funding campaign on the strength of the positive reception of their existing model, the Almond, which you might consider: amazon link.
Note the balance of 5 star reviews vs. other ratings.
posted by snuffleupagus at 4:11 PM on June 10, 2013

ASUS RT-N16 or RT-N66U running Tomato. EasyTomato or Toastman's Tomato builds are good choices.
posted by Nelson at 4:33 PM on June 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'd buy the new AirPort Extreme, or barring that, an older version. I tried a number of routers and none of them had the ease of use or range of the Apple Airport series. An added bonus is being able to get an Airport Express, which can extend the network and allow you to stream music to your speakers.
posted by barnone at 4:34 PM on June 10, 2013

My Netgear WNDR3800 (and prior to that a WNDR3700) have been pretty solid with the right version of the stock firmware and has been great with OpenWRT Attitude Adjustment.

Note though, I said the "right version" of the stock firmware; Netgear's QA was uneven and on more than one occassion I ended up rolling back to an earlier version of the firmware.

I haven't had an Airport Express or Extreme, but as people have noted, they have a good reputation for being dependable. Frankly, that would be worth the extra cost to me. It my be 50% more than a similar device from someone else, but it isn't a car, that extra cost is only ~$50-60. If it saves me a few hours of hassled over the life of the device, it would be money well spent.

802.11ac seems to be on the cusp of being mainstream. I don't have a specific recommendation, but Apple just announced an 802.11ac version of the Airport Extreme.
posted by Good Brain at 5:14 PM on June 10, 2013

Response by poster: Please forgive this totally dumb question: don't you need a Mac to use an Airport Express or Extreme?

All of our laptops run various flavors of Windows (XP, Vista, 7) and one phone runs an older version of Android. The only Apple device we have is my iPhone 5 running iOS 6.
posted by zooropa at 5:44 PM on June 10, 2013

You definitely don't need to have any Macs on your network to use an Airport Extreme or Express.
posted by devinemissk at 6:07 PM on June 10, 2013

Nope, you do need to use an app to configure them, but it's available for windows. I manage mine from my windows 7 desktop. They're also fully configurable from the iphone 5, and not through a web interface. It's part of the OS.

A random little fringe benefit of the config app for windows is that if your connection experiences any downtime, or any number of other potential network issues pop up you get a little "your modem lost its connection" notification pop up from the task bar. This is awesome, and has saved me from screwing around with what i thought was a software glitch that was actually just my connection intermittently cutting out.
posted by emptythought at 6:47 PM on June 10, 2013

A + for the Airport Extreme. We're a mixed OS household (Mac, iOS, Windows, PS3 and Wii) and burned through I think three Linksys/Cisco WiFi routers (yes, burned, they ceased working) and then said fuck it and bought the AirEx and it has been rock solid for like a year when even the pretty expensive Cisco would need replugged every month or so.

I don't know about the one just announced today, but the pizza box version is the one we have and it's great. All of the devices just work.
posted by seanmpuckett at 6:52 PM on June 10, 2013

One more for Airport Extreme. I had trouble with a couple other brands, put this one in a couple years ago and never any more problems. Very easy to set-up, too. Oh, and we're a mixed (Windows, Mac, etc.) household.
posted by Rad_Boy at 7:06 PM on June 10, 2013

I've had good luck with Asus routers, both a cheap one, WL-520, and the NT-16, which is slightly less cheap and being used at a coffee shop with high traffic.

It doesn't sound like you really need expensive hardware. The biggest problem with consumer wireless routers is the software. It's really pretty easy to put TomatoUSB on a compatible router, and it will really improve your relationship with your wireless router.
posted by ennui.bz at 8:23 PM on June 10, 2013

Response by poster: Ok, you've all convinced me to go with an Airport Extreme. I can't believe I'm buying another Apple device, but the day is still young.

Anyone have one they want to sell cheap? ;) Thanks, everyone.
posted by zooropa at 7:13 AM on June 11, 2013

Go for the new Extreme, released yesterday. It has 802.11ac which will be the new standard. As you update or replace other machines in your household, it'll adapt to your future needs.
posted by barnone at 9:20 AM on June 11, 2013

Just look on ebay. I've bought a bunch locally(i'm one of those guys who goes to thrift shops after work every day and hunts) and ebayed them. They generally go for about $50-70 even for the simultaneous dual band superfast N versions with the power supply and everything.

I bet that price might have even gone down now that the new one came out. Don't bother dropping a bunch of cash on the 11AC version, just give it a few years til you actually have gigabit home internet and you can get that one for $70 on ebay as well.
posted by emptythought at 5:02 PM on June 11, 2013

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