Do I need a new wireless router?
November 10, 2013 4:29 PM   Subscribe

Comcast internet accessed via a Motorola modem, which Comcast assures me is performing well, even though it's older. I have a D-Link DGL 4300 router behind that, which supplies the house network (desktop, Tivo and drops for laptop setup throughout the house). The router is probably 7-8 years old.

I noticed decreased performance late Friday/early Saturday. Saturday morning my wife was unable to get online downstairs, so I powered everything down and brought up modem --> router --> computers, with no success. After those reboots I couldn't get online via the main desktop computer at all. Network error was "limited access".

A phone call that afternoon with Comcast brought things back up - they restarted the modem several times and eventually I was able to connect via the desktop. The laptops remained hit or miss.

This morning the "limited access" was back. Another call to Comcast and the tech eventually had me plug the desktop directly into the modem. At this point, that's the only configuration that gives internet access. If I put the router back into the network I get nothing. I've also switched out patch cables to make sure they're good - no change.

To me, this is pointing to the router. The only oddity is that I've got an older 4 port linksys hub that I tried to insert in the router's place, just to see if that would work. No good, but honestly it's so old that I can't remember if it worked last time...

Anything else I can check/do to confirm the problem?
posted by Pantengliopoli to Technology (10 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I don't think the hub would have worked anyway. Hubs are just dumb repeaters and wouldn't be able to obtain an IP address from Comcast or route traffic from your internal network to the Internet.

Have you tried resetting the router to its default configuration?
posted by RonButNotStupid at 4:40 PM on November 10, 2013

The hub will not work if you're on a standard account and if the cable modem does not serve as a router.

I've had issues with certain cable modems that will only create a connection with the first device that was connected after it was reset to defaults. I've gotten around this when things went wonky by resetting the device a few times or cloning the MAC address onto the second device.

A simple test of your router is to transfer files locally between devices that are connected to the router. If that works, try resetting the router and cable modem to defaults and see if you can connect that way. Sometimes routers die as well. You can get cheap replacements for $10-20 new and nicer ones refurbished for $20-30.
posted by palionex at 4:57 PM on November 10, 2013

Wifi routers tend to come with cheap components that wear out. It wouldn't hurt to try resetting the router to default configuration, but your router is also somewhat obsolete, so it doesn't merit heroic measures.

The hub thing isn't a mystery. Comcast usually only assigns an address to the first device the modem sees after being power cycled. Usually that is the router, which handles activity for your other devices, and protects them. But the hub lets all the requests for an address pass through, and only one gets it.
posted by wotsac at 5:08 PM on November 10, 2013

Response by poster: Right! Of course the hub wouldn't be able to sort multiple devices... the whole point of a router... thanks for that clarification.

I'll try resetting to defaults next. If that doesn't do it, any specific recommendations for a good replacement?
posted by Pantengliopoli at 5:47 PM on November 10, 2013

Best answer: The Asus N66u is the caviar of routers - well specced and well built. But it is expensive, and doesn't support the new AC wireless standard. But it is one router I'd expect to last for seven or eight years.
posted by wotsac at 6:11 PM on November 10, 2013

Best answer: any specific recommendations for a good replacement?

Everyone loves these, it seems. Personally, unless you care about absolute max performance and such i think the cheaper version would be fine.

I would say it's safe to assume this router is toast. They do die with age.

Other good recomendations include a used older-style airport extreme from right before they released the new "tower" style ones which are readily available for $60-90 on ebay(what i use, it's been rock freaking solid), and a linksys/cisco e series like this.

I will note that the asus are renown for their range/signal penetration, the linksys are just kinda.. ok, and the apple ones aren't awesome at that. If you have a big place, a weird floorplan, or just live in an old building that eats signals buy one of the asus models with the external antennas.

On preview, i see someone has already mentioned that asus. heh. As i said, everyone loves them. They're like thinkpads.
posted by emptythought at 6:15 PM on November 10, 2013

Best answer: If your router/access point is more than 4 years old and you are having network issues, just replace it. Seriously, don't bother diagnosing it further. Wifi router tech has advanced at a pace for the last decade and a half that there have been real improvements every 3-4 years. And since your router was first released in 2005, there have been multiple big improvements.

Unfortunately most wifi routers aren't very good. And a really great one from five years ago can be superior to an inexpensive one today. I think
this is a sound set of recommendations. Ignore the wait warning, it's not relevant unless you have a reason to need bleeding edge. I personally think the Asus RT-n66u is awesome as well.
posted by fief at 7:37 PM on November 10, 2013

FYI, Comcast in Seattle was having major connectivity issues these last few days (and it's no surprise the phone techs didn't mention this). It's certainly possible that there's something wrong with your router but if it seems to be working ok now then it probably wasn't the culprit in this case.
posted by bizwank at 12:38 AM on November 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If your router/access point is more than 4 years old and you are having network issues, just replace it. Seriously, don't bother diagnosing it further.

WiFi is interference limited. What happens is as more and more of your neighbors install a WiFi router - most using the same out-of-the box default settings - you get more and more interference and the performance of your hotspot gets worse. Also other wireless devices such as baby monitors, microwave ovens, cordless DECT phones, etc. can cause havoc with 2.4GHz devices.

I assume you have an 802.11g device. Simply change your wireless settings to another channel and you should be able to eliminate most of the interference. It's as simple as that.

If you do decide to upgrade to an 802.11n router (which has 5Ghz band in addition to the 2,4Ghz of 802.11g) make sure not to use the default settings so you don't run into the same problems in a few years.
posted by three blind mice at 3:34 AM on November 11, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks all - picked up the Asus and everything is singing along beautifully. Now I just need to organize all my cabling again.
posted by Pantengliopoli at 11:25 AM on November 11, 2013

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