Not your average wireless router question....
February 25, 2006 3:59 PM   Subscribe

Not your average wireless router question....

I've seen many questions here before about recommendations for wireless routers, with almost all of them having a incredibly different opinions about individual brands, if not individual products, which leaves me with the impression that the quality of the wireless router depends greatly on the luck of the draw, rather than any guarantee with regards to brand or individual product. With that being said, my wireless router is beyond repair at this point (it's a Netgear WGR614, by the way), not because it's necessarily broken beyond repair, but mostly because I've given up trying to find ways to fix it. So, with those points made, I'm not necessarily asking for a product or brand recommendation, but what I am asking for are ways to eliminate or at least minimize my odds of buying a lemon. Any help would be appreciated, especially because my current woes make me wonder why I haven't taken a pair of construction boots to my current router.
posted by northernsoul to Computers & Internet (14 answers total)
The selection is certainly staggering. One company will have about a dozen models, all slightly different. I took the WRT54GS route, because they can include features you might realize you need in the future. There's a new one with a USB port for making a NAS (and adding more expandability). I know you didn't ask for a recommendation, but they are really slick routers with 3rd party firmware on them. If you get something like HyperWRT firmware on them they can be optimized for VOIP or bittorrent.


And if you're good at linux you can make your VOIP line into a multi extensioned network and have a Bittorrent client on your router... but that's OpenWRT...

I think I answered your question.
posted by Napierzaza at 4:07 PM on February 25, 2006

I'd second Napeirzaza and say that something that runs Linux is probably your best bet, not necessarily because you want to turn it into a super router, but because they're so well documented.

(And as you can see by the chart, probably the biggest reason for the varying quality of routers is that multiple hardware revisions, even complete platform changes, will be sold in the same package as the same product)

BTW, I love my OpenWRT box w/ traffic shaping.
posted by lhl at 4:22 PM on February 25, 2006

which leaves me with the impression that the quality of the wireless router depends greatly on the luck of the draw, rather than any guarantee with regards to brand or individual product
Wireless is inherently very random. You can pick up interference from a vast number of sources, and you can suffer attenuation of the signal due to an even larger number of factors. Every person's experience will depend on the particular details of their surroundings. I think that what you are seeing just reflects these facts, rather than the specific design/build quality of any specific piece of equipment.
posted by Rhomboid at 4:28 PM on February 25, 2006

Buy an AP from whoever makes your wireless card.
It's no guarantee, but in my experience it minimizes the mysterious connection problems that seem to pop up while using wireless.

Also, if worse comes to worst, if you have to call tech support, they can't pull the old "Have you tried a different brand of network card" BS on you.
posted by madajb at 4:58 PM on February 25, 2006

For what it's worth, I've purchased 4 Linksys wireless routers (for myself and family) and never had any problems. I can't say their the best, but I've never had any lemons.
posted by team lowkey at 6:10 PM on February 25, 2006

2nded. netgear router was a POS for me, and since then i've bought 3 linksys WRT54Gs to use for different purposes (client bridge, base stations). i've used the sveasoft firmware and more recently the dd-wrt firmware.

beware though, linksys (cisco) decided to start using vxworks or some other embedded OS on their newest WRT54G, and supposedly its not compatible with the linux images that are out there. but you can still buy the linux-based one, it just costs a little more.
posted by joeblough at 6:13 PM on February 25, 2006

Your question is sort of a meta-question.... good place to ask it! Instead of 'what's a good brand', you're asking, 'how do I determine what a good brand is?'

The only way I know to do that is to ask, "what's a good brand?" :-)

If you're really tired of messing with stuff and you want high-quality hardware, you might look at an Apple Airport. They don't have all the features that the other brands do, but they're built very solidly and they have excellent support. You'll pay too much for it, but maybe the peace of mind would be worth it?

I've been using the WRT54GSes, myself. But you have to be careful with what version you get.... the latest versions don't run Linux anymore and, well, they suck.

I've read that the ASUS WL-500g Deluxe is compatible with most of the custom firmwares for the Linksys, and you have no chance of getting one that doesn't run Linux. And that model has two USB ports, so it can also be a small file server or what have you, if you hook up an external drive to it. That might be a good solution. ASUS is a top-tier motherboard manufacturer. I think of it as a very strong brand, and if I'd known about their AP when I bought the Linksys units, I'd probably have bought theirs instead.

You may not be interested in the custom firmwares that exist (they do tend to be a bit hackish to get going), but having the capability may come in handy someday. And it runs Linux out of the box, which is a very solid router/firewall.
posted by Malor at 6:53 PM on February 25, 2006

For entirely different reasons I ran across this article yesterday about the Linksys WRT54G. joeblough's post suggests that maybe the article is now out of date, I'm not sure, but it was an interesting read.

Over the years, I've bought Linksys and SMC wireless routers with no problems. Just recently, for rebate related reasons ($10 after rebate) I bought an Xterasys wireless G/B router that worked great right out of the box.

That being said, maybe someone on here could be more helpful if you told us about the requirements for your setup. Is this a home or work setup? How many computers? What OS? Are you just looking to set up wireless internet or, for example, file sharing across your computers? I am *not* an advanced user as far as routers go, but from my experience, sometimes a router befuddled me, most times, they just worked. Just a suggestion.

Disclaimer: I type fast, any typos are the fault of a flaky wireless internet connection. (Just joking.) ;-)
posted by jerryg99 at 6:54 PM on February 25, 2006

jerryg99: actually, that article is a good summary of alternate firmwares for the wrt54g(s). i think the only thing not up to date there is the warning that nowadays you should procure WRT54GL to be sure its hackable.
posted by joeblough at 7:14 PM on February 25, 2006

I went through several years of Zyxel/Linksys/DLink/Cisco/SMC/NetGear. The Zyxel was the best, followed by the Cisco. But none of them comes close to OpenWRT/DD-WRT (linux variants) running on the Broadcom platform represented by the Linksys or Asus routers referenced above. There are a few others that will let you install a Linux variant onto them - Motorola does a nice little one.

I download 100GB+ of torrents per month, mostly euro telly programs. My NAT table is routinely at 1500-2500 entries which sounds exotic, but really means that it is a quite a bvusy connection. In addition, I have a media server is usually pumping out 4-6 audio and video streams across the LAN or WAN (Internet), both mp3s and video to the HTPC. I also have VOIP with Vonage, and internet show sharing with ReplayTV. In addition, I live in an apartment block with half a dozen other WiFi networks within broadcast range. I also have a reasonably active web server that, by virtue of being on the Net since 1999 or so, attracts quite a few annoying script kiddies trying password attacks and FTP finagling and what-not. So the firewall gets a workout.

This all adds up to a lot of bandwidth, and a lot of busywork for a router, and a dodgy signal. Before the open-source Linux variants, I was lucky if a router lasted a day between freezes, power-cycling, or reboots. And wireless connections kept dropping.

This all changed with DD-WRT Linux. I just checked and it's at 25 days uptime. I think the last time I rebooted it was to add an OpenVPN module. The ability to boost the power output of the router is probably anti-social, but definitely removed any lingering connection lost problems in rooms far away from the router.

If the thought of installing Linux and configuring it yourself gives you the willies, try something like HyperWRT, which is a mildly modified version of the stock Linksys firmware and relatively user-friendly.
posted by meehawl at 7:31 PM on February 25, 2006

I wish there was a really good answer to this question. Probably the best answer is an OLD (!) Linksys router, as above, one you can install new firmware on. At least that's my best answer.

I just purchased (one day ago) a Linksys WRT54GP2. Note the P2 part. It's a piece of shit. Apparently it's locked to Vonage (this is a device I just paid full retail for, in an electronics store), and only Vonage does firmware updates, not Linksys. (Hint to Linksys: if you put your name it, and don't support it, that's like pissing on your brand name.) It immediately cut my wireless speed by about 4/5 - that is, I got 1/5 of the expected speed. I swapped it out with its predecessor wireless router, speed went back up to expected. Swapped it back in, speed went back down to 1/5 of normal. I understand routing, and nothing was different, except the hardware. I conclude the Linksys WRT54GP2 is a piece of crap, and I'm returning it tomorrow.

As far as I can tell all wireless routers are made with the ABSOLUTE CHEAPEST COMPONENTS POSSIBLE, and the composition inside the box changes daily according to who is making the internals for 2 cents cheaper that day. The firmware is developed in the ABSOLUTE CHEAPEST WAY POSSIBLE, which currently means outsourcing to high-school kids in India, who then outsource it to elementary school kids in Bangladesh. This makes wireless routers, from all companies, a complete crapshoot.

The only real way to get a decent router seems to be to wait for the occasional combination of hardware that turns out, by chance, to be good, and hope that the accompanying firmware is also good or can be improved upon.

Attention companies: there is a market for a high-class wireless router - quality components, open-source firmware. Don't switch the frigging components every week. You will make money off of this, even if it costs more than your competitors, because word will get around and geeks will buy your device.
posted by jellicle at 10:15 PM on February 25, 2006

Yeah... I think at this point, we all pretty much agree that the WRT54G is the way to go. I use a lot of 'em at work... and while I have gotten lemmons from time to time, I've been happy with all the linksys stuff.
posted by ph00dz at 7:34 AM on February 26, 2006

I paid over $100 for a Netgear WGT624. It was so unreliable that it made me cry. The Linksys WRT54G + HyperWRT is the greatest thing since sliced bread. And it may be antisocial, but pumping up the power to 10X the original output gives me a nearly perfect signal throughout my 1940's house. Here's a self-link about it.
posted by exhilaration at 10:58 AM on February 27, 2006

meehawl, if you are still reading this thread, can any of these alternate firmwares implement a VPN between the wireless side and the 4-port switch side of the linksys box? i'd like to have the access point open on some different network than the wired net, and have to log in using PPTP or somesuch to see the wired network from the wireless net...
posted by joeblough at 5:49 PM on February 27, 2006

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