Re-route me
July 3, 2020 11:19 AM   Subscribe

How do I know if I need a new router?

Well, this is painfully boring, but I'm hoping someone can help me pinpoint the source of my household's internet frustrations. Us Ratterys are both working from home at the moment, and growing increasingly frustrated with intermittent internet connections. Of course, some hiccups are to be expected as we have way more devices running concurrently, plus duelling video conferences, etc. Yet our problems seem to be beyond a mere "traffic" issue. Here are the facts:

- I upped our internet package a few weeks ago to better suit our speed needs/recommended number of devices. When things are working, they work much better. We consistently get the speeds we are paying for. It's just that.....
- Our computers constantly drop/regain internet connection throughout the day. I notice it most on my personal MacBook, which is near-constantly "searching for networks." But our two work Lenovos also lose connection or have incredibly poor connection throughout the day. The wifi on our cell phones also constantly turns off and on, it seems.
- I don't think it's a proximity issue -- as I type this I am sitting directly opposite the router and still had to reset everything in order to get the internet going again. There is one room upstairs that seems worst for the connection, but it is directly above the room in which the router lives....based on my preliminary research on wifi extenders, that should mean that we shouldn't have so much trouble in that room?
- the router is about 6 years old. It's a Linksys EA3500. I cannot recall if it is a dual-band or not....(helpfully, I cannot access the router settings due to a tragic password loss and I'm afraid to reset everything....)
- I would not say this is a new problem, but certainly it's become much more pronounced in the last year, I would say (and only has it really started to annoy us since March)

Every time I try to research a solution, I just sort of hit a mental wall. I don't know if it's a router issue, an ISP issue, a coverage issue...I just want some kind soul to tell me what to do. :)

If I do need a new router (or an extender/mesh thing or whatever), I would greatly love any products recs.
posted by Mrs. Rattery to Computers & Internet (11 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Your diagnosis of a bad router (or at least a bad wireless component to the router) seems reasonable. Here are some troubleshooting options (in the rough order I would do):

*Plug in an ethernet wire to the router. If you still have problems, then try plugging the ethernet cable directly into your cable modem (or whatever you use to connect to your ISP). If it works well when plugged into the cable modem, but not when plugged into the router, then that strongly suggests your router is failing. If it has trouble both when plugged into your router and your cable modem, then that suggests that you either have a failing cable modem or a bad cable somewhere. You can log in to your cable modem, often (depending on the cable modem manufacturer) by going to the address and seeing if you're getting a good connection both in and out.

*If everything works well wired then that suggests there is a problem with the wireless part of your router (either something is broken or needs to be reconfigured). I would next try to log in to your router. This may involve resetting your router to factor settings which may be a pain, but is unlikely to seriously mess anything up. One possibility, depending on where you live and how many other households you're in wifi range of) is to change the wireless channels that you're router uses (some info from a quick google here). Basically, pick some different channels and see if that fixes things.

It is worth saying that, depending on how your house is constructed (and what is placed where), it is not impossible for an upstairs room just above the router to have the worst reception (if, for example, there was some wire mesh in the ceiling). I note that your router also doesn't have any external antennas, which maybe limiting its range a bit; that shouldn't be affecting you connecting right in the room, however.

The Wirecutter is a good place to start for recommendations. Their top recommendations seem reasonable, but also really expensive. I generally have been happy with Asus routers as the middle ground between too cheap and too expensive for me. I have the Asus RT-N16, which I've been quite happy with, but it's old. If I were buying today, I'd probably get the Asus RT-AC66U (and install DD-WRT on it).
posted by Betelgeuse at 11:56 AM on July 3, 2020 [2 favorites]

Best answer: > the router is about 6 years old.

When I read your headline, I thought, "I bet this router is over 5 years old."

Not every router loses its mind in the 5-6 year range, but many do, and I think yours is one of them. It's time.
posted by Sunburnt at 11:57 AM on July 3, 2020 [6 favorites]

When you lose connection, check the lights on your cable or dsl modem to ensure that it's not cutting out. If it is, you will need to arrange a tech visit from your ISP.

Otherwise, yeah, try replacing the router first. The recommendations above are good. I've had good luck with a TP Link router as well. My experience has led me to avoid Linksys and Netgear.
posted by selfnoise at 12:12 PM on July 3, 2020

Recently went through this, quite hard to identify just what is happening as there are network glitches all over (I'm sure it's not just comcast, grrr) and the tech support is nonexistent when not full out lying. I'm much happier with a new router, consider slightly overbuying, but don't have a specific recommendation.
posted by sammyo at 12:12 PM on July 3, 2020

I wouldn't overbuy a router just now because new WiFi standards are just barely making their way into the router marketplace. I got an el-cheapo TP Link when my last router died; it will tide me over until WiFi 6 doesn't cost several substantial body parts. As long as it does 802.11ac, it's fine.
posted by humbug at 12:26 PM on July 3, 2020 [2 favorites]

If it makes you feel better electronic components do have a limited life span and will cause the erratic behavior you describe. Routers do wear out. Get a new ones.
posted by GuyZero at 12:32 PM on July 3, 2020 [1 favorite]

Your router is advertised as dual band. I would check for congestion first. There are several free WiFi analysis packages that will give you some idea of how many other people (i.e. neighbours) are using each channel. The 5GHz band is usually better (YMMV), so try connecting to that.

I have a Lenovo laptop that disconnects for fun, even when 10+ other devices are rock solid, so don't worry about them.
posted by StephenB at 1:07 PM on July 3, 2020 [1 favorite]

I just went through something similar (though we weren't getting the speeds paid for through our router, among other problems) and a $90 new TP-Link 802.11ac router has made a huge, huge, huge difference in range and speed and reliability compared to the circa 2015 802.11n router we had before. If you have that amount to throw at this problem, it seems like a good investment almost no matter what.
posted by needs more cowbell at 1:14 PM on July 3, 2020 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks so, so much, all. This has been really helpful -- both in terms of just telling me what to do, and cutting through the noise (argh that WIFI 5 vs. 6 thing!!!). Am taking the plunge and have ordered a new router. Huzzah!
posted by Mrs. Rattery at 2:33 PM on July 3, 2020 [2 favorites]

Depending on the size of the your place you should consider about new router + mesh network. Two biggest consumer players are either Google Wifi or Eero (owned by Amazon).

I added two additional hotspots to our (previously single router) Google Wifi setup since the lockdown started. That's helped a lot as now we have 6 people in the house more or less constantly consuming data on multiple devices. For instance at this very moment per the Google Wifi app there are 17 different devices connected to the network. Six of them consuming lot of bandwidth (4K TV, etc.).
posted by zeikka at 5:20 PM on July 3, 2020 [2 favorites]

I had been putting off getting a new router because my first experience with this sort of thing was with Apple eons ago and they make setting up a router literally plug and play and I was really worried about messing everything up. But we’d been having problems because the number of devices in the house has gone way up in the past year, had tried the extender route with no success and about 6 months ago, we took the plunge. We bought a TP-Link AC 2300 on sale for next to no money. Setting it up was a bit of a chore but we got there in the end, didn’t lose anything and it is much faster than the admittedly very old Apple Extreme (I don’t like the flat design of the TP-Link - takes up too much real estate compared to the sleek Apple tower but it works great.) My 2-cents about the new WIFI standard that’s coming - all your current stuff works with N or ac (i.e. WIFI 4 or 5) and I read that the WIFI 6 standard is not designed for home use and while gamers are keen, there are very few, if any, residential-grade products using it yet. And if they are, they will be backwards-compatible anyway.
posted by strasbourg at 3:31 PM on July 4, 2020

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