Death to cheap consumer routers
July 7, 2007 3:57 PM   Subscribe

I'm tired of wireless routers that suck.

Over the years, I've gone through four different Apple AirPorts (all different models, two were Extremes and one was Express) a couple of WRT54Gs (one was an S, which I tried two different versions of the firmware on, followed by DD-WRT and then OpenWRT. The other was a v6 with the vxworks built-in firmware) a couple of Netgears (don't remember the models) and using a computer with a PCI 802.11x card.

All of the routers were not so good and eventually died. The AirPorts would continue to get spotty until they could no longer be configured through the administrative interface. The WRT54Gs would first intermittently have their wireless go out until I restarted them, and then would eventually start crashing more and more frequently, and then eventually the administration panels would stop functioning. This happened with all of the various firmwares. The Netgears would sometimes act slow and seemed to drop connections frequently, and lacked the configuration power of the Linksys routers. The PC works ok, but I don't like having a huge honking PC where my cable comes in. I could run ethernet to the room with the rest of my computers, but then I would have to run ethernet back out to the original room to where my media center PC is, because that computer has to be wired (802.11b/g isn't fast enough to stream HD). I guess I could put a switch there with the cable modem, though.

I'm considering building a small, cheap PC to act as a router/fileserver, but I figured I'd see if anyone has some good suggestions here for a router, first. I'm willing to spend up to $250-$300, since that's what I'd spend on a new PC anyway.

I don't know if I'm cursed or what, but my second WRT54G just had its wireless "burn out" like the other one, so I'm willing to make a long-term investment at this point. This has all taken place over the course of three different residencies, so I guess cheap consumer routers just blow and there aren't ghosts in my outlets.
posted by tumult to Computers & Internet (28 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Never had any issues with my AirPort Express and i've been using it for about 18 months now I think :-/

If you want non-consumer grade hardware quality, you'll have to buy an "enterprise" device, which are somewhat more expensive and not always actually any better.

All the big name network hardware companies (Cisco, Juniper, Foundry etc) do AP kit these days, Orinoco aka Proxim generally have a pretty decent reputation in the WAP area as well.
posted by public at 4:06 PM on July 7, 2007

My parents have this problem too. It's weird. Routers just up and die on them like no place I've ever seen. I've always figured there was something in the electricity that was slowly corrupting the flash.
posted by rbs at 4:15 PM on July 7, 2007

For the ones with DD-WRT, were you setting the signal strength high above it's recommended limits? I found that cranking it way up made the unit pretty hot, and also made the connection pretty noisy, which would cause it to drop out from time to time. Some level in between worked best for me.

I feel your pain, though. I've had the same issues with routers. I went the Apple route. I've tried doing WDS to extend signals to different areas (frickin' nightmare in my experience). Currently I have a WRT54G with DD-WRT, and a long ethernet cable intricately routed to another room. When I'm wireless, I still get dropped signals and have to give the thing a reboot from time to time.

I'm pretty sure that my problems aren't so much with my router, but with my living situation. Small apartment, many other wireless routers around... and maybe there's chicken wire in these walls. It's like a Faraday cage in here.

Maybe you've got the same problem.

In short, I'd vote for ethernet. It saved me lots of headaches.
posted by jeffxl at 4:18 PM on July 7, 2007

It sounds like you're haunted: By either an other-worldly poltergeist bent on retribution through fouling Wifi hardware, or some bad nearby hardware. I guess the hardware fault is more likely, so start there.

Do you have any cordless telephones or fluorescent (compact?) lighting, or electric razors, or oft-used blenders or something that has also moved with you across your few residences? Maybe one of them is emitting some RF or Emag interference that perfectly annoys some common component of Wifi electronics.
posted by cmiller at 4:18 PM on July 7, 2007

I'd be wary of using a PC in a router role, I actually moved away from this as my friends were prone to use my box to test their leet haxor skills. I had to rebuild the thing more times that I care to remember.

It certainly is possible to build a very robust router out of a PC, but the number of security holes increases pretty dramatically when you go this route.

Regarding stand-alone routers, I work with Netgears which are ok. (Stay away from any Netgear with a built in cable modem like the 814, though. It's junk.)

I've always had good luck with Linksys, and my SMC lasted for almost six years before it died.

I guess that they have gotten so cheap, they are almost disposable. I paid nearly $300 for my wireless SMC back in 2000. Now I could get it's equivalent for less than thirty bucks. If it died, I'd just slap a new one in place.

If you want something really hearty, look into a Cisco. Their business grade stuff is quite robust, but kinda expensive.
posted by quin at 4:21 PM on July 7, 2007

My Linksys hasn't failed in 5 years.
posted by Ironmouth at 4:25 PM on July 7, 2007

I've had multiple issues with wireless routers in the past before. Linksys, D-link. Everything sucked. Until.
posted by Industrial PhD at 4:38 PM on July 7, 2007

What ever you decide, consider a ups for your router, or at least a power conditioner. I used to have this problem will all my electronics before I put them on power conditioners.
posted by bonehead at 4:40 PM on July 7, 2007

Response by poster: For the ones with DD-WRT, were you setting the signal strength high above it's recommended limits?

Nope. In fact, I actually turned down the signal strength once I installed DD-WRT. After a few months of it still going out, I disabled wireless completely (I had disabled it previously as well when using the Linksys firmware). Then it eventually died completely.

Do you have any cordless telephones or fluorescent (compact?) lighting, or electric razors, or oft-used blenders or something that has also moved with you across your few residences?

I have some CFL bulbs. About 6. No razors, no blenders, nothing other than my body that has followed me between residences (across 3 different cities). I also have a microwave, but it's not like I leave it on all day. It's also at least 30 feet away from where my last router died, with a wall between them. One of the places I was at had no microwave at all.

Small apartment, many other wireless routers around... and maybe there's chicken wire in these walls.

I had some of the wiring/grounding redone when I moved into my current place. It's still not very good, but I don't have trouble with anything else. The other two places had very good wiring when I was there. I have no problem with signal strength. I'm only using wireless for my PS3, Wii and various other WiFi devices. All of my main computers, save for my MacBook, are wired.

I guess I could settle for a wired router and bridge it to wireless using a computer, but seeing as I had the wireless disabled on both of the WRT54Gs when they finally died, I don't see why a router sans-WiFi wouldn't eventually die, too. I just need something that can rout/DHCP and doesn't suck.

If anyone could recommend a specific model of (wireless) router, that would be awesome.

My Linksys hasn't failed in 5 years.
posted by tumult at 4:51 PM on July 7, 2007

Overheating? If you're placing them all in the same place, you might want to switch it up a little, or bolt a fan on the outside of the ventillation system.
posted by Orb2069 at 4:52 PM on July 7, 2007

Response by poster: What ever you decide, consider a ups for your router, or at least a power conditioner. I used to have this problem will all my electronics before I put them on power conditioners.

Why should I have to hook up a router to a power conditioner when I don't have to hook anything else here up to one? Including things that are way more advanced/sensitive than a stupid wireless router. If they're that poorly constructed, I'd rather get one that doesn't suck.

Overheating? If you're placing them all in the same place, you might want to switch it up a little, or bolt a fan on the outside of the ventillation system.

Definitely not, unless placing it on a hard, flat surface in a well-ventilated area would cause it to overheat with default settings. In which case, screw that piece of crap anyway. They were all in different places, anyway, except for the last two.

I've had multiple issues with wireless routers in the past before. Linksys, D-link. Everything sucked. Until.

Thanks for the suggestion, I'll check it out.
posted by tumult at 4:59 PM on July 7, 2007

I have the same problem as you, tumult. They work great out of the box... and then, slowly, over time, they begin to degrade. Exponentially. Before, resetting your router was an annoyance. Now it is a way of life. I hate that all home routers seem to go this route. I have been through four of them myself, each time upgrading (or changing) the technology. Right now I have a Linksys Wireless G with two phone ports, and it is just now starting to pull this shit on me. I keep an apartment in Missouri for work, and the Wireless G router I have THERE is also now acting up.

I am starting to lean towards shelling out big bucks on a commercial wireless router.
posted by fusinski at 5:11 PM on July 7, 2007

I've had very good luck with my Dlink DGL-4300. Never failed me, never had to reset it (unless I changed settings that need a reboot).
posted by sharkfu at 5:17 PM on July 7, 2007

I've been about 50/50 with wireless routers. I've had absolutely great luck with a first-gen (circa 2000, maybe?) Netgear router, back when they came in all-metal cases. That stupid thing has been running with the same uptime as the power company (so, probably three nines, or close to it) for almost eight years now.

But I've gone through two more recent Netgear routers, and three Linksys boxes. Currently I'm using a WRT54GL that seems to be happy with DD-WRT (knock on wood), but only when it's kept in a cool room. And I use normal power levels.

All the consumer-grade kit these days seems like it's just total crap-in-a-box. Designed to work for the warranty and then die on you.

I think my next box is going to be a Proxim/Orinoco; I can't afford a real Cisco one, but if I could I'd probably get a used one from someplace reputable. (Logic: maybe by buying one that's had a few years of service you weed out all the crap ones and get one that's more likely to be in the 'long tail' of the MTBF numbers.)

Anecdotally, I've heard some people rave about a few of the Buffalo routers -- the ones you can flash to DD-WRT, naturally -- but I've never bought one meself.
posted by Kadin2048 at 5:26 PM on July 7, 2007

You're not alone. This formal Google engineer is the same predicament.
posted by dendrite at 6:16 PM on July 7, 2007

posted by dendrite at 6:18 PM on July 7, 2007

I'm with sharkfu and highly recommend the D-Link DGL-4300. Easily the best router I've ever had.
posted by kindall at 6:35 PM on July 7, 2007

At school, our pair of D-Link DWL3200AP routers in WDS mode need periodic rebooting (and they both have to be off together, or they won't talk to each other again when they come up).

At home, my Billion 7402VGP ADSL/WiFi/VoIP router has needed one explicit reboot in the two years I've owned it, right after a very nasty brownout.
posted by flabdablet at 6:41 PM on July 7, 2007

I'd stay away from Belkin for this reason (yeah, it was a while ago but that's really, really lame). the Buffalo devices are the cheapest things you can find, usually, but you have to put DD-WRT on them (afaik the default firmware sucks). and a surge protector, at least. maybe one that has ports for your DSL/cable and/or ethernet, since power surges can come in over those too. were your old ones on them? (and yes, these things tend to suck internally. $50 for what's essentially a little 200MHz ARM or MIPS-based computer? you'd probably have better luck shelling out a bit for a decent power brick for the cheapie units.)

if you want to stick with rolling your own, do OpenBSD or m0n0wall on a Soekris Engineering board - they're tiny x86-based boards built to do things like custom router solutions and such and will suck down less power than a typical PC would. m0n0wall's a pretty decent pre-built firewall appliance BSD distribution, or you could do OpenBSD (and really be rolling your own), which is a complete BSD OS that's renowned for its built-in security features (default install has had like 2 holes in the past 10 years, it has a really nice firewall in it, other things). (these software suggestions will work just fine on a real PC, too - it's all x86 in this paragraph.)
posted by mrg at 8:07 PM on July 7, 2007

After my fourth dead WRT54G, I went with a Motorola SBG900, which is a combination cable modem and wireless router. It so far seems to be far more stable than the Linksys ever was, and puts out a much stronger signal to boot.

Plus I like having fewer pieces of hardware.
posted by dmd at 8:07 PM on July 7, 2007

I've had an Airport Extreme for 4 years running straight, with no problems aside from a weekly reset.

As someone else suggested, try a UPS or power conditioner; either you've got really bad luck, or you're getting spikes or drops which are affecting touchy routers.
posted by skywhite at 8:43 PM on July 7, 2007

When I saw what was on the other side of side of that Circuit City link, bad memories came flooding back to me and I had to get up and walk away from the computer for a minute.

Now that I'm back, please let me state, in the strongest possible terms, that the Belkin N1 is NOT a good choice for someone looking for high-quality, stable equipment. I don't know if you got lucky or what, Industrial PhD, but my boss bought 10 of those things about 6 months back for us to install in customers' homes, and I believe we've replaced 6 to date, with a call in last week about problems at the house where 3 others are installed.

Also, the 802.11n standard has gone back to the drawing board and will likely end up different than the scrapped standard those units support (this is probably why Circuit City is dumping them at a reduced price.) Stay away. In fact, I tend avoid any product that says "Belkin" or "DLink" on it, though after all the DLink recommendations here, maybe I should give them another chance.

The AirPort is a little funky to configure, but seems quite solid. My favorite consumer router to install is still the WRT54G. I've installed a lot of routers, and they're easy to configure, dirt cheap and reasonably reliable (I've got many installations with multiple units that have been running trouble-free for years, though once in a while one does go bad.)
posted by contraption at 12:27 AM on July 8, 2007

I'm the 'formal' google engineer mentioned above. In case you don't feel like clicking through to my blog, I've come up with three options for a router that might be better than your usual $40 junk:

Netgear FWG114P, $120. This is a business class device, the Netgear blue metal box hardware. Maybe better components than the $60 Netgear routers?

Linksys WRT54GL, $65. I've had two Linksys WRT54G routers burn out before, so suspicious of quality. But the L means you can flash third party firmware into it, hopefully working around the stupid software bugs so many routers have.

Draytek 2900G, $200. Don't know much about these, but they have a reputation for high performance and extra features.

Good luck; if you find one, let me know. I'm on router #5 myself.
posted by Nelson at 8:32 AM on July 8, 2007

Oh, and the Apple Airport Extreme N is absolute junk. Avoid. It has software design flaws for half the protocols it's supposed to support. Maybe they've fixed a bunch of bugs since release, but I'm skeptical. Screw them.
posted by Nelson at 8:33 AM on July 8, 2007

nthing the DGL-4300; it's been pretty robust for me once I got the settings figured out. I can't speak for uPNP support, though; I'm all Mac OS.
posted by ZakDaddy at 8:54 AM on July 8, 2007

Buy a decent name brand battery backup/UPS and put your access point on it. Do not plug your internet connection directly into it (ie, cable modem->cheap switch/hub->wireless router).

I've never had a WAP die that wasn't caused by a power problem, or from my internet connection zapping it.
posted by SirStan at 9:28 AM on July 8, 2007

Anyone know about Zyxel's home routers? Back in the days of UUCP, and later, dialup internet, a lot of network admins swore by them for their reliability. I wonder if they've kept up that engineering tradition.
posted by Good Brain at 9:29 AM on July 8, 2007

I cannot recommend the Draytek 2800G highly enough.
posted by Optamystic at 12:18 PM on July 8, 2007

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