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Buying a new router

Article for: Anyone who may buy a router
Difficulty: Moderate to somewhat hard
Importance: We all need our routers and will all replace them sometime
If you are going to buy a new router, you are in for a weird adventure, or you will simply close your eyes and point, hoping for the best. The jargon that surrounds routers is greater than any other device I've seen. Perhaps it isn't rocket science. It might be harder than rocket science.

This article should help.

My audience

The first question is, "Router for whom?" My analysis is reasonable for a router for a home or very small business. I'm not talking about 20,000 sq. foot buildings or 100 employees. I am talking about a home, including a large one, or a very small business with up to 10 employees.


After writing more than anyone will read, I decided that wouldn't work. There are many factors to consider. In my first draft, I tried to explain the terms, then present how important I think they are. It took too long to get beyond the jargon explanations. So, I decided to list the terms you should consider and my sense of how important they are first; then do the explanations. I've accompanied the recommendations with what that will do to the price compared to a router without that feature. Remember, I’ll give the explanations after the conclusions.

Decision factors and my recommendations
  • AX or AC: Choose AX. - [Raises price]
  • Manufacturer: Choose Asus. [Mid-priced]
  • Firmware updates: Choose a router which is getting frequent firmware updates. [Raises price]. However, this is less important if you block all access to your router from the Internet.
  • Dual band or Tri-band: Choose dual band. [Lowers price]
  • Real big numbers in the name (over 4,000). Unnecessary. [Lowers price to choose lower numbers]
  • Gaming router: unnecessary for my audience. [Lowers price]
  • Beamforming: Yes. Get it. [Raises price]
  • Smart Connect: Yes. Very nice. [Raises price]
  • More memory, flash and ram: Like computers, more memory offers more flexibility and firmware with more features. If you might want the enhanced features, go for 256 MB flash and 512 RAM, instead of 112 Flash and 256 RAM. [Raises price]
  • Release date: Newer is better. Newer release dates are better tech, but also, more firmware updates. Most manufacturers, including Asus, provide more frequent security patches to newer devices and less frequent to older ones. If you buy a 4-year-old model, then you'll get about 1 security update a year instead of 4. [Older models can be less expensive]
  • Ports: Most of these routers have 4 Ethernet ports, so you can connect only 4 wired devices. If you need more, you either have to get a router with more ports, or a switch for your other devices. [More than 4 ports, costs more money]
  • WAN Ports: If a business simply must stay up, they can pay for two Internet providers, so if Comcast or Ziply goes down, then they router will switch to the other port connected to the other provider. [This is beyond what most of my clients want.]
  • Port Speeds: Years ago, routers would carry data at 100 Mbps. As we progressed, we got gigabit ports, which carry wired data at 1,000 Mbps. Port speeds can now achieve 10,000 Mbps or 10G. This is useful if you have workstations and wiring that support it. It would be excellent, for instance, for sending high resolutions scans at medical offices, but for my clients it is unnecessary. [raises price]
My recent router purchase and my recommended router is the Asus RT-3000 for about $169.

The explanation

AX or AC?

  • In 2009 the IEEE released 802.11n which, thankfully, was renamed WiFi 4 last year.
  • In 2014 we got 802.11ac now known as WiFi 5
  • In 2019, they released 802.11ax, which is known as WiFi 6
The names on routers usually describe the router. Sometimes there are two names. One that confuses which is just a model number and the one that describes. When the name or descriptor starts with RT, it means it is a router. When there is an AC or AX in the name, it will be either AC (WiFi 5) or AX (WiFi 6). So the Synology RT 2600ac, which came out in 2017 is a WiFi 5 router so it has the ac in the name. The Asus RT-ax3000 is clearly a WiFi 6 router because of the ax designation.

Each subsequent generation improved the speed, distance and functionality of WiFi. Furthermore, each generation has newer hardware. If you get a WiFi 4 router, then the design is probably a decade old. A WiFi 5 router was most likely designed and produced before 2019, though they might still make the old routers. A WiFi 6 router will be designed and made within the last year or so and will be better and receive better support.

WiFi 6 is about 30% faster when close to the router, but can be four times as fast further away or in crowded environments! It allows more devices to be connected and will save battery life for devices. There are lots of excellent features. However, most of them only work if the connecting devices are also WiFi 6. Its super features are not backward compatible. However, even older devices will probably benefit some from the advanced design.

Currently, only the newest mobile devices have WiFi 6. So, unless you have a new laptop or phone, and it was expensive, you probably will not benefit from the new features. Getting a WiFi 6 router might not help you a lot right now. However, you'll be ready when you get new phones, tablets or laptops. Also, if you get an AX router, you'll be getting newer processors, newer engines, newer memory and newer technology throughout the whole router. My tablet runs about twice as fast at the furthest part of my home with my new AX router, as it did with my older AC router. It doesn't support WiFi 6, but benefits from the newer design, anyway.

AX devices will also benefit from longer battery life if connected to AX routers.

Security differences
Router makers provide frequent firmware updates for newer models and less frequent updates for older ones. So a 5-year-old router might get an update once a year, while the 1-year-old router could get one every two or three months. The AX models are likely to be both faster and get more updates.

Buy AX routers for their newer design, more frequent security patches, faster performance and future proofing for new devices.


  • Asus. 2 year warranties. They do a good job supporting their products with patches and online support. Their products are solid and fairly priced.
  • Linksys: 1 year warranty. I think their products are inferior.
  • Belkin: No warranty, but your state or dealer may provide something.
  • Netgear: Appears to have no warranty at all! But for $29.99 you can buy a 2 year warranty like Asus offers with their routers. Or, for $79.99 you can purchase a 2 year warranty with support! At a recent computer consultants meeting someone asked about Netgear routers, and there was clear consensus to stay away.
  • Ubiquity Dream Machine: I was thinking this was a great router until they forced all customers to be managed from inside their cloud management system and then gave away the keys. They compromised every client's system. Then they seemed to have covered it up. I can no longer recommend them.
  • TPLink: This company makes a good product at a very good price. They make up the difference with the worst firmware update system I've ever seen. They have the only router I've seen where firmware updates broke the router. Installing the updates is also harder than any other router I've seen. If you plan on using the router for more than a year, get another brand.
  • Synology: I loved Synology. They offer a lot of security features and a wonderful interface with more options than you'll get from others. You can download and run many programs providing different services. They have a long and distinguished reputation as a Network Attached Storage maker and for being secure and making a good user interface. Their systems always allow for program installations and lots of optional expansions. However, their latest router as of June 2021 is from 2017 and is an AC router. I can't recommend spending around $200 on 4-year-old technology. They are an excellent company, but need to release a new AX router. They may not be committed to their router line.

Firmware updates

These routers are mini computers. They connect and control your interaction with the Internet. Security issues are found in them. Will they get patched? Microsoft patches their operating system at least every month. Apple updates the MacIntosh even more frequently. Before buying a router, check for how often that model gets security patches. It is easy enough with a search for [model number] firmware updates. They'll present the last, and usually the last few firmware updates. You can see how often your that company updates that router. My Asus RT-ax3000 has received as many updates in the first 5 months of this year, as my 5-year-old router received in 2.5 years. Be sure your device is getting updated.

However, these updates will not work if you do not install them. Asus routers, for example, require you to log into your router and check for updates. Then you must click to install them. You may need to set a recurring reminder to check for updates.

Since I block all access to my router from outside my internal network, I didn't buy a new router because the firmware updates slowed down. I accepted the slower updates. Most of the security problems these updates fix involve miscreants accessing your router from outside your office or home. For example, you could have an USB backup drive plugged into your router and accessible from your vacation home to play movies. So you need to enter the router from outside the office. This is where most of the security problems occur. I recommend everyone disable remote management and any remote features unless they have carefully considered the security risks. There are ways to do this sort of thing securely, but it requires someone who knows what they are doing. It is not a job for normal people.

Firmware update frequency and ease is still a significant factor because it tells you something about the company's commitment to security.

Dual band or Tri-band?

These routers communicate on two different bandwidths, 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz. A dual band router can communicate with both bands simultaneously. So, it could work with a device on each of the bands. Don't worry, because they can break the bands down, they can simultaneously communicate with multiple devices on each band. An ax router should handle 30 simultaneous devices.

A Tri-band router will simultaneously handle two 5Ghz bands and one 2.4 GHz band. However, unless you have over 10 devices pulling data down the Internet simultaneously, these will not be useful.

Big numbers in the name or description

What does the 3,000 stand for in the Asus RT-ax3000? Or the 5400 in the Asus RT-ax5400? They stand for Mbps (Megabits per second). So, you'd think it might mean that you could receive 3,000 Mbps or 5,400 Mbps from these two routers. No. That's not it. The actual speeds people receive are much, much less. Think of these numbers as a sign of how much data the router could, under ideal conditions, handle. How much could they send out. Not how much anyone could receive.

So, a 3,000 router can handle 575 Mbps on the 2.4 GHz bandwidth and another 2402 Mbps on the 5 GHz bandwidth for a combined total of roughly 3,000. But devices only receive on one bandwidth, either 2.4 or 5. So, a 2.4 device could send out up to 575 Mbps. However, in actual life, you'll receive about 250. The 5 GHz channel device could receive about 1100 Mbps., not their fantasized 2,402. However, if two devices were connected simultaneously, the router could handle them both without a loss. In fact, most AX routers can handle up to 30 devices, while AC routers should be able to handle 20 devices simultaneously.

Given that the average American high-speed internet is 140 Mbps and Netflix recommends at least 5 Mbps for high definition streaming or 25 Mbps for 4k Ultra HF streaming, none of this seems significant in most instances. You can operate your office computer remotely from home well with a 20 Mbps connection.

You can't give more than you receive
If you are getting say, 200 Mbps from your ISP, then having a router capable of sending out 1,100 Mbps is irrelevant. Routers cannot send out information faster than they receive it.

These factors can become significant if you are paying for high enough internet speed that you could actually use them. You will also need many simultaneous users to spread the bandwidth around. However, these more expensive routers are often better made with better antennae and often provide better WiFi across long distances.

The jargon dictionary

(mostly for WiFi 6)

  • Mu-Mimo means multi user multi in and multi out. This means it can place multiple transmissions in and out for multiple users. Essentially, it'll handle more users faster.
  • OFDMA allows more users (as many as 30) to share the same channel. A user is a device, not a person, so you doorbell, lights, thermostat, security cameras, possibly printer all count as users. Whatever connects to WiFi is a user. It splits the channel into tinier and tinier blocks for transmission.
  • 1024-QAM: Your WiFi signals are analog. They have to transmit digital signals. How to do it? The use QA modulation or QAM. The Q stands for quadrature, which is shifting the signal from a reference point and amplitude which is how powerful it is. By controlling those, it transmits on or off bits (binary). The older AC tech divided the transmission in 16 levels each resulting in 256 (16*16) bits. The new 1024-QAM divides each of them into 32 levels for 1,024 bits.
  • Beamforming is terrific. WiFi 5 introduced it and WiFi 6 improved it. Instead of spewing its signal out evenly all around, it can figure out where the receiver is, and direct the signals toward that receiver.
  • Smart connect is another wonderful technology. My earlier router required me to have a 2.4 GHz network and another 5 GHz network. When I was close to my router, I was better off with the 5 GHz network, when further away, then 2.4 GHz network. I had to switch. Smart connect monitors your signal and will intelligently switch you from the 2.4 GHz network to the 5 GHz network transparently.

Date: July 2021

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This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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