Tag Archives: networks

Best wireless router 2016

Your router could be the bottleneck impacting your ability to stream HD content on your network, transfer files between your computers or even slowing down your internet access altogether. Even if speed’s not an issue, range could be: wireless dead zones are the bane of many a household. While the advent of Wi-Fi freed us of the shackles of wires, wireless reception isn’t always the most reliable, or available everywhere if you have a poor router or a heavily congested network.

You don’t have to put up with this, however, and a router upgrade can be the fix you’re looking for. Internet Service Providers don’t always provide you with the best-performing router, they have their margins to consider after all, so a third-party router upgrade can provide not only performance increases but also added functionality to make your home network more efficient.

Discover the best wireless routers to improve your speed whether you have cable or ADSL as well as how to get the best out of your router

 

Wireless router buying guide

Cable or ADSL router?

It’s important to know what type of internet connection you have before you rush out and buy a new router. If you have ADSL broadband, you’ll need a router with an ADSL modem. This cuts down on the clutter as you have a modem and router all in one box. If you use a fibre-to-the-cabinet service such as BT’s Infinity you’ll need a router that has a VDSL modem. Many routers will support both ADSL and VDSL, but be sure to check before parting with your cash.

 

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If you have a separate VDSL modem, such as the OpenReach one that BT often provides, you can buy a router with an Ethernet WAN port and plug that into the modem. If your ISP is Virgin Media, you’ll need to keep your existing Super Hub router and set it to modem mode. You can then connect this to the Ethernet WAN port of your new router that will handle all of your networking instead.

What is a dual-band router?

To get around this, most modern routers will now also broadcast on the 5GHz band, which has nowhere near as many devices competing. This can have a massive effect on wireless performance and speeds. However, some legacy devices only operate on 2.4GHz, which can be a problem. This is why most routers are able to broadcast simultaneously on both bands, meaning all your devices are supported.

There’s a caveat, however, when it comes to wireless range. The 2.4GHz frequency has greater reach than 5GHz. So if you’re looking to connect a device over a greater distance, you might find you’ll have to use the 2.4GHz band if you want to maintain a connection. As most decent routers can broadcast simultaneously on both 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands, these are often referred to as ‘dual-band’ routers. Recently, more advanced routers have become available that are tri-band. This means they have a single 2.4GHz band complemented with two 5GHz bands. This allows you to more easily separate all of your devices to reduce congestion and increase performance.

Wireless routers broadcast on one of two bands, 2.4GHz or 5GHz. The 2.4GHz band has been around far longer and is used for everything from cordless phones to Bluetooth devices as well as being used for Wi-Fi. Even your microwave being turned on can have a negative impact. This means there are lots of devices all competing for the same wireless spectrum, causing interference and congestion, which can have a detrimental effect on network performance.

 

 

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Change Your Wireless Channel 

While there are two distinct wireless bands, 2.4GHz and 5GHz, each is broken up into separate channels that can be used. Most routers will be able to select the least congested channel automatically, but sometimes you might find performance improves if you select one manually. An app such as Wi-Fi Analyzer will be able to help identify a good channel to use. The 2.4GHz band has fewer channel options than 5GHz with some of them overlapping and interfering with each other; 5GHz channels do not overlap and there are more of them, which is partially why 5GHz offers better performance.

 

Best wireless routers of 2015

TP-Link Archer C9 (Budget cable router)

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If you’re looking for a cable router (one that will work with ISPs such as Virgin Media) you won’t go far wrong with the TP-Link Archer C9. Not only does it have an attractive design with great wireless transfer speeds, it also won’t break the bank. Its performance outpaces many routers costing twice as much for sheer speed, which is no mean feat.

It’s a dual-band router and performance across both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands left us impressed. There are USB ports for sharing storage or a wireless printer, making the TP-Link Archer C9 a great router all round.

Price when reviewed: £102. For the latest prices see our full TP-Link Archer C9 review.

Modem: None, Wi-Fi standard: 802.11ac, Stated speed: 1,900Mbit/s,USB ports: 1x USB3, 1x USB, Wall mountable: No

Adjust Channel Width for better speeds

Aside from selecting the channel that you use, many routers will also let you change something called Channel Width. On the 2.4GHz band this typically means selecting between 20MHz up to 40MHz, all the way up to 80MHz on the 5GHz band. Most routers will have this set to Auto be default, but sometimes you might find it set to the narrowest (smallest number). This is because the more wireless spectrum you use, the more interference you may suffer.

It might be worth experimenting with settings as a wider channel width often brings with it faster speeds, although this can be at the expense of some wireless range.

802.11ac vs 802.11n

Any router you buy today will support at least 802.11n. It’s a wireless standard that dates back all the way to 2007. In 2013 we saw the introduction of the newer 802.11ac standard, which was a big improvement in terms of speed. With 802.11n you’re limited to a theoretical maximum throughput of 600Mbit/s, whereas 802.11ac can go all the way up to a stratospheric 2,600Mbit/s. Such blistering speeds are purely theoretical, however, and it’s unlikely you’ll ever see anything close but the speed increase is still tangible. You can only use 802.11ac on the 5GHz channel and you’ll need a device or network adaptor that supports it to see the best speeds.

 

Linksys WRT1900AC (Premium cable router)

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The Linksys WRT1900AC might not be the most attractive router in the world (its design is unmistakably that of a router), its performance is top-tier. It’s dual-band, supports 802.11ac and wireless speed performance across both bands was impressive. There are four Gigabit Ethernet ports for your wired devices and a Gigabit WAN for connecting your existing cable modem. You’ll also find a USB3 port as well as an eSATA port if you want to connect external storage and create a simple NAS.

It supports OpenWRT, so it’s also a great choice for those who like tinkering with their router for better performance and more functions. If you’re not one for getting too far under the hood, we liked the easy-to-use standard interface making the WRT1900AC a great cable router for those with a decent budget.

Price when reviewed: £230. For the latest prices see our full Linksys WRT1900AC cable router review.

Modem: None, Wi-Fi standard: 802.11ac, Stated speed: 1,900Mbit/s, USB ports: 1x USB3, 1x eSATA Wall mountable: Yes

 

D-Link DSL-3590L (Mid-range ADSL modem router)

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The D-Link DSL-3590L is another of D-Link’s distinctive cylindrical routers. This one comes with a built-in ADSL modem although you can configure one if its four Gigabit Ethernet ports to operate as a Gigabit WAN if you want to connect the router to your existing cable mode. This makes it particularly versatile if you find yourself changing from an ADSL to a cable ISP or vice versa. The shape and design makes it easy to hide the router out of sight and even if it is on show, it looks inconspicuous.

We liked the two USB ports for sharing media on your network and the clear, easy-to-use web interface but admittedly it wasn’t the fastest router we’ve tested for wireless speeds but it did do well with older 802.11n devices.

Price when reviewed: £157. For the latest prices see our full D-Link DSL-3590L review.

Modem: ADSL2+, Wi-Fi standard: 802.11ac, Stated speed: 1,900Mbit/s, USB ports: 1x USB3, 1x USB, Wall mountable: No

Sky Q Hub (ISP router)

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If you happen to be a Sky customer looking to upgrade to Sky Q, you’ll be pleased to hear that the new Sky Q Hub is impressive as far as ISP routers go. Where the previous Sky Hub lacked the basics like 5GHz, the new model supports everything you’d expect from a modern router. There’s now 802.11ac and MIMO support making it a fully-featured router. Speed and range are also vastly improved.

Price when reviewed: £0. For the latest prices see our full Sky Q Hub.

Modem: ADSL2+, VDSL2, Wi-Fi standard: 802.11ac, Stated speed: 1600Mbit/s, USB ports: 0, Wall mountable: No

 

D-Link DIR-890L (Ultimate cable router)

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The D-Link DIR-890L has one of the most radical router designs we’ve ever seen. A mix between a spaceship and a terrifying scarab creature. With that aside, it’s also one of the best specified routers we’ve seen. It’s tri-band, which is a step up from your typical dual-band routers. This means it has two 5GHz bands and a 2.4GHz band courtesy of its six external antenna.

This makes the DIR-890L an option for people who have a large amount of connected devices in their home, potentially creating a lot of network congestion. With three separate wireless bands, it makes it easier to segregate users and devices so everything is running optimally. With three separate networks it also has a staggering theoretical throughput of 3,200Mbit/s, which is borderline ridiculous. The D-Link DIR-890L is expensive so is only really worthwhile for extreme power users.

Price when reviewed: £228. For the latest prices see our full D-Link DIR-890L review.

Modem: None, Wi-Fi standard: 802.11ac, Stated speed: 3,200Mbit/s, USB ports: 1x USB3, 1x USB, Wall mountable: Yes

 

BT Home Hub 5 (ISP router)

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It might sound a little strange including an ISP router in our list of best routers, considering most people are looking to replace their existing router that comes free from their ISP. But if you have basic requirements, and you’re a BT Broadband customer, the BT Home Hub 5 is surprisingly a very good router. Configuration is pleasingly simple and there’s even a USB port for sharing storage or a printer, something you don’t always get with an ISP router. It’s also dual-band, which again isn’t always something you get from an ISP-provisioned router and performance was a positive surprise. If you only have basic requirements, you might well be worth sticking with the BT Home Hub 5. If you’re interested in using the BT Home Hub 5 with a different ISP we also have this guide.

Get the best out of your BT Home Hub 5 with our settings guide

Price when reviewed: £129. For the latest prices see our full BT Home Hub 5 review.

Modem: ADSL2+/VDSL2, Wi-Fi standard: 802.11ac, Stated speed: 1,300Mbit/s, USB ports: 1x USB, Wall mountable: No

Asus DSL-AC68U (Mid-range ADSL modem router)

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The Asus DSL-AC68U was one of the more expensive ADSL modem routers we tested at the time. Nowadays it’s considerably cheaper but its performance is still great. As it’s an ADSL modem router you can get rid of your existing ADSL modem and cut down on the clutter. You can configure one of the four Gigabit Ethernet ports as a Gigabit WAN to use the router as a cable router with a separate cable modem if you find yourself changing to a cable ISP in the future, which will help future-proof.

There’s a USB3 port that can be used for sharing a printer, storage or even connecting a 3G/4G USB mobile internet dongle as a fall-back option if your home broadband ever goes down. Useful for any internet addicts who can’t bear to be disconnected. We were fond of the DSL-AC68U’s design that is stood upright and doesn’t take up much space. Speeds were good, as was wireless range courtesy of the three external antennas.

Price when reviewed: £200. For the latest prices see our full Asus DSL-AC68U review.

Modem: ADSL2+/VDSL2, Wi-Fi standard: 802.11ac, Stated speed: 1,300Mbit/s, USB ports: 1x USB3, Wall mountable: No