Before You Buy a Wireless Internet Router

Kids installing a wifi router

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All wireless Internet routers might appear very much alike at first glance. In fact, many different models of wireless routers exist each with their own unique attributes. Follow the checklist below to help decide which brand of wireless network router you should buy.

Speed Ratings

Wireless routers typically advertise their speed in megabits per second (Mbps). The first consumer Wi-Fi models offered 11 Mbps, followed by mid-range 802.11g routers at 54 Mbps, 802.11n routers anywhere from 150 Mbps to 600 Mbps, with 802.11ac routers now offering above 1 Gbps.

You may be tempted to only look at those routers with the highest Mbps rating. However, consider that the actual performance you will achieve in practice typically averages much, much lower than the maximum rating shown on the package. Furthermore, even high-speed routers cannot directly speed up your ​Internet connection. The extra speed boost your network gets from a faster router may not be worth the extra cost.

Popular Models

An old adage says: "There is safety in numbers." Odds are, if many people are buying a particular product, it's serving a useful need. Top selling network gear tends to be current generation technology but not cutting edge. If you tend to play it conservative and run with the pack, check sales rankings at online retailers to start building your wireless Internet router short list.


Wireless Internet router manufacturers always provide a warranty package together with their equipment. The length and terms of these warranties vary widely. A better warranty may indicate a manufacturer more committed to supporting their products, while a lesser warranty could indicate a somewhat lesser standard of product quality or reliability. Always consider wireless router warranties when making your purchase decision.

Feedback from Other Consumers

Countless consumers post opinions of their particular wireless Internet router to blogs, message boards, retailer Web sites and elsewhere online. A confusing mix of positive and negative anecdotes awaits shoppers looking at almost any specific model. Due to the complexity of home networking today, any given brand of wireless router that performs flawlessly in one person's home network could fail miserably in yours. Bottom line: Don't let someone else's experience, good or bad, sway your decision too much.

Brand Selection

Years ago, it was commonplace to purchase external network adapters together with routers. Networking vendors sometimes added proprietary extensions to their products that resulted in slightly higher performance when brand matched. Vendors may also more thoroughly test compatibility with their own equipment.

If you own some consumer electronic gear already, brand matching your Wi-Fi router might still make sense. Otherwise, research the available brands and pick one you trust.​

Size and Style

In many households, wireless Internet routers are installed in a visible central area of the residence. Purchasing a stylish router can make this an attractive addition to the decor that you will be proud to show family and friends. Routers vary in both size and shape. If you plan to install the router in a confined space, ensure you pick one with a suitable form factor. Small business owners and others interested in portability may likewise consider the class of travel router products.

Cost and Budget

Manufacturers sometimes offer rebates or other discounts from the full retail price of their wireless routers. Like an automobile, even last year's models tend to offer all of the essential features you need at a discount. Setting a budget and staying with it will help you avoid buyer's remorse. Shop around and you're more likely to land a good value for your money.