Wireless Router Buying Guide
This guide is aimed at those who don't necessarily know anything about buying routers. If you already have a good awareness feel free to skip over the bits you already know.
There are lots of wireless standards, you can find out more about them in our what is wireless n guide, but for our purposes you should make sure that the router you are looking to purchase is "full wireless N". Anything else (for instance "wireless N draft 2") and you are buying out-dated technology, and don't let that smooth-talking salesman tell you any different!
If you need to be able to use older wireless networking items with your new router, for instance you have older wireless networking cards or an old wireless laptop, then you should make sure that your new router also covers the older wireless b and wireless g standards. Most do, but it is worth checking.
We won't repeat our router types article, but do make sure you choose the right sort of router you need for your internet connection. It can make a significant difference to price and which models are suitable. Do also be sure to check model numbers, some manufacturers call their models the same thing except for one letter in the model number indicating the router type.
Ensure your router has WPA2 security built in. This is the most secure and also one of the easier standards to set-up. There are lots of different easy or one-touch set-up methods out there, but nearly all modern routers are fairly easy to set-up and these won't make a big difference to you. Remember - if you need to use your router with older wireless networking items, you may want to make sure that the router also has WEP and WPA security.
There are still differences in signal strength, speed, etc between different routers, however, with the improved wireless n standard these are often fairly marginal and for most people won't be noticable in every day use. That said if you are a hardcore gamer or need the best wireless performance for some other reason, then be sure to check our router reviews to find the cream of the crop.
Now that most manufacturers are providing high specification, good quality routers, your choice of router may come down to the looks of the router itself. Don't forget that for the best wireless performance and coverage you probably want to keep your wireless router somewhere fairly central and visible. Saving a few pounds but having to look at an ugly grey box with flickering lights every day may not be the best deal. The good news is that most manufacturers are adding a great deal more design flair into their routers (are you listening D-Link?) Make sure to choose a router you would be happy for the neighbours to see in your hallway.
Wireless is all well and good, but sometimes you'll want to connect to your router using network cables. The network ports used on a router may limit its speed, there are three main types of port that the routers will have: ethernet (10Mbps), fast ethernet (giving 100Mbps speed), and gigabit ethernet (giving 1000Mbps speed). Gigabit is the fastest and gives the maximum throughput between wired and wireless connections. Fast ethernet is cheaper but Gigabit ethernet is better. If you're going to be using wired kit with your router then we strongly suggest you find a router with gigabit. Our reviews and specifications will tell you which speeds each router has.
Some routers offer something called dual band. Traditionally routers have used the 2.4GHz radio frequency, however this has been getting increasingly crowded with cordless phones, baby monitors, and a host of other devices. So, some manufacturers have introduced dual band routers, which use the 2.4GHz spectrum and also the much clearer 5GHz spectrum. There are a variety of different ways this has been implemented, so you should check carefully. Some routers allow one frequency or the other to be used, some allow both to be used by different devices at the same time (often called simultaneous dual band) and some allow both frequencies to be used at the same time by the same device (theoretically doubling the rate you can transfer data). Most manufacturers use different terminology for the different implementations, so there is no easy way to tell other than reading the small print. Dual band comes at a price premium, but if you suffer from interference or interruptions to service with your current router then the clearer 5GHz channel could be for you. Do check your network card or dongle is also dual-band though, otherwise you'll only be using half of your router.