These days, WiFi and the internet have become nearly synonymous. The reason for this is simple, cables are annoying. Depending on where your modem is located, making a hardwired connection to your devices may be impossible. This is why it’s key that all of your devices are able to reliably connect to your home network using WiFi.
The best way to make sure you don’t overpay when shopping for WiFi routers is to understand what features and capabilities you need and avoiding units that offer too much extra power or bells and whistles you don’t need. If technical specs make your head spin, don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. Read on to learn more about finding the right inexpensive router for your home.
What to Look for in a Cheap Wireless Router
Having a reliable wireless internet connection comes down to your router. Many wireless routers are offered on the market, but not many of them are cheap and functional at the same time.
A Complete Guide to Wireless Router Terminology
There’s a lot to know when it comes to choosing the perfect wireless router for your home. If you’re not quite sure of the difference between single and dual bands, 802.11a and 802.11b, or N300 and AC1200, read on to learn about key terms that come up when shopping for routers.
Single vs. Dual-Band Frequency
A single frequency router is ideal for having two or three connected devices in a small home or apartment. But to achieve fast speeds and multiple device connectivity, you will want to consider a dual or tri-band router.
Dual-band means that the router has a long-range but slower 2.4Ghz frequency and a short-range but faster 5Ghz band. Most modern devices choose the speedier frequency, which can make it crowded. As such, you will need to decide which devices connect on the 2.4GHz frequency and which connect via the 5GHz by configuring each of your devices.
Understanding the wireless standard will help you know the type of router you want to own.
- 11a and 802.11b: These are the oldest standards in wireless technology. 802.11b conforms to speeds of up to 54 Mbps and can transmit on 5GHz bands. It was created at the same time as the 802.11a, which transmits over 2.4Ghz.
- 11/g: This is an old standard in the consumer category as it supports virtually any equipment. It was built around 802.11a, which operates on the 2.4Ghz frequency, meaning it can also be very slow. It is the least expensive option for modern routers.
- 11n: This standard has increased speeds, and it uses modern tech by combining features of previous standards. It has support across various network gear and devices. This standard uses multiple wireless signals and MIMO technology. It can transmit at speeds of up to 300Mbps and a more extended range.
- 11ac: This standard is on par with today’s network requirements. It is the fastest, offering the ideal signal range. Its best use is for high bandwidth applications as it is also a bit expensive.
- 11ax: Also called WiFi 6, this is the fastest WiFi standard yet.
You will always see the letters n, a, b, g, and ac, accompanied by a number on your router. The letter indicates the WiFi standard, while the number indicates the Mbps speeds. For example, N300, AC1200, etc. Remember, internet speeds in real-life environments will often pale compared to the maximum speeds offered by the router.
RAM and Processor
A dual-core processor is faster than a single-core processor, while a quad-core is much more efficient than dual and single-core processors.
A single-core processor works perfectly for a small home or few devices. But when you want as many devices to operate on your router, you will need to consider a router with a dual or quad-core processor and a high quantity of RAM to allow as many operations to be undertaken by your router without causing delays.
How far can the router transmit signals when putting in a central location of your house or office? The more extended the coverage, the more reliable it is when you want to use WiFi from a comfortable location without moving the router’s position. This feature is essential for big homes and areas where walls interfere with signals.
Multi User-Multi Input Multi Output technology (MU-MIMO) is your router’s ability to transmit wireless data to several users simultaneously. The router uses its antennas more efficiently instead of transmitting to one device before going on to the next. This process increases home throughput and decreases downtime in the process.
Many routers in the budget range do not have a mobile app. But when you find one that does, like the TP-Link AC1200 Smart WiFi Router, you get to access the router’s settings and tools on an app that is better than a web browser. You can see the state of wireless networks, the internet, and the devices connected.
Factors to Consider Before Buying a Wireless Router
Armed with the knowledge to tell a good wireless router from a bad one, your next step is to consider which features matter most to you and which you can ignore.
Ensuring that your router can have firmware updates is a must if you wish to have more features in the future. As companies continue to manufacture new routers, additional features can be built-in, while others can be added through a more straightforward update of the firmware.
You will want to have such features as Quality of Service (QoS), DDOS protection, a powerful firewall, and many others. Such features like DD-WRT and OpenWrt compatability enable customization possibilities. This shows that you can use the router with a couple of devices to give you lots of personalization features.
Ideally, the more antennas you have, the wider the coverage you get from your router. Although this is affected by your environment, knowing the gain is also important. High dBi ratings allow the signals to penetrate obstacles like walls and closets and still maintain a stable connection with your device.
A minimum of 5dBi rating is acceptable but don’t keep yourself from getting a router with antennas rated to a 7dBi when you want further range and coverage. Also, it’s good to consider removable antennas as you can replace them with higher-gain antennas.
Wired Connectivity Options
WiFi is great, but so is having a wired connection. Having Ethernet and USB ports gives you more flexibility with a router. You can connect your TV, laptop, or printer directly to the router when you want superfast data transfer rates. Gigabit Ethernet ports provide faster rates at up to 1,000 Mbps than fast Ethernet ports that can manage only 100 Mbps.
Installation and Configuration
Some routers can be a pain to set up and configure. We have picked models that we believe are easy to install. But if you are still having problems setting up a TP-Link Router, here’s a video with some simple instructions.
The user interface is also another consideration as it dictates whether the setup will be smooth or challenging. TP-Link, ASUS, and NETGEAR are known to have intuitive user interfaces, but you have to take your time around the TRENDnet router.
Every wireless connection needs a high-level of security. WiFi Protected Access (WPA and WPA2) are the common protocols that you should look for in a router. There’s also WPA3, which was launched in January 2020 for advanced WiFi protection.
Never at any time go for a router with WEP security only, as it is dated and will probably be hacked as soon as you set a new password.
Parental Controls and Guest Network Access
When you have visitors around, the last thing you want is a breach in your internet security or other technological snags surrounding your wireless network. That’s why it’s important that you have a guest access network available on your router.
You will be able to maintain your privacy and share files that will not be available on the guest network.
As a parent, you will also want to protect your kids from accessing sites with mature content and even the risk of meeting people who could potentially lure them into danger. With parental controls, their devices will be a form of entertainment and learning only.
Don’t let upscale prices keep you from enjoying high-speed wireless network connections. With any of the routers on this list, you’ll be able to stream, browse, play games, and connect all your devices to your heart’s content.