By Kara Reinhardt, Cheapism.com
The boxes that house new wireless routers are littered with cryptic combinations of letters and numbers: 802.11b/g/n, 2.4 GHz, 10/100/1000 Mbps. Bewildered consumers risk buying more bells and whistles than they need. If you don’t spend too much time playing the latest bandwidth-hungry PC games or streaming multimedia on multiple devices, you can get a reliable router for less than $50.
Below are Cheapism’s top picks for affordable wireless routers.
- The Linksys E1200 (starting at $44) is easy to set up, according to online reviews -- a relief for networking novices. Experts declare this router fast enough for basic home use, allowing users to access the Internet on multiple devices throughout the house. (Where to buy)
- The D-Link DIR-605L Cloud (starting at $40) is a simple router that provides a stable wireless signal, reviewers say. What sets it apart is the Mydlink feature, which lets users keep tabs on their wireless networks remotely, via the web or a smartphone app. Users can see all the devices connected to a network, monitor their browsing history, and even block them if necessary. (Where to buy)
- The Rosewill RNX-N300RT (starting at $28) is a bare-bones model that seems to have a somewhat limited range, but it may be all some consumers need. Online reviews point to the practically unbeatable price and many testify to the router’s dependability. (Where to buy)
The performance of any wireless router depends on a variety of factors, and the specs on these budget models will suit some consumers better than others. All three are single-band routers that operate at a frequency of 2.4 GHz, a band crowded by devices such as microwave ovens, cordless phones, and other wireless routers. If you have a lot of electronics or close neighbors that could cause interference, you may want to consider a pricier dual-band router that uses the 5 GHz frequency as well.
While some low-cost routers use the 802.11g wireless standard, all those we picked use 802.11n, the latest to be ratified by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, or IEEE. Like other single-band routers, they have the potential to transfer data at up to 300 megabits per second. However, as a recent Wall Street Journal article explains, any router’s “real-world” performance will be much slower. Experts have clocked these at around 40 to 55 Mbps.
One way to speed things up is to plug a device directly into a router. All the models listed above have four Ethernet ports on the back that support transfer rates of 10 Mbps and 100 Mbps. Some more expensive routers have 10/100/1000 Mbps (or gigabit) ports.
Security is an issue for anyone who shops or banks online -- or just doesn’t want someone else accessing their network and slowing down the connection. The routers on this list support WPA2, which offers better protection than the older WPA and WEP security protocols. They all have firewalls, as well, to block hackers from accessing your computer.
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