Router recommendations in 2022
Hello everyone, I'm going to move to a new apartment and doing full time home office while my wife is doing part home office, so I'm looking to improve my internet connectivity. I already plan to get the 400 mbps down fiber cable plan. So, I have to be honest that routers is one of those topics that I should know more than I should but don't, so I'm not sure what should I expect and the features I want or don't need.
Some time ago, I discovered and bookmarked the amazing website smallnetbuilder which at the time I thought, I would just trust his thorough reviews and choose the best router within my budget. Sadly, the website seems abandoned now, so I'm not sure if there is something new on the market or if the routers on his "Best" rank, are still valid options. By the way, I don't really game online.
My requirements are:
- 150€ budget, but willing to go to 200€ if really worth it;
- Mesh compatibility, just in case I need it in the future;
- Hopefully very low packet loss maybe 0-0.5%;
- Compatibility/support with open source firmware;
- Maybe VPN support (not sure, if worth it);
- 2.5Gb LAN ports would be nice for future-proofing, but I think this is not possible without going over the budget;
- Something that I don't know and never heard about, but you would really recommend it to me :).
After a first glance, the Asus RT-AX58U looks nice. Just not sure about only having two 5GHz streams and no LAN port aggregation.
dumb question(s) (sorry): Will all the routers work with my ISP modem? Or is it normal to always check with the ISP first before buying?
Over the summer, I completely redid my home network. Used an old PC to make a pfSense box as the main router/firewall, complete with VLANs and Suricata for intrustion detection/prevention. For network appliances, I tried out both Mikrotik and Ubiquiti. I have two hAP ac^2s that serve as kinda the main backbone and access points, and two EdgeRouter-Xs for edge switches.
Mikrotik is fantastic bang for the buck, and they're fantastically capable. But their user interfaces are bizarre as heck and their documentation is a quick trip to crazy town. But if you learn how to use them, they are beasts. It's just... a big if. Honestly, it's not so bad if you keep it simple. But if you ever end up wanting to do VLANs, be prepared for a rabbit hole. (I'm currently working on writing up some extensive explanations to fill in the gaps.)
Ubiquiti is comparable to Mikrotik, but their interface is much more intuitive and their documentation actually explains things. The only problem is that they can be difficult to get a hold of at MSRP because they get swooped by scalpers and resold at ridiculous markup.
pfSense is absolutely amazing. It's free, it's incredibly well documented, it's capable of all kinds of things (I host a VPN so that I can access my home network from anywhere, for example), and it can be installed on dang near anything. It can serve very well as a main router, but you'll likely still need access points.
Of these, I'd say that Ubiquiti is probably the least DIY of the bunch. They still have a learning curve compared to typical consumer grade stuff, but it's a forgiving one that if you put the time into learning it will reward you with potential far beyond the normie stuff.
I'd be happy to go into more depth on any of that. I've been planning on writing up articles on all of them eventually, but if there's anything in here you'd be interested in knowing more about I'd be happy to elaborate.
I'll preface all of this advice by saying it's USA-centric. Pick and choose most relevant bits.
So for cable, there are two distinct bits: The modem and the router. ISP-rented units tend to combine both functions in one, so if you wish to provide your own router it could take some fiddling with the ISP's settings to get it working right, I reccomend checking your ISPs website for a "compatible modem list." Out my way a cable modem rental from ISP is $15 a month, so purchasing your own is a moneysaver inside a year...shorter if you go used. The modem is what converts the signal on the cable/fiber to Ethernet.
Any Ethernet router should work connected to a cable modem (possibly after changing settings on modem). There's so many possibilities for setting up a home network its mind boggling. Almost anything with two networking methods (wired or wireless) can become a router (or with Linux, a mesh node)....sometimes even 2.4 and 5ghz network radios can be seperated as such. After that, you can add wireless access points, or a mesh, or a switch for more wired connections. This route is labor intensive, but can be quite cheap if you have lots of old hardware lying around.
However, for a more off-the-shelf solution, pretty much any router that supports 5 GHz AC and WPA2 will provide a pretty decent experience, especially if you're not doing full symettrical 1gbps internet.
I'm still very much loving my Linksys WRT 1900AC. They can be had on-sale or used for well under $100 now. Works pretty well with OpenWRT (some bugs, WPA3 broken), and that buys a lot of extra flexibility for filehosting and VPNs if desired.
Packet drops are usually going to be a function of your wireless signal strength, so if you have a lot of drops in areas you need quality internet a mesh or extra access points might make sense.
I heard (from Linus tech tips I think) that it is better to go the switch and access point instead of a single router. the individual components do what they are built for better than the single hybrid unit. I don't know how pricing compares. I bought a wifi router a few years ago and haven't needed to replace it.
Seconding this. Absolutely worth it splitting the hardware. I used to burn through wifi/routers about one a year because they'd run so hot cranking the wifi strength up to reach the whole house, and my wifi was still patchy as fuck.
Now I have a dirt cheap TP-Link VDSL router (I think this one) which does the internet and DHCP, and a slightly nicer dedicated access point which is wired to the router to handle the wifi. I went for a TP-Link (this one) because it was cheap, and I have lots of other TP-Link hardware so I thought they'd play nicely together with less effort from me. Not sure if that's the case. It might make setup marginally easier. Oh, it's ceiling mounted too, which made a big difference in improving coverage.
Bonus of this is you can pull the antennas off the router and stash it in a cupboard somewhere out of sight. The only visible networking in my house is the wireless AP on the ceiling of the kitchen, and that's a slim white box on a white surface.
Extra bonus, you can upgrade wifi or router individually. At some point I might want whatever the next wifi speed is, or I might want fibre to my house or whatever and instead of replacing everything, I can just replace the part which needs changing.
My wife does full-time work from home and her office has a dedicated wifi AP which is also hard-wired to the router. This means we can lock down her wifi harder than our house network (which loads of people have the password for, and there's various IoT devices and so on) to keep her laptop more secure (she deals with sensitive information sometimes), and I can easily prioritise traffic from that ethernet cable so her Zoom calls don't get choppy while I'm downloading whatever pointless crap I'm doing.
Previously I had a secondhand commercial-grade Unifi access point which meant I could support up to 250 concurrent clients in my kitchen and I got wifi signal on my phone a couple of hundred metres down the road from my house. They do say there's no kill like overkill..
Strongly seconding (thirding?) this. You can get Ubiqiti Unifi access points for cheaper than you’d think, and (particularly since OP mentioned open source firmware) pairing one of those with an €80 single board computer or used laptop will run absolute rings around the hardware you’d get even in an expensive “gaming” router. The CPU, RAM, and software in consumer routers can be surprisingly lacking for the job sometimes, because 99% of customers aren’t specialist enough for it to be a selling point so they get away with cutting corners. Be aware that the raspberry pi isn’t the brilliant option it may initially appear for this - some fairly complex IO bottlenecks at play.
@alcappuccino there are some potential gotchas to be aware of around ISP provided hardware depending whether you’ll have fibre to the premises (i.e. an actual optical patch cable in your house) or “cable” in the TV distribution sense of the word (DOCSIS, usually a coaxial cable in your house, more common in America but still used in Europe too). Happy to go into more specifics on that in the morning if you know which it will be?
So would the setup chain for something with split hardware be like this?
Modem or ONT -> computer as router (running pfsense, for instance) -> network switch for ethernet connections -> ethernet to access points and hardwired connections
I'm pretty happy with my current router and network since my place is one level and not that large, but want to have an idea for the future.
Yup, pretty much exactly that. I have a four port NIC in the pfsense box, so my config has three devices directly coming off that (switch for untrusted devices like IoT hubs and other general connected hardware, switch for trusted devices like computers and NAS, and an access point), but you could easily get the same result with a managed switch in the setup you described, or just be less paranoid about isolating devices than I am.
The reason I asked about cable/fibre specifically is that I've seen setups in the past that required a specific integrated cable modem & router with no bridge mode support, which leads to a messy double NAT situation and general all around hassle if you want to use your own router. Fibre tends to come with a more straightforward separate ONT and/or the ability to just use an SFP module directly, which avoids that problem entirely.
Are you looking for a router/AP combo (that is, does it need to do WiFi?)
Consumer networking equipment is pretty much garbage. Routers are particularly bad because they basically don’t have support, never get updated, and essentially continue to accumulate security exploits as time goes on.
I personally ended up choosing AmpliFi since they are Ubiquiti’s relatively new consumer brand. They get updated all the time and they work fantastically. They are also really easy to manage over their app.
The only thing is they aren’t terribly bleeding edge. Their Alien router is the only one that supports Wi-Fi 6, and does not support 6E or 7. And if you want to do mesh networking you will have to buy a matched pair ahead of time. It’s not even a new router design; iirc it first came out in 2018 or so.
But I don’t have a much better recommendation to be honest.
My current setup is working well, but it's the first time I've had a really acceptable home network, and I'm almost $1000 in, including electrical work. It's ridiculous, people shouldn't have to pay hundreds for a decent home network.
Just to be clear, even with my reservations I still recommend going with an AmpliFi router, especially the Alien. The one router was more than enough to completely cover the modest 3 bedroom house we live in all the way to the driveway. Almost everyone’s devices connect via Wi-Fi and there plenty of bandwidth for everyone.
I currently use a compatible self-purchased modem to replace the ISP one, so I don't have to rent it. That then goes into a Ubiquiti Edgerouter-X which handles all the routing. Plugged into that are my main desktop PC and a Ubiquiti Unifi Access Point. I then have a secondary AP at the other end of the house that meshes with the first.
I have been quite happy with this setup and have had almost zero downtime in 3-5 years' time. If I have had any issues, it's been my ISP's fault or something upstream from my modem.
For additional power, configuration, versatility, and simply just for fun :) I'm in the process of configuring a pfsense/opnsense system to replace the Edgerouter-X
Consumer hardware is indeed garbage as others have said. You may find the occasional exception but often it may not be worth the cost.
I also have an Edgerouter-X.
For context it's also worth mentioning that the combination of an Edgerouter X and a U6 Lite comes to a total of $160, and if you need the extra WiFi speed/range swapping to a U6 Pro brings it to $210 total - pricing is surprisingly favourable even against the consumer oriented hardware that most people are used to.
Good point- yes if you're willing to put in a bit of extra work and get hands dirty (honestly it's not that difficult these days, plenty of good guides for setting up routers+APs like this- heck I originally set mine up using helpful info in an Amazon review of all places!) it's actually pretty favorable financially to go this route
And very modular- if you decide you need another AP or want to swap APs or whatnot, having it separate gives you way more flexibility. The ER-X is a pretty capable and versatile router for $50, far more than any consumer router will ever be
I wasn't going to comment, but I saw you were considering Asus. I do not have the AX589U, but I have an Asus Zenwifi setup. I have 2 AX (XT8) units and three of the AX Mini (XD4) units. I am not a fan. One of the XT8 units is currently a brick. The interface is kind of garbage. Some of the default settings ended up causing disconnects that were a bit of work to track down and fix. The network has been very finicky and at the price that I paid I wanted it to be a lot more painless; I was looking for out-of-the-box simplicity, and could have had something that required a fair amount of effort for the same price that was significantly better. I have regressed the firmware to a different and more stable version where things work fairly well, but I did not want to have to think about things like "which firmware is good".
That said, the coverage is very good - we get full good coverage across the whole house with the current setup, though admittedly, the second set of three minis was overkill. I only needed one more unit than I had, but three minis were the same price as one full sized unit. The coverage area is a significant size - well over the full size of our house. There are some nice features included, like parental monitoring, timing out devices at particular times, etc.
Overall, at this price point, I would generally recommend getting something more commercial and just dealing with it.