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The one thing everyone needs these days is connectivity. Maybe you got a whole whack of new wireless devices over the holidays, and now you need to find a way to connect them to the Internet. You don't want that brand new gear to chug along on a four-year-old router, so we've collected a few wireless home network options to pick up – so those lovely devices can reach out to the world.
But before we start, here are a few digital security must-do to keep in mind, regardless of the device you choose. For starters, when you're setting up the new toy, as well as enabling security (WPA2 is best – do NOT use WEP), be sure to change the SSID (device identifier) from the default, which is often just the brand name. If you don't, anyone snooping the airwaves for a wireless network to break into will have a head start, since hackers know the weaknesses of each product. Also, change the admin password, and disable or secure remote support. These devices all include security – that's table stakes these days – as well as the new Internet addressing scheme, IPv6, and support the latest wireless standard, 802.11ac. All but Apple let you configure parental controls.
D-Link Wireless AC1900 Dual-Band Gigabit Router (DIR-880L)
This router, like the others, is dual-band so it can transmit and receive on both the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands simultaneously. That’s good to have, regardless of whether or not your current devices can use both bands – new additions to your network will more than likely support them. The 2.4 GHz band is crowded, and you get interference from everything from baby monitors and cordless phones to your neighbour’s wireless network. That slows things down at best, and can cause drops in connectivity at worst. The 5 GHz band doesn’t have the range that 2.4 GHz does, but you’ll get much less interference, and that counts for a lot.
D-Link recommends using 2.4 GHz for basic surfing and checking email, and reserving the 5 GHz band for online gaming, video streaming, and file transfers. This assumes, of course, that your devices support both bands; some Internet-enabled TVs, for example, are still stuck in 2.4 GHz-land.
The DIR-880L supports 802.11a/b/g/n/ac standards, so it should be able to talk to pretty much any device, as fast as it’s capable of talking. It also has four 10/100/1000 Gigabit Ethernet ports in case you need wired connections, as well as a USB 2.0 port and a USB 3.0 port to use for attaching shared printers or storage that aren’t network-enabled.
It features QoS (quality of service), which allows you to prioritize traffic, for example, giving preference to streaming video so your movies won’t stutter, a VPN server, VPN pass-through, and a guest mode so you can allow a visitor Internet access without granting him or her full access to your network.
It goes for $189.99 in the Canadian D-Link online store.
NetGear Nighthawk X4 AC2350 Smart WiFi Router (R7500)
The Nighthawk X4 isn’t cheap ($279 U.S.), but it’s designed for people like gamers who need hesitation-free connections at top speed. It is application and device-aware, so it can tell when you’re on your gaming console, or have fired up that multi-player shooter. It also includes an automatic backup app that will back up Windows PCs to a USB hard drive connected to one of its two USB 3.0 ports. There’s also an eSATA port, as well as four Gigabit Ethernet ports for your internal network. Like the D-Link (and indeed most of the routers in this roundup) it can use both 2.4 and 5 GHz bands simultaneously.
Other features include QoS, VPN support, guest network support, and denial-of-service attack prevention. A smartphone app lets you control the device remotely.
TP-LINK Archer C8 – AC1750 Simultaneous Dual-Band Broadband Wireless AC Router
TP-Link is a relatively new player in the Canadian market. Like the first two units, the Archer has four Gigabit Ethernet ports for wired devices, plus one USB 3.0 and one USB 2.0 port for shared printers or storage. You also get QoS, VPN support, and the ability to set up a separate guest network on each band. And if you need to temporarily shut off the wireless network, while keeping the wired one humming, there’s even a button that turns the radio off. Retails for $149.99.
Linksys Smart WiFi Router WRT1900AC
Linksys routers have gone through a rough patch over the past few years, changing ownership twice, and suffering quality issues along the way. Now under the wing of Belkin, things have changed. The company has resurrected the much-loved WRT routers, updated them, and even restored the look and feel so familiar to long-time Linksys customers.
While it’s expensive, the WRT1900AC offers the latest tech: four gigabit networking ports, a USB 3.0 port and a combo USB 2.0/eSATA port, guest account support, VPN Passthrough, and QoS. Find it for $279.99 in the Linksys Canada online store.
Apple Airport Extreme Base Station
While you need an Apple device for administration and setup, the Airport will talk to any device once configured. It has three Gigabit Ethernet ports, and a single USB 2.0 port for a shared printer or hard drive. It provides VPN Passthrough support, guest networks and time-based access controls.
$199 from the Apple Canada online store.
Asus AC2400 RT-AC87U Dual-band Wireless Gigabit Router
Asus may not be the first brand to come to mind when one thinks networking – its monitors and PCs are much more familiar – but it’s a brand well worth looking at. This router is actually ahead of the others in terms of potential (and you pay for that), but bear in mind that both router and client need to be capable of equal speeds to take advantage of the tech.
Even without up-to-date clients, the router offers a lot. You can configure six guest networks, and have half a dozen different QoS settings to choose from (including “other”, which you can tweak yourself). It has a built-in VPN server and print server and anti-malware protection from Trend Micro that, at its highest settings, may disable certain functionality. That’s not a bad thing, since those functions may open doors to the bad guys. There one USB 2.0 port, one USB 3.0 port, and four Gigabit Ethernet ports for your wired network. Like the TP-Link, it boasts an off switch for wireless. It goes for $299.49 at Staples.