Here’s how to tell when it’s time to replace your old wireless router.
Overall performance and reliability should be the most influential drivers of this decision, which are impacted by variables such as the router’s age, overall physical condition, the wireless and security technologies it utilizes, and numerous other factors. The list below summarizes the key indicators that you would probably do well to upgrade your old router.
The Bountiful Wifi High Power wireless router (pictured below) was popular in 2007 through 2011. It does not support wireless N speeds. So consider replacing it, if you’re running it but want much improved data rates.
Original router is more than three to five years of age. With the rapid pace of advancement of Wifi connectivity technologies these days, like tablet computers and gaming consoles, wireless routers can quickly become obsolete, with newer routers quickly outpacing the original one’s performance; speed, coverage, adjustable controls, and so on.
Status lamps no longer light or are too dim to see. Nowadays, routers feature the long-lasting LEDs as either single or multi-color status lamps. So if these have burned out or become very dim, this may mean that your old router has many, many hours of operation behind it, and either will soon fail catastrophically, or has begun to suffer the poor performance from degraded electronic components. Remember that LEDs are solid state devices, just like the transistors, integrated circuits, and microprocessors inside that drive Wifi performance. So, if the LEDs are noticeably degrading, then these other internal components may also be walking on their last legs.
Discolored plastic case. A Wifi router may show warp, fade, or discolorations on its case and panels. This means either that the router has overheated sometime during its life (in which case, its proper functioning may have been compromised), or simply that it’s been in operation for quite some time.
Does not offer dual-band operation. Most older routers operate exclusively in the 2.4 Ghz. radio band. Unfortunately, that range of frequencies is also occupied by cordless phones, Bluetooth devices, microwave ovens, and baby monitors. 2.4 Ghz. is quite crowded these days; particularly in the close quarters of urban living.
Does not support Gigabit Ethernet. Routers prior to roughly 2012, provided only 10/100 Mbps Ethernet ports on their LAN side, and some of them featured only a 10 Mbps port on the WAN side. But with today’s typical home Internet service approaching a hundred megabits per second and beyond, it’s important replace your old, and much slower router, so that you can experience the faster Internet speeds on all your attached devices that you’re paying for. Replace your wireless router if any of its ports are slower than 1 Gbps.
No recent firmware updates available. If you have upgraded your original router to the latest available firmware from the manufacturer’s web site, and that version release date is more than three years ago, then the manufacturer is likely no longer providing updates for that router, and will likely stop supporting it altogether if they haven’t already.
Weaker Wifi signal. Over several years of constant up-time, a wireless router’s signal strength often declines; power supply output can fall, RF amplifier circuits often degrade due to constant heating, with increasing age and number of hours of use. Further, even if your old Wifi access point hasn’t lost power, the newer models incorporate better antenna design, and many units feature adjustable output power, with the highest output setting being significantly higher than, say, 2007 vintage routers
Frequent loss of Internet connection. With increasing frequency, you may lose the Internet connection. While you might still be able to log on to your router wirelessly, surfing the web may not work at all, or be noticeably slow.
Faster Wifi standards not supported by your current router. Every several to seven years, it seems like there’s a new 802.11 wireless protocol that speeds way past the earlier standards. For instance, the maximum data rate for 802.11b, popular in the late 1990s and early 2000s, was 11 mega bits per second. 802.11g, popular in the first decade of the 21st century, supports speeds of up to 54 mega bits per second. 802.11n, popular from roughly 2008 to 2013, supplies data speeds of up to 300 Mbps. Then finally, there’s the new 802.11ac, with data rates up into the gigabits per second range. This rapidly gaining speed trend is likely to continue for the foreseeable future. So if you want to be sure that your router is speeding along at or close to the state-of-the-art data rate, then you’ll want to update your router periodically.
Older routers not as secure. Given the ease with which today’s computer hackers are able to penetrate “secure” wireless networks, and given the grave extent of the damage they can do once they get in, you’ll want to keep your router up to date in terms of the security protocols it uses. If your home network has been hacked, and you’re certain that you properly configured its security options for the maximum protection that it can offer, then it’s time for a router upgrade. A router that supports anything less than the WPA2 secure network scheme, should be replaced immediately.
Generally, your old router just isn’t cutting the mustard anymore. Maybe you’ve noticed excessive stuttering in your favorite live video or audio streams. Or, connections to Internet radio stations fail more frequently than you believe they should. Or, your other electronic appliances easily interfere with your wireless connections. Strides are being made all the time to reduce occurrences of many of these wireless shortcomings. So if you find yourself frustrated by these symptoms more than a few times a month, then it may be time to replace your Wifi router.
We bought the Linksys WRT300N Wifi router (pictured next) in the spring of 2007. It lasted until the summer of 2015, when it suddenly stopped accepting Wifi connection requests. We should have replaced it sooner than we did. But it was in an environment that required nothing faster than Draft 802.11n.
If at least three of the above criteria describe the appearance, behavior, and composition of your current router, then we suggest that you seriously consider replacing it with one in which none of the list items above accurately describe it. By a current state-of-the-art wireless router / access point to address the above list of problems and limitations of older units.
- 2015-01-13: Added more appropriate tags.
- 2015-10-01: Added appropriate tags.
- 2015-07-19: Originally published.