Home Network 2015: Who Wants Wireless AC?

So a year ago I posted a little article about my recommendations for home networking hardware. In a year, there’s been some movement on what I recommend. Funny how that works, huh? Where applicable, I’m going to copy and paste the stuff that hasn’t changed. It’ll save everybody a lot of time, because to start off…

First off, your modem.

Never, ever use their modem. That goes double for a modem/router combination. No matter what they say, they’re never going to match what you’ll get by paying for a quality piece of hardware. This rule has a caveat, though: if you’re using their home telephone service, like Comcast Voice, you’ll need to at least use their VoIP modem. You can buy your own but they’re hard to come by. There’s the Arris TM722G, the Arris TM822G, and that’s about it. I don’t know enough to recommend any of them.

If you’re a Comcast customer, you’re now paying $10 a month to rent the modem. Generally you’re getting whatever the tech has on the truck. In my last case that was a very cheap Cisco/Linksys modem. It was not reliable. The Motorola SB6141 is exactly what I have, and the reason is that it’s capable of over 300Mbps service to your house. I can go into details about channel bonding and the like, but it’s the fastest thing at the best price. It usually hovers around $90. You can sometimes get it for $70 when it goes on sale at Amazon. It’s still the most solid modem out there.

Next, your router.

TP-LINK Archer C7 AC1750

TP-LINK Archer C7 AC1750

A router can still make or break your network, but remarkably the AC routers have come way-the-heck down in price. The new bang for your buck router is (remarkably) the TP-LINK Archer C7 AC1750. It’s got really great ratings from Amazon and Newegg, and the price? $90. Absolutely unbeatable. The V2 version (which is what should be shipping regularly now) is compatible with OpenWRT.

If you want something that’s a bit more open (Tomato, etc), the new version of my favorite workhorse is available. The Asus RT-AC68U is about $200 and well worth the money. That said, it’s hard to beat the ridiculous price on the TP-LINK. The RT-N66U is still a solid choice, and is available around the $125 range.

Oh, what’s that? You want the bleeding edge?

Nighthawk X6So above and beyond the AC1750-level routers, there are the big boys. The monster routers that can handle anything and everything. We’re talking tri-band routers in the AC3200 class of equipment. The king of that castle, for now anyway, is the Netgear Nighthwawk X6 AC3200. This puppy is amazing. When we say “tri-band” what we really mean is this: your G devices live on the 2.4GHz band, but if you try and use N on 2.4GHz alongside the G devices, you’re going to bottleneck your speed down to G’s standards. Tri-band is literally three transmitters: one that segregates G devices to 2.4, a 5GHz channel to put your N devices on, and another 5GHz one for your AC devices. Why? Because the same thing that happens when you make N and G coexist happens when AC and N coexist: slowdown! So you put about $300 into this puppy and and you’re set for a while.

 

Summarization time!

Modems are modems. If you’ve already got an SB6141, you’re set for the foreseeable future (at least until Comcast Gigabit shows up around here). If you want cheap, get a TP-LINK. More money than you know what to do with? Hit up the Nighthawk. Any of the four routers I mentioned can’t be a bad choice, it’s entirely up to your wallet.

Maybe I’ll do one sooner than a year from now, too!

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