Home Network Hardware Recommendations

I have a lot of people ask me questions about what they should be buying to upgrade their home networks. It’s become something of a rote topic for me, so what better place to put it than here?

This is primarily focused at Comcast users, though you’re likely to be able to apply it on any cable provider’s home network. You’ll see why in a minute.

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.

You’re paying at least $7 a month to rent the thing. 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.

Next, your router.

No joke, a router can make or break your home network. Take it from someone who has a stack of old Linksys WRT54Gs laying around the house, you don’t know what you’re missing. It used to be that we had to address your wired network speed as well as the wireless, but nowadays everybody and their mother has gigabit Ethernet for wired networking, so we can concentrate on what really matters to most people.

Cheaper, current-generation option

I run an Asus RT-N66U at home. It’s blazingly fast and can handle everything you throw at it. The important part is that it runs both 2.4GHz and 5GHz networks simultaneously, covering Wireless-G and N. I have two networks broadcasting in the house, Lightspeed and LudicrousSpeed (for when Lightspeed is too slow). The faster 5GHz devices go on LudicrousSpeed, and everyone else goes on Lightspeed. Keeps everybody happy. You can also very easily reflash the firmware that it came with with Tomato Open Firmware. It adds some settings that you may be interested in if you tinker.  The N66U was about $200 when it first came out, but now it’s around the $125 mark, and it’s worth the money. That said, it has a big brother.

More expensive, futureproof option

The next generation of wireless is already here, and it’s Wireless-AC. The Asus RT-AC68U is the best in the business. Theoretical speeds of 1900Mbps, which means it’s as fast as using a wired connection…in theory. If you don’t buy hardware often and you’re in the market, go for this one now. As I mentioned it’s more expensive than the RT-N66U, by about $100. Generally you’ll find these around the $220 mark for now, but it’s got all of the latest hardware, including USB ports to hang a hard drive off of. I’m not bothering with a picture. It looks exactly like the N66U, but a little chunkier.

Really expensive, future nostalgia option

Linksys (who were originally their own company, then got bought by Cisco, then sold to Belkin) is releasing a new AC router, the WRT 1900AC. It is…simply insane. It’s not out in the US yet, but it’s going to retail for between $249 and $299, and it’s the fastest thing known to man. I’m not saying it’s the one everyone needs to buy, but if you’re a bleeding edge speed freak set on flooding your network with packety goodness, this is it.

Summary time!

Owning your hardware gives you two things: the best performance, and the best price. They’ll pay for themselves in a year or two of renting. Once you pick them up, you’ll wonder why you didn’t do it earlier.

If you have any questions, or want other kinds of recommendations, leave a comment and I’ll add to this article.

Edit: HEY! I updated this. Check it out.

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