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I've looked into buying a router, rather than renting from my ISP, multiple times but have no idea what the differences are between a bottom of the line router or a top of the line router.

I would guess the wireless signal strength would be one of the main things but how can I tell by looking at the box what the differences are even for this? I would be using this for general home use as well as gaming.

  • I've closed this question because it's more of a general advice-type question, which are no longer in scope. – Undo Nov 2 '15 at 17:32
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Security

  • Can the router be configured such that future configuration changes can only be made from the LAN and not from the WAN?
  • Is the router protected from XSS/XSRF attacks which could let websites visited by computers on your LAN get control over the router?
  • Does the vendor provide firmware security updates, and are they easy to install? Is it also easy to downgrade to a previous firmware version?

IPv4 NAT

I guess more than 99% of users currently need NAT for IPv4 traffic, you can expect pretty much all routers to support this, but the quality varies.

  • How many connection tracking entries can the router handle?
  • What happens when the limit is exceeded?
  • Can the router be configured to forward ports from WAN to LAN?
  • Can the router be configured to forward protocols without port numbers from WAN to LAN?
  • Can the DHCP server on the router be configured with both static and dynamic assignments?
  • Can the DHCP server on the router be configured to be hand out DNS server addresses of your own choice?

IPv6

Current trends indicate that the majority of users will be using IPv6 three years from now. If you intend to use the router for more than three years, you are likely going to need IPv6.

  • Does the router support it at all?
  • Can the router be configured over IPv6? (This is not critical, but it can be very convenient).
  • Can the router be configured with static IPv6 on the WAN?
  • Can the router be configured to act as DHCPv6 client on the WAN?
  • Can the DHCPv6 client request a prefix delegation from the ISP?
  • Can the router forward packets in hardware? (If not, the CPU may become a bottleneck)

Wireless

  • Can it be configured with dual SSID?
  • Can it be configured with a guest segment which cannot communicate with wired LAN ports?
  • Can it measure ambient noise level across the frequency band and automatically choose the channel with least noise?

Keep in mind that if reliably low latency and low packet loss is needed, WiFi will never beat a wired connection.

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Kasperd's answer is good, but there are some other critical things to look for:

Reliability Many routers have software that is so poor that it crashes, sometimes as often as every few days. Some routers are made poorly and the hardware fails after a few months or a year.

Compatibility Some routers have compatibility issues with some devices.

Either of these can make your nice new router useless.

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