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When Do You Need to Buy a New Router?

An old Wi-Fi router on a desktop
Hannah Stryker / Review Geek
In most cases, you should replace your Wi-Fi router every few years. Anything older than five years come with security risks and speed issues.

They might not be exciting, but they’re one of the most essential pieces of tech. Yes, we’re talking about Wi-Fi routers. As we do everything from working and studying to socializing and gaming using the internet, it’s important to have a good router to handle your network traffic. This leads us to the question, “How do you know when it’s time to replace your router?”

To answer this important query, we explain everything you need to think about when it comes to upgrading your router. We also provide some considerations to keep in mind when you pick up a new one for your home.

What Are Routers and How Do They Differ From Modems?

A NETGEAR modem sits near its box.

You’re not alone if you’re not entirely sure what a router is. Generally speaking, a router is a box that allows wired and/or wireless devices to communicate and use your internet connection. We could go into more detail, but this description is enough for this article.

What about a modem? Many people aren’t sure what this device does and how it differs from a router. This little box connects your home to your internet service provider (ISP). Basically, the modem brings the internet into your home, while a router allows you to connect wirelessly and connect multiple devices. In today’s digital and increasingly wireless world, you need both devices to get online. Occasionally, your ISP may provide a device that serves as both a Wi-Fi router and a modem. We don’t recommend using them for Wi-Fi, and we’ll get into why in a bit.

How Long Do Routers Last?

At a minimum, you should pick up a new router every five years. However, we say “at a minimum” for a reason. If you use lots of smart home gadgets or love picking up the latest Wi-Fi devices, you’ll probably want to upgrade your router more often than that. Specifically, you’ll want to get a newer model every two to three years.

As you know, technology changes quickly, which means you need a router that can keep up. An outdated router won’t give you access to all the features and faster internet speeds that you’ll enjoy with one of the current models. You may also be putting your digital security at risk.

As a side note about security, you want to make sure you’re using the latest Wi-Fi encryption to stay safe online. WPA3-Personal is best for individuals and most home Wi-Fi users, as previous encryption methods are easier to break and aren’t as safe. It does come with some compatibility issues with older devices, though, so many modern routers allow for a hybrid WPA3 and WPA2 password setup.

Are There Signs It’s Time to Upgrade Your Router?

A webpage shows the D-Link product end-of-life list.

In addition to the guidelines listed above, there are other ways to tell if you need to replace your router. The first way is checking to see if your router still receives critical firmware updates. In addition to providing new features, the updates also include security patches. You can think of these updates as digital security guards, keeping you and your data safe.

There are two ways to determine whether your router is still receiving firmware updates.

  1. If you have a router from certain brands you can check your brand’s router end-of-life lists. Asus, D-Link, NETGEAR, Synology, and TP-Link all have these lists.
  2. Use your router’s mobile app to manually check for updates. If your router hasn’t received updates in months, there’s a good chance your device is no longer supported.

Aside from ensuring your router still receives updates, the other way to determine if you need to replace your router is to consider its performance. Even if your router is still getting regular updates, you might notice performance issues.

For example, you may find large downloads take forever to finish or you could notice that you can’t watch Netflix while someone in your home is gaming. You may also note that your Wi-Fi is unreliable or even non-existent in certain parts of your home.

There are a few steps you can take to find out if you’re having performance issues due to your router. You can run a speed test using a tool like SpeedTest.Net. While it isn’t perfect, it can give you a good idea of the speed you’re getting.

You’ll also want to pay attention to your modem. You should make sure that it can support the internet speed you’re paying for and is compatible with your ISP. Most ISPs provide lists of compatible modems online.

Once you’ve checked your speeds and modem, you might still find you’re having issues. In this case, you’ll want to reach out to your ISP. The information you get from them can help you determine whether there’s an issue on their end or your router just can’t keep up. If it’s your router, you’ll want to pick up a new one.

What If Your ISP Provided Your Router?

In some cases, your ISP will have provided your router. If this is true for you, what do you do if your router needs to be replaced?

In general, we recommend replacing a Wi-Fi router from your ISP with your own. Doing so can give you the latest security and the fastest speeds. Additionally, it can save you money in the long run because ISPs typically charge an ongoing fee to use their router. With all these considerations, replacing a router from your ISP with one you purchase just makes sense.

What Should You Consider When Buying a Router?

If you’ve realized your router is past its prime, you might feel a bit overwhelmed by the thought of buying a new one. However, you don’t need to be an expert to select a router that will help you stay secure and enjoy great internet speeds. Just a little bit of information can help you make a good choice.

  • Look for Wi-Fi 6 routers, as this is the latest standard for wireless internet.
  • Consider a mesh network to get the best coverage for your home.
  • Look to brands like NETGEAR, TP-Link, Linksys, and Asus for great performance.
  • Think about considerations like whether you game, stream a lot of content, or have a large family and select a router that’s up for the task.

We’ve compiled a list of our favorite routers. You’ll find everything from a budget-friendly model to options that can support the needs of even the most avid gamers and content streamers. Check out our picks to find your next router:

The 7 Best Wi-Fi 6 Routers

NETGEAR Nighthawk 6Stream AX5400
Best Overall
NETGEAR Nighthawk 6Stream AX5400
TP-Link Archer AX50
Best Budget
TP-Link Archer AX50
NETGEAR Orbi Whole Home Tri-Band Mesh Wi-Fi 6 System
Best Premium
NETGEAR Orbi Whole Home Tri-Band Mesh Wi-Fi 6 System
TP-Link Deco X68
More Affordable Tri-Band Mesh
TP-Link Deco X68
Linksys (WHW0303) Velop Mesh Router
Best Budget Mesh System
Linksys (WHW0303) Velop Mesh Router
Netgear Nighthawk AX12
Best for Large Families
Netgear Nighthawk AX12
Asus ROG Rapture GT-AX11000
Best for Gaming
Asus ROG Rapture GT-AX11000

When you take this information into account before purchasing a new router, you can feel confident that your next device will provide great performance for years to come.

Shannon Flynn Shannon Flynn
Shannon Flynn is a freelance writer for Review Geek. This attorney turned writer has been creating content ranging from blogs to eBooks for nearly a decade. She has written on topics in several industries, including healthcare, retail, and law. However, she has a special interest in writing about tech products, including smart home devices, e-readers, Apple products, and Nintendo gaming. She also has a passion for trying out different apps and all things LEGO. Read Full Bio »