Being the person in charge of the Networking category, I've received many e-mails asking what my current personal router is, and how often I change it.
Even though I've worked with many routers -- in fact, I have reviewed most of the existing Wi-Fi routers on the U.S. market -- I don't change my home router very often. This is mostly because programing a router can be a tedious task, and I use a lot of different applications and services with many clients, all of which require different settings in the router's firmware.
That said, since the Wireless-N (802.11n) standard was introduced in 2007, I've used just about five Wi-Fi routers. Most of them them have served me very well over the years and I still have them all, except for one that was broken during a move.
The following is the list of those routers and how they've worked out for me. Note that while I consider most of these to be excellent routers, they are not the only excellent routers on the market. For more choices, check out my regular picks here. Also, don't forget to read more on the basics of home networking.
D-Link DIR-655 Xtreme N Gigabit Router
The D-Link DIR-655 was one of the first Wi-Fi routers on the market that supported the new 802.11n (Wireless-N) protocol, and I bought it almost immediately when it shipped in 2007. It was my first 802.11n router. At the time, Wireless-N was still in draft state and was often referred to as Draft-N. There were a few revisions of Draft-N before the standard was finally finalized and ratified in 2009, at which point I officially reviewed the D-Link DIR-655.
The DIR-655 is a single-band router that offers a Wi-Fi signal only in the 2.4GHz frequency band. What I loved about it was the fact that it supported Gigabit Ethernet, and had an excellent Web interface that made programing it a very easy job. It was also one of only a few routers at the time that had a USB port to support a printer or any other USB device. Overall, it was an excellent buy. The good news is the router is still available today, and costs much less than what I paid for it more than six years ago. Read the full review of the D-Link DIR-655 Xtreme N Gigabit Router.
D-Link DGL-4500 GamerLounge Xtreme N Gaming Router
I switched to the DGL-4500 GamerLounge in late 2008, mostly for gaming reasons. It was the first router on the market that came with a customized Quality of Service (QoS) feature, in this case called GameFuel, that automatically prioritized Internet traffic for online games. With my DSL connection at the time that was capped at just 1.5Mbps, I thought I needed something of its kind, and it seemed to work out pretty well. Unfortunately, with the few first versions of its firmware the router would periodically reset during heavy traffic, which proved to be a serious problem for online gaming. Later, D-Link released firmware that fixed the problem and made it a very good router, but by then I had already switched back to the DIR-655.
The DGL-4500 was also one of a few routers on the market that offered selectable dual-band, meaning it can work in either the 5GHz band or 2.4GHz band at a time, making its support for the 5GHz band kind of useless at the time, since most Wi-Fi clients only worked in the 2.4GHz band. Read the full review of the D-Link DGL-4500 GamerLounge Xtreme N Gaming Router.
I switched to the Asus RT-N56U in early 2011, and it's my first true dual-band router. It supports the popular dual-stream setup of the Wireless-N standard and offers 300Mbps speed on both bands simultaneously.
The Asus RT-N56U is supercompact but nevertheless I found it offered very fast performance and a very long range, and it even has a USB port for networked storage. It was my favorite router until a year later when it was broken during a move. I liked it so much that I almost bought another unit, although I ultimately decided not to (see below). But if you're looking for a workhorse router, it will still make an excellent one. Read the full review of the Asus RT-N56U.
Asus RT-N66U Dark Knight Double 450Mbps N Router
Instead of buying another RT-N56U, I opted for its successor, the Asus RT-N66U, which proved to be a good decision. The newer RT-N66U is larger than the RT-N56U but it offers a lot more, including support for the latest three-stream setup of Wireless-N, to offer up to 450Mbps data rates on each of the 2.4GHz and 5GJz bands. It also comes with two USB ports that can be used with more than just external hard drives and printers. For example, you can connect a cellular modem to one of the USB ports and use that as a backup Internet connection in case your broadband is down. And with the latest firmware, you can also use the router as a personal cloud storage via its AiCloud features, when coupled with external hard drives.
The router also boasts a very robust Web interface and comes with a large number of features. For example, it supports up to six guest networks (three on each band) and even has a built-in VPN server. On top of that the RT-N66U also supports third-party firmware, such as DD-WRT, making it a really fun router to use. And I still use it now. Read the full review of the Asus RT-N66U.
Asus RT-AC66U 802.11ac router
Without ditching the RT-N66U, I bought the Asus RT-AC66U last year mostly because I wanted to learn more about 802.11ac. This is the first router from Asus that supports this new Wi-Fi standard to offer up to 1.3Gbps Wi-Fi speed on its 5GHz frequency band, while still providing up to 450Mbps Wireless-N speeds on the 2.4GHz frequency bands. In my testing for a CNET review, it was indeed very fast.
The reason I picked it over other 802.11ac routers was because it comes with a Web interface and feature set that are very similar to those of its predecessor, and since I intend to use it as an access point, having two similar routers makes the setup easier. Read the full review of the Asus RT-AC66U 802.11ac router.
Interested in seeing how my home network progressed via my personal routers? Compare these routers head-to-head.