When setting up your home network, a quality router is crucial. Routers provide protection from the outside world and enable many useful features within your network. If you want quality, reliability and the ability to fine tune network settings as much or as little as you want, then you'll want to learn more about the router that we use here at Homeowner Geek!
Ease of Use
Summary: In following the Homeowner Geek philosophy of keeping functional devices separate from one another, the Ubiquiti EdgeRouter Lite is an extremely powerful and flexible Firewall option for home users. It has the simplicity and convenience of a GUI interface with built-in Configuration Wizards for the novice user and a powerful command-line interface that enables advanced users to customize to their heart's content. All for about $100!
In the past I've configured my home network with a combination Router / Switch / Wireless Access Point device. This type of device has the advantage of being simple to install and to configure.
The reason I don't use this type of device any more is because it doesn't offer the flexibility I need. For example, as wireless speeds increase the entire device needs to be replaced in order to support the faster wireless standard. Similarly if I want to set up some advanced capability (like static DHCP addresses or a custom domain name), many combo devices don't support these capabilities.
What I've found is that a separate routing device gives me the ultimate level of control, flexibility and performance. I am a huge fan of Ubiquiti (http://www.ubnt.com) products as they offer fantastic performance at very reasonable prices.
After some research, the EdgeRouter Lite ends up being the right combination of features and price to qualify it for the Homeowner Geek "recommended" status.
If you want to bring out your inner Geek, this router is for you!
Read on to learn more about Routers, why you need one, and the best ones for you to use.
What is all of this talk about routers? What are they and why do I need one? What exactly is in it for me to spend time and money picking a good router?
If you value the speed and security of your home Internet connection, then a router should be an item that you take some time getting to know.
At it's most basic, a router allows you to have more than one device connected to your network. When the Cable or phone company leave your home, typically they leave you with a Cable Modem or DSL Modem. On the back of these devices is only 1 Ethernet port. Without a router, you'd only be able to connect one device to that Ethernet port and connect to the Internet.
A router allows you to have multiple devices all communicating at the same time over the Internet. This ability to "share" data is only one thing that a router does, but it's critical to your being able to have more than one device.
The second important function of a router is to keep bad people out of your network. Just like you might put a fence around your property to keep unwanted wildlife or people out of your yard, a router will keep intruders from entering your network.
Typically routers are configured to block all unsolicited traffic that tries to enter your network. This means that people or programs that are randomly looking for networks connected to the Internet won't be able to see yours.
Only traffic that is in response to queries that are made from within your network are allowed in. If you request a webpage, then that webpage will be delivered in response to your request, but a web page couldn't be pushed into your network without your knowledge.
Within a router, there are multiple functions that are available that help to make your network more efficient and scale able. Here are some common features that a router can perform:
If you use your home network to store files, photos or movies, you may want to view those files from time to time. What if you are traveling and want to be able to view photos that are on your home network? Remember that a router prevents unauthorized access to your network from the Internet, so, when you travel, how do you connect to your home network?
Some routers provide a way to "tunnel" across the Internet into your home network in a secure, password-protected manner. This way you can leverage the power of your home network even when you are away.
When looking for a router, you need to be honest with yourself and determine the amount of effort you want to put into configuring a router.
Routers can be complicated if you don't know what you are doing. Providing basic service using a router is easy, but, sometimes, configuring advanced features, like secure tunneling, require some technical know-how.
Ask yourself how much you want to "tinker" and just how much functionality you want.
Almost any router will provide the DHCP and DNS server features listed above, but not all routers will allow you to "reserve" an IP address via DHCP. This can be useful if you want to connect to a device on your network regularly and don't want it's address to change.
For example, I have a Brother Networked Laser Printer. This printer allows me to configure it via a Web interface. I assign a "static" IP address to the printer so it's easy to remember how to connect to it. Not all routers have that capability.
Other features that you'll want to consider:
Whenever you look at the list of Bestselling Routers on Amazon.com you'll find these (3) brands consistently at the top of the list. For the home user looking for good functionality, ease of setup and competitive price, you can't go wrong with any of these brands.
These all fall into the category of "all in one" devices. They provide routing, switching and wireless capabilities in one unit. High marks for ease of use and configuration, but "so so" scores for "tinkering" ability.
My primary concern with these types of solutions is around their wireless capabilities. Frequently my friends and family come to me asking for help with their Wireless configurations. These friends have multi-story homes who's Internet connection comes into the basement.
When you connect one of these devices in the basement, the WiFi signal degrades quickly and doesn't cover the entire house very well. It's not often practical to put these devices in the middle of the house, so then we have to look at some kind of range extender. Making WiFi work better is a pain, so I try to stay away from these all-in-one devices if possible.
Speaking of wireless range extenders, here's a unique option. Eero is a relatively new class of Internet Connected Device. These are technically "All in One" options similar to the TP-Link, Netgear and Asus options above but with a twist.
One Eero acts as the all-in-one solution providing Routing, Ethernet and Wireless capabilities to your home.
The twist is that you can add an unlimited number of additional Eeros to your network to provide adequate wireless coverage around your home.
The additional Eeros only require power (no Ethernet connection required) and can be placed anywhere in your home. All of the Eeros talk to each other and form a "mesh" network within your home giving you great wireless coverage.
The same limitations apply to Eeros that plague the other all-in-one devices though.... Limited administration features and not much configuration flexibility. However if you are looking for fast wireless and great coverage, this is the solution to check out.
If you are ready for the ultimate in power, performance, reliability and flexibility, then you need to check out Ubiquiti Networks.
Ubiquiti is a technical company out of San Jose, CA that specializes in creating really great equipment. They offer routers, Wireless Access Points, Voice over IP devices and Video Camera / Surveillance equipment.
The common theme with every Ubiquiti product is that it's extremely high quality and competitively priced. The down side is that they are a technical company, not a Sales or Marketing company, so "ease of use" isn't always top of mind for them.
The really great news though is that Ubiquiti has a very loyal following and an extremely active and friendly user community, so you can get help with anything if you are willing to just ask a question and do a little tinkering on your own.
For our router discussion, Ubiquiti offers around 15 different router options, designed to support just about any environment. My personal choice is the Edgerouter Lite. This device is just the right combination of capabilities and price.
For less than $100, this router has all of the features and performance of a multi-thousand dollar router from the "big guys", yet it's easy enough to configure that it's perfectly comfortable in your home network.
Here at HomeownerGeek, I use the EdgeRouter Lite in a pretty simple and straightforward fashion....
There are many other advanced features available, but these are the ones I use and I get tremendous performance from it.
Check out the video below for a walkthrough of my EdgeRouter Lite so you can see what the configuration options are and how easy (or complicated) it can be to configure!
If you want control of your network and the ability to tweak settings and features, you can't go wrong with the Ubiquiti EdgeRouter Lite. The price is great (less than $100) and it has features available in the highest end routers.
Even if you aren't ready to get really technical, you can start with this router today and use a Wizard to configure it, then start getting more advanced later.