If your Wi-Fi router is five years old or older, can’t handle your full internet connection, drops devices off your network, or requires you to frequently reboot it, then it’s time for an upgrade.
It’s easy to treat your Wi-Fi router like an appliance, just running it like an old fridge until it eventually dies and you’re forced to replace it. Here are some key signs that your router is due for an upgrade (and why you shouldn’t wait to replace it).
Why Care About Upgrading Your Wi-Fi Router?
If you’re not a tech enthusiast and hobby network nerd, you can certainly be forgiven for not thinking about your Wi-Fi router very often.
In most homes, the router just sits there in the background, silently doing the heavy lifting of keeping your home network up and operational, ignored until something wonky happens, and you restart the router.
But just because your Wi-Fi router gets the same attention as a water heater or furnace doesn’t mean you should wait until it’s malfunctioning or refuses to turn on before getting a replacement.
Your Wi-Fi router greatly influences everything from the security of your home network and personal information to how well-streaming services work (and how the network load is balanced between critical and non-critical activities).
Your router might not be lights-out dead yet, but if it’s really old, the entire internet experience in your home is likely significantly degraded without you even realizing how bad it is. Even though we encourage people to get the most value out of their hardware and we even have some great tips for improving your Wi-Fi without buying anything, there is only so much extra life those kinds of tips and tricks can breathe into an old router.
So let’s look at some big signs that it’s time to upgrade your router and enjoy a more stable Wi-Fi experience with increased security and coverage.
Your Router Is Hot, Noisy, or Erratic
Before we dive into the more nuanced reasons why you should upgrade your router, let’s look at the most pressing ones right out of the gate.
If your router is very hot to the touch (and it is not a product well-known for running hot), that’s a good sign that the router cannot keep up with the demand you’re putting on it and/or close to hardware failure.
Most routers are completely silent and cooled by passive cooling without a fan. If your router is making strange noises like a whining sound that’s a strong sign one or more of the components are on the way out.
And, finally, if the router is behaving in an erratic way like it turns off randomly, all the connections in the house drop and reconnect, or you find yourself frequently rebooting your router (or even resorting to setting a smart plug to restart it every night) it’s time for an upgrade.
Barring firmware updates restarting your router, uptime should be measured in months, not hours or days. If you can’t leave your router alone and have it run smoothly for months at a time, then you need a new one.
Your Router No Longer Receives Updates
Most of the time, cruddy coverage and connection speed push people to upgrade their router, not security concerns.
But if your router is so old that it no longer receives routine firmware updates (or any at all!) then it’s time to upgrade to a newer model.
No product is perfect, and new vulnerabilities and exploits are always uncovered. A new router with active development ensures that critical vulnerabilities will be patched quickly, and you’ll get consistent updates that patch bugs, add new features, improve things like channel optimization, and more.
Once a router no longer receives updates, it’s effectively dead to the manufacturer and should be dead to you too. Home network security and stability are too important to leave in the hands of abandoned hardware.
You’re Not Getting the Full Internet Speed You’re Paying For
You throw good money at your Internet Service Provider (ISP) every month, so you want to be sure you get the most for that money.
If you’re rocking an older router and you’ve upgraded your internet package or switched to the fasted ISP in your area, it’s quite possible that your old router simply can’t handle the full bandwidth capacity of your new connection.
While modern routers have a gigabit (or even 2.5 or 5 gigabit) WAN ports to connect to your internet modem, and every modern router has gigabit ports for the network switch portion, older routers do not.
In fact, a combination of slow ports and hardware can lead to a situation where you’re paying for, say, a 500 Mbps or even a gigabit internet connection, but your router is choking on the bandwidth.
So if you’re paying for a faster broadband connection, but every time you run a speed test, you’re only getting a fraction of that speed, consider your router as a potential culprit in the slowdown.
Do note that you should conduct any speed test using a computer connected to the router via Ethernet for maximum accuracy. Using your phone won’t give you accurate speed test results because of how Wi-Fi works and how the maximum theoretical speed of your Wi-Fi router is allocated.
Your Router Can’t Handle All Your Devices
Maybe years ago, your router was adequate for the needs of your home. But the number of connected devices has exploded thanks to the inclusion of network connections in everything from smart TVs to smart plugs.
Your router can’t make your internet connection faster than it is, but it can ensure that whatever internet bandwidth you have is properly allocated between devices and those devices can all maintain a stable connection to the router.
If you find that your smartphone frequently drops off the Wi-Fi, your spouse is complaining that their work Zoom calls keep dropping, and the situation can’t be explained away by too many high-demand activities on a very limited slow internet connection, it’s time to consider replacing the router with a modern model that can handle a high-density environment.
Wi-Fi 6, Wi-Fi 6E, and Wi-Fi 7 all include design choices specifically for optimizing Wi-Fi connectivity in modern high-density environments so if you’re still rocking a Wi-Fi 4 or Wi-Fi 5 router, it’s best to upgrade so your router can keep up with the demands your home puts on it.
Your Router Doesn’t Provide Enough Wi-Fi Coverage
In addition to a router that lacks the hardware oomph to handle all your connected devices, another common and frustrating scenario is a router that lacks the coverage range to reach all the areas of your home and yard you frequently use your devices in.
If you’ve gotten into the habit of switching off Wi-Fi to use your mobile data while using your phone in the bathroom on the far end of your house or when you’re out on the patio, that’s a good sign your router is significantly underpowered for your home.
The same goes for any situation where you’ve slapped Wi-Fi extenders into outlets around your home in a bid to get coverage out on the patio, in the kid’s playroom over the garage, or in any other out of the way spot.
At best, Wi-Fi extenders are a band-aid. We strongly recommend that people upgrade their router to a more powerful model or, better yet, switch to a mesh system to better blanket their home with Wi-Fi. Mesh systems are so great, we even recommend them for people who only need a single access point.
Your Router Was Released Five or More Ago
Note that we didn’t say, “you bought your router five years or more ago,” but that the manufacturer introduced the router five years or more ago.
You can pop over to Amazon or walk into a Best Buy right now and buy surprisingly old routers that lack many modern features, don’t support WPA3, and so on. With that in mind, it’s not important if the router is new to you or not, but when the router was introduced to the market.
Five years ago, from the time we’re writing this list in early 2023, it was 2018. WPA3 had just been announced (and it wouldn’t be until July 2020 that WPA3 was mandatory for Wi-Fi Alliance certification.) Manufacturers were just beginning to announce Wi-Fi 6 routers. If your router was released in 2018 or earlier, you’re missing out on a lot of improvements.
And if you bought a new-to-you but not actually new-to-market router five years ago, you’re rocking even older technology. It’s time to recycle your old router. A good modern Wi-Fi router is light years ahead of its older counterparts and absolutely worth investing in.