The Best Wired Router for Home or Small Business
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Wired routers used to be a necessity for anyone setting up a small local area network, but even with the rapid technology improvements and growing ubiquity of wireless network connectivity there is still a place for these devices in our homes and small businesses.
Over many years in the field, I’ve been involved in these set ups countless times and the landscape hasn’t changed that much over the years except for two factors: speed and price.
It’s now possible to get extremely capable small, wired routers at prices that would have been unheard of only a few years ago, and there are good options for various needs from high-speed internet connections to VPN focused models.
I’ve looked through all the wired router models on the market today and selected what I believe to be the best options for various specific needs based on features, performance, and customer feedback.
do you need a wired router?
For most people, a wireless router will provide what you need. Higher end consumer models like those from Linksys or Netgear offer much improved performance and features than generic ISP models often do, and these will usually have a similar number of LAN ports you can use for wired devices as well.
There are some good reasons to get a purely wired router though. Most modern wired routers are often better in the router specific role, with faster throughput, much more powerful network management features, and a more capable firewall.
If you’re looking to get more control and visibility over your internet traffic, improve security through a more powerful firewall, add a gateway device to manage multiple internal networks, or you don’t need wireless access at all, then a wired router is the way to go.
If you just want to get the benefits of a wired only network, or need more wired ports, then disabling the Wi-Fi on your existing router and adding a simple unmanaged network switch may be a simpler, and potentially cheaper option.
Best Wired Router Overall
The Mikrotek hEX S gigabit model is the latest small wired router from the company and expands upon the original hEX model by adding an SFP port (Small Form-factor Pluggable module) and Power-over-Ethernet (PoE) for both powering itself and passing power to other networked devices like access points and cameras.
PoE out requires a separate power injector, however, as the provided power supply doesn’t have the capacity for most PoE applications. Nonetheless, having these extra features on a unit at this price point is a bonus.
SFP is something most home setups won’t need, but small business may find it useful for upstream connectivity as it allows for a variety of different connection modules to added. I’ve gone with this model anyway as the price difference down to the base hEX is marginal, and it’s nice to have the extensibility in case you need it later.
MikroTik runs RouterOS, which is a feature rich, powerful commercial grade OS with a wide range of advanced features including various VPN protocols, IPSec, firewall and NAT control, VLANs, and port aggregation. While there is a quick start process to get the basics up and running quickly, and a GUI is on offer for much of the general configuration, it’s not something for beginners. The interface can take some getting used to and require hunting around for specific settings.
The documentation is extensive, which means you’ll have plenty to fall back on when configuring certain common things like VPN tunnels. VLANS, channel bonding, Radius, and a robust firewall are on offer, so you’ll be pretty well covered with a level of feature depth on par with routers 2 to 3 times the price.
Because of the amazing feature set and relatively low entry price, I’ve selected this model as the best overall wired router for small networks.
Best Wired Router For Performance
The TP-LINK ER605 is a bit more specialized in its focus on multi-WAN VPN support, but that makes it an interesting addition to the list. There are a couple of novel hardware features here, namely a dedicated VPN router and in-built lightning protection, and it’s easily the fastest real-world throughput of any wired router at this price point.
Unlike some of the more advanced wired routers, the ER605 has a dedicated WAN port, and 4 others, 3 of which can be used for either LAN or multiple WAN ports. There are no other ports on offer for data, storage, or expansion, but that’s in line with its specialty.
This router is focused on managing VPN tunnels, supporting multiple VPN protocols with the dedicated hardware allowing up to 16 PPTP, OpenVPN, or L2TP tunnels, or 20 IPSec connections supporting up to AES256 encryption, although those are limited to site-to-site.
These connections are supported by an array of authentication and encryption standards with manual key management if desired, and a reasonable SPI firewall with some degree of DoS protection and the ability to define granular policies.
On top of this you’ll get the usual policy-based routing rules and be able to specify fail over or load balanced WAN ports if you run redundant connections. This is a key feature of the ER605 as you can have up to 4 WAN connections and configure load balancing or fail over on them as required.
The ER605 is also compatible with TP-LINK’s Omada Management SDN system, which provides for centralized management of up to 500 devices. Given this and the powerful multi-WAN features this is really a good wired router choice for business deployments with multiple locations, or cases where you have a decent number of clients needing to use tunneled connections.
A High Performance Alternative
Ubiquiti is a popular choice among enthusiasts and has an extensive enterprise presence as well. The pint-sized powerhouse that is the EdgeRouter-X packs much of the same software capability and security features as it’s bigger enterprise brothers, but in a more affordable wired router.
It’s all about Ethernet here, with 5 gigabit Ethernet ports including 1 PoE in and 1 poE out. The router itself can be powered by the PoE input port or the included power pack. The PoE output is primarily intended for powering Ubiquiti’s wireless access points but can service other devices as well.
For the power user this is a great little device, and you can get up and running fairly easily. There are some wizards the help you get started providing you have an understanding of basic networking concepts, and the GUI is extensive in its capabilities, backed up by Ubiquiti’s robust but bespoke command line interface.
You’ll get full SPI firewall, VLAN capabilities with the ability to run the Ethernet ports as a layer 3 network switch, a multi-WAN configuration, and you can route certain ports through various VPN protocols as required, so this is a great how router useful for segregating your network or being the main gateway to your internet service provider.
A great many customers report that it’s rock solid in reliability and performs amazingly well for the price. There are plenty of forum guides to assist those new to the interface with how to get things working, but it’s certainly not for the beginner or the less network savvy.
Best Value Wired Router
You might balk at the lack of gigabit ports on this wired router model, but if you’re looking for an incredibly powerful home router and your internet connection is 100mb/s or less, then the MikroTik hEX lite is a no-brainer.
You’re basically getting a full Router OS powered device with a broad suite of advanced features for less that it would cost for the Router OS license on it’s own. As MikroTik themselves say, there’s no longer a need to compromise between features and price. This is simply the best wired router for the least money, hands down.
Multi-VLAN NAT, a comprehensive SPI firewall, a DNS server, and more are all configurable, but the defaults out of the box will likely be fine for most home networks so you won’t be stuck configuring things to get up and running.
VPNs can be configured using IPSec, PPTP, L2TP, or OpenVPN, with a whole host of configuration options. This can be a headache, but MikroTik have opted to keep the flexibility over dumbing things down, and there are plenty of tutorials available.
The hEX lite has fared very well with tech savvy customers and professionals alike who report that it’s rock solid and very capable, and backed by Mikrotik’s great support and helpful active community. If the speed doesn’t hold you back, then you can’t go wrong with this one.
bEST DUAL-WAN Wired Router
Peplink has been around a good while and has wide range of mid-size business network products like the Peplink Balance 20. This is a more expensive model but rates a mention as it’s very tailored to running redundant WAN uplinks across not only its 2 WAN Ethernet ports, but USB as well. As such, it’s well suited to providing redundant connections over things like cellular modems and some cable modems.
More robust than the cheaper options, very easy to set up redundancy, and even an API that allows for third-party integrations like Home Assistant gives this wired router an edge if you really just want reliability. Failover is very smooth, and it works out of the box.
You have a lot of control over how traffic is split, and to which devices. Things like forcing a certain device to use a particular connection or creating bandwidth groups to ensure throughput available to those that need it are possible. You also get support for Peplink’s InControl cloud platform if you need to manage multiple routers.
On the features side, you have support for 16 VLANs, OpenVPN, L2TP, and IPSec with up to 2 tunnels. There are also QoS services for VOIP and E-Commerce systems. The biggest downside with the Balance 20 is the limited firewall throughput. Your LAN ports will be fine, but the uplinks will max out at about 220Mbps. That’s fine if your internet services are under that, but if raw speed is your aim, then this isn’t going to get you there.
Before Buying a Router
What is a router?
Most people would say it’s simply a box that your devices connect to to get internet. That’s true, but simplistic. More correctly, a router is a device that directs network traffic between different networks. As such, it typically handles other network functions like firewall, IP address management, and DNS for the downstream networks it manages. There are some great animations explaining this function if you’re interested.
In our case these downstream networks are called LANs (Local Area Networks), and the upstream (your ISP’s network which connects you to the wider internet) is called a WAN (Wide Area Network).
On a router you might see these terms, the WAN port for your internet connection, and LAN ports for your own networks. Often your ISP will require another device to connect to them via whatever technology delivers your internet connection, this is generically called a modem and is what your WAN port will connect to.
Now, because the router’s job is to direct traffic, it’s primary purpose is not to connect your devices, but rather to create a LAN for your devices to connect to and direct traffic between that and the WAN (Internet). Those LANs are held together by a switch or a wireless access point.
The latter is simply a version of a switch but for a wireless connection. These devices are much ‘dumber’ than a router, and only deal with passing traffic between devices on the same network.
Smaller wired routers tend to have a number of switch ports included to avoid the need for a separate device, as all the ones in this article do. You can always add a dumb switch to one of your wired router Ethernet ports to add more wired capacity.
That seems like a lot of devices most people don’t have. The reason for that is consumer wireless routers provided by ISPs combine all these devices into one modem router. They typically have a connection port for the internal modem, possibly a phone, coaxial, fiber optic, or similar cable, a built-in wireless access point, and a few switch ports for wired devices.
These ISP wireless routers get the various jobs done but are frequently not very good at any of them, which is why you might look to get higher quality devices for some or all of these roles.
Higher end ‘wireless routers’ combine the router, access point and switch roles with better software controls and higher performance components, which would suit most people’s needs. In those cases, the switch ports and the access point are often on the same network rather than separated like the diagram.
What is SFP?
This is a network interface standard which stands for Small Form-factor Pluggable. It’s a network interface commonly offered on enterprise class wired routers that allows for different media types to be used without being constrained to them at the time of purchase.
Think of it a bit like a USB port in that it can take a variety of swap able ‘dongles’ that allow you to connect to different types of cables. These different media include things like Gigabit or 10GB Ethernet, and various types of fibre optic connections.
While it is a standard, it is not a globally certified one, more of an agreement between manufacturers. This can result in compatibility issues between brands, so it’s often best to keep within the family. SFP does still provide great flexibility where you either don’t know what interface you’ll need up front, or if you might be looking to change it later.
Which is better, wired or wireless?
As good as WiFi has become in recent years, it is still subject to interference and bandwidth sharing with the rapidly growing number of wireless devices in our homes and businesses. For most connected devices the resulting fluctuations in speed and latency will not be an issue, but in certain high-performance situations, such as online gaming, consistency is critical.
Wired connections provide a direct point-to-point connection that is used only by the one device and is practically immune to significant interference in typical installations. As a result, a wired connection will provide the highest speed, lowest latency, and least variation in both over time.
Wired networks are also much more secure as the devices are hard wired (assuming you don’t have wireless on the same network). Only physical access to the cables and switch ports provides any means of access.
Contrast this with WiFi which uses a wireless network connection over open air radio waves. An attacker within range of your access point could theoretically take advantage of weak passwords, or vulnerabilities in individual devices, to gain access without ever stepping onto your property.
The obvious downside is the need for cables to connect everything together. You could have Ethernet data points installed to run these out of sight (I have these in my home as it was built in the days of 802.11b WiFi), or you may be able to place the router close to the devices you need wired access for. Even in that case you’ll have extra clutter to deal with compared with wireless networks.
Can you plug a wireless router into a wired router?
Yes, the wireless router will create a separate local wireless network for devices connected to it, and pass traffic back through the wired router and then to the internet. However, doing this may be overkill depending on how your devices are connected.
The wired router would create a LAN (say network 1), which the wireless router would be part of. The wireless router would then create it’s own LAN (network 2). Devices on network 2 won’t be able to talk to devices on network 1 unless you configure access rules on the wired router, and both networks will need to use different IP addresses.
You may have other networks off the wired router that you want to separate from network 2, but in most home contexts this would be excessive complexity. You would either set the wireless router to just act as an access point (not a router, aka bridge mode), or get a dedicated access point device instead.
Can you run a router off another router?
As above this is a definite yes. Indeed, that’s how the internet works. Each home router connects to their ISPs local router, that connects to another parent router (and possibly several layers) before connecting to a backbone provider;s router and sending traffic off to other ISPs and other countries before routing back down the chain at the other end to the destination device.
In your own network home wired routers can do this for network security reasons, as routers control who can talk to who, so you may have sensitive data you want to keep apart from your ‘smart’ connected devices, for example. Most ISP consumer routers only support a single LAN, so there is no way to separate the networks with these commodity devices, but a good wired router will allow you to define different networks on different LAN ports, creating multiple networks with the one router.
If you want to stick with your ISPs modem router as a base, connecting a second wired router to it allows you to overcome this limitation and achieve the same result with robust wired network segregation and security.
There are a number of solid small wired router options available today, and it can be hard to choose. A thing to keep in mind is that these are generally designed as small business wired routers, so not necessarily easy for the beginner, but you get a ton of functionality for the price in many cases.
For the power users, Mikrotik and Ubiquiti have been making inroads into the geek-worthy market, and both offer several good choices for small wired routers. The best bang for your buck here is the Mikrotik hEX S simply because of the enormous range of features you get for a bargain price, and you can shave a bit off that if you go for the base hEX model without the SFP port.
The TP-LINK ER605, however, comes close to even Cisco’s routers in terms of performance at a fraction of the cost, so if you’re pushing traffic over a GB internet connection, you’ll want to check that out. You’ll up to 4 redundant WAN links with a dedicated VPN processor and lightning protection just to be sure.
For those on a tighter budget, and who don’t need gigabit internet speeds, you can’t go past the MikroTik hEX lite. All the power of an enterprise class router in a very cost-effective package.