The Best Wired Routers for Home and 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 WiFi 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 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 streaming focused models. I’ve looked through all the current 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.
Below are my top three picks for best overall, best performance, and best value. Read on for my rationale for choosing these, as well as some other options to consider.
do you need a wired router?
For most people, a wireless router will provide what you need. Higher end models offer much improved performance and features than generic ISP models often do, and these will usually have LAN ports you can use for wired only devices as well.
There are some good reasons to get a wired router though. These devices are often better in the router role specifically, with faster throughput, and much more powerful network management features. 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 WiFi on your existing router and adding a simple unmanaged switch may be a simpler, and potentially cheaper option.
Best Wired Router Overall
Linksys has sat in the mid range for many years, with products targeting consumer and mid-sized business markets. The LRT214 Business VPN Router sits in the latter, although it’s feature set is well suited for home use as well. While not the absolute best performer in this segment it’s definitely competitive and sports very similar hardware to Cisco’s offering.
While the port layout is less flexible than some higher powered models, for branch office and home use it makes sense. You get a clearly designated WAN port, and a similar DMZ port, which is an nice default option for those needing a quick DMZ (a DeMilitarized Zone for hosting internet facing servers).
The web interface provides for easy access to all features, and could be considered more intuitive than some of the competition. A decent quick start procedure is included, which is a welcome addition and gives less experienced users a leg up. You’ll get a mature firewall solution with DoS protection, up to 5 VLANs, QoS, and full IPv6 support. A key benefit is explicit support for OpenVPN, which can be difficult to set up in other models.
Linksys had some early firmware issues with this model a few years ago, but that seems to have been ironed out over time. Direct support can also be an issue, while they tend to be helpful, it can be prone to poor response times. There’s plenty of online resources to cover this though, and documentation is provided with the product as well.
If you’re not looking for enterprise power user features, and need something a bit easier to get up and running, this one will probably fit the bill.
Best Wired Router for The Money
The Mikrotek hEX S 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.
There is an extensive wiki on offer, and you’ll be falling back on this to configure 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.
Best Wired Router For Performance
Ubiquiti is a popular choice among enthusiasts and has an extensive enterprise presence as well. Their EdgeRouter 4 is the newest model of their small router range, boasting high performance hardware giving a rated line speed of up to 4Gbps, the most impressive of the routers I’ve looked at in this class. Now that’s more than most folks will need, at least for now, but it’s a good indication you’re not going to be bottle necked in your normal usage.
Ubiquiti runs their proprietary EdgeOS on these devices which is an enterprise grade offering that not only sports a clean, comprehensive GUI for most functions, but integrates with their network management suite and mobile apps. Being the same OS used on their enterprise products, you’ll get a powerful range of features, and a robust command line interface which supports multiple access methods, including the built in serial interface, SSH, or telnet if that’s your thing.
Primarily targeted at business, they can be rock solid when configured correctly. Support for multiple routing protocols and VLANs are obviously on offer, along with a deep packet inspection firewall, full IPv6 support, and QoS features. While the Edgerouter 4 commands a higher price than typical consumer hardware, the performance it delivers makes it a compelling option for power user and small business gateways.
Best Wired Router for Reliability
No consideration of network gear can be complete without considering industry heavy-weight Cisco. While primarily focused on enterprise hardware, Cisco has developed a range of small business equipment equipment also suitable for home use. Among these is the decent RV340 VPN Router.
This one offers 2 dedicated gigabit WAN port and 4 LAN ports. The RV340 provides reliable performance for both NAT and IPSec throughput, comparable with Ubiquiti’s models, with a custom Linux-based web interface instead of their well known Cisco IOS operating system.
These small business models have a lighter feature set than would be offered by the full Cisco IOS, but some of the features, such as AnyConnect, malware detection, and client performance metrics required Cisco licensing. Trials are provided, but you’ll need to deal with Cisco’s byzantine licensing system to keep using them. You still get all the essentials, like VLAN routing, a solid stateful packet inspection firewall with DoS protection and granular access control, and QoS features.
VPN support is solid, with support L2TP or PPTP tunnels using a variety of encryption standards including IPSec. Basic setup is easy enough, but some of the other features can be a bit tricky. Video tutorials are available for these.
While you pay a bit for the name, you get the backing of a major industry player, and excellent hardware performance with all the features you’ll likely need, so it’s definitely worth a look.
Best Wired Router for VPNs
The SafeStream TL-R600VPN from TP-LINK is a bit more specialized in its focus, but that makes it an interesting addition to the list. There are a couple of novel hardware features here, namely a dedicated VPN controller, and in-built lightning protection.
Unlike some of the more advanced routers, the TL-R600VPN has a dedicated WAN port, and 4 others, 3 of which can be used for either LAN or WAN, which is a curious mix. There’s no other ports on offer for data, storage, or expansion, but that’s in line with it’s specialty. This router is focused on managing VPN tunnels, with the dedicated hardware allowing up to 16 PPTP or L2TP client-server tunnels, or 20 IPSec connections, 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 stateful packet inspection 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.
Given the focus on VPN this is really a good choice for business deployments with multiple branches or cases where you have a a decent number of clients needing to use tunneled connections. Performance is on the lower end but the price is hard to beat if you don’t have more than a 100 Mbps internet connection.
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 traffic between 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 wireless version of a switch. These devices are much ‘dumber’ than a router, and only deal with passing traffic between devices on the same network. Smaller 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.
That seems like a lot of devices most people don’t have. The reason for that is consumer ‘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 devices 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.
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 uses 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 provide any means of access. Contrast this with WiFi which is broadcast in open air. 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 LAN 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 providers 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 you may want to do this for security reasons, as routers control who can talk to who, so you may have sensitive data you want to keep apart from your IoT smart devices, for example. Most ISP consumer routers only support a single LAN, so there is no way to seperate 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 network segregation and security.
There are a number of solid small router options available today, and it can be hard to choose. A thing to keep in mind is that these are generally small business focused, so not necessarily easy for the beginner, although the less feature packed models offer an easier setup experience. This is one reason why I’ve gone with the Linksys LRT214 as my best overall. It offers a good balance of ease of use, advanced features, and raw performance which would be a good fit for many small network situations, all for a good mid-range price.
For the power users, Mikrotik and Ubiquiti have been making inroads into the geek-worthy market, and both offer several good choices for small routers. The best value option 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. Ubiquiti’s Edgerouter 4, however, blows away even Cisco’s offering in terms of performance, so if you’re pushing traffic over a GB internet connection, you’ll want to check that out.