Thursday, April 03, 2014

Wired-Only Router Search in 2014

I was recently in the market for a new router because the modem being offered by the ISP I was moving to didn't have one built in. With routers relatively cheap and very mainstream, how difficult could it be? Even if it was my first time ever having to buy any networking equipment?

Well, it turned out that learning about basic networking wasn't excruciatingly difficult. In fact, it was kind of fun. When it came to putting some money down though, a problem popped up. If I wanted a wireless router, I would probably had just purchased one of the most recommended routers out there from ASUS or Cisco/ Linksys. Price was a consideration but not a major issue. And I thought that routers were relatively cheap for things that would be used potentially for years at a time. Nothing's ever that easy, is it?
Networking Galore
Wired Only Router
What I wanted was a wired-only router with a built-in switch. That meant no wi-fi antenna. I didn't care if there was an option to disable the radio(s) on the router or not. My only other requirements were a NAT and SPI firewall, which were both really easy to find on wireless routers available at the time -- even the models that were a few years old. The device would only really service a single wired desktop computer at the time anyways. If necessary, I would have just bought and attached a switch along with a wireless access point to get wi-fi.

Why wired-only? 
Let's backtrack a bit first. What was so important about having a wired-only router that I couldn't just buy any wireless router and move on?

Regardless of how valid or invalid the reasons were, mines included performance, security and a bit of concern for wi-fi or radio signals. A hard wire is one of the most reliable connection types. Not having to worry about signal issues, walls, or router placement was very important. However, since most wireless routers I found usually included wired LAN ports, that couldn't have been the only reason.

The second reason was security. I thought that having no wireless ability would make my network slightly more secure -- safer to have absolutely no wireless broadcasting and receiving capability. If you want to hack my network, you'd have to come into my home and plug something in?

Reason number three was wireless or radio signal radiation. There still doesn't appear to be any consensus on how dangerous wi-fi and cell phone signals are. However, the reasoning was, if I didn't have any use for wi-fi, why bombard myself with wireless radiation? And I had no device to measure RF radiation, so I didn't want to wonder if disabling wireless actually turned the antennas all the way off or not.

To top it off, I was hoping that a wired-only router would be cheaper. It seemed logical that something missing a bunch of parts would cost less.

Modern Dinosaurs
It turned out that prior to early 2014, wired-only routers had become dinosaurs. There was a plethora of wireless routers available from various manufacturers across various price ranges with different combinations of features at my usual electronic stores. In comparison, I found a few wired-only routers at some of these stores. When I went to check the websites of the manufacturers themselves, the same observation was made. It kind of made sense since wi-fi is much more convenient, especially in the age of tablets. Who would want a wired-only, old tech router if the wireless ones included LAN ports anyways?

The only wired-only router I actually considered at the time was a TP-Link model for about $20. Great price, but its feature list didn't satisfy my demands, and I had concerns about the quality of something so cheap in price. Available reviews I could find on it were also limited in sample size. What I ended up getting was a wireless Linksys E900 Wireless-N300 Router that retailed for CAD$ 30. Not much more expensive, but I liked what I read about the hardware, I found a lot more reviews on it and most were positive, and it had an option to disable wireless -- a compromise.

Some Wired-Only Routers I Found
The Linksys E900 has been running smoothly for months now. I like it. However, I did more research after everything was said and done to see if I could find something truly wired-only that had everything I wanted. Some success. There were some interesting finds that are shared below. Prices taken at the time of writing. I have never used any of them. And yes, they all appear to be from one company -- not by design.

1.  TP-LINK TL-R402M 4-Port Cable/DSL Home Router (~US$ 20)
2.  TP-LINK TL-R460 Advanced 4-Port Cable/DSL Router (~US$ 20)
3.  TP-LINK TL-R470T+ 5-port Load Balance Broadband Router (~US$ 60)
4.  TP-LINK TL-R480T+ 5-port Load Balance Broadband Router (~US$ 100)
5.  TP-LINK TL-R600VPN Gigabit Broadband VPN Router (~US$ 60)

If I were to do it again, I'd go for the R600 since it is advertised to have gigabit LAN ports and an SPI firewall, among other things. It also appears to be small business oriented. The load balance routers look very interesting though.

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