How to Tell When It's Time to Replace Your Router

These are the signs that your router is no longer fit for duty

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devices with wifi symbols Brandon Laufenberg

Before COVID-19 forced many of us to work and learn remotely, the difference between a so-so router and a great one wasn't that important.

As long as Netflix worked in the living room and the kids could play games online with their friends, why bother thinking about it?

But now that wireless routers have become a more critical part in our lives, it’s time to pay closer attention to them. That includes recognizing when they should be replaced, either because they no longer perform well or aren't receiving security updates.

The security concern is a big one. We trust wireless routers to safely and reliably connect our laptops, smart TVs, and video game consoles to the internet. The last thing we want is to have data we send or receive become vulnerable to hackers.

To be clear, we're talking here about routers you buy and set up yourself, not the ones provided by internet service providers for a monthly fee. If you have questions about those routers, call your ISP.

If you own your router, there is no clear-cut way to decide when to replace it. But there are a few signs that indicate it’s time to say goodbye.

Outdated Software

Even if your router appears to be working well, you’ll want to replace it if it’s no longer receiving firmware updates.

These updates are installed automatically on some routers, while other routers require you to do it. An update can add useful new features to your router. For instance, last year, Google introduced a tool for its Nest WiFi and Google WiFi routers to minimize video call disruptions like buffering or stuttering.

More on Routers

More important, firmware updates often include security patches that help keep you and your data safe from hackers. Without these regular updates, the odds increase that your data could end up in the wrong hands or that your router (or the devices on your network) could end up in a botnet, an army of “zombie” devices under the control of hackers, and used for crimes.

The tricky part here is determining whether and when your router has stopped receiving firmware updates.

If you’re lucky, your router’s manufacturer keeps an updated list of devices it no longer actively supports. In tech jargon, this is an “end of life” list, and any router that appears on it should be replaced.

Asus, D-Link, Netgear, Synology, and TP-Link all have router end-of-life lists, while Eero says it still supports its first-gen mesh routers. Google so far has three routers, the oldest dating back to 2016. That model is still supported, though the company wouldn't say for how long.

You can also look yourself to see when the last time your router firmware was updated. There are a couple of ways to do this.

The easiest method is to use the router’s mobile app, which typically has an option to manually check for updates. (The name of the menu or setting will vary by brand.) You can also look at your router’s web app, which is accessed by typing an IP address—often 192.168.0.1 or 192.168.1.1—into your web browser. The exact address varies by model but is often indicated directly on the router itself. You’d then click “check for updates” or something similar to see when the last update took place.

If no update has been available for months, or even years, the router is probably no longer being supported. As a rule of thumb, a Netgear representative told us, consumers should consider replacing their router after three years, and representatives from Google and Linksys said a three-to-five-year window was appropriate. Amazon, which owns the popular Eero brand of routers, put the range at three to four years.

However, CR's own survey data indicates that one-fifth of consumers wait more than four years to replace their router. That’s cutting it close.

“All of the data that we have shows that consumers hold onto their router for dear life and for as long as possible,” says Richard Fisco, who oversees electronics testing for Consumer Reports.

Why do so many routers stop getting updates after just a few years? Industry representatives say it's because it’s difficult to keep writing new software that can run on older chips.

“What happens in the semiconductor industry, which I have a lot of experience in, is that chipsets get really, really old,” says Sanjay Noronha, senior product manager at Google Nest. “It just gets harder to update the software on those, because of a bunch of reasons, such as the version of Linux [an operating system] they use going stale.”

So there may be a very good reason to replace a router, even if it's working well.

Poor Performance

You also should upgrade your router if it's no longer delivering fast and reliable WiFi to your devices. You can determine this a few ways.

You might suddenly find that you can’t watch Netflix in 4K on the couch while the kids are chatting with their friends on Discord in their rooms. Large downloads, such as games from platforms like Steam and Xbox GamePass, may take forever and a day to finish. Or maybe you can’t quite get a decent connection in your spare bedroom turned home office.

But before you buy a new router, run a speed test or two to get an idea how fast your connection is to the internet. This will tell you whether the problem is really with the router or with your internet service provider.

There are several speed tests online, including SpeedTest.Net and Speed Test by Measurement Lab, which you’d ideally run on a laptop connected directly via ethernet cable to your router.

Speed tests are somewhat finicky and you may see different results depending on several factors, including time of day and other activity on your network, but they’ll give you a good idea of the speed you’re getting.

And if that number is materially different from the speed you’re paying for, you’ll want to call your ISP to see what’s going on. It could be an issue on their end. Or if the speeds match, you may just need to pay for a faster tier of service to handle the demands you're putting on your system.

But if the data speeds coming into your home seem okay, it could be that your router is no longer up to the task. That might be particularly true if you have better connectivity in one part of the house than in another.

If it has been quite a while since you last upgraded your router, you might not know that a relatively new type of technology, called mesh networking, has become quite popular.

Routers that use this technology are typically sold in packs of two or three, and they work together to spread WiFi throughout your home. In many cases, you’ll get better performance with a mesh router than a traditional, single-unit router, particularly if you live in a larger home.

Right now there are 56 models in CR's ratings, split across two categories: wireless (aka single-unit) and multi-unit mesh WiFi models. The following are some of the best of the bunch, with an emphasis on models that have automatic firmware updates.


Headshot image of Electronics editor Nicholas Deleon

Nicholas De Leon

I've been covering consumer electronics for more than 10 years for publications like TechCrunch, The Daily (R.I.P.), and Motherboard. When I'm not researching or writing about laptops or headphones I can likely be found obsessively consuming news about FC Barcelona, replaying old Super Nintendo games for the hundredth time, or chasing my pet corgi Winston to put his harness on so we can go for a walk. Follow me on Twitter (@nicholasadeleon).