Setting up a wireless router can be confusing for those with less technical expertise, and budget routers can be the most challenging. They sometimes skimp in areas like the user interface that novices find most helpful in getting the most out of their network. However, there are cheap routers that are also easy to set up and use. One is the Cisco Linksys E1200 (Est. $45) , which both experts and owners say allows even complete novices to set up a basic wireless network with minimal effort and knowledge.
This basic single-band (2.4 GHz) wireless-N router lacks many of the bells and whistles found in more expensive and more complex routers. There's one WAN port and four LAN ports, but they're not the fastest GbE variety. There's also no USB port, so forget about directly connecting an external hard drive for network storage.
But the E1200 isn't the barest of bones, either. It comes with Cisco Connect software, which makes installation relatively easy; parental controls include blocking access to the Internet at specific times; and guest networking is password-protected, prohibiting guests from using any peripheral attached to the router and from accessing the host's data and information.
Hundreds of owners praise the Linksys E1200 at Amazon.com and Newegg.com, where it earns overall scores of 4 stars out of 5, particularly for its easy setup and use. While performance gets mixed reviews from experts, the E1200 is said to be more than adequate for most basic networking needs.
In tests at SmallNetBuilder.com, Tim Higgins says the Linksys E1200's wireless performance is "unimpressive." Dong Ngo, who gives the router 3 stars out of 5 at CNET, calls it "underpowered but super-easy to use." Yet the E1200 is a top contender in roundups at PCMag.com, where it earns an Editors' Choice award and 4.5 stars out of 5. Samara Lynn describes throughput and range as "excellent," and calls it her "favorite single-band router."
If you have more to spend, the Securifi Almond (Est. $90) wireless router sits at the high end of the budget range but is also very easy to use. This is a single-band wireless-N router at its core, but its claim to fame is a color touch-screen user interface. The screen has large tiles for each function, and you don't need to be hooked up to a computer to easily get this router up and running. The Almond is suitable for those with light Internet needs and who like stylish gadgets; it looks like a digital alarm clock. According to Gloria Sin at Digital Trends, an 802.11ac-compliant version of the Almond is set to hit retail stores in the near future.
Wireless-N routers have largely replaced wireless-G routers, but a handful of the latter remain available and are still popular. Keep in mind that virtually every wireless-N and wireless-AC router is backward compatible with earlier versions of the Wi-Fi standard, including IEEE 802.11g.
Among wireless-G routers, the venerable Cisco Linksys WRT54G-series is revered by owners at Amazon.com and Newegg.com, where hundreds of reviews call it stable and solid. The series has been on the market for years, and users say the latest WRT54GL (Est. $50) version works fine right out of the box. It includes a four-port Fast Ethernet switch, and up-to-date encryption and firewall protection.
But owners really love it because it's the "most hackable of routers," as PCMag.com's Eric Griffith says. Unlike most routers, the Linksys WRT54GL is based on Linux, so Linksys had to open-source the model's firmware per the Linux license. As soon as developers got their hands on the code, they came up with all kinds of replacement firmware that you can download to make the WRT54GL perform better and do more, including advanced quality of service (QoS), access restrictions, bandwidth usage monitoring and more.
When shopping for this router, be sure the model name has an L at the end. Linksys also made a non-hackable version, the WRT54G, which is still on some store shelves even though Linksys has discontinued production.