People often ask me about 2.4 Ghz vs 5 Ghz routers. They want to know if they need 5 Ghz and what the limitations are of a 5 Ghz router. The other thing I’m asked is about dual-band routers, which are routers that will let you run a 2.4 Ghz network at the same time that you are running a 5 Ghz network. This article will hopefully clear up some of these questions as they pertain to Linksys/Cisco routers for the home network.
There are two bands that wireless networks use: 2.4 ghz and 5 ghz. 2.4 has been around for a long time and is reliable. The complaint about 2.4 is that lots of devices use this band so there is potential for “congestion” on the band. The 5 ghz band is newer and naturally has less congestion. Many devices are not equipped to use the 5 ghz band (Macbook Pros can use it but iPhones can’t). The complaint about the 5ghz band is that is doesn’t do as well for longer distances of signal strength. It’s important to know that newer components that work on the 5 ghz band can “drop-down” and work on the 2.4 ghz band.
One option (that I don’t currently advise) is to have two routers. One for the 2.4 ghz band and another one for the 5 ghz band. I mention this fact as it will make more sense as you read down. But clearly in a home where you have devices that work on the 2.4 ghz band, you will need to have a router that can handle this 2.4 ghz signal.
That being said, here are the three choices at Best Buy (and I’m sticking with linksys because I like linksys/cisco and I’ve used their routers for years — and I currently run two of them myself). All three choices below allow to run a wireless network as well as plug in your wired desktop computer or other wired device.
For reference I run an older model 2.4 ghz linksys router and I’m very happy with the speed at 2.4 ghz.
1. Linksys E1200 – this is an inexpensive router that works on the 2.4 ghz band only. It’s $50 at best buy and has great reviews. The advantage is that is a simple router that will do the job reliably. It will not however take advantage of the potential speed benefits of the 5 ghz band. As you get more and more 5ghz compatilbe devices in the future, you’d need to get a 5 ghz router for the 5 ghz band.
2. Linksys 2500 – this is a $80 router that works on both bands — 2.4 and 5 at the same time. The idea is that you have two separate networks (one at 2.4 and one at 5 but both with this same device) and then you connect the 2.4 devices to the 2.4 network, and repeat the process for the 5 GHz-capable devices. This router did not get good reviews at Amazon.com and it seems to be hit or miss with reliability and performance. Thus, I cannot recommend this router.
3. Linksys E3200 – this is a $110 – $150 router (Amazon vs Best Buy) that received good reviews and can handle the 2.4 vs 5 problem. The only reason I’d consider this model over the 2500 is because of the 2500’s mixed reviews.
Wireless Network Speed (Potential) vs Wireless Range
So ultimately it comes down to the E1200 vs the E3200. I think the simplest and most cost-effective way to go for most home router users is the E1200. You could setup this router simply and get everything to work on the 2.4 ghz band. You could do a little more future-proofing, however, and go with the E3200 and just use it in the beginning on the 2.4 band to make sure everything works well. If then in the future you want to add a 5 ghz device, you’d just need to “turn on” the 5 ghz band on this router. The only concern I have about this last approach is that there are reports of people having problems getting the correct devices to run on the correct network consistently. So when you make your final decision, really consider if you will need to use the 5 Ghz band,. For most of my clients their primary concern is range, and for this factor, 2.4 Ghz is still the way to go.