How's your home network these days?
Does it seem slower than usual, or just plain slow? Do you find that you don't get good coverage in all corners of your house? Do you intermittently lose your connection to your ISP?
Any of these issues may be a sign that it's time for a new router. I say "may" because there are lots of other reasons you're getting slow or inconsistent performance.
That said, let's talk about that router, which is as good a place to start as any. The big question: How old is it?
If your router is more than four or five years old, you should definitely think about replacing it. Three reasons why:
1. Over time, heat can damage the internal components, which may explain symptoms like intermittent outages or slow performance. You might try pointing a small fan at your router, or moving it somewhere there's good airflow, and seeing if that makes any difference.
2. A router that old may not support 802.11n, the most widespread Wi-Fi technology. Indeed, if your router tops out at 802.11g, you're definitely not getting the speed and range you could be. But some 802.11n models are out of date as well, especially if they were made prior to 2009.
3. It probably doesn't offer dual-band wireless. It's possible that some of your other household products, like cordless phones and even your garage-door opener, operate on the same 2.4GHz wireless band as your router, and interference from them can tank your connectivity.
All this is not to say you should run out and buy a new router -- but at the very least you should think about it. You could always buy one that comes with a 30-day money-back guarantee, try it out, and see if it makes a difference. If not, return it, no harm done.
As fate would have it, PCWorld recently reviewed the latest and greatest 802.11ac routers, a good place to start your search for a new model. Of course, those may be overkill for some home users, as the 802.11ac standard has yet to be finalized. You might be better off with one of last year's top-rated 802.11n routers, like the Asus RT-N66U.
Contributing Editor Rick Broida writes about business and consumer technology. Ask for help with your PC hassles at firstname.lastname@example.org, or try the treasure trove of helpful folks in the PC World Community Forums. Sign up to have the Hassle-Free PC newsletter e-mailed to you each week.