Prolonging the Life of a Wireless Router

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Wi-Fi routers are often set up, put in the closet and quickly forgotten, left to toil away for years connecting laptops, game consoles and other nearby devices to the Internet. For the most part, you can forget about your router. It has no moving parts, so most likely it'll become outdated before it goes kaput.

With the latest Wi-Fi variety known as 802.11ac now hitting stores, the new models can set you back a couple of Benjamins. To keep your existing router healthy and last as long as possible, take care of it.

Here are some guidelines gleaned from interviews with experts at Linksys, D-Link and Netgear ( NTGR), the major manufacturers of consumer wireless routers.

Keep it out of the sun. Heat isn't good for any electronics, including routers. These always-on devices already run warm. Operating at a higher temperature could lead to component failures and even weakening soldered joints.

Clean it. A little dirt won't hurt, but don't let the dust collect, says Dan Albertson, Linksys' manager of product development. "If you kept a PC in the closet and the area around the fan gathered dust for months and months, it never hurts to do a quick vacuum. Same with the router's own vents," he said.

Protect it from power surges. A killer of routers and other electronics is power spikes caused by thunderstorms and other weather woes. Inexpensive surge protectors protect against extreme voltage spikes caused by brownouts, lightning and other power spokes.

Update the firmware. Manufacturers often make software tweaks months, even years, after the product has shipped. Thank goodness pretty much all of them offer updates free online. Some fix security flaws, others add new features. D-Link recently offered future proofing for the Internet protocol expansion into IPV6.

Most router manufacturers during the installation process let users choose to have firmware updated automatically. Don't forget to also update the firmware on your smartphone, laptop or other device as well.

Reposition it. Older routers offer stronger wireless signal if they are physically higher and set vertically, said Sandeep Harpalani, Netgear's senior product line manager of wireless networking.

"Sometimes, changing the direction of the router can also improve dead spots. Try slightly changing the position of the router by 90 degrees, for example. That might help in improving coverage. It (coverage) is not a complete circle," he said.

Move it. Older Wireless G routers may experience interference with microwave ovens, garage remotes, baby monitors and Bluetooth devices. If your G router is near any of these devices, move it. Also, storing it in the closet could weaken the signal, too, because the more walls the signal must penetrate, the weaker the signal gets.

Keep it close. If Internet can be piped into your house from multiple rooms (which can be the case with cable Internet), pick the room where you rely on it the most, says Albertson, with Linksys.

Traditionally, customers reported to Linksys they kept their router in the den or office, near the computers. But more recently, it's in the living room next to the TV, where consumers are streaming HD video. "It will deliver a better experience on that device at the expense of the far-reaching bedroom," he said.

Enhance it. If signal doesn't reach expected parts of the house, accessories could improve the router's coverage. Extenders, usually placed at the edge of a router's range, repeat the wireless signal further to get it to dead zones. Amplifiers, which attach to the router itself, boost the wireless signal. The non-wireless Powerline technology (also known as HomePlug), which sends data through the home's electrical wires, enables users to plug in Wi-Fi access point or extenders into any wall socket and create a Wi-Fi hotspot.

Tweak it. Some older routers got a new life thanks to the open source community. DD-WRT, available free at dd-wrt.com, is a Linux-based firmware that can extend the router's life.

It replaces the software of more than 200 devices, allowing users to tweak router settings for better bandwidth management, performance and transmission. You'll be able to increase the transmit power on older routers to improve wireless strength. Check the site to see if it'll work on your old router.

Upcycle it. When a wireless router does quit working, it may still work as a wired router. Those megabit or gigabit Ethernet ports on the back can still move data throughout the house faster than most Wi-Fi. Use it to plug in printers, storage drives and even desktop computers.

This article was written by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.
Tamara Chuang is an outside contributor to TheStreet. Her opinions are her own.

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