How to Set Up and Optimize Your Wireless Router
PC Magazine|March 2021
Although manufacturers have been making installation utilities easier to use, getting the best out of your new wireless router usually means delving a little deeper than the standard installation routine will go. Just because you’ve plugged everything in and all the blinking lights have turned green doesn’t mean your network’s performance or its security are as strong as they could be. Follow these basic steps to properly configure your router and optimize your wireless network.
RONALD PACCHIANO & WILLIAM VAN WINKLE

HOW DO I CONNECT MY WI-FI ROUTER?

These steps assume that you’ve already found the right router for your home. (If you’re still shopping, see our story in this issue: “The 8 Best Wireless Routers We’ve Tested.”)

As part of router selection, two additional questions you’ll need to answer are whether you want a Wi-Fi 6 router or a Wi-Fi mesh system—or even both in one. Wi-Fi 6 is an emerging standard that is finally seeing a widening selection of compatible routers coming to market. If you’re looking to replace your current router, and it’s more than three years old, or if you’re simply looking for the latest in terms of speed and security, Wi-Fi 6 is what you want.

Wi-Fi mesh systems are for folks willing to pay a little more for two primary benefits: easy basic setup and whole-home Wi-Fi coverage. Though you can increase the coverage in your home with a standard router and a wireless range extender, that solution tends to make users jump through a few additional hoops to get things working smoothly, notably forcing them to log into different wireless networks depending on where they are in the home. Wi-Fi mesh makes all that go away with a quick and easy path to initial setup and a series of compatible “nodes” that integrate seamlessly into a single wireless network that blankets your entire home.

Newer Wi-Fi mesh systems, such as the recently announced Amazon Eero 6 and Eero Pro 6, combine Wi-Fi 6 and mesh technology into a single package; the new Eeros add Zigbee smart home technology as well. While Wi-Fi mesh is definitely the simplest option when it comes to achieving that basic set of green blinking lights, that still just represents basic router setup, mesh or otherwise. To tweak your network settings—for example, to improve security with a guest network and parental controls or even to add quality of service (QoS) settings to protect the traffic coming from a specific application or traveling to a specific device—you’re going to need to dig beneath your router or mesh system’s basic installation utility. That’s when the steps below will come in handy.

PLACEMENT AND SETUP

Before getting started, consider where you’ll place your router. Finding an open space toward the center of your residence is the best way to ensure optimal coverage. Be aware that walls and floors will impede Wi-Fi signals, so the more obstructions you have between your devices and your router, the weaker (and potentially slower) the signal will be. Try to avoid proximity with large metal, glass, brick, or concrete objects. Wi-Fi mesh systems get around this problem by letting you place an attractively designed node wherever coverage is weakest. But for those working with standard routers or even wireless range extenders, you’ll need some patience and testing to find your optimal placement areas.

Start this process by connecting your router to your modem. For this, you’ll need an Ethernet cable, which you’ll want to plug into the WAN (wide-area network) port on your router’s rear face. This port might look slightly different from router to router, but it will usually have a distinct color from the other ports and be labeled “WAN,” “Internet,” or something similar. From the WAN port, connect the other end of the Ethernet cable to the Ethernet port on the back of your modem. Ensure your modem is turned on, and you’ll be ready to connect to the internet. Then, of course, you need to plug your router into a wall outlet and turn it on.

Most mesh Wi-Fi systems and some of the latest standard wireless routers can now be configured completely from your smartphone. Manufacturers each have their own setup app, so consult your router’s quick-start guide to ensure you download the right one. Not all routers have a mobile app, though, and there’s always a backup method; typically, it’s a dedicated website URL that loads the router’s internal configuration page. You can find this URL by connecting your computer to any of the router’s LAN ports via Ethernet cable and entering 192.168.1.1 or a similar address (as specified by the router’s documentation) into your browser search bar.

The first step to getting your network up and running is to set up a username and password. For a pre-owned router, the username and password can be reset to factory defaults by holding a recessed button somewhere on the router (usually the back). Often, these defaults are something like “admin” and “admin,” which every would-be hacker knows, so make sure to change these right away. Be sure to use a secure password that includes a mix of uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols.

HOW DO I CONFIGURE MY ROUTER?

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