If you own a WiFi router, you know the drill. When the internet goes down at home, you unplug the device, wait an excruciating minute, and plug it back in. For some reason, that seems to do the trick.
Routers are like small computers: They use memory, a processor, and an operating system. And that means they too benefit from a fresh start every now and then.
Most internet service providers assign a temporary IP address—a series of numbers that function much like a street address—to each of your personal mobile devices to help them send and receive information. The static addresses, which are more expensive, are usually reserved for business use.
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And so, the IP address for your phone or laptop can change at any time. And, when your router doesn't catch on to that change, the network connection gets out of sync. That's when a quick power recycle can set things straight.
With users adding things like smartphones, smart TVs, and WiFi-enabled home security devices to their networks, though, we've reached the limits for old-school router technology. "As we bring in more and more devices that connect to the network," says John Kim, the director of product management for the smart home automation company Control4, "our tolerance for crappy internet is really dropping. Now people have 10, 15, 30 different devices that connect to the internet and that's increasing the demand on that networking load."
When that happens, your router can run out of memory or slow down until the system grinds to a halt. With less than 1GB of on-board memory, the average wireless router can get hung up in download requests. But a quick restart will flush away all that baggage.
And during a reboot, routers are pretty good at finding channels with less traffic, thereby raising their performance speeds.
If your WiFi problems persist, you might need a new router. The latest models support the 802.11ac standard, which can effectively handle 20 or more devices. By contrast, the 802.11g standard—introduced in 2003—was designed to handle two or three. And, in an era when service providers can send signals at speeds of 900 Mbps, an outdated router might max out at 100.
But, for WiFi routers that simply need a quick refresh every now and then, consider using an outlet timer adapter to get them that break. You plug one of these nifty little devices into an outlet and program it to recycle the power at a certain time each day. Like, say, 3 a.m., when no one in your family is online.
A basic adapter—designed for lamps and Christmas lights—will perform the job for $15. But, if you're willing to pay a bit more, you can also buy one that completes the task at 3 a.m. on weekdays and 7 a.m. on weekends (in case you decide to pull an all-nighter).
For more information on these WiFi devices, check our wireless routers buying guide and ratings.
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