Dear Lifehacker, My router sucks. My connection goes wonky once every few days, and I have to unplug the router and reboot it (I believe this is called a hard reset) to fix the problem. Obviously, this is incredibly annoying. What can I do to just make the darn thing work properly? Sincerely, Infernal Internet
This is a very common ailment, but there's no one universal cause (which, sadly, means there's also not one simple solution). It could be that your internet provider changes your IP address often, and your router doesn't catch on. Maybe it's overheating, or maybe it's getting bogged down by too many connections at once (which can happen if you download a lot). There isn't an easy way to figure out what the problem is, but there are a few common solutions that could help you fix the problem and prevent it from happening in the future.
Verify That Your Router Is the Source of the Problem
Before you start messing with your router, you should make sure the problem doesn't lie with your modem or your internet service provider. To do this, plug your computer directly into your modem and see if you get any dropped connections or other problems. If not, the problem is more likely related to your router. If your modem is a modem/router combo, you won't be able to perform this step (it can be handy having a separate modem and router for this reason, but that's unlikely to be the case if your gear was supplied by your ISP). If your modem is the problem, contact either your internet service provider or the modem manufacturer to get support, since it's probably not something you can fix at home.
Option 1: Update Your Router's Firmware
If the internet works fine when directly connected to the modem, it's probably an issue with your router, and the first thing you should do is check for firmware updates. To do this:
- Head to your router's config page (usually available by typing
http://192.168.0.1into your browser, but you'll have to check your router's manual) and check its current firmware version. Write it down or keep that tab open so you don't forget.
- Next, go to your router's manufacturer's website (for example,
www.linksys.com) and head to the support page. Find your router and go to its download page.
- If the latest firmware on the downloads page matches the one your router is using, then you have the latest firmware. If not, then you should download the latest firmware and update your router according to the manufacturer's instructions.
If you're lucky, the latest firmware will fix whatever problem your router was having that required regular reboots. If not, though, continue on to the next step.
Option 2: Flash a Third-Party Firmware Like DD-WRT
Sometimes, your manufacturer's firmware just isn't very good. In those cases, flashing a third-party firmware — like the free, powerful DD-WRT — can potentially fix all your problems. It isn't for the faint of heart, but it can seriously boost the usefulness and customisability of your router, so we think it's a worthwhile project. Check out DD-WRT's compatibility page to see if your router is supported, and check out our guide on how to set it up.
Option 3: Limit Connections to File-Sharing Services
Often your router can just get bogged down by too much traffic coming through. This is especially common with things like BitTorrent and Usenet, which achieve high download speeds by making multiple connections at one time. If you make too many, your router will stop working and need a reboot.
If you're a heavy downloader, head into your BitTorrent or Usenet client of choice and go to its settings dialog. You should find a place where you can limit the download speed. Try limiting the speed and see if that solves your problems (or just shut off your client for a few days). You can also try tweaking the number of connections if your client allows it. If you find that your router woes disappear after changing these settings, you've found the problem and you'll just have to settle for slightly slower download speeds.
Option 4: Buy a New Router
The fact of the matter is that while the above tweaks may help, chances are your router is old, cheap or just plain crappy. If none of the above solutions work, look up and read reviews on routers. I'd look for a router that not only has high ratings but is popular — this means that the manufacturer is more likely to update the firmware and also more likely that DD-WRT will have a version available for it. Also make sure that you buy from a store that has a good return policy in case you experience problems within the first few weeks. You don't want to go and spend $100 only to find that your new router has the exact same issue.
While you're at it, check out our router buying guide to see what other features you might want.
Last Resort: Plug the Router Into a Garden Timer
In situations like this I love to take a cheap garden timer from Home Depot/any hardware store and set it to reboot the router on a daily basis at a time when there's generally little to no usage.
This could solve a number of the problems that can cause your router to need a reboot. If you just set the timer to reboot once a day when you're sleeping, you probably won't ever have to do it manually. It isn't a perfect solution, but it's a clever one that doesn't involve buying a new router or going through hours of troubleshooting.
Again, these aren't the only solutions to the infamous router reboot problem, but these are some of the most common ways to solve the issue. While you're fixing router problems, you might as well fix your crappy Wi-Fi signal, too. Good luck!
PS Got any other solutions for fixing a constantly failing router? Share them with us in the comments below.
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