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Is It Possible for My Internet Router to Wear Out?

2012-10-02_140224

Day after day your humble and hard working router holds your home network together and links it to the greater internet. Is it possible to work it to death?

Today’s Question & Answer session comes to us courtesy of SuperUser—a subdivision of Stack Exchange, a community-drive grouping of Q&A web sites.

The Question

After having more than his fair share of trouble with a home router, SuperUser reader JQAn posed the following question to the community:

I’ve been having problems with my internet connection over the past weeks (intermittent disconnections, slow transfers, etc.), and my provider keeps telling me that the problem is not on their end.

I have cable modem with a Wi-Fi router (this router was not provided by them).

The router is quite old (DIR-300), so I’m starting to wonder if it could be the issue and if I should replace it.

Is it possible that it is the cause? Can they become so outdated that they cause intermittent interruptions of service?

If I reset the modem and the router, they work fine for a few hours, but the problems starts again after a while.

Can you wear out a router like an old car? Let’s take a look at the community response.

The Answers

2012-10-02_141147

SuperUser contributor John weighs in on the matter and offers some trouble shooting insight:

Yes.

In general, routers can and do fail. The primary cause of failure for consumer grade equipment is heat stress. Most consumer grade hardware runs far too hot and have respectively poor air circulation compared to their ventilation needs.

Long-term exposure to heat causes various components to degrade/fail and manifests itself as “intermittent” problems. In general, consumer grade hardware is not as robustly made as commercial or enterprise hardware. But all physical devices are subject to physical effects.

It’s not uncommon for consumer grade devices to fail within a few years due to heat or vibration issues. Routers stuck near windows (argh! the sun!), placed on the floor (dust!), or jammed into a bookcase (no air flow) are especially prone to failures. Contrast that with commercial grade devices which are often still working for 10 or more years after their first deployment.

Most cable modems have either an Ethernet port or Wi-Fi ability. To isolate the cause of your network problems, you should consider bypassing your router and plugging your PC/laptop directly into the cable modem to see if whether or not you experience the same problems.

Of course, bypassing the router means you bypass the router’s firewall protection and NAT abilities so take due precautions on your computer.

Contributor Climenole points out that heat is most likely the culprit:

A (possibly) good example of the Second Law of Thermodynamics:

«Any transformation of a thermodynamic system is carried out with increase in entropy including overall entropy of the system and the external environment.»

You wrote:

If I reset the modem and the router, they work fine for a few hours, but the problems start again after a while.

This may be an overheating problem or the overheating is the symptom…

The easiest way to check if the router is Out of Service or near to this inevitable state, you may try with another one temporary (from a friend for example). If this solved the Internet connection problems, you have the answer.

While there’s no shortage of how-to guides over at Instructables to help guide you through adding a heatsink/fan to a router, unless you’re in the mood for a DIY solution that may not ultimately fix your problem it’s often easier to just buy a new router.

For more information about routers from the How-To Geek archives, make sure to check out:


Have something to add to the explanation? Sound off in the the comments. Want to read more answers from other tech-savvy Stack Exchange users? Check out the full discussion threads here.

Jason Fitzpatrick is warranty-voiding DIYer and all around geek. When he's not documenting mods and hacks he's doing his best to make sure a generation of college students graduate knowing they should put their pants on one leg at a time and go on to greatness, just like Bruce Dickinson. You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 10/2/12

Comments (33)

  1. r

    no big shocker , heat stress is likely the cause of untimely failure for all hardware components

  2. Grant

    Mine is in a nice, cool basement, with no vibration, but they still die about every 3 years. My new one shows up tomorrow. If they still are intermittent after a full factory reset, I assume that it is a hardware problem. Luckily, my network is set up in two segments, wired and wireless, so if only one side is having problems, I know it is not the ISP.

  3. Aurora900

    Grant: Your basement may be cool, but the inside of the router isn’t… and if it doesn’t have good air circulation (as most don’t) it will still die.

    If you know you

  4. Aurora900

    Somehow my browser just flipped out and posted that…

    Anyways, as I was saying: If you know your router is being subjected to a lot of heat, it may be good to add a fan or heatsinks to the router… theres lots of tutorials around for that. Also, what I did in a server room at my previous job… I just stuck a fan next to the router, and stuck the router on its side so heat wasn’t getting trapped under it (those little rubber feet don’t really help much, if you’re even lucky enough to have them)

  5. David

    New is not always better. I have several “new” units that just will not perform.

    Check the power supplies, wall worts are not very well built.

    Check forums/feedback to see what is popular.

    Wireless = opportunity for interference Microwave, apartments, new neighbors etc

  6. Bigtech

    Yah this happens too. It doesn’t help that some providers knowingly sell fault pone hardware. One of the ISPs out here is notorious for it. Their modems fail within 2-3 years from heat stress and you have to purchase your replacements from them.

    Advice. Use a dust blower to dust out the device every so often.Secondly make sure the device has like at least an inch of clearance around it’s two largest surfaces.

  7. Randy

    I have a WRT54g v8 that has been running faithfully now for 5 years, give or take. It’s a Linksys. The cheap one you usually see on all their adds. Can’t believe that it is still working. I keep it well ventilated so the heat issue really isn’t an issue.

  8. Andre

    Why such a big deal on a failing router? Buy a new one! Even here in Brazil is becoming cheap as ever, I can imagine for someone living in US, Canada, etc.

  9. cmaglaughlin

    Add a shot power adapter to the mix. AT&T insisted I needed a new modem(theirs…$99). I read a comment on Amazon…could be the power adapter. Bingo! $4.00 vs $99! AT&T knows of the faulty adapters but has done nothing to “share” the solution with customers. Please, SOMEONE, start a half decent ISP that’s honest, cheap, and works Linux!

  10. JohnS

    More likely in this case I would suspect that your router is now too old to deal with the lastest updates

  11. soL

    @ Andre : The “big deal” on replacing failing routers (or any hardware) has less to do with price than it does with contributing to the already mass-piles of unnecessary garbage that poisons our planet.

  12. Bill

    Why in the world does every manufacturer insist on providing a separate power adaptor??? I have so many of the damned things I have to label every one to make sure I don’t blow something up by hooking it to the wrong bit of kit (yes, it’s happened to me – and I suspect a few others.

  13. Andre

    @soL yeah it makes sense…. Thinking from an economical perspective it’s less hassle changing it, from an environmental perspective, you got a point :)

  14. Dano

    @soL – I used plastic bags at the store today, then threw them away. It was everything I thought it could be, and more.

  15. k4rizmz

    After having my router for like 9 years it just wore out. Everyone could connect to the wireless but had an INCREDIBLY slow internet connection.

    Directly connecting a laptop/pc to the modem revealed it was the router causing a slow internet connection.

    It was time to upgrade anyways :) Got a really nice N-class router and flashed it with DD-WRT firmware. Sweeeet!

  16. Tom2

    @Dano > Even better, you should put one over your head, seal it and then breathe in. Then you might understand what Earth feels like.

  17. Thomas

    I had to Dremel out a hole on my third one and install and small fan. This one has lasted twice as long as any of the others so far. I’m considering building my own ventilated and filtered cabinet just for electronics that we don’t have to physically touch like my DVR, cable box, and such. Does anyone have any good plans that they have stumbled across? The variety I have found on Google is a bit overwhelming so I’m hoping for some organic filtering. ;) I could buy one but they seem overpriced, especially when you factor in shipping.

  18. vopthis

    Occasionally, I have found that a seemingly unreliable router may be resolved by adding a UPS (Uninterruptable Power Supply).

  19. FichenDich

    Yes, everything electronic can “wear out”. But I have never had a single problem from a router or a switch. I have had tons of problems with cable modems. Where I currently live, the first one lasted A bit over five years, the second one died after six months ! ISP supplied/required cable modems are absolute shyte, even if you buy them yourself from the original supplier !

  20. Erik

    Been running an old D-Link router for over 8 years straight under extreme use. Still running strong. I bought it new on clearance back then, too. Definitely worth it.

  21. john3347

    My D-link experience has been exactly opposite Eric’s. I bought 3 or 4 D-link routers and experienced extremely short life from every one of them. I have since experienced MUCH better longevity from less expensive competitive brands.

    Yes, electronic components do have a finite lifetime even under ideal conditions. When one critical component in a product such as a Router fails, the whole router fails. One example of why you may experience intermittent failure is because with many components, for instance, the resistance, or conductivity, varies with temperature. Temperature varies with many conditions. Excessive temperature is probably the greatest enemy to your electronic device. Even normal temperatures, within design limits, eventually destroys individual components and causes a device to malfunction. Cycling of temperatures from cold to hot and back to cold accelerates degradation of component function. All these things are normal occurrences, but do lead to eventual device failure.

    Yes, JQAn, your DIR-300 does have a finite life expectancy even tho it has no moving parts. “Finite” may mean anything from a few weeks to many years depending on many different circumstances. When a solid state device quits working and no external environment has changed, it probably is “worn out”.

  22. pbug56

    There are a number of issues with routers to think about, though heat seems to be #1.

    A few years ago, for instance, Linksys redesigned their wifi routers from being a bit bulky, stackable, having external antennas (great for range) and well vented, to cute looking small things with internal antennas and poor range, and pretty much no ventilation and no stackability. My Wrt610N could have had a fan blowing on it and it would still get quite hot and eventually just stop responding. Over time it became quite unusable.

    Routers can also become quite obsolete – especially wifi. It’s one thing to have a G router when your max download speed is 15mbps. Quite another when you download at 30 or 50; the router can’t keep up with it. Making matters worse is that many of today’s laptops have extremely cheap, unusable alleged N cards that max out at maybe 65mbps in theory, far less in actuality. On top of that, not having the right N settings greatly lowers throughput. And some N routers barely support N. Try the default FIOS routers, which have N – barely. The only way to get decent speed from some of them is to plug in directly.

    There are though some excellent wifi routers in the low hundred range. I eventually switched to the WNDR4000, and combined with the external wifi dongle on my latest laptop I get as high as 450mbps at fairly short range through walls and floor.

  23. Bob

    Many routers, dsl modems and network switches have ventilation slots along the left and right hand edges of the case. If you mount the router / modem vertically so the slots are at the top and bottom you can usually get enough convection airflow to keep the router reasonably cool. I have a Netgear router and they seem to have recognised this problem as it comes with a stand for vertical mounting. Many routers come with screw mount slots on the underneath which can be used to mount them on a vertical surface. I have never had a modem or router fail. I did replace my dsl modem and router recently to bring them up to newer standards of IPV6 and wireless 802.11n. The old ones are still operative and kept for spares for troubleshooting.

  24. Ron

    If you are buying anything; read customer reviews about the product.
    Also learn the terminology.
    The $$ and frustrations you save will be your own !!

  25. jimbo57

    No REAL surprise… Routers are a small, special purpose computer, running in a tight space with little airflow – 24/7 for months and months on end. The quintiscential recipe for heat failure.

  26. macxss

    same type problem….telephone help from cable company was power cycle modem and router which worked for a while (hours to days) . problem was finally fixed when they replaced the filter at the street. they also replaced several neighbors filters because they were “old” even though no problems had yet been reported.

  27. macxss

    cable modem was replaced router was replaced signal level on their meter when the tech was here was also good

  28. Tony

    Run straight from your modem to a pc (eliminating the router) and see if you have any issues. If not, it may be your router (they are fairly cheap). I have had several issues with my cable service and they keep turning out to be my house coaxial cabling and/or splitters. I will run flawlessly at 20 – 25Mbs – then start having disconnects and speed (speedtest.net) will drop to below 1Mbs then back to normal – always turns out to be my in-house cabling.

  29. Erik

    Insufficient ventillation, power surges, and improper grounding can destroy electronics over time. Bad capacitors, too! I’ve experienced the latter with various motherboards (shame on you, MSI). As for my router pushing 9 years under 24/7 use, I stand it upright as opposed to flat, to increase cooling coverage. It has at least 2 inches of ‘breathing room’ all around it as well. I always use quality surge protection and replaced my protectors every 5 years. I unplug my electronics before serious lightning storms if possible. I use the latest firmware updates. I’m sure all that has helped keep my $30 router running without a hitch. (Perhaps upgrading the antenna to a 40db helped, too?)

  30. Dic

    My ASUS can drop out 1-3 times a day, for say three weeks, then run for two weeks or more without failing.

    It never occurred to me, before reading this excellent item, that the fluctuations of temp. in the room might have been the cause.

    Having just picked up the router, to check out the heat situation with it ( it lies horizontal), I found not only the bottom of the thing hot, but also the shelf it had been sitting on!

    I see it has two screw-head slots on the back, which are meant for wall-hanging, but I’ll suspend it from an out-of-harm’s-way, vibrationless edge of a shelf, where it will then have several cu. ft of space, almost all around it.

    Thanks, HTG, you’ve helped me, once again.

  31. jpbrogan

    @all .. A lot of great food for thought in this article.

    My theory is that with age comes wear. With all those little electrons running around inside the devices, the wires, traces, etc. eventually wear and get thinner until the electron flow slows your response due to the capacity of the path and then it stops!

    Jesting aside, heat and unstable power are by far the largest causes of failures. But keep in mind that by going from passive cooling (vented) to active (fans), you introduce more dust and debris into the device that can increase the heating problem many fold in a much shorter time. Dust just isn’t a good conductor of heat and will impede the cooling of components. Use caution and remember to adjust your cleaning schedule accordingly.

    Remember two things.
    1. Cleanliness is next to better throughput and device longevity ;)
    2. Murphy’s rule applies – It’s not if it will fail, it’s when !

  32. Dic

    And don’t put that fan anywhere near a monitor!

  33. TonyM

    @John the first contributor quoted in the article
    FYI if you plug your computer via an ethernet cable directly to your broadband reuter you are still protected by it’s firewall and no extra precautions are neccessary :)

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