A very old Wi-Fi router sitting on a table.
Hannah Stryker / How-To Geek
Old Wi-Fi routers are vulnerable to security exploits and lack the quality-of-life upgrades found in modern routers. Even if you don't need the bandwidth improvement, upgrading is beneficial.

If your home internet is pretty slow, you might think it doesn’t matter if you have a dusty old router without the latest bells and whistles. Here’s why you should give serious consideration to upgrading.

First, Let’s Define Old and Slow

Talking about a router being old or new, or an internet connection being slow or fast requires us to define how we’re using those terms within the context of this article.

Most routers are usually at least a Wi-Fi technology generation out of date about five years or so after their release date. If you bought your router five years ago, and it was already an old model at the time of purchase, you’re even further removed from current Wi-Fi technology. New, in the context of routers, refers to router models released in the last few years—within three years is even better.

And as far as “fast” and “slow” internet goes, that’s quite subjective regarding opinions on broadband adoption and personal preference. However, we’re looking at fast and slow here as a relationship between the Wi-Fi router hardware and the internet connection speed.

People have asked us, does it matter if I have an old router if I have slow internet? And that’s a perfectly valid question. What does it matter if you have an early 2010s-era 802.11n router with only a 50 Mbps or 100 Mbps broadband connection that will never saturate the router fully? It matters more than you think because the Wi-Fi experience is more than just speed test results but a whole host of router features. Let’s look at why.

Old Wi-Fi Routers Don’t Get Security Updates

Talking about security isn’t sexy, but security is important. Even if you don’t feel like any of the speed or quality of life improvements we’ll be talking about in a moment matter to you, the security of your home network should matter.

The days of turning on the family computer now and then to send an occasional email or play an offline game are long gone for most of us. Our households are online all the time in some capacity, our televisions are connected to the internet, and people use their home internet connection and the devices on it for things like banking, securely logging into the medical records,  and other important matters.

With that in mind, it’s less than ideal to have a super old router that doesn’t get security updates anymore. Whatever vulnerabilities are discovered after the last round of updates your router received, you’re stuck with. And you won’t be able to use the most advanced Wi-Fi encryption with your devices.

You don’t need a brand new cutting-edge router to ensure you get security updates, but you do want a more recent model that still receives updates (and will for at least a few more years). Router security updates is a topic we feel strongly enough about that we recommend you throw out your router when it no longer gets them.

Old Wi-Fi Routers Have Weaker Hardware

You might not give much thought to the amount of processing power your Wi-Fi router has or what kind of hardware is inside, so before we talk about routers specifically, let’s talk about the issue by comparing it to computers.

Nearly everyone has had the experience of upgrading their computer and then being blown away by how much nicer the experience of using the computer was after the upgrade. We’re not even talking about gamers enjoying improved performance in AAA game titles or other demanding activities. We’re talking about basic day-to-day stuff like opening files, browsing the web, etc.

It’s not that writing emails or watching a YouTube video on a 2013-era laptop versus a 2023-era laptop is a fundamentally different activity. It’s that a decade of hardware improvements and optimizations makes doing so feel snappier and more enjoyable.

Your old router likely has a much weaker CPU. It also has less powerful radios using older Wi-Fi technology. Even the physical ports on older routers can be anemic. Gigabit Ethernet is standard now, but even into the mid-2010s, many budget routers still had basic 10/100 Ethernet ports. Pair that kind of router with faster broadband, and you’re hobbling yourself right out of the gate.

So sure, you can connect your new iPhone to a ten-year-old router just fine, but that old router won’t be optimized for Wi-Fi technology improvements that didn’t even exist when it was created.

When you jump from an old router to a new router, you’ll be surprised to see things you didn’t realize were related to the router—such as how fast a web page loads after you send the request or how well social media posts load on your phone—are greatly improved. It turns out you didn’t need a new smart TV,  you needed a Wi-Fi router that could form a more reliable connection to it.

Old Wi-Fi Routers Weren’t Made for High-Density Environments

When I installed my first Wi-Fi router back in the 802.11b/g days, I had a handful of Wi-Fi devices in my home—most of which were never on simultaneously, let alone doing demanding things in tandem.

Now, however, I have around 100 devices connected to my Wi-Fi network at any given time. While many of those devices are things like smart plugs, quite a few are high-demand items like smart TVs, phones, and other devices that require reliable high-bandwidth connections.

The network landscape of the home has changed, and newer routers are designed with that landscape in mind. Whether you have a basic 100 Mbps connection through your local cable company or a 2 Gbps fiber connection, your router’s ability to juggle dozens and dozens of connections on the Wi-Fi network is crucial.

It’s not just about supplying any given device with the maximum amount of bandwidth possible it’s about stability and connection management. Take streaming video bandwidth demands, for instance. You only need about 5 Mbps of speed for HD video and about 15 Mbps for 4K video.

It’s more important to have a reliable router that can reach the location of your smart TV or phone with a stable signal than anything else—and newer hardware is better suited for delivering that stability to multiple devices simultaneously.

Old Wi-Fi Routers Lack Quality of Life Improvements

We like to encourage people to think about their router purchases like they are shopping for a car. When you’re shopping for a car, you rarely shop for the fastest possible car you can buy. Outside of buying a performance car for racing purposes, the maximum speed a car can go is almost entirely irrelevant, and most people never drive their car as fast as it can possibly go.

What matters is comfort and ease of use. Most of us don’t want a car than can go 200 MPH. We want a car with comfortable seats, lane-assist semi-autonomous driving, room for the stuff we want to haul around, and so on.

In that regard, most people don’t need to buy a bleeding-edge performance router with a theoretical throughput capacity 20 times higher than their broadband connection. But they should buy a newer router that includes all the quality-of-life improvements we’ve seen in Wi-Fi and router technology over the years.

Newer routers include automatic security updates, so you’ll never have to worry about manually downloading and applying a firmware fix again. Speaking of automation, many older Wi-Fi routers don’t even have Quality of Service (QoS) rules. Or, if they do, you have to configure them manually. Newer Wi-Fi routers include automatic QoS adjusts that can intelligently identify and adapt network allocation based on activities without you even knowing what a QoS rule even is.

Wi-Fi optimizations in newer Wi-Fi generations benefit not just the newer devices that can take advantage of specific features like fast roaming but also older devices on the same network.

If you want to upgrade and you’re not sure where to start, you can consider buying a budget Wi-Fi router. But we also recommend buying a single mesh router. You get a perfectly good modern Wi-Fi router all by itself (with great automated features) for around the same price as a stand-alone budget router. And if you need more coverage extending your network with mesh nodes is dead simple.

However you approach the problem, though, it’s worth replacing that old router with an awesome router with modern features and current security updates.

The Best Mesh Routers of 2023

Best Mesh Router Overall
TP-Link Deco X20
Best Budget Mesh Router
TP-Link Deco X20
Best Wi-Fi 6 Mesh Router
ASUS ZenWiFi Pro ET12
Best Wi-Fi 6E Mesh Router
ASUS ZenWiFi Pro ET12
Amazon Eero Pro 6
Best Mesh Router for Gaming
Amazon Eero Pro 6
Netgear Orbi RBK753
Best Mesh Router for Large Homes
Netgear Orbi RBK753
Profile Photo for Jason Fitzpatrick Jason Fitzpatrick
Jason Fitzpatrick is the Senior Smart Home Editor at How-To Geek. He has over a decade of experience in publishing and has authored thousands of articles at How-To Geek, Review Geek, LifeSavvy, and Lifehacker. Jason served as Lifehacker's Weekend Editor before he joined How-To Geek.
Read Full Bio »