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High-End Routers: Is it Worth Spending More Upfront for Longterm Savings?

We pit a pricey router against the ISP offerings, comparing cost, device quality, and customer support.
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Should you rent, or buy? It's the eternal question for savvy shoppers, whether they're looking for a place to live, to upgrade their appliances, or even to splurge on a new dress. When it comes to routers, many consumers choose to rent a unit from their cable company. However, there may be some big benefits to buying a router outright, particularly if it's a higher-end model.

I recently upgraded our home router to the NETGEAR Nighthawk DST AC1900, a gigabit router that definitely set me back a pretty penny. This high-end router includes free Geek Squad support at Best Buy, and came with a ton of added perks. But was it worth the high purchase price? Here's a rundown of how this powerful router stacks up against the router you might be renting from your local telecom provider.

You Probably Already Spend $120 a Year to Rent Your Router

If you rent your router, or a router-modem combination unit, your cable company is probably charging you around $10 a month. The exact price you pay will depend on which company you purchase your Internet service from. The company generally fronts the cost of repair or replacement. When the company upgrades its services, you may get a newer model router brought to your house or office. If your router breaks, a tech will probably bring you a replacement unit in a few days. Ten bucks a month doesn't sound like a lot, but that works out to $120 per year.

SEE ALSO: How to Speed Up Your Internet Connection

In the case of buying a Nighthawk DST AC1900 from Best Buy, you're covered by a Geek Squad service plan. I paid $299.99 for the router. That purchase price included home network support for one year through Geek Squad, to help with any troubleshooting needs that might arise. Additionally, I got a free download of Webroot SecureAnywhere, which covers me for six months and protects up to three devices. I paid a little extra ($29.99) for two-year Geek Squad product replacement coverage.

Upfront Costs Might Mean Long-Term Savings

This is definitely a bigger upfront cost than renting an average router from Comcast, but it has some nice perks that your average ISP rental might lack. True, the upfront Netgear costs are more than you'd pay over two years of renting a router from the cable company, but there's a lot to be said for the quality of a high-end router, and for the autonomy that comes with owning your own gear — and getting service from a non-cable company.

Additionally, this router will eventually pay for itself; if you buy it at full price, you'll break even after two and a half years, but if you snag it on sale, it'll pay for itself after about two years. We recently saw Best Buy offer a $50 discount, and although it's now over, it's very likely to come back again at some point.

Rented Routers Are Usually Terrible Quality

The routers (or router-modem combo units) on offer as rentals from your local cable company are bound to vary by location, so comparing the AC1900 against other options is tricky.

A Lifehacker article claims that it's almost always bad to rent the router or router-modem combo your ISP offers up. While you'll get tech support through your ISP, Lifehacker argues, "it's not usually worth the extra cost because the routers don't have a lot of features."

Rental routers usually lack Dead Spot Terminator, which essentially eliminates any "dead" areas in your home or office where your WiFi signal cuts out.

One of the premium features your average rental router might lack is DST, which you'll get with the AC1900. DST, or Dead Spot Terminator, is a feature that creates a new WiFi access point, essentially eliminating any "dead" areas in your home or office where your WiFi signal cuts out. The included DST adapter has a single gigabit Ethernet port.

For my money, the AC1900 has been worth the amount I paid up front. The DST adapter has eliminated a few troublesome dead zones in our house that plagued us when we were running an older NETGEAR router (an N300 WNR2000v3, to be precise). In addition, we can now run our Roku player and Apple TV over WiFi. With our old router, we still needed to have an Ethernet cable running a hard line into those set-top boxes to get the best possible experience.

Depending on what your cable company offers in your city, you may find that purchasing your own router gives you better performance when it comes to streaming video, gaming with friends, or just being able to get a decent WiFi signal in your bedroom.

ISPs Have Poor History of Customer Service

But the quality of the device isn't the only factor to consider when you're weighing the relative value of a rental router versus a high-end purchase. Don't overlook the quality of your customer service, either. Big providers such as Comcast and Time Warner Cable are routinely panned for their customer service, and Comcast has been fined for being too slow to answer customer calls on multiple occasions.

Comcast and Time Warner Cable are routinely panned for their customer service, and Comcast has been fined for being too slow to answer customer calls.

According to CustomerServiceScoreboard.com, a website that ranks customer service and customer support quality, Comcast has a "Disappointing" score of 32.42, with Time Warner and Charter Communications are not doing much better. The site's scoring system also assigns a "Disappointing" score to Geek Squad, though it's worth noting that Geek Squad's numerical score is still a little higher.

However, some of those low scores may just be down to general hatred of the customer service experience: Nobody's ever at their best when their Internet is down. For what it's worth, PCMag recently gave Geek Squad a rating of "excellent," so perhaps it's all down to individual experience.

Make Sure the Router Is Supported (and Consider Cheaper Options Too)

Before purchasing a new router or router with an integrated modem, always check with your cable provider to confirm that the device will be supported. Some companies have a nasty track record of only supporting older tech, which can be frustrating if you fork over a couple hundred bucks and find out your new gear isn't approved by your ISP.

And before you spring for a $300 router like the AC1900, it's probably worth looking at cheaper options as well. The Wirecutter recommends the much cheaper TP-LINK Archer C7 (v2) router, which is about one-third the price of the AC1900. While not the fastest option out there, it's affordable and reliable. Do your research, and make sure you're not paying for more router than you really need.

In the end, you're likely to have a better experience with a higher-end router than you would with whatever your ISP rents to you. And while the upfront cost may be high, you will eventually break even with the cost of renting.

Readers, what's your take? Would you rather pay a lot of money up front for a router, or stick with paying a monthly fee to your ISP? Share your thoughts in the comments below!


Contributing Writer

Tucker Cummings is a freelance writer based in New England. She's also written for Yahoo! TV and Tapscape. Follow her on Twitter @tuckercummings on Twitter for her musings on tech, TV, writing, and current events.
DealNews may be compensated by companies mentioned in this article. Please note that, although prices sometimes fluctuate or expire unexpectedly, all products and deals mentioned in this feature were available at the lowest total price we could find at the time of publication (unless otherwise specified).
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13 comments
johnegopher
Hey msombrio, while I agree with your Geek Squad assessment, Best Buy's prices are actually quite competetive now, especially since they price match Amazon, NewEgg, et.al. And for me here in Texas, Amazon now charges sales tax, so I essentially can pay the same price at BB, just have to ask for the price match. All the employees I've asked for price match have been super nice about it, no hesitation whatsoever.
BlueOak
"includes free G**k Squ*d support at B*st B*y"

How much did they pay you to take G**k Squ*d support? Hopefully it resulted in a hefty discount on the router.

I wouldn't let those scumbags anywhere near my stuff.
digitalmonkeys
I've had Comcast for 3 yrs. I have a $50 modem and a $20 router from Amazon. That way if one dies I only replace the one. Previously I had a $100 Motorola combo router/modem and it died 30 days outside of the 1 yr warranty. Modem: Zoom 5341 DOCSIS 3.0 Cable Modem 5341J, Router: TP-LINK N300. When I had DSL over 3 yrs ago, I bought my modem/router from Amazon used for $25, sold it on Craigslist 6 months later for $30 when I moved; better than renting!
msombrio
While I agree it's best to buy your own router you are Best Buy's dream customer. The same router is $100 or more less everywhere else. So you paid that for one year of geek squad support then purchased another $30 in replacement warranty. I wouldn't let anyone from the geek squad anywhere near any of my computer equipment.
ecvogel
Very rarely does a router die within the first two years, so i think the replacement plan might be a waste of money. I do know how to troubleshoot so you have to factor that in too. I do have a $200 router with a bad Qualicom chip out of warranty. But since it is well known, I am slowly working with the company. I hope I get it resolved, but it is a prototype so they may get nervous when I can't produce a serial number....
computer parts guy
Newegg has a lot of combo deals with both the modem and wireless router. Don't underestimate the power of older models. After all they were top of the line at one time. I got a tp-link ac450 model (old) covers my house where an ac1750 didn't. I like Tucker's idea of look at not so popular models like tp-link their factory warranty is better than netgear. During black friday a tp-link ac1750 was less than $70. Also look at if your router can be a wireless bridge. When it gets weaker you can still use it to get a low signal area across the house.
xterra
High dollar routers are just as bad as cheap ones, only difference is some have more options.
algreimann
Last time I ask, ATT U-verse does not allow you to purchase their router or use a third party.

That was about a year ago.
Willyohyo
Anybody know if this is true for U-Verse? I looked into getting one but my brother asked if we could buy our own router instead of renting and they said you had to rent from them?
nimer
I mean replaced the modem, not the free router. duh ;-)

And reason I went for exact is so that I don't hear excuses of 'oh, we don't support this and that modem'.
nimer
Optimum (CableVision) gives a free router, but charge you $4.95 for the Cable Modem itself. So here's what I did: I googled and ebayed my EXACT router, and found a refurb on ebay for $25 shipped. You don't even need to call them anymore to switch equipment, just plug your router and the first time it starts it will guide you through two setup pages to attach the MAC id to your account. No brainer!
Cilvre
never ever rent your router or modem from the cable company, it's always a better investment to buy both yourself as they pay for themselves in the long run and their warranties tend to outlast how long you would have rented them for before they pay for themselves. also comcast shares your wifi through the rented router, so if your speeds dip, it could be because another comcast user is logged into the public wifi on their account and using your bandwidth instead of theirs.
HeyTiger
The tool nerd in me was really excited.
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