Friday, August 26, 2011

Why Are Routers So Short-Lived?

I am struggling a bit with internal IT problems.  The new high speed Internet service is splendid--but the Belkin wireless router I bought a couple of years ago started going out, with the time between failures getting shorter and shorter--and now it is completely dead.  I pulled out a wired only Linksys router, since most PCs in the house now have Ethernet running through various walls and crawl spaces--and discovered that it lived for a few minutes before it died, also.

I reset both of them with the magic button on the back to return them to default configuration--and both died.  It would appear that the WAN-LAN interface is what failed, because the Belkin was still working fine on the LAN side--it just couldn't talk to the WAN side anymore.

Pretty obviously, I have a network connection.  The end of the cable from the radio plugs into the back of one notebook.  (My primary notebook, unfortunately, seems to have lost its wired Ethernet interface--at least, it does not work, and I have no wireless router in the house until tomorrow.)

I am a bit mystified why routers don't seem to last more than a couple of years.  Is it the lightning strikes generating surges through the WAN cable, frying something?  What should I be doing to protect it?  I presume that there are isolators for RJ45 connectors.  It isn't like there any moving parts in these things!

UPDATE: It turns out the Ethernet port isn't bad on the primary laptop; I have been using a bunch of Ethernet cables that were scrapped at HP when I first started there because they were only 10BaseT cables.  Theoretically this should work, although at a relatively slow rate--not enough to matter when my Internet connection is less than 10 Mbps anyway--but it may be that this cable was marginal in some other way as well.  I need to splurge and buy some proper 100BaseT Ethernet cables.

I also notice that one of the bridges that I use to cobble together the "too many Ethernet devices for a home office" is only a 10BaseT bridge--also something scrapped by HP when I started work there.  Since the printers and scanners are the primary devices on that bridge, it does not make a huge difference in their performance, but perhaps I should look at replacing that bridge as well with a 100BaseT Ethernet hub or bridge.

UPDATE 2: Instructions for configuring a router to work as a bridge are here.  I have removed the 10BaseT hub (which belongs in a museum of ancient HP technology), and replaced it with the Linksys router, which has eight LAN ports on it.  It turns out that some of the cables that I thought were antiques are labeled as 100BaseT--only a couple are 10BaseT cables that need replacing.


  1. Why? Thermal issues in general. When my company had a router division I talked to some of the guys who did them and in general there were thermal issues with the chips in them. Routers are small, always on, usually get put in cramped, dusty spaces, and in general they tend to use the maximum RF power they can. That stresses the chips if the airflow in the router isn't the best.

    I've generally had pretty good luck with Linksys and Buffalo routers, although I have to say that the Buffalo routers that you can put Tomato or DD-WRT on are my favorite. The additional power in those bits of router software is impressive and very useful if you're doing VoIP or a VPN on a line you have to share with teenagers. And I've had good luck with Buffalo. Belkin, on the other hand, has a very poor reputation. I've never had any sort of luck with their routers lasting any length of time.

    You might want to check out Newegg since I've found that, in general, their user's reviews are pretty accurate.

  2. Well, for surge suppression it should be hard to go wrong with APC's stuff, in this case the Protectnet Modem Surge Protection. It's pro level stuff in that when the components use themselves up protecting your equipment from surges it fails open.

    Otherwise ... I'm not sure. For a variety of reasons I stick to 1000BT at home, and between AT&T's standard 2Wire modem/routers (which have a high infant failure rate but after that seem to be very reliable and long lived) and a semi-pro 3COM switch I've not had serious problems. I do have everything on a APC Smart-UPS (not the lower quality Back-UPS line).

  3. I use the Mac Airport Express (2 actually). One for a soho, the other in my bizz location.

    They are 24/7/365 and have been for 3 years with zero problems.

    I used pc's for 25 years before going to mac. I will never go back.

    I have norhing but solutions instead of periods of efficiency stopped by hours of "now what's wrong".

  4. Mostly heat over time changes values on the individual circuit components - the non integrated circuit bits - resistors and capacitors and such. It's not inherent in the technology it's inherent in the building for a price point for consumer grade sell at Best Buy merchandise. There's no point in building better and longer lasting and technician servicable in today's world. Often devices are stacked as modem with a router on top of it in a corner with no air flow no AC much of the year including added heat in the winter - not in a temperature controlled server closet. Plenty of surges in a home environment anyway. Sure keep them cool and condition the inputs but with the pace of technology doing real conditioning on the inputs doesn't pay - buy the surge protector or buy the router.

  5. The Protectnet Modem Surge Protector turns out to be just a bit cheaper than buying a new cheap router. I confess, it is still an attractive idea--if it doubles the lifetime of a router, it still makes sense, and when it does fail because of lightning induced surges, you can at least continue using the router unprotected while waiting for a replacement.

  6. If you're feeling brave and up to warranty voiding, you can crack the case on the router and install a heatsink and/or fan to help with the overheating.

  7. This is the version required for RJ45 connectors, however.

  8. My general rule of thumb is that the cheapest model on shelves is cutting corners somewhere. I'll pretty much always rule out the cheapest pre-sale priced item when shopping for tech. I learned that the harder way back in the late 90s getting $20 PC case & power supplies that lasted ~6 months. I bought a quality power supply, it ran for years. Buying the fruit-logo'd item will always avoid the lowest bidder syndrome, but I think there's plenty of models out there in the middle ground between the cheapest junk and the open your wallet in the direction of Steve Jobs.

    I've got a D-Link DIR-615 Rev C here that's been working fine for over 18 months. Previous was a D-Link WBR-2310 that started flaking out after we moved. The WBR-2310 was one of the last things out of the last house, and took an airplane trip with me when we moved. After we arrived, it'd drop all connections and soft-reboot every 5 minutes. Not fun.

    I'd also recommend trying to flash to latest firmware, as there are occasionally some bugs fixed by that.

  9. I may try and reflash to the latest firmware, but it also strikes me that at least the Belkin seemed to be working on the LAN side--I recall that there is a way to configure a router to operate as a bridge. (A bridge, after all, is a router that isn't terribly intelligent--it just redistributes packets without changing addressing.) This would let me dispose of the 10BaseT bridge that I am currently using.

  10. If you're looking at buying more cables, I really recommend . Really cheap cables of all sorts, lengths, etc. I've seen that site promoted by various posters on and, and decided to give it a try. I wasn't disappointed.

  11. I bought a Linksys 802.11B wireless router about a decade ago. One of the many different devices that Linksys used to put into the same lame identical plastic clamshell case. It died within a year in warranty and its identical replacement plus a version increment has lasted me about nine years strangely enough.

  12. I ran various D-Link and Linksys (with both the Linksys and DD-WRT firmware) for a while. After moving, I dropped $50 on a surplus Cisco router (2621) and a couple surplus Cisco access points (1231). Uptime is now around 8 months for the whole setup, without a hiccup.

    As far as networking gear goes, I'd rather pay $50 for something that once went for $1,000 than pay $50 for something new that I know is going to be unreliable