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Here’s How You Can Handle a Wi-Fi Router Like a Pro

The WAN (Internet) port of a router is always easily distinguishable from its LAN ports. Dong Ngo | Dong Knows Tech

The headline doesn’t lie. This post will help you set up and manage your home network, namely your Wi-Fi router, the way advanced users do. It won’t turn you pro right away, but you’ll be on the way there.

Home Wi-Fi router basic: Understand the ports

All Wi-Fi router has at least a few standard network ports to work with network cables. Physically, these ports all look the same, but they can be quite different in what they do and in their speed grades.

Generally, you’ll find them on the back of a router. There are two types, WAN and LAN. Most routers include one WAN port and a few LAN ports. 

The WAN port tends to have a different color and is separate from the LANs for easy recognition. So what do they do?

WAN port

WAN stands for wide area network, which is a fancy name for the Internet. So, it’s the port you use to connect the router to an internet source, like a modem. The port on the source itself is a LAN port.

LAN port

LAN stands for local area network. It’s generally a port type that hosts local devices. Specifically, you use one to connect a wired device, like a desktop computer or a printer, to your home network.

A router tends to have more than one LAN port, but if you have many wired devices, you’ll run out of them fast. To add more, you need a switch.

Another closeup on the back of a Wi-Fi router. Note the WAN and LAN ports. Dong Ngo | Dong Knows Tech

Network switch

A switch is a device that adds more LAN ports to a local network. Truth be told, the LAN ports on a router, as mentioned above, are part of the device’s built-in switch.

A switch always comes with multiple LAN ports. You connect one to a router, and now the rest of the switch’s ports will work just like those of the router itself.

So, a switch always loses one port to connect itself to an existing network. That said, make sure you get one that has the same number of ports as the number of wired devices you want to add to the network, plus one. Or just get a switch with plenty of ports to spare.

Port speed

You might have heard of Gigabit, that’s a network standard speed grade and currently the most popular one.

A Gigabit port can deliver 1 gigabit per second (Gbps) or 125 megabytes per second (MB/s). At this rate, you can transmit a CD worth of data (some 700 MB) in about 6 seconds. It’s quite fast.

There are other speed grades, including Fast Ethernet and multi-gig. Despite the name, Fast Ethernet is only 100Mbps or ten times slower than Gigabit. 

Multi-gig, on the other hand, is faster than Gigabit and can deliver up to 2.5 Gbps, 5 Gbps, or 10 Gbps. The latest Wi-Fi 6 routers might have one or a few multi-gig ports, in addition to their Gigabit ports.

The Arlo Pro 2's Base Station has two USB ports and needs to connect to a network via a network cable.
A network cable (blue) connecting a device to a wall network port. Dong Ngo | Dong Knows Tech

Port type and cable

All network ports share the same port type, which is RJ45. This port type work with all RJ45 network cables, including CAT5e, CAT6, and others. 

So the question is, can you plug a Fast Ethernet (100Mbps) device into a Gigabit port or even a multi-gig port?

The answer is yes, you can plug network devices interchangeably regardless of the speed grades, and they work. However, in this case, the connection speed between a pair is always that of the slowest party.


Type of home Wi-Fi routers

As far as this post is concerned, there are two types of home routers: Those that have a web user interface and those that don’t.

The former tend to give you a lot of customization and settings while the latter doesn’t give you much more than naming your Wi-Fi network and picking a password for it.

Routers without a web interface, like the Google Nest Wi-Fi router or Amazon Eero,  use a mobile app for the setup and on-going management, and they all require a login account with the vendor.

They are convenient to use and easy to manage, but in return, they require the Internet to work, connect to the vendor at all times, and, therefore, pose a privacy risk. They are not my type.

The good news is the majority of routers — virtually all those from real networking vendors — on the market have a web interface. As a result, all you need is a web browser (Chrome, Firefox, Edge, and so on) to work with them.

And since all computers and mobile devices come with a browser, you can manage them right away, without having to download an app.

For convenience’s sake, some of these routers also come with a free mobile app, but it’s always better to handle them via web UI.


Home Wi-Fi router setup: The Placement

Placement applies to any Wi-Fi router (any broadcaster, in fact) — where you put it can mean excellent or bad signal coverage.

Wireless signals are broadcast outwardly as a sphere with the router being in the center. With that, here are what to keep in mind in terms of router placement.

  • Center: As close to the center of the house as possible. Since, in most cases, the Internet drop is at a corner of a house, you can run a network cable from the modem to the router. If running a network cable is not an option, you can resort to a pair of Powerline adapters
  • High ground: It’s best to place your router above the ground. If you have a two- or three-story home, put the router on the second floor. If it’s a single-story home, place it on the ceiling or top of furniture, like a bookshelf.
  • Out in the open: Avoid putting your router in a closet or behind a large, thick object — such as a TV or a refrigerator. Generally, you want to set the router in an open space.

In a large home, a single router might not cut it, and you’ll need multiple pieces like a Wi-Fi mesh system.

In this case, place the hardware pieces in a way so that they can cover the most amount of space, using the same principles mentioned above.

On top of that, make sure you have a good distance between the broadcasters — too close, their signals might cause interference, too far, there’ll be “dead zones” in between them.

Home Wi-Fi router setup: Connecting the hardware

Generally a network concision of a few hardware pieces, the Internet box (a modem or a gateway), a router which we’re trying to set up, and of course your computers. Following is how you connect them.

Wi-Fi router setup: The router (right) needs to connect to the Internet source (a modem) using its WAN (internet port).
Wi-Fi router setup: The router (right) needs to connect to the Internet source (a modem) using its WAN (internet port). Dong Ngo | Dong Knows Tech

1. Connect to the Internet

Plug the router’s WAN (Internet) port to an Internet source (such as your cable modem or a gateway) using a network cable. 

Now plug the router into power and wait for a minute or two for it to boot up fully. If you use a gateway, connect its service port to the service line.

2. Connect your computer to the router 

Plug another network cable into your computer’s LAN port and one of the router. Most routers have four LAN ports; you can use any of them.

If you have one of those new laptops that don’t have a network port, you can get a network dongle for just a few bucks.  

If using a network cable is not possible, you can use the router’s default Wi-Fi information — generally found on its underside — to connect to it.

3. Log in the router’s web interface

Accessing your router’s (or gateway’s) interface is the first step and most crucial step in managing your network. To do this, you need a browser (such as Firefox, Chrome, or Safari) on a connected computer.

If you’re setting up a new router, the first time you launch the browser, you’ll likely automatically get to the web interface where you can follow the setup wizard.

But you can always manually log in to the router’s interface by pointing the browser to its friendly URL or default IP address. The table above lists the default login info of most routers. Can’t find it? You can always quickly figure out its IP yourself.

(Note that nowadays most new routers require you to create a new username and password during the initial setup before you can access its full interface as well as the Internet.)

Wi-Fi router setup: You can generally find the default Wi-Fi and interface login info on the underside of a, near its model number. Dong Ngo | Dong Knows Tech

Home Wi-Fi router setup: Getting your Wi-Fi up and running

Once you’ve logged into the router’s web interface, the rest is rather self-explanatory. Though different networking vendors tend to have different interfaces, they all share similar sections, including Wi-Fi (or Wireless), WAN, LAN, Admin, and so on.

Most importantly, all of them have a password for the interface that you need to change right away from the default value.

1. Router interface password

Also called the admin password, this keeps your network safe from hackers. Pick a strong password that’s hard to guess. You’ll need to use this password only when you want to access the interface. Make sure this password different from the Wi-Fi password.

READ MORE:  How to Secure Your Home Wi-Fi Router Against Hackers

2. Wi-Fi network

A Wi-Fi network includes a Wi-Fi name and a password. Like any proper name, the Wi-Fi network’s name is public, everyone will see it. That said, pick one of your likings.

The password, on the other hand, needs to be a secret. Choose one that’s hard-to-guess but easy to type in, especially on a small screen like that of a printer. Generally, a string of random numbers (and letters) will do. Again, make sure this password is different from the router’s admin password, above.

Use the most common encryption method — currently WPA2 — for the password. Note that some existing Wi-Fi clients won’t work with the newest WPA3. You might want to avoid using that or use it in the mixed WPA2/WPA3 mode.

Most routers have more than one band. They are Dual-Band or Tri-Band routers. In this case, you can use SmartConnect, where the router lump all bands together in a single Wi-Fi network (SSID). Or you can manually create an SSID for each band. 

Wi-Fi router setup: The web user interface of an Asus router. Dong Ngo | Dong Knows Tech

3. Initialize the Internet connection

Depending on the router, you can do this on the Internet or WAN or Setup part of the interface. For most Internet connections, you can leave it at Auto and let the router detect the setting by itself.

A few Internet plans, especially those with static WAN IP addresses, will require you to type in the settings correctly. In this case, you need to consult your provider.

Other than that, you can play with different parts of the interface to figure out additional features and settings.

Running into problems? Knowing how to reset a router will help.


Home Wi-Fi management: How to reset a router

Knowing how to perform a router reset comes in the handle when you need to troubleshoot a network. But first, you need to know what a reset is.

The bottom of a Linksys Velop router, note the recessed reset button. Dong Ngo | Dong Knows Tech

Reset vs. restart 

Everyone knows how to restart a router. Just unplug it from the power and then plug it back in. Some routers also have a power on/off button for this. Restarting helps solve some issues, and just like with a computer, it’s a good idea to restart a router once in a while.

Reset, on the other hand, erase all the settings of the router and bring it back to the state when it left the factory. So resetting can be quite dangerous. Among other things, it’ll cause your Wi-Fi network to disappear.

For that reason, it’s a good thing that it takes a bit of work to perform a router reset. But first, let see when you’d want to reset a router.

When to do a router reset

Again, you’ll lose all the settings after a router reset. So don’t do this for fun. You only do that when finding yourself in one of the following situations:

  • You lost the admin password to access its web interface, as mentioned above. A reset will restore that to the known default value.
  • You want to re-setup your home network from scratch or suspect that some home has hacked your router.
  • The router has issues that a restart doesn’t solve.
  • You no longer need it (before you give it away.)

OK, now that you know, there are two ways to reset a router: using the reset button or via the web interface. You can reset a router as many times as you like, without harming it.

Router reset via the reset button

  1. Locate its reset button. It’s almost always on the router’s back or its underside. This button is usually recessed to prevent users from pressing on it by accident.
  2. Plug the router into power, wait about a minute for it to boot up fully, then use a pin (or a pointy object) to press and hold the reset button for about 10 seconds.  As a result, the router will reset and restarts. You’ll notice that if you look at its status light.

If you want to make sure the router has reset, wait a minute or two for the router fully boot up again to see the Wi-Fi network is gone, and the default Wi-FI network is now available. 

Router setting backup and reset via the web interface

If you still have access to the router’s web interface, you have the option to back up its settings before the reset.

The Reset button on an Asus Router's web interface.
The Reset button on an Asus Router’s web interface. Dong Ngo | Dong Knows Tech
    1. Log in to the web interface, as mentioned above.
    2. Navigate to the reset function. The table below shows how you can find the Reset function within the web interface of popular routers. Generally, you can see this function in the Administration or System section of the interface.
    3. Here you can backup the settings in case you want to restore the router’s current condition after a reset.
    4. Click on the button (or link) to proceed with a reset. The process will take a few seconds to complete.

Home Wi-Fi management: How to update a router’s firmware

Firmware is the operating system of your home Wi-Fi router. That said, you should perform a router firmware update once in a while. New firmware helps improve performance, security and often brings in new features. 

The web interface is where you can do a router firmware update.
The setting backup and reset section of a Synology router. Dong Ngo | Dong Knows Tech

Generally, if a router has a mobile app, you can use the app for the firmware update. Most new Linksys routers also have automatic firmware update function, which you can turn on in step 3 below.

Five steps to perform a router firmware update

  1. Look for the latest firmware. The easiest way is to Google the router’s model and “firmware,” such as “Asus RT-AC68U firmware”. Most of the time, the first result is the place where you can find the latest firmware.
  2. Download the firmware. In most cases, the firmware is inside a zip file. You need to open this file and drag the firmware out to a location you know, such as the desktop, on your computer.
  3. Login the router’s web interface and navigate to the firmware update section. The chart below shows how to find this section in the interface of popular routers. Note that in this section, you will also be able to configure the auto-update (if available) or perform the router’s self-update process. Some router will give you a notification as soon as you log into its interface if there’s a new firmware available.
  4. Proceed to upload the new firmware.
  5. Confirm the update and wait for the process to complete. 

Note that the update process takes about 5 minutes and can’t be interrupted. Consequently, if you if unplug your router during this process, you might damage it. Also, during this a firmware update, you have no access to the Internet or your local network.

Final thoughts

Getting a router with a web user interface and knowing how to access that is the key to getting the home network you want.

If you use an app-only router, you can perform certain tasks with it, such as firmware update or reset, but generally, it’ll be thin on settings and features.

Dong’s note: I originally published this piece on February 15, 2018, and updated on February 27, 2020, with more up-to-date and relevant information.

Ω Found a typo? Please report it by selecting the text and pressing Ctrl + Enter. Thank you! ❤️

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About the Author: Dong Ngo

Before Dong Knows Tech, I spent some 18 years testing and reviewing gadgets at CNET.com. Technology is my passion and I do know it. | Follow me on Twitter, or Facebook!

16 Comments

  1. Is there any way to get rid of the links buttons on the left side of my window? Facebook icon, Twitter Icon etc, all in a heavy red bar. It’s in front of the text. Why? Why put something in front of the text. After trying to read a couple of articles, I’m giving up.

    1. Thanks for the feedback, Bruce. That bar shouldn’t be there if it obstructs any text. I guess I didn’t do an excellent enough of a programming job — not knowing tech enough, obviously. I’m going to move it to the right for now. Let me know if that still bothers you. If you will, please also let me know the device you use it on. My guess it’s a laptop with relatively low resolutions, correct? Thanks, and again sorry for the annoyance. 🙂

  2. Actually I was referring to your suggestion from March 21, to my prior post on Feb. 29, that I might need to reduce the router’s power so iPhones and iPads will connect to the external unit. My nice 5mgz signal of 400+ at the router dwindles to a 10-50 across the hall (2 walls) and phones and pads won’t switch their connection to the MR2200ac in that room. I also tried one room further so it’s 3 rooms away, with similar result. Started with wired ethernet backhaul; then tried wireless.

  3. Hi Dong, The Synology SRM will not allow me to reduce the power of the router while it is connected in a mesh. I’ve also tried moving the node another room (and wall) further away but that doesn’t seem to change anything. I’m wondering if I should reset that node with its own SSID and password, taking it out of the mesh setup? i.e. as an access point or extender, since I have a wired Ethernet jack there?? Dave

    1. Yes, you can do that Dave, but it defeat the idea of a mesh – part of which is to increase the Wi-Fi coverage, by the way. I’m curious, what do you want to achieve in reducing the unit’s power?

  4. Thank you for the setup. It’s a great intro. I chose a Synology RT2600ac and two MR2200ac’s in a mesh setup with wired backhaul since I already had a Synology NAS. The MR farther away and downstairs works great but the MR2200 closest to the router (RT2600) does not play well with it. That node is across the hall and 2 rooms away from the router. The router can maintain a (slow!!)signal in the room, and when I walk there with an iPhone or iPad, it will remain connected to the router and wireless is slow and unstable because of it. Same thing true in the opposite direction. The unit where I boot the connection stays connected and won’t hand off to the other one. I would appreciate any and all ideas to overcome this. I want to stand in the room with the node and get the great connection it is capable of!

    1. Looks like the distance between the two is not far enough for the handoff to take place, David. It’s hard to fix that since I don’t know other details but you can do these.

      1. Make sure all routers have the latest firmware.
      2. Slightly reduce the transmit power of the router a bit. Find that in the Advance area of the Network Center app.
      3. Make sure you enable 802.11k/r. It’s in WiFi Connect -> Wireless ->  Advanced…

      Also note that handoff require the cooporation of the client. And certain Apple devices are terrible with that. Try a Windows laptop and see if that’s still the case.

  5. Dong, there is a typo – you want to connect another Network *CABLE* from the router to the PC, not another network *Router*.
    Good Stuff here, but I want to comment on my situation – I have a smallish house (<1,000 square feet), but the center of my house has a large brick chimney, and the detached garage is cement block. There are signal issues with anywhere I put a single router, so my configuration is to have AIMesh AC5300 master at the very front of the house where most of the activity is, an AC1900 node at the very back of the house in the attic, then an additional AC1900 node running off of Powermesh in the garage so I can have my IoT stuff (music, garage door opener, etc.) be reliable. I'm not yet worried about WiFi 6 but I do wish that ASUS would give me back the 2nd 5Gb band since I'm using wired, and that they would extend the guest network throughout so I could use that for IoT.

  6. If you are setting up a router, be very careful about security. As a router only transfers the raw internet from the ISP (Internet Service Provider) to multiple devices that are connected through WiFi. While the firewall is more secure than the router as it is designed in such a way that it could inspect the data packets as well as it filters adds.

  7. Do you have recommended settings for an Asus AiMesh network with an RT 88u as the hub and two other nodes? A wired backhaul is not viable but I’d like to know if any of the settings can be ideally optimized.

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