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The Ultimate Guide to Understanding Routers

Router blog feature image for PYE website

The Ultimate Guide to Understanding Routers

I’m So Confused by my Router!

Most parents freeze up when you ask them about their router. “Is that the same as a modem? Haven’t touched it since my internet provider gave us one last year. It’s behind the couch somewhere.”

And yet, at PYE, we believe your router is the MOST important digital device in any home because so many devices are connected to it!

In this post, we want to demystify the router, increase your confidence, and point toward a few solutions. Are you ready?!

What’s the Difference between a Modem and a Router?

Your modem and your router are two different pieces of hardware that perform two different jobs.

Modem basics:

  • This is your home’s connection to the internet.
  • It receives signals from your internet service provider (ISP – AT&T, Spectrum) and translates them for your devices to use.
  • You were probably given a modem by your ISP.
  • It’s connected to your wall with a coax cable and plugged in for power.
  • You can have a modem without a router. You would just need to be wired (plugged) into the modem to connect to the internet.

Router basics:

  • Your router is the middleman between your modem and your internet-connected devices, like Chromebooks, smart TVs, and iPads.
  • You might have been given a router by your ISP (AT&T does this).
  • Your modem and router might be ONE device, but they are often separate.
  • Creates a local area network (LAN) around your house which allows multiple devices to connect to your Wi-Fi connection in an organized way. It’s “routing” internet traffic.
  • Routers have different speeds, security, features, and parental controls, which we explain below.

So, in summary:

  • A modem and a router are two different pieces of hardware that do two very different jobs.
  • You were probably given a modem by your internet company. You might have been given a router by your ISP or you might have purchased one.
  • You might have a modem and router that are combined into ONE piece of hardware, but are often separate.
  • Some routers have parental controls built in and some don’t.

What’s a Mesh Network?

Some routers use the label “mesh network” when describing what they do (e.g., Google, Eero, Gryphon). Don’t let this confuse you. We already explained what a LAN is above. A mesh network uses multiple routers to make your LAN bigger. Giving you better coverage. These additional routers are called nodes and they only work if “linked” to a main router. Don’t worry! The set-up guide for any mesh system will walk you through the connection process.

4 Important Technical Features You Should Know About Routers

During our review of routers, we look at the following features (there are many more, but these are important for families):

  • Frequency channels: most routers are dual band. One band will operate on the lower frequency band (2.4GHz) and the second operates on the higher band (5GHz). The lower frequency band can get crowded: household appliances — such as a microwave, cordless phone, bluetooth devices — also operate on this frequency. The 5GHz band can transmit more data at higher speeds, but has a hard time penetrating walls and furniture and can’t travel as far.
  • Speed: this one is a bit misleading because almost all routers support a top internet speed that likely exceeds whatever speed you’ve been given by your ISP. You are paying for a certain megabit per second (Mbps) from your ISP and this is often slower than what your router can handle, so you’re good.
  • Security: look for WPA2 – anything less isn’t acceptable (like WEP or WPA). WPA3 exists, but isn’t supported by most routers yet.
  • Wireless standard (rules): the latest standard is 801.11ax, which is the most recent. You’ll sometimes hear the term WiFi 6, which is the same thing (also called high efficiency WiFi). Think of this as the set of rules that your WiFi network will obey.

Most of the best routers out there have all four of these items above. The one exception might be a lower wireless standard like WiFi 5, which is just slightly less efficient than WiFi 6. We explain them here just to make sure you’re familiar with the terminology and continue on your path to router expertise. Keep going!

4 Additional Router Features Important to Families

Beyond just the technical capabilities, most families are also interested in at least a few other attributes. At PYE, we also assess routers for:

  • Parental controls – any home with young people really needs a router with parental controls. But, can they be trusted? Are they easy to use?
  • Price – how expensive is the router for small, medium or large home?
  • Ease of set-up and customer support – busy parents don’t need to spend 4 hours setting up their router. And it should be easy to get questions answered.
  • Mission and culture of the founders – is it an organization that truly understands the needs of families?

What is Circle or Bark Home? Are these Routers?

No they aren’t! They connect to routers to enhance a parent’s control over WiFi, but they don’t replace your router. Circle dominated the WiFi parental control market for years as the first and only option for a while. This has changed as other stellar devices, like Bark Home have emerged. But again, these devices are NOT routers. They plug into a router and give parents better control over screen time, content, and more, when a router lacks these parental control features.

Why might you use Circle or Bark Home?

  • Maybe you were given a router by your ISP that you’re stuck with and it doesn’t have any parental controls, or it has controls and they stink.
  • Maybe you have a router of your own that you don’t want to replace, but you want better control over it.

Which is better? Circle or Bark Home?

  • Both have similar features (filtering, screen time controls, app usage, etc.).
  • Circle is slightly stronger on screen time controls, but Bark Home is much stronger on blocking the bad stuff (explicit content). I’ve received a number of comments from parents who have struggled to understand the search history that Circle gives them and Circle simply allows too much circumvention.
  • Bark Home is less expensive ($79 vs. $129).
  • Bark has patented social media, email, and text monitoring that can be added on to smart devices for a cost ($14/month or $99/year). Circle does not monitor social media.

Overall, we believe Bark Home does a better job protecting kids!

 

Bark Home Image

PYE Router Testing Findings

PYE tested the following four routers:

  • Eero Pro6
  • Gryphon AX
  • Google WiFi
  • Asus ZenWiFi AX

Like we said above, when it comes to the technical features – speed, security, etc. – these routers were comparable. So, we focused on parental controls, price, ease of set-up along with strength of customer support, and mission.

You’ll notice in the spreadsheets below that we also included something called CleanBrowsing, which is a DNS solution. We’ve already come a long way by understanding routers, which can be tricky! DNS is another one of those tricky subjects. You don’t realize it, but every time you use the internet, you’re using the domain name system (DNS) to find answers.

Think of DNS as the phonebook of the Internet, connecting web browsers (e.g., Google, Bing) with websites (e.g., Amazon, Home Depot). You search for something in Google and DNS does its best to show you the best answer to your question.

There is a way to change the DNS of your router so that it only goes and looks for things in “clean” phone books. That’s what CleanBrowsing is. So, if you’re feeling techie, then using CleanBrowsing is an awesome FREE option for keeping porn off your WiFi. You can compare their content filtering to the routers we tested in our spreadsheets below.

Quick summary from our router parental control testing:

  • Eero Pro6 is easy to get around. Just about any teen with any motivation could get around the controls on this router.
  • Gryphon has the most complete parental controls.
  • Both Google and ASUS prevent access to actual porn websites, but both allow way too much mature content to be viewed in search results (websites listed, descriptions, image and video searches).
  • Eero doesn’t prioritize parental controls – it’s difficult to find much information about controls on their website, which is a big red flag for us in terms of priority. Same for ASUS. On the other hand, Gryphon’s website has “Parental Controls” right in the main navigation.
  • A spreadsheet showing the results from our router parental control testing is shown at the very bottom of this post. We love a good spreadsheet!

NOTE: even if you’re using Bark Home or Gryphon, we always recommend that an iPhone’s “Limit Adult Websites” be enabled (shown here at steps 32-34). It’s a powerful double layer of protection. Unfortunately, the Family Link equivalent on Android devices isn’t nearly as effective.

Quick summary of router pricing:

  • Google WiFi is the bargain from the group ($138 for a 3,000 square foot home).
  • Gryphon is the most expensive ($279).
  • Summary of pricing, technical features, and coverages are shown in the following spreadsheet:

Summary of Router Pricing

Quick summary of ease of router set-up and technical support:

  • ASUS is the laggard here with what appears to be mostly email support.
  • Eero is owned by Amazon and Google is Google, so they’re really big companies, which makes support feel a bit more like a maze.
  • All four were pretty good on set-up, with ASUS again lagging just behind the other three.

Quick summary of corporate mission:

  • Gryphon was started by a couple of dads who wanted better solutions for their family. We love this. Routers are what they do.
  • The other three are just really big companies, with many other business lines.

Our router of choice is the Gryphon AX.

In fact, we even have a special, PYE-only coupon that you can use to get $15 off – just use pyefriends15. We love what they stand for and have been very impressed with their customer support anytime that we have a question. Their parental controls are also very effective, as shown in the spreadsheet below. In fact, during our testing, there were a few obscure explicit websites that weren’t blocked by their filters. We sent the list to Gryphon and they were immediately added to their block list.

Gryphon Router Options for Blog Post

Results of our parental control testing for the spreadsheet lovers out there. You can see why our testing points toward Gryphon and Bark Home as our solutions of choice:

Router Parental Control Testing


*There might be affiliate links throughout this post because we’ve tested and trust a small list of parental control solutions. Our work saves you time! If you decide that you agree with us, then we may earn a small commission, which does nothing to your price. Enjoy! 

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39 thoughts on “The Ultimate Guide to Understanding Routers”

  1. Thanks for sharing this informative article. You did share some interesting facts about and Routers that were not familiar to me. Now I can make an educated decision based on your article. Please keep up the good work.

  2. Hi there, I have been using Circle for a number of years, but the main complaint I get from everyone in the house is that the wifi is too slow. When I disable Circle this seems to fix that problem. I would like to give Bark Home a try. Will it slow down our internet?

    1. Hello! There are a lot of factors that could impact speed. Bark could, but you honestly won’t know unless you try it. And if it does, they’re pretty good about making you whole if you decide to return it. Any of the Bark Home links in that article can take you to their purchase page.

      Best, Chris

      1. Thanks so much! One more question. I have a Pace 5268 router from AT&T. I tried calling customer service and I think I understood that I could purchase another router and connect it to the one we have. If I were to purchase a Gryphon, do you know if this is possible?

    1. Hello! Well, you can see our testing results from the Google mesh. It works, but it can be circumvented. Depending on the sneakiness of your kids, you might have just monitor more/less. I believe Gryphon is stronger, but you can definitely make what you have work.

      Chris

  3. Reagan Gielincki

    Can you offer any guidance on adding a Bark Home or Circle to Starlink? I have not been able to find any guidance on this. I did reach out to Starlink and they couldn’t advise me in how to add parental controls. We are so thankful to finally have internet but we need controls!

    1. You should have a basic router with Starlink. And therefore, you should be able to use Bark Home, Circle, or even be able to “daisy chain” a Gryphon router to the Starlink router and use that as the access point for children.

      1. We plan to switch to Starlink soon. I was looking into the Gryphon Router since that’s your number 1 recommendation, however now I’m wondering if Bark Home would be better if it’s easier to connect to Starlink. Or is “daisy chain-ing” simple enough to do?
        I also like the feature with Gryphon that protects kids even away from home on their phones. Do you think that APP/ feature functions well and doesn’t slow down connection time too much..?

        1. Hello! You can use Bark Home with your Starlink router. Yes, you might want to do that. Or, if you wanted the Gryphon Homebound, you could plug the Gryphon into the back of the Starlink router and I believe the speed will be just fine for you.

  4. Hi.
    Just a comment : safe search is not enforced by CleanBrowsing on ecosia as indicated in your table because ecosia do not implement safesearch at DNS level. It is very unfortunate because this search engine is very popular among young people. I try to reach them few month ago and they answered they are considering it. Maybe if PYE would do the same we could get some results there ?
    Laurent

        1. Hi! Then, I’m pretty confident that they installed either a modem and router (separate hardware) or a modem/router combo. Find the device, and then you’ll know if there’s 1 or 2 pieces of hardware. But the post should apply to you, too, since you do have a router. Hope that helps a little!

  5. If we already have the eero mesh system, will our current Circle device not work with this? If not, can you layer Bark Home with eero? Thanks for all the info in this article… very helpful.

    1. Hi! You could probably use Bark or Circle with Eero, but just don’t try to use any of Eero’s parental controls. That could create incompatibility (I haven’t tried it).

      Chris

  6. I have a orbi router – and frustratingly the ONLY PARENTAL CONTROLS are via Circle First Generation and a subscription. Anyone else know if this is correct? Circle Home and Bark seem my other options (or buy a new router). Trying to come up with a good solution for my house & my ex’s house as we handle technology coparenting

    1. If the build in Circle (1st Gen) doesn’t give you what you need, you can disable them and add a Circle or Bark Home. Circle requires a subscription. Bark does not. We’re trialing both but if I can get away from the $99/yr Circle subscription, I’ll be very happy. That said, the Circle works well. We get the Bark tomorrow.

  7. We’re building a new house, so essentially starting from scratch. I want to use the Gryphon router. Would it be redundant to also have Bark Home? Thanks for your help!

  8. Thank you for your research in this area and for sharing this great information! Question: I just ordered the Gryphon AX. Would it still be wise to purchase Bark Home as well? Or is the Gryphon AX router enough to block unwanted material?

  9. Did you compare the Gryphon AX with the tower? Gryphon customer support has recommended the Tower with the Guardian but I am wondering if it will be enough.

    1. Hi! I haven’t tried the AX + Tower. Is this due to the size of your home? Their customer support is typically pretty good! If they recommend the Tower + Guardian, then I’d give it a try and if it’s not enough, I’m confident they’ll make it right.

      Chris

  10. Hey Chris,
    I just listened to your interview on the Don’t Mom Alone podcast. Thanks for doing that! We have the Xfi Gateway from Xfinity (modem & router). It has the ability to assign every device to a profile with parental controls. Do you know how good those controls are? I’m wondering if those are sufficient, or if I need to consider a different router/modem option.

    1. Hi, Clay! I haven’t specifically tested the Xfi Gateway, but you might create a teen profile, and bounce some of the searches in my spreadsheet on the blog post against it to see if it’s strong.

  11. We have a live in Grandpa. I need a way to let him access the internet while I turn it off to all the devices in the rest of the house. Will Bark at home allow that, or is there a better way?

  12. Thanks for the review. I’ll definitely look into it. It really is frustrating if the signal is slow. . I’ll be willing to carry extra weight if it would boost connection,

  13. I realize all of these are for protection while in the home. What about when they are not at home on the home wifi? And what if they turn off wifi on their devices and use 5G…is that a possible circumvent?

  14. Jonathan Bowden

    Chris, all of your content is super helpful, thank you!

    Curious, my wife and I have 3 kids, age 12 / 10 / 8, and we have been VERY reluctant to get them any personal devices. That being said, we have had some older family wide devices (iphones, ipads) that have caused us trouble when the kids accessed m.youtube.com on them.

    I am now trying to figure out what the best option to protect my kids is.

    I bought an Orbit 4200 mesh system in April, but just now turned on the parental controls.

    But I am looking for the best way to block harmful content from the home entrypoint, and I think I should have bought the gryphon. I just ordered a Bark Home, to add this to my Orbi, to see if this is all I need, as none of my kids have their own devices or social media accounts. If they had their own devices or accounts, I would be much more inclined to used Bark and Bark home, but that seems to be far past my needs at the moment.

    Do you have any recommendations on the best setup for my house?

    Also, I have a friend who uses Norton Family, but I’m leaning against this, as I want something that protects from the home entry point, and not just on the iOS devices.

    Any suggestions you have for me would be MUCH appreciated. Thanks!

    1. Hi! Bark Home is solid. You should have decent control over what they see. I would see if the combination of the Orbit + Bark gives you the control you desire over that WiFi layer. Also don’t forget about the device layer, using whatever native controls can be used on Chromebooks, MacBooks (Screen Time), and PCs. For what you described on the iPhones and iPads, there is a way to block all YouTube by inserting a few “never allow” URLs into the Screen Time controls if that was something you’re interested in.

      Best to you!
      Chris

  15. Thanks for all of this very helpful info. We have a router from Verizon. If I buy the Gryphon router, will this interfere with everything I already have? Will it be a big job to set everything up differently? I’m not very tech-saavy. Thanks again!

    1. Hi! I hope you can read the post and find your scenario. I don’t know if your router has parental controls or not, but you’ll want to determine that first. If it doesn’t, but it’s a router you have to use from Verizon, then you’ll want to go the Bark Home router instead. Hope that helps!

  16. Hi Chris,
    Thanks for your valuable information.
    Have you ever taken a look at Synology RT2600ac and how it stacks up against the Gryphon in the areas shown on your spreadsheet above?
    I’ve seen many online reviews and it gets high marks in the parental control area. Technical features are great as well, but my primary area of importance is the filtering capability. Do you have info on how effective it is and how it compares to Gryphon?

    Thanks

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