What are compact routers good for?

Photo of author
Written By Dominic Howard

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet consectetur pulvinar ligula augue quis venenatis. 

Compact routers, also known as small office/home office (SOHO) routers, are wireless routers designed for use in homes and small businesses. As more and more devices become connected to home networks, compact routers provide an affordable and versatile way to share your high-speed internet connection. With their small size and multiple functionalities, compact routers are useful in many scenarios.

What Are Compact Routers?

A compact router is a small, lightweight wireless router ideal for home and small office use. Compact routers are about the size of a smartphone or small book and can sit conveniently on a desk or shelf. Despite their small size, compact routers pack in many of the same features as full-sized routers used in large enterprises. Key features of compact routers include:

  • Built-in wireless connectivity using WiFi standards like 802.11ac
  • Ports for connecting devices via Ethernet cables
  • A built-in firewall for network security
  • Network address translation (NAT) to share a single IP address among many devices
  • Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP) for assigning IP addresses
  • Virtual private network (VPN) capabilities for remote access
  • Parental controls and guest networking
  • Some even have USB ports to share files or printers over the network

Compact routers are powered by internal processors and memory to handle the routing, wireless broadcast, and security features. High-end compact routers include quad-core processors and 128MB of RAM or more.

Sharing High-Speed Internet Access

One of the primary uses for a compact router is sharing a high-speed internet connection in your home or small office. Compact routers have built-in WAN ports that connect to a cable/DSL modem or Ethernet handoff from the internet service provider. The router then broadcasts WiFi and connects wired devices to provide networked access to the internet.

With a compact router, you can:

  • Connect multiple wireless devices like laptops, tablets, and smartphones to WiFi
  • Link wired devices like smart TVs, game consoles, and media streamers to your network
  • Extend the range of your WiFi network by positioning the router in a central location
  • Set up a guest WiFi network separate from your main network

Compact routers support the latest WiFi standards like 802.11ac for fast wireless speeds. They also have external antennas to broaden WiFi coverage. Positioning the router properly improves reception throughout your home or office.

Network Security

Compact routers provide robust network security features for safeguarding devices and data:

  • Firewall blocks unauthorized inbound connections to create a barrier between your network and the internet
  • Network address translation (NAT) hides private IP addresses behind one public IP address
  • Encryption secures wireless connections to prevent snooping
  • VPNs create a secure tunnel for remote access to your network
  • MAC address filtering allows/denies connections based on device MAC addresses
  • Port forwarding opens specific ports only for required services
  • Parental controls allow managing and limiting when and how devices connect

Utilizing the security features of a compact router prevents unauthorized people from accessing your network and stopping potentially harmful activities. Setting up a guest network isolates guest devices for privacy and security.

Wired and Wireless Connectivity

The ports on compact routers allow connecting both wired and wireless devices to your home or office network. Compact routers typically have 4 ethernet ports for wired connections. Common uses include:

  • Connecting desktop PCs and laptops directly to your router with an ethernet cable for high-speed, stable performance. Ethernet provides faster speeds and lower latency than WiFi for things like online gaming and video streaming.
  • Linking wired smart home devices like security cameras, smart locks, lighting control systems, and smart speakers to your network. Ethernet offers reliable connectivity for these devices.
  • Adding wired network-attached storage (NAS) devices provides centralized file storage accessible to all devices on the network. Running an ethernet cable reduces lag when accessing large files.
  • Connecting printers and scanners via ethernet allows sharing of these devices among different users and wireless devices.

The WiFi connectivity of compact routers is useful for wireless-only devices like smartphones, tablets, wireless speakers, streaming media devices, wireless security cameras, and smart home gadgets. Combining wired and wireless connections allows building a complete network.

Media Sharing and Streaming

With their full networking capabilities, compact routers enable sharing media across your network:

  • Media servers can store music and video files in a central location for streaming to media players, smart TVs, gaming systems, and mobile devices around your home.
  • Network-attached storage (NAS) devices connect via ethernet to provide shared storage for media. Wireless devices can access and play this content.
  • Smart TVs with built-in streaming apps can access online media. A compact router provides the internet connectivity smart TVs require.
  • Gaming consoles like Xbox, Playstation, and Nintendo Switch rely on a compact router for online multiplayer gaming as well as downloading/updating games.
  • Wireless speakers connected to the WiFi network can play audio streamed from a smartphone or media server.

A compact router handles the networking requirements for a modern, media-centric home. Robust wireless coverage provided by the router prevents stuttering and interruptions when streaming high-definition video and music.

Smart Home Connectivity

Compact routers enable networking for smart home devices and systems:

  • Smart speakers like Amazon Echo and Google Home connect to a compact router via WiFi. Users can then control these devices remotely from a smartphone.
  • Smart thermostats and other appliances also use WiFi to enable remote control as well as smart features based on usage patterns and preferences.
  • Smart light bulbs hook up to a compact router’s WiFi to enable voice control, automated schedules, adjusting color/brightness, etc.
  • Security cameras utilize WiFi for streaming live video feeds to a smartphone and recording clips when motion is detected.
  • Smart doorbells and door locks operate over WiFi for remote access control via a mobile app.

Having a compact router’s robust WiFi coverage is crucial for controlling smart home devices from anywhere in your house. The router acts as the central hub connecting everything.


Compact routers are lightweight and portable making them ideal for use in different circumstances:

  • Their small size is perfect for packing when traveling. You can connect your devices to your own personal WiFi network in hotels, apartments, vacation rentals, etc.
  • Forgetting to turn off your router’s WiFi when you leave your house? A compact router can simply travel with you in a bag or pocket.
  • Moving into a new home before your internet is hooked up? Use a compact router to create a temporary wireless network using your smartphone’s mobile hotspot.
  • Working remotely from places like coffee shops and shared workspaces is easier with your own portable WiFi router.
  • A compact router can even be powered by an external battery pack for true portability anywhere.

Having your own compact router provides convenience, security, and flexibility for connectivity on the go.


One advantage of compact routers is their expandability. Features can be added as needs change:

  • Adding a wireless range extender boosts WiFi coverage in large homes with multiple rooms or floors. It connects to the main router wirelessly.
  • Powerline Ethernet adaptors use a home’s electrical wiring to expand wired connectivity to areas far from the router.
  • Connecting an external hard drive expands networked storage for media files and backups. This plugs into the router’s USB port.
  • Upgrading to a mesh WiFi system provides widespread coverage across large spaces like multi-story buildings. Nodes link back wirelessly to the main router.
  • For ultimate flexibility, WiFi connections can be replaced by a wired Gigabit switch. More ethernet ports allow the addition of many wired devices.

A compact router can start small for basic needs and then be adapted over time to accommodate additional devices and coverage areas.


Compact routers provide extensive networking capabilities at affordable prices. Basic models start around $25 while higher-end routers with the latest wireless standards and fastest speeds cost up to $200. Key factors affecting compact router pricing:

  • WiFi standards – The newest 802.11ax routers cost more but provide faster maximum speeds. Older 802.11ac routers are still good for most uses.
  • Wireless band support – Dual-band is common for supporting 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands simultaneously. Tri-band adds a second 5GHz band for more bandwidth.
  • Speed – Entry-level routers may offer 300-400 Mbps on each band while higher-end compact routers boast 800 Mbps or more per band.
  • Ports – Gigabit WAN and LAN ports offer faster potential wired speeds. Having 2-8 LAN ports allows more wired connections.
  • Processor – A powerful quad-core processor improves routing, security, and overall performance. Budget routers often use slower dual-core CPUs.
  • Antennas – Having multiple high-gain external antennas improves WiFi range and stability. Internal antennas compromise coverage.

For most homes and small offices, a mid-range compact router provides the best balance of price and performance. Buying a budget router often means sacrificing important features for connectivity and speed.

Frequently Asked Question

1. What is a compact router, and how is it different from a regular router?

A compact router, also known as a trim router or palm router, is a smaller and more lightweight version of a traditional router. It’s designed for tasks that require precision and maneuverability, such as trimming, edging, and small-scale routing work.

2. What are the typical uses for a compact router?

Compact routers are versatile tools commonly used for tasks like edge profiling, inlay work, hinge mortising, decorative cutting, and trimming laminate materials. They are ideal for projects that demand a high degree of control and precision.

3. Are compact routers suitable for woodworking projects?

Yes, compact routers are commonly used in woodworking projects. They excel in tasks like rounding over edges, creating decorative edges, and making precise cuts in wood.

4. Can I use a compact router for tasks other than woodworking?

While compact routers are popular in woodworking, they can also be used for tasks like trimming plastic, cutting acrylic, and even engraving on various materials, making them versatile tools for DIY enthusiasts and professionals alike.

5. What are the key features to look for in a good compact router?

When choosing a compact router, consider factors like motor power, variable speed control, depth adjustment mechanism, collet size, ergonomic design, and compatibility with a variety of router bits.

6. Are corded or cordless compact routers better?

The choice between corded and cordless compact routers depends on your specific needs. Corded models typically offer consistent power but require an electrical outlet, while cordless models offer portability but may have limited battery life. Your choice should align with your intended applications.

7. What safety precautions should I take when using a compact router?

Safety is crucial when using any power tool. Always wear safety glasses, hearing protection, and appropriate dust protection. Use the router with both hands, and keep them away from the bit. Follow the manufacturer’s safety guidelines and instructions.

8. Can I use standard router bits with a compact router?

Compact routers typically use smaller collets, so you will need router bits with the correct shank size to fit. Ensure that the router bits you purchase are compatible with the collet size of your compact router.

9. Are compact routers suitable for beginners?

Compact routers can be used by beginners, but it’s essential to familiarize yourself with the tool’s operation and practice on scrap material before tackling more significant projects. Always prioritize safety and follow proper guidelines.

10. How do I maintain and care for my compact router?

Regular maintenance includes cleaning the router, checking for loose parts, and lubricating moving components as recommended by the manufacturer. Keep the router in a protective case when not in use to prevent dust and damage.


Compact routers pack extensive routing and networking functionality into a small device. They enable sharing high-speed internet access via WiFi and ethernet ports throughout a home or small business. Compact routers provide robust connectivity, speed, security, media sharing, smart home networking, and expandability at an affordable price point. For many homeowners and small office users, a compact router like the TP-Link Archer AX21 or Asus RT-AX58U can serve as an ideal wireless networking solution. With their flexibility and broad capabilities, compact routers are useful for a wide variety of networking needs and environments.

Leave a Comment