We present a detailed study of Ta/Ru-based buffers and their influence on features crucial from the point of view of applications of Magnetic Tunnel Junctions (MTJs) such as critical switching current and thermal stability. We study buffer/FeCoB/MgO/Ta/Ru and buffer/MgO/FeCoB/Ta/Ru layers, investigating the crystallographic texture, the roughness of the buffers, the magnetic domain pattern, the magnetic dead layer thickness, and the perpendicular magnetic anisotropy fields for each sample. Additionally, we examine the effect of the current induced magnetization switching for complete nanopillar MTJs with lateral dimensions of 270 x 180 nm. Buffer Ta 5/Ru 10/Ta 3 (thicknesses in nm), which has the thickest dead layer, exhibits a much larger thermal stability factor (63 compared to 32.5) while featuring a slightly lower critical current density value (1.25 MA/cm(2) compared to 1.5 MA/cm(2)) than the buffer with the thinnest dead layer Ta 5/Ru 20/Ta 5. We can account for these results by considering the difference in damping which compensates for the difference in the switching barrier heights. (C) 2015 AIP Publishing LLC.