Best Wireless Router
Best Wireless Router Overall:
Picking a wireless router is no simple task. Though it's tempting to go for the latest 'super router', careful consideration must be given to each criteria such as speed, range, user-friendliness, stability, and other useful features. The best wireless routers listed here are all excellent examples, easily meeting or exceeding most users' standards.
For four years straight, we've named the D-Link DIR-655 the best wireless router. This is no coincidence - even given recent technology advances and price drops, no other router offers this near-perfect blend of performance, reliability, and affordability. Read Full Review
The Asus RT-N66U is one of the best-performing 802.11n routers on the market today. The external antennas provide welcome improvements in range, eliminating dead zones throughout the house. Although it's pricey, this is an investment you won't regret. Read Full Review
Despite the introduction of the new 802.11ac wireless standard, Cisco's EA4500 still has plenty to offer. This is essentially a renamed E4200v2, paired with Cisco's latest web-based user interface system for more intuitive controls. Read Full Review
It seems that the fastest routers today are the ones that feature sleek designs. The ASUS RT-N56U offers up incredibly fast wired performance, and wireless throughput in both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands is comparable to other higher-end models like the Cisco EA4500 and the Netgear WNDR4000. If you have any devices that rely on a wired connection, you may want to consider the RT-N56U first. Read Full Review
Whether you need three-stream networking or not, Netgear's "middle child" WNDR4000 is a perfect fit for home or small business networking. Wireless throughput tops the charts, and the WNDR4000 offers more than enough routing performance for any purpose. Read Full Review
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Best Wireless Router for Range:
Recent advances in broadcasting and receiving technology have made it possible to equip wireless routers with multiple input, multiple output (MIMO) technology, which allows faster throughput speeds and extended range. The processors installed in modern units are becoming increasingly powerful and more efficient, which means higher operating specs are possible. Although range is ultimately limited by the receiving device, interference, and physical obstacles, a router capable of operating at extended ranges is highly desirable when there is a large area to cover.
Considering that the Asus RT-N66U is one of the few high-end wireless routers with external antennas, it should come as no surprise that this model tops the charts in terms of range. The RT-N66U offers up impressive throughput speeds, even in areas that other routers simply can't cover. Read Full Review
Netgear's top-of-the-line 802.11n router is biased towards performance, with obvious results. The WNDR4500 should be one of your top picks if range and throughput speeds are the top priorities, and the ReadySHARE drive sharing and wireless printing capabilities are extremely handy for small offices or home use. Read Full Review
Cisco's EA4500 is a continuation of the E4200v2, which has always been one of the best-performing wireless routers at any price. Despite its sleek looks, the antenna design and arrangement affords the EA4500 some of the best wireless range available from 802.11n technology. Read Full Review
Even after new models with improved technology have been released, the Asus RT-N56U remains one of the top performers when it comes to wireless range. The sleek design conceals the antennas, providing a more streamlined appearance that many users are likely to display out in the open. Read Full Review
Though the WNDR4000 is no longer Netgear's flagship model, this three-stream 802.11n router still offers more than enough range to cover even the largest of homes. Impressive 5GHz performance is backed up by enterprise-grade security and reliability, making the WNDR4000 suitable for use in office settings as well. Read Full Review
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Best Budget Wireless Router:
There is a big difference between a 'cheap' router and a 'budget-friendly' router. A cheap router is exactly that cheap, unreliable, and generally not very good at providing an enjoyable internet experience. A budget-friendly router may omit certain features in order to keep prices down, but reliability and a degree of performance is maintained.
For the money, it's impossible to do better than D-Link's DIR-655. While it doesn't offer dual-band operation, the DIR-655 puts up outstanding throughput numbers in both wired and wireless connections. Read Full Review
The Cisco Linksys E1200 carries on with few changes, save for Cisco's new user interface app. Though the E1200 won't set any speed records, it's extremely reliable and will easily cover moderate wireless networking needs. Read Full Review
If you can do without wireless-N, the Linksys WRT54GL is one of the best wireless routers for the money. The older technology has allowed the price to drop to a level where this router can now fit anybody's budget, and the amount of on-board RAM and flash memory allows the use of custom firmware such as DD-WRT for extra performance and more customized functionality. Read Full Review
While the Netgear WNDR3700 might push the definition of "budget", its performance and features justify the extra coin. This former flagship router has been superseded by higher-performing models, and has depreciated in price to the point where it can be considered affordable. Read Full Review
Dual-band routers are generally more expensive, so it's a pleasant surprise that Cisco offers an affordable one. The E2500 is an excellent choice for "power users" on a budget, thanks to its high throughput speeds and reliable operation. Read Full Review
Best Gaming Wireless Router:
When it comes to choosing a wireless router for gaming, nothing matters more than throughput for the sole purpose of reducing lag. Lag can single-handedly ruin your game if it happens at an inopportune moment, which is why a good wireless router is necessary. Stability is another issue, as a wireless router that constantly drops connections is of no use in a gaming situation. The ideal gaming router should primarily be capable of fast, reliable throughput, and offer gamer-friendly features.
If it ain't broke, don't fix it. Despite the existence of newer technology, the older 802.11n RT-N66U offers noticeably higher (and more reliable) wireless throughput rates than the latest 802.11ac routers. Given its price advantage, this is a no-brainer. Read Full Review
The Asus RT-N56U has always impressed us with its superb wired and wireless throughput rates, easily topping the charts in both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz modes. This is still one of the best routers on the market despite its age, and the price is difficult to argue with. Read Full Review
The RT-AC66U brings Asus's flagship router series into the 802.11ac market, with a major caveat: it only makes sense if you're planning on buying the matching PCE-AC66 wireless adapter. Even then, the high performance is tempered by erratic throughput. Read Full Review
Netgear's top-performing 802.11n router is a must-have for gamers that prioritize rock-solid reliability. The WNDR4500 provides chart-topping three-stream wireless throughput, and wired devices benefit from over 750 Mbps WAN to LAN throughput. Read Full Review
While it's true that the WNDR3700v2 is a few years old (and therefore no longer cutting-edge), this router still offers stout performance in its stock form. Hands-on users have the option of installing custom firmware such as DD-WRT, which can provide more control over various security and performance aspects. Read Full Review
Best Mac Wireless Router:
Not all wireless routers out there are designed to be used specifically with Mac computers - some work better than others. Unsurprisingly, the best options come from Apple, and these products are designed to function perfectly alongside the computers. Here is a brief summary of the best wireless routers for Macs.
The AirPort Extreme comes with three-stream 802.11n networking, and offers a graphic interface designed to work hand-in-hand with Macs. Whether you're interested in integrating your entire computer network under one brand or not, this is one of the best router choices for your Mac. Read Full Review
If you'd rather not spend hours tweaking settings for your wireless network, Apple's AirPort Express is the best choice. This tiny router supports dual-band 802.11n operation, and offers wireless printing and built-in AirPlay. Read Full Review
Apple's latest computers are equipped with three-stream Wireless-N technology, making them fully able to take advantage of the higher throughput speeds offered by the Netgear WNDR4500. Although the setup and network integration is nowhere near as airtight as with the AirPort routers, this is a great choice for more advanced users who want more control. Read Full Review
Finding the Best Wireless Router for your needs
The smartest way to shop for the 'best' wireless router for your needs is to search for recommendations, read product reviews, and if possible, try them out yourself. Selecting a router can be confusing due to the wide range of models and specifications, and you'll soon find yourself drowning in alphabet soup if you don't have a good idea what you're looking for. Terms like 802.11n, MIMO, WPA encryption, SSID, and dual-band simultaneous broadcast can quickly become overwhelming, so we've made an effort to simplify things by breaking router selection down into four categories. The best wireless routers offer a good combination of routing performance, reliability, features, and are priced well enough to make them an excellent value.
Speed & Range
802.11n, or Wireless-N routers, are the most common wireless routers around. This technology offers better speed and superior range compared to the older wireless standards. Manufacturers have largely phased out routers using the previous 802.11g standard, though you may find a few budget-minded 802.11g routers on store shelves or online. The best wireless routers will provide consistently fast wireless throughput, though this is limited by the maximum speed of your internet service itself. Manufacturer's claims are always achieved under ideal conditions, and will at best give you a rough comparison to other competitors' products.
Wireless range is another tricky subject. While it's true that wireless 'n' provides vastly superior range to older wireless standards, every router is different. You also need to consider the placement of the router inside your home, and how your home is laid out. Despite the newer technology, walls and floors will still stifle wireless reception. The greatest range benefits are seen outdoors where there are few obstructions to block the transmitter signals. The best wireless routers should ideally leave zero dead spots inside your home, and give you reception in the garage and in your backyard. Even at longer ranges, throughput speed should be maintained. If your concern is being able to cover your entire home with a wireless network, have a look at the best wireless routers for range.
With wireless routers, feature lists can become seemingly neverending. Routers nowadays have become multi-tasking tools, and as a result come with additions like USB ports which support shared network drives and printers. Many wireless 'n' routers are now capable of broadcasting on both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands, which is referred to as 'simultaneous broadcasting'. Simultaneous broadcast routers open up all sorts of options which allow you to run multiple devices without compromising overall speed. Given that, there are still devices which can only operate on the 2.4GHz band, though this is becoming increasingly uncommon.
Another benefit of wireless 'n' routers is the implementation of 'MIMO' technology. MIMO stands for Multiple Input, Multiple Output, and refers to the antenna arrangement. A wireless router which features this layout can potentially process more data, and all of the faster, more expensive models are so equipped.
MIMO technology improves wireless speeds, but there are still some instances where a wired connection is a better option. To address the desire for faster speeds, better routers feature Gigabit Ethernet ports which offer up to 1 GB/s transfer speeds. Check carefully to see whether the router you're considering is equipped with Gigabit Ethernet ports if you value this feature.
Some of the more sophisticated routers have multiple SSID broadcasts, which effectively divide your router service with different security options and network configurations. The most common example of this would be guest networks, which allows guests to access your network without needing your personal password.
Generally, the less you pay for a router, the lower the quality of the components will be. This has a direct impact on how reliable your router will be. Cheaper routers tend to drop connections frequently, and will not provide consistent data throughput. Although spending more for a router is not a surefire way to solve the problem, reliability does tend to go up with cost. The best routers are reliable to a fault, and should need minimum attention to settings to keep a steady connection. When combined with support for a large number of users and other 'business' features, these models are often labeled 'enterprise grade'.
Price & Value
When choosing a single product, it's often said that you can have it be fast, reliable, and affordable - but you can only choose two. Not everyone wants to spend $150 on a router, but you'll have to settle for less performance if you're not willing to invest more. Fast and reliable routers are never 'affordable', while fast and affordable routers tend to drop connections often. Each of the picks here are outstanding options, though as always, it's up to you to draw the line.
You generally want to avoid any router that is priced suspiciously low. Even name-brand low-end routers tend to be unreliable at times, and throughput speed can be sketchy. If you don't need or want the extra performance, it makes little sense to spend the extra money. Those of you adhering to a strict budget should check out our list of the best cheap routers.
One of the newer technologies trickling into the market is the 802.11ac wireless standard. 802.11ac focuses on speed improvements in the 5 GHz band, leaving 2.4 GHz operation largely untouched. If you're wondering why we haven't recommended more 802.11ac routers, our reasons are quite simple. 802.11ac is still a developing technology, and the specifications are not yet fully shared among manufacturers. Next, the real-world performance of 802.11n routers is still far higher than what most home internet connections can offer, making it difficult to discern any added benefits. Finally, existing 802.11n routers are available at a lower price compared to first-generation 802.11ac models, making them a much better value overall.
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