Best Wireless Router
Wireless routers are an essential component of any network, no matter how big or small. These days, it seems that just about everything is network-connected, and requires a Wi-Fi signal to function properly. A wireless router can make or break a network; the difference between a good wireless router and a mediocre one comes down to how much unwanted attention your network draws to itself.
That said, there's a vast array of wireless routers available today, covering a wide price and performance spectrum. Feature lists are getting longer every year, and there's a never-ending stream of new technologies to keep track of. If you've gone shopping for a wireless router recently, you'll undoubtedly have experienced first-hand how confusing this market can be. Rather than simply choosing the most expensive or cheapest option on the shelf, we recommend narrowing down your picks to the higher-performing options currently available. After all, this single piece of hardware serves as the backbone of your entire network, and you need to count on it to provide years of reliable service. To acquaint yourself with the terminology and technology involved, have a look at our wireless router buyer's guide below.
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 useful features. The best wireless routers listed here are all excellent examples, easily exceeding most users' standards.
Our research steered us away from the specialized gaming routers that prioritize massive throughput rates and stability, but at an elevated cost. We made this choice for two reasons: these routers are typically priced in the $300-400 range, which we feel is excessive and unnecessary for the vast majority of home setups. Second, and more importantly - anyone looking for a gaming router would more than likely have already decided which one to go with.
Between its discreet appearance, top-of-the-line performance, and outstanding flexibility, Netgear's R7800 Nighthawk X4S earns our top recommendation as Best Wireless Router Overall. The high price is balanced by its excellent feature list that goes a long way towards future-proofing your network. Read Full Review
For years, we've recognized Asus routers for their sleek design and top-notch performance. The RT-AC68U appears outwardly similar to the RT-N66U that was one of our previous favorites, but carries major internal upgrades that boost it to the top of its class with wireless routing performance. We recommend the RT-AC68U alongside Netgear's R7800 as one of the best wireless routers on the market today. Read Full Review
For well under $100, TP-Link's Archer A7 is one of the most affordable ways to expand your home network with 802.11ac Wi-Fi technology. The Archer A7 emphasizes performance and reliability over features, and is more than capable of competing with routers costing twice as much. Read Full Review
Even though 802.11ac Wi-Fi routers have taken over the marketplace, the Asus RT-N66U remains one of our favorite routers despite its older 802.11n technology. It's still a viable choice if you have older devices that can't take advantage of 802.11ac broadcasts, and it's become downright affordable as newer technologies enter the market. Read Full Review
If you're not hoping to get too much functionality out of the "extras", the D-Link DIR-868L is one of the best 802.11ac-enabled routers you can buy. With fast and stable performance as well as ease of use, the DIR-868L stands out as an excellent choice. Read Full Review
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.