It's quite possible that Netgear has the largest product lineup of any wireless router manufacturer today, and the fact that half of the lineup shares the "Nighthawk" name and similar external designs doesn't help much. To be clear, we've selected the Nighthawk X4S, which we'll refer to using its model number of R7800 to avoid further confusion.
The R7800 discreetly packs top-end 802.11ac technology in a case that forgoes the extroverted (and often juvenile, depending on how you look at it) styling touches of so-called "gaming routers", and we couldn't be happier with the result. It shares the same angular design as many of Netgear's other Nighthawk routers, with the exception of four external antennas as opposed to the typical three. Connectivity is plentiful, but the ports are scattered around the unit. Around back, you'll find 5 Ethernet ports - the one marked in yellow is dedicated to the input from your modem, while the numbered ports are all Gigabit Ethernet. Netgear also provides a dedicated switch to shut off the status LEDs, which can be immensely useful if the bright lights prove to be distracting. The sides of the unit house ports as well - a pair of USB 3.0 ports are located on the left, while an eSATA port is found on the right. The inclusion of the latter allows much higher data transfer rates to external drives, meaning the R7800 can perform double duty as a network attached storage unit.
If the appearance is sedate, the performance is anything but. The array of four external antennas is the first sign that this router performs on a different level compared to entry-level 802.11ac models. 4x4 MU-MIMO is fully supported, provided you have devices that can take advantage of this technology. SmallNetBuilder's test of the R7800 shows that this is easily one of the fastest wireless routers around, measuring both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz throughput. Paired with the 1.7 GHz dual-core processor, the R7800 certainly has enough muscle to handle heavy data loads and multiple simultaneous connections without blinking. Make sure your internet subscription is fast enough - if it's under 250 Mbps, you're leaving tons of performance on the table.
The $229.99 MSRP makes the R7800 one of the pricier routers among our recommendations, and is one of the only drawbacks we can find. That said, it can be found online for well under $200, which is a much more reasonable price for one of the highest-performing routers on the market today. Whether you have the service and equipment to take advantage of the extra performance or you're simply looking to future-proof your setup, the R7800 is a solid investment in your network.
If the Asus RT-AC68U looks familiar, that's because it bears a striking resemblance to the RT-N66U that we've recommended for years. While it's not quite the direct replacement to our previous favorite (that spot is filled by the similarly named RT-AC66U), Asus positions the RT-AC68U as a slightly higher-performing variant. As the model name implies, the RT-AC68U supports the latest 802.11ac Wi-Fi standard - also to be known as "Wi-Fi 5", according to the Wi-Fi Alliance. All things considered, we feel that the RT-AC68U is the sweet spot in the Asus wireless router lineup.
Asus certainly played it safe with the external design of the RT-AC68U, carrying over the cross-hatched appearance and three prominent external antennas. The overall size hasn't changed too much, but the added componentry results in a thicker case compared to the RT-N66U. It's a different story out back, however - because the RT-AC68U is meant to stand vertically, the ports have been shifted to the bottom of the case. The four Gigabit Ethernet ports remain, as do the pair of USB ports; one of these has the telltale blue connector of USB 3.0, making the RT-AC68U a more realistic option for attaching a networked hard drive.
Rather than altering a successful design motif, Asus took the opportunity to further increase performance without sacrificing reliability. The RT-AC68U is a three-stream router like its predecessor, but adopting the latest 802.11ac standard allows a noticeable throughput increase with compatible devices. Asus claims up to 600 Mbps on the 2.4 GHz band and 1300 Mbps using the 5 GHz radio to justify the AC1900 label. While it's unlikely you'll see these speeds regularly (see our buyer's guide for more info), the RT-AC68U offers enough real-world performance to stream 4K content reliably. The 1 GHz dual-core processor keeps the RT-AC68U operating reliably even with multiple connections, preventing any throughput "bottlenecks" that can occur with lesser routers that don't have the processing power to keep up with demand.
With an MSRP of $149.99, the RT-AC68U balances its performance nicely with a reasonable price tag. While $150 is certainly a chunk of change (considering how lower-end yet still-viable 802.11ac routers available for a third of the price), the RT-AC68U earns our recommendation because of its noticeable real-world performance bump. This particular router is especially well-suited for users with faster internet service subscriptions, as the added throughput can better take advantage of the higher data rates.
Asus may be better known for their computers and components, but this company has an established presence in the wireless router industry as well. The RT-N66U slots neatly above the RT-N56U Black Diamond (which remains one of our favorite routers at any price), offers improved performance all around, and is easily one of the best routers on sale today.
One of the first things you'll notice about the RT-N66U is the different design - whereas the RT-N56U emphasized sleek minimalism, the RT-N66U features a trio of external antennas. This new addition is more than cosmetic - dedicated users now have the option of unscrewing the factory antennas and replacing them with more powerful units, much in the vein of the old Linksys WRT54GL. While the crosshatched "diamond" pattern stays, the status lights have now been merged into their respective symbols for a more streamlined appearance. The included stand allows the router to be propped up horizontally, positioning the antennas for maximum effectiveness. It's obviously part of the same family that the RT-N56U belongs to, and stands out from the sea of look-alike routers.
Though the RT-N56U was already a stout performer to begin with, there are several aspects that the RT-N66U improves upon. The external antennas provide a welcome boost in range, allowing the RT-N66U to cover areas that may previously have been "dead zones". Wireless throughput speeds are up in both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz modes, with noticeably higher speeds further away from the router. The RT-N66U offers four Gigabit Ethernet ports, with SmallNetBuilder's testing showing up to 810 Mbps in simultaneous throughput. This is one of the best-performing wireless routers on sale today, and should be your top consideration if range is especially important.