The Best Wireless Router

Whether you’re dealing with slow speeds or Wi-Fi dead zones, a new router can significantly improve your internet experience. We spoke with networking experts and Wi-Fi geeks to get to the root of what matters. Our top picks come with the latest protocols and recommended frequencies, have been independently tested for speed and range, and boast an excellent track record with users.

The 4 Best Wireless Routers

Best Router for High-Traffic Homes
NETGEAR Nighthawk AC1900 Dual-Band Wi-Fi Router
Netgear Nighthawk
A powerful router with easy customization.
Pros
Best-in-class performance
Simple setup
Detailed parental controls
Cons
Lackluster tech support

Why we chose it

Best-in-class performance

CNET found that on the crowded 2.4 Ghz band at 100 feet, the Nighthawk delivered 64 Mbps. That’s a lot better than most routers did at that distance, although admittedly not as impressive as the 102 Mbps that our other top pick, the ASUS AC88U, tested at that range. By switching to the 5Ghz band, however, it delivered a whopping 295 Mbps at the same distance. Put simply, you’ll never have to worry about slow internet from this router.

Simple setup

User reviews praise NetGear’s Setup Wizard tool, that guides you through the 10-minute install step by step. You will need some tech intuition for advanced customizations, like enabling a guest network or metering your internet traffic. Don’t worry; this isn’t coding-level knowledge, more like fiddling with your Myspace HTML. There’s also a dedicated mobile app to control the basics: monitor connected devices, track your internet usage, or adjust parental controls.

Detailed parental controls

There’s also a separate Disney-sponsored app for parental controls, called Circle with Disney. You can manage content, pause the internet, limit time online, specify destinations, and set a “bedtime” for each family member. What elevates this from standard parental controls is that these options are all conveniently designated to a separate app. You won’t have to open your laptop and log onto your router’s web portal just to pause internet access before dinner time.

Points to consider

Lackluster technical support

Complaints on Best Buy and Amazon mention poor technical support from Netgear; customers have struggled to get a hold of Netgear representatives and experience phone tag and long email chains. Some customers report that they’ve had to pay to ship the device back and go router-less while it was repaired. If you don’t feel confident in your own troubleshooting abilities, it's best to purchase from a retailer that offers additional tech support, like Best Buy.

Best Budget Router
TP-LINK Archer C7 AC1750 Wireless-AC Dual-Band Router
TP-LINK Archer
A serious speed upgrade, but customization gets complicated.
Pros
Great value
Impressive performance
Simple setup
Cons
Not intended for more than 10 devices
Harder to customize

Why we chose it

Great value

If you’re not quite ready to dabble in advanced features, but are looking for seamless streaming or faster browsing, the TP-Link Archer C7 has you covered. At $65, it rivals the speeds of routers double its price. Though you can purchase a router for much cheaper, even as low as $20, it won’t perform with the reliability that the TP-Link Archer promises.

Impressive performance

PCMag’s testing revealed the Archer C7 delivered speeds higher than most other routers in its price range, and even rivaled power picks, like the Asus AC88U. On the more crowded 2.4GHz frequency and 30 feet from the router, speeds still tested at 62.8 Mbps. Jumping over to 5GHz boosted that speed up to 250Mbps. Both speeds are more than enough for streaming, web browsing, and some file downloads across a few different devices.

Simple setup

The Archer C7 has everything you’ll need to optimize your internet in a smaller home, without some of the expensive features of our more advanced picks. Amazon reviews say the initial installation process is straightforward, and there’s also a standard Quick Setup option too. You’ll be plugged in and ready to connect within 15 minutes. If all you want to do with your router is plug it in, the Archer C7 won’t need anything else.

Points to consider

Won’t support as many devices

While this router tested well for speed, don’t expect that same result if you’re connecting closer to 10 devices. The Archer C7’s lack of beamforming and slower bandwidth speeds will clog up the network. It’s a cheaper router, so its firmware isn’t designed to handle high traffic, but if you’re living in a smaller home or apartment with fewer than 10 devices, this router will meet your needs.

Harder to customize

Customer reviews pointed out that customization is difficult due to an overly text-based setup portal and a distinct lack of novice-friendly graphic elements. So while the Archer C7 does have some advanced features, like Quality of Service (to prioritize specific devices or apps) and parental controls, they’re difficult to access, making this router a better choice for the “plug and play” user or someone who’s willing to tinker. There’s also a TP-Link tether app, but its uses are limited beyond changing network passwords and blocking users.

Best Router for Large Homes
Google Wi-Fi AC1200 Dual-Band Whole Home Wi-Fi System (3-Pack)
Google Whole House Wi-Fi System
A mesh network to blanket your whole home in Wi-Fi.
Pros
Sprawling connectivity
Auto-steering speeds
Intuitive interface
Cons
Excessive for smaller homes
Limited customization

Why we chose it

Sprawling connectivity

If your current router-extender combo isn’t enough to cover your whole home, a mesh network is an easy, unified way to upgrade. Mesh systems are made up of multiple router-pods placed around your home to provide a blanket of connection. The pods ping off of each other to reach dead zones and hidden corners. You can even purchase wall mounts to discreetly install the pods in central hallways.

Auto-steering makes it fast

Google Wi-Fi uniquely runs auto-steering for band frequencies. So, rather than manually switching from 2.4GHz to 5GHz when your internet is bogging down, the system will switch to whichever is faster in the moment. As a result, PCMag found it outperformed the Eero and Luma mesh systems by around 100 Mbps, delivering 175 Mbps at a 30-foot distance.

Intuitive interface

The Google Wi-Fi System has mastered simple networking. Setup is incredibly intuitive; Amazon reviews report it takes about 15 minutes. Just plug the system in and follow a few steps in the mobile app. Granted, initializing on any mesh network is fairly easy, but Google Wi-Fi makes advanced features, like Quality of Service and beamforming, accessible for any user to enable through the app.

Points to consider

Excessive for smaller homes

Mesh systems tend to be expensive, starting at around $270. If you have a few dead spots but live in a smaller, single-story home, you probably won’t need to invest in a mesh system. They’re designed for large homes with dense construction and a history of poor connectivity in rooms farther from the router. If your home is under 2,000 square feet, you’ll be better off with the NetGear Nighthawk.

Limited customization

Google Wi-Fi is suited for “plug and play” users, not power users. Those looking for more advanced customization may feel limited by the app’s simplicity. The parental controls, for example, aren’t as comprehensive as the NetGear Nighthawk’s. For example, you can “pause” the internet, but you can’t set limitations on hours or sites.

For those with a big home who want to customize internet access for specific profiles (like block social media but allow homework-related sites on weeknights), you’ll want to consider pairing the detailed parental controls of the NetGear Nighthawk with a Wi-Fi extender to get broader coverage with more options.

Best Router for Gamers
Asus AC88U
Asus AC88U
The ultimate router: speed, customization, and definitely no lag.
Pros
Advanced settings
Double the antennas, double the speed
WTFast Game Accelerator
Cons
Harder to customize

Why we chose it

Advanced settings

For the network nerds who like to hack their router to do things like host their own VPN or enable link aggregation, the Asus AC88U is a solid choice. With eight ports, you can integrate several ethernet wired connections into one. The result is the ability to transmit separate data packets down separate links, which improves performance and adds a layer of reliability. If one connection fails, that data can hop onto another.

Double the antennas, double the speed

The Asus has four antennas for optimal MU-MIMO functionality, compared to the two or three of most competitors. This means it beams data directly to your devices (plus, it looks like a spaceship). CNET found the Asus’s data-beaming to be exceptionally fast too. Its same-room speeds reached 645 Mbps on the 5GHz frequency. Even at 100 ft, the Asus still delivered 335 Mbps and managed 102 Mbps on the busier 2.4GHz. If you’re paying for super fast or fiber internet speeds, this router will help you make the most of it.

WTFast Game Accelerator

One of the Asus’s selling points for gamers is a WTFast Game Accelerator that boosts your connection for online games by automatically seeking the most efficient lane for transporting your gaming data. While not all games are supported yet, several popular PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One games already are, and that list is growing. For non-supported games, you can use the router’s Quality of Service feature to designate priority to your gaming devices. So, no matter what you’re playing, your games won’t lag with the Asus.

Points to consider

Harder to customize

Amazon reviews claim setup gets increasingly complicated as you start accessing more advanced features. Without some techy tinkering, basic setup won’t deliver much more than the Netgear Nighthawk. Amazon reviewers note that, to optimize the router’s power, you’ll need to prioritize specific devices and apps, strategically designating different tasks to different bands, and arranging the antennas to best direct the Wi-Fi to your device.

Guide to Wireless Routers

How to find the right router for you

There are a lot of wireless routers out there — we’re talking 10,000+ — and in truth, there’s no perfect one. Router performance is going to depend on your home’s design, your internet usage, and your internet provider. But there are a few ways to help narrow your search.

Consider how your household uses the internet

You’ll want to keep in mind how many people are using the internet, and the kind of activity they’re doing. The internet bandwidth can get crowded and slow down as it connects to more devices. If you’re streaming Black Mirror in the living room, the kids are upstairs playing Overwatch, and Grandma is downloading a new ebook, your internet network may get overloaded and slow down. Use that information to determine how powerful you’ll need your router to be.

Know your home’s layout

When it comes to the design of your home, the bigger and denser-walled your house, the more difficult it is for your wireless router to send signals to devices. According to home networking consultant Ryan Hunt, “Anytime the Wi-Fi has to get around obstacles, like walls and furniture, you’ll see a speed reduction on your device.” If you’ve historically had dead zones or difficulty connecting throughout your house, you may want to consider a mesh network or a Wi-Fi extender.

Check that your internet plan is fast enough

If your internet speed is struggling, you may want to review your plan before purchasing a new router. The internet you pay for from an internet service provider (ISP), like Comcast or AT&T, will inevitably have an effect on your internet’s performance — if you only pay for 30 Mbps, your ISP is only responsible for delivering 30 Mbps, no matter how fancy your router is.

To help you find the right speed for your household, we gathered recommendations from a variety of internet service provider websites, as well as HighSpeedInternet.com, a site dedicated to providing information and tools to understand high-speed internet. Then, we consulted with the team at BroadbandNow to find the ideal speed ranges for most households.

Ideal Speeds Number of People/Devices Typical Use
5–15 Mbps
1–2 people or 1–3 devices
Basic traffic: Emails, web browsing, social media, SD video streaming on one device)
25–50 Mbps
2–3 people or 4–8 devices
Moderate traffic: Music streaming, occasional online gaming, streaming HD video on one or two devices
50–100 Mbps
3–5 people or 8–10 devices
High traffic: Multiple devices simultaneously streaming HD or 4K video, real-time gaming, or video conferencing
100+ Mbps
5+ people or 10+ devices
Very high traffic: Multiple devices simultaneously streaming HD or 4K video, real-time gaming, video conferencing, large file download

Think about the features you’ll actually use

Advanced features can be expensive, and they take work both to set up and optimize. Whitson Gordon, editor in chief at How-To Geek warned us that they’re not for everyone: “Unless you already know what the feature is and how to use it, chances are you don't need to be spending money on it.”

For more advanced users, however, these features may be worth the investment. Being able to optimize beamforming, toggle parental controls, enable link aggregation, and connect a VPN are advanced features that will cost you, but they’re a great way to customize your internet experience.

Wireless Router FAQs

What does Wi-Fi stand for?

The short answer — nothing. Seriously, it’s just a catchy name. You may have heard it stands for wireless fidelity, but that longer name came later. According to founding member of the Wi-Fi Alliance, Phil Belanger, “The Standard for Wireless Fidelity” is a made-up tagline; colleagues were worried about marketing with a name that didn’t mean anything. They’ve since dropped the tagline, as it actually caused more confusion.

Should I rent a router from my internet service provider?

We’re in favor of purchasing your own router. Not only will it save you money in the long run, but it can increase your internet speed. Let’s do the math: Renting a router can cost anywhere between $5 to $15 per month — up to $300 per year. And remember, they’re not particularly high-tech. There’s also a good chance all your neighbors are using the same router, increasing spacial traffic that can slow your internet down (especially during high-traffic internet hours). Alternatively, our favorite routers are just a one-time investment between $60 and $250.

Where should I put my router?

Place your router where your devices are. It should be out in the open, unobstructed, and as central to your most used devices as possible. If your router has antennas, play around with those and try positioning them vertically or horizontally based on where you tend to have the weakest signal.

Home networking consultant Ryan Hunt explains why: “Signal is released in a roughly spherical shape, so imagine you’re positioning the ‘bubble’ to reach as many rooms as possible. Putting it in a cupboard, closet, corner, behind a desk, and in other claustrophobic placements will decrease the signal quality and slow down performance.”

Should I worry about my router being hacked?

Probably not. After an unraveling of traditional WPA2 security in 2017, some are worried their devices are at risk. Since then, all major operating systems have rolled out updates to combat the recent vulnerabilities. You’re only truly vulnerable if the hacker is on your network, which means they’d need to be in your home or near your device and have your password. In other words, it’s nothing to sweat over.

The Best Wireless Router: Summed Up

NETGEAR Nighthawk
TP-LINK Archer C7
Google Home Wi-Fi System
Asus AC88U
The Best
For High-Traffic Homes
Budget Router
For Large Homes
For Gamers
Price
$145
$66
$280
$237
Dual-Band Frequency
Quality of Service
Parent Controls
Number of Ports
6
6
2
10