The Best Wireless Router
How We Found the Best Wireless Router
139 Routers considered
27 Independent tests evaluated
4 Top picks
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.
How We Chose the Best Wireless Router
Updated wireless protocol
The latest network standard, or protocol, dictates how your device communicates with your network. New protocols are standardized every five years or so; the most recent is 802.11ac (often referred to as simply AC), and it’s essential for faster internet. Both your devices and the router need to be enabled with this protocol to connect. Luckily, AC has been around long enough that all your Wi-Fi-capable devices should be updated, and the best router will be too.
Frequency bands are similar to radio waves; the most common one, 2.4 GHz, is really crowded. Not only are all your neighbors using it, but so is your microwave. Most routers under $30 and rented routers will run on this frequency. However, a router with dual bands allows you to switch to the less crowded 5 GHz frequency (like changing channels on a walkie-talkie) and results in faster internet speeds.
Wi-Fi security enables you to password-protect your wireless connection, preventing unauthorized access to your devices. Without password security, anyone could hop onto your Wi-Fi and weasel into your devices. The current security type is WPA/WPA2 (Wi-Fi Protected Access) — this is common in most routers, but that doesn’t negate its importance.
Independently tested for performance
The speed capabilities advertised by routers are theoretical maximums in controlled environments. In other words, they’re overly optimistic — most people receive speeds around half of the advertised cap. To get a better sense of how each router performs, we turned to trusted sources like PCMag, CNET, Tom’s Guide, Small Net Builder, PC World, and Consumer Reports.
They all conduct router performance tests using independent network performance software that simulates internet usage and tracks how the network interacts with each router.
By running this software at different distances, it’s possible to get an idea of how well the router will work for the average person — whether you’re Skyping from your home office or streaming Netflix upstairs. In testing, the best routers maintained a usable speed (about 50 Mbps) at any distance, and they could handle several devices at a time.
Advanced features allow you to further customize your internet experience, whether that means relegating speed to specific apps, connected a VPN, or toggling parent controls. If you’re willing to invest the time into tinkering in your router portal, these features will really elevate a router to the best. But because these aren’t essential features for every user, we looked at them as separate qualities for the more tech-savvy.
We were left with 27 routers with independently verified performance claims. To home in on the best of the best, we dug into user reviews from Amazon and Best Buy, tracking comment patterns related to reliability and ease of use. Favorites offered reliable performance, boosted speeds, and simple interfaces. Poorly rated routers had frequent complaints about dropped service and the need for frequent reboots. Once we had our finalists, we narrowed our list to four highly rated routers. What’s right for you depends on the size of your home and the number of devices you’d like to connect.
The 4 Best Wireless Routers
- NETGEAR Nighthawk AC1900 Dual-Band Wi-Fi Router -
Best Router for High-Traffic Homes
- TP-LINK Archer C7 AC1750 Wireless-AC Dual-Band Router -
Best Budget Router
- Google Wi-Fi AC1200 Dual-Band Whole Home Wi-Fi System (3-Pack) -
Best Router for Large Homes
- Asus AC88U -
Best Router for Gamers
Why we chose it
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.
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.
Why we chose it
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.
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.
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.
Why we chose it
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.
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.
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.
Why we chose it
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|
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.