The router is the bridge that turns your internet connection into a fast, reliable network for your whole house. And unless you want to hardline every computer you own, you need a wireless router. Or two. They vary greatly, from their strength to the type of wireless signal they produce. We’ll go into all of these differences in the Buying Advice section below, but in an age when connectivity is everything, the ocean in which we all swim, getting a good, strong router is super important. It becomes even more important if you have a home audio system, or a wireless speaker, because there’s nothing more annoying than constant dropouts when you have new tunes to listen to - hey, we love audio on this site, so it's important to us!. Anyway, here we go: the top models for this year.

How We Choose:

Before anything else, we’re interested in just how strong and reliable the router is. The ideal with these devices is that you turn them on, connect them, and then forget about them, so the more effectively they achieve this goal, the more marks they get from us. Value for money is also important, and although pricier models tend to move towards the top of the list, it’s not the only factor we take into consideration. We also look at ease-of-use, how tricky a route it is to set up, and whether a model has had any problems in the past. We also take a look at things like MU-MIMO, the number of bands, the various features included in each router, and what they’re best used for.
 

Our Router Picks:

1. Asus RT AC88U ($270)

ASUS RT-AC88UMax Speed: 2167Mbps / 5GHz 
Bands: Dual (2.4GHz, 5GHz)
LAN Ports: 8
Standard: AC
Features: MU-MIMO, 2x USB ports, AiProtection, GPN, mobile app.
What We Like: Lightning fast, feature packed, all-in-one solution.
What We Don’t: Awkward positioning on one of the USB ports.

This router is an absolute powerhouse. As well as being lightning fast, the AC88U is bursting with hardware and software solutions. For a start, it’s MU-MIMO enabled, which means multiple devices can send and receive data simultaneously – Most routers serve data individually (just really quick) which affects speeds. It has two USB ports, allowing storage devices, printers, and scanners to be shared on your network – handy for saving ports on your machine, or saving office/desk space. ASUS’ AiProtection keeps your network safe from cyber-attacks and comes with a handy inspection tool, accessible through your computer or the mobile app. Eight Ethernet ports means all your hardwire devices are covered (SONOSNET, 4K Smart TV’s etc.) and gamers are even covered too, through a GPN (Gamers Private Network) option which creates the best possible connection to game servers (hallelujah!). Not to mention the usual suspects of Quality of service, parental controls and WPA (WiFi Protected Access) security.

There are similar performing routers available speed wise, however they lack the connectivity and feature driven options of the AC88U. For multiple user households wanting the best performance out of their internet, no matter what they intend to do, for an affordable price, the ASUS RT-AC88U is hard to ignore.
See the Asus RT AC88U
 

2. Linksys WRT AC1900 ($132)

Linksys AC1900Max Speed: 1300Mbps / 5GHz
Bands: Dual (2.4 GHz, 5 GHz)
LAN Ports: 4
Standard: AC
Features: Beamforming, OpenWRT,  mobile app.
What We Like: Brilliant range, faster than most in its price range and even some above.
What We Don’t: Lacks MU-MIMO.

Although beamforming sounds like a process involved in building a house, it isn’t. What it IS, is a process whereby the Wi-Fi signal sent out by your router is focused directly on your devices. Usually, a Wi-Fi signal widens the further it travels from the router, losing strength until the word “buffering” ruins your day. Beamforming saves it. It also propels the AC1900 way above the competition in terms of real world speeds, seeing transfer rates of around 500Mbps at 5 meters. This beats the more expensive and supposedly faster RTA2600 which only managed 369Mbps and the MU-MIMO enabled EA 8500 at 319Mbps. The range is fantastic too, hitting 150 feet.

For those interested in customizing their router configurations, everything from band broadcast (2.4GHz, 5GHz), band name, encryption type and access codes can be changed through your browser or the Linksys mobile app. For those who like to really get involved, the OpenWRT software allows you to customize the interface entirely and add new functionalities. The parental controls allow you to block certain sites and completely restrict access at certain times of day, while the built-in firewall and encryption software will keep the nasties out. The WRT AC1900 is without a doubt best in its class and although the lack of MU-MIMO stops it being an efficient option for households with multiple users, at this price point it’s stellar for everyone else.
See the Linksys WRT AC1900


3. Google WiFi ($298)

Google Wifi Max Speed: 1200Mbps / 5GHz
Bands: Dual (2.4GHz, 5GHz)
LAN Ports: 2 per unit (6 total)
Standard: AC
Features: Beamforming, smart device compatibility, mobile app.
What We Like: No hassle mesh system, awesome design, unbeatable value.
What We Don’t: Not the fastest.

The main benefit of a mesh system over a traditional router is coverage. The 3 units provided in the Google WiFi package can cover up to 4500sqft (no more WiFi blackspots for us). The design of these units is equally as impressive – small, unobtrusive and modern. Each unit has two Ethernet ports on the back allowing devices anywhere in the house to benefit from a wired connection. These units were devilishly simple to setup, taking literally two minutes to configure using the mobile app. The app also facilitates the wealth of other features offered, including; speed monitoring, bandwidth prioritization, smart home device control (Philips Hue) and the pausing of access to specific devices.

The beamforming tech allows 4K streaming to happen anywhere in the house and gaming is an absolute pleasure in tandem with the traffic prioritization feature. Mesh systems aren’t focused on huge speeds, but as we’ve mentioned streaming in 4K and gaming are more than possible and we were able to download large files in no time at all. Just don’t try doing it all at once. However, for smart homes looking for limitless range and functionality with no technical know-how required, mesh systems are the future. Unbeatable in terms of design, simplicity and price, Google WiFi is in a league of its own.
See the Google WiFi


4. TP-LINK ARCHER C9 AC1900 ($118)

TP-Link AC1900Max Speed: 1300Mbps / 5GHz
Bands: Dual (2.4GHz, 5GHz)
LAN Ports: 4
Standard: AC
Features: Beamforming, 2x USB ports, file and printer sharing.
What We Like: Great value, great speeds, simplistic interface.
What We Don’t: Slow USB 3.0.

This no-frills router from TP-Link provides a welcome respite from the sometimes overwhelming and potentially unnecessary features provided by a lot of routers in our list. Although it can’t compete with the Linksys AC1900 above in terms of speed it definitely holds its own (hello beamforming), providing more than enough speed for the average user and for the best price available at this class. I say average user, because a lot of us simply don’t need the 182Mbps speed the Archer delivers at 10 meters.

So it’s got speed, it’s got value. How about style? Well it looks…like a router. What more do you want? The set-up and interface are simple and user-friendly…again avoiding the unnecessary over complication other “high-end” routers seem to pride themselves on. The only real gripe we have with the Archer is the slow speeds from the USB 3.0, which if you’re planning on doing a lot of file sharing could be an issue. Apart from that you’re looking at a great all-rounder nipping at the heels of the competition and embarrassing them when it comes to check-out time. If you just want a high speed router without all the fuss, then look no further.  
See the TP-LINK ARCHER C9 AC1900
 

5. Starry Station ($279)

Starry StationMax Speed: 1300 Mbps / 5GHz
Bands: Dual (2.4GHz, 5GHz)
LAN Ports: 2 (1 in, 1 out)
Standard: AC
Features: Touch-screen tech, proximity sensor, microphone, mobile app.
What We Like: Stylish, no fuss, cool tech.
What We Don’t: Expensive for performance.

Ok, so let us get the negative out the way early. It’s not the fastest in its class, but it has beaten conventional routers to the punch in other ways giving an indication into the future of home networking. It’s design-conscious, accessible and provides answers to questions people didn’t even realize they wanted to ask. The proximity sensor, for example, works in tandem with your phone, activating and deactivating smart devices at your request. For example, if you sit down at your desk at 7pm the Station can communicate with your smart lights (Phillips HUE) and shower you in blue light while you game. Do the same during work hours and it can provide you with white light to reduce eye strain. You get the picture.

Its onboard microphone supports voice commands and all the diagnostic and management tools are accessible through the units’ touchscreen or via the mobile app. The Station is a true plug and play device and we had ours up and running in under two minutes. Although it can’t compete with say the EA7500 in terms of raw data speed, it’s leagues ahead in terms of innovation, and represents a new gap in the market alongside the highly acclaimed Google WiFi and Netgear Orbi systems.
See the Starry Station
 

6. Linksys EA7500 Max-Stream AC1900 ($154)

LinksysMax Speed: 1300Mbps / 5GHz
Bands: Dual (2.4GHz, 5GHz)
LAN Ports: 4
Standard: AC
Features: MU-MIMO, 2x USB ports (3.0, 2.0), browser-based management.
What We Like: Strong performer, good value.
What We Don’t: Inconsistent file transfer speeds.

Don’t be fooled by its subtle looks. The EA7500 is an absolute beast amongst midrange routers and with its recent price drop, the bang for buck is looking to take off heads. The MU-MIMO tech is ideal for multiple user households and the unit performs blisteringly fast across both bands, up to thirty feet and through multiple walls. There’s an automatic setup feature which analyses your network, choosing the best settings and you’re off. If you need to manually adjust anything, you can through the browser based tool.

The only real drawback on this unit is embedded in file transfers. Read speeds are decent but write speeds are underwhelming, so if you’re looking to transfer a lot of files to a networked drive this could be an issue. Only just missing out on a top-five spot due to its slightly higher price than the Archer C9, the fact it doesn’t accommodate beamforming and its file transfer inconsistencies. However there could be a case for it over the Archer dependent on your needs. Still a brilliant router.
See the Linksys EA7500 Max-Stream AC1900


7. D-Link AC5300 Ultra ($413)

D-Link Ultra AC5300Max Speed: 2166Mbps
Bands: Tri (2.4GHz, 2x 5GHz)
LAN Ports: 4
Standard: AC
Features: MU-MIMO, beamforming, smart connect.
What We Like: 2x 5GHz bands, lightning fast.
What We Don’t: Expensive, could be considered overkill.

This Tri-band router from D-Link is super, super fast. In fact the only router on the list that can beat it is Asus’s RT-AC88U (our number one pick). It sustains this speed across most ranges and through multiple layers of bricks and mortar. The speed doesn’t stop there though, oh no. You want fast read/write speeds? The AC5300 is leading the pack again on both counts. How about maintaining speed for multiple users? Yep. The AC5300 outperforms everyone thanks to its 2x 5GHz bands and MU-MIMO tech.

The interface and smart app provide a familiar picture, granting access to all the usual features, while one standout feature – smart connect – switches devices to the most efficient band available. So why is it only at number 7? Well it’s expensive and definitely overkill for the majority of users. The other issue some people may have is the size/design. It’s big and garish, but it matches its power and we like it. If you’ve got money to throw away and you want the best performance possible the AC5300 is a definite consideration.
See the D-Link AC5300


8. Linksys EA6350 ($80)

Linksys EA6350Max Speed: 867Mbps / 5GHz
Bands: Dual (2.4GHz, 5GHz)
LAN Ports: 4
Standard: AC
Features: Beamforming, USB 3.0.
What We Like: Amazing value, Easy to install.
What We Don’t: Non-removable antennas.

If you’re looking for something a little more grounded in reality and you’re on a budget then the EA6350 from Linksys is probably for you. With a modest design and single USB 3.0 port this router is really aimed at the light network users - and that’s a good thing. There aren’t enough quality budget routers in the marketplace, but with one as solid and reliable as this, who cares?

Setup is as simple as the EA7500 and the interface grants you all the usual goodies such as diagnostic information, parental controls and traffic prioritization. Although not as fast as its role model, the EA7500, it’s not far behind at close distances. As expected though add a few more feet and a couple walls and the gap starts to slowly widen. The antennas are fixed, so can’t be replaced for more powerful ones, meaning future proofing is out the window, but this router is more than adequate for one or two users and is almost half the price. Read and write speeds really suffer when looking at more expensive models, but again if this isn’t a priority on your list, then why pay extra for it? All in all, a brilliant little budget router aimed at the casual user. Top stuff.
See the Linksys EA6350


9. Netgear Nighthawk X4S R7800 ($199)

NETGEAR Nighthawk X4S Max Speed: 1733Mbps / 5GHz
Bands: Dual (2.4GHz, 5GHz)
LAN Ports: 4
Standard: AC
Features: MU-MIMO, 2x USB 3.0 ports, ReadySHARE.
What We Like: USB 3.0 on both ports, decent performance.
What We Don’t: The 2.4GHz band is slower than models half its price.

In a similar vein to the ASUS RT-AC88U, the X4S is looking to dominate the higher end of the router market. Although not as fast as the aforementioned, it definitely competes and is $70 cheaper. It even trumps the single USB 3.0 port of the AC88U and raises it by one. But that’s where the competition ends. It has half the Ethernet connections and half the amount of features.  Its max speed on the 5GHz band is theoretically lower and the real world performance of its 2.4GHz band is worse than some of the budget routers we’ve tested. Not necessarily a deal-breaker, but it definitely overshadows the ray of hope the extra USB port and $70 reduction added.

Performance picks up again when multiple users try to access data simultaneously, so much so that we’d say it’s one of the better options for households with multiple users. The USB 3.0 ports perform as expected delivered top draw read/write speeds. The only real issue with the router is its positioning. Priced in the lower region of the high-end routers it seems appealing, but it’s lack of features, Ethernet ports and questionable 2.4GHz band performance make you question whether this is what you wanted from high end, making the more expensive midrange routers suddenly seem more appealing. The ReadySHARE feature is a nice touch, but it’s just filesharing with a snazzy interface. Not a bad router by any means, but not quite good enough either.
See the Netgear Nighthawk X4S R7800


10. Netgear Orbi ($350)

NETGEAR OrbiMax Speed: 1733Mbps / 5GHz
Bands: Tri (2.4GHz, 2x 5GHz)
LAN Ports: 2
Standard: AC
Features: MU-MIMO, Highly configurable, tri band.
What We Like: Faster than Google WiFi, easy to set up.
What We Don’t: Expensive, bulky, terrible app.

The second of our WiFi systems comes in the form of Netgear’s Orbi. The main benefit of this system over the Google WiFi option is the speed. It’s faster, no doubt about it. Also, unlike Google Wifi, each terminal maintains that lightning pace and is able to deliver it via the Ethernet port. This is thanks to the additional band Netgear have implemented. Nice.

So why have we rated Google Wifi higher than Netgear’s Orbi? Because the next feature of Orbi we’re about to discuss is a double edged sword in our opinion and slightly contradicts the ethos behind WiFi systems. The Orbi is far more configurable than Google’s option. Sounds great right? Well only to the minority. The appeal of WiFi systems is their ease of use. The less involvement the user has, the better. If you want to be able to control your system completely, WiFi systems aren’t quite there yet, and probably aren’t for you. The Orbi’s mobile app is also dreadful, especially when compared to Google’s version. Then there’s the smart device integration that Google’s installment has over the Orbi, the fact it costs $50 more, is far bulkier and only comes with two terminals, that one less Ethernet access point available. If you don’t mind paying extra, however, and speed is a big concern for you for all devices in the house, then the Orbi may be a better option, but when considering the complete picture Google holds the crown. For now.
See the Netgear Orbi


11. D-Link AC1200 ($60)

D-Link AC1200Max Speed: 867Mbps / 5GHz
Bands: Dual (2.4GHz, 5GHz)
LAN Ports: 4
Standard: AC
Features: Mobile app, parental controls.
What We Like: No-nonsense router.
What We Don’t: No USB ports.

Here we go then, people, the antithesis of router marketing. This dual band router from D-Link is pulling no punches…because it isn’t throwing any…because it’s too busy just being a basic, no-nonsense router. And how can we fault it for that? There are definitely users who just want a solid, reliable router for browsing, a bit of streaming and some online gaming without having to work overtime five weeks in a row to afford it, and they’ll be happy with this one.

It still has the usual accompaniments of management tools, Quality of Service prioritization and parental controls which are accessible as standard through your web browser of choice or the mobile app. Setup happens automatically as soon as you connect your computer and is done in under a minute. The lack of USB ports could bother some, but if you’re looking at budget routers it’s unlikely your search for an external hardware storage/sharing solution. So what about performance? Well unless you are benchmarking it you won’t be able to tell the difference between this and a midrange model costing triple the price. That’s across both bands too. If you just want a no-nonsense router for a no-nonsense price that delivers in every area it needs to, then this is the one for you.
See the D-Link AC1200


12. D-Link AC3200 Ultra ($180)

D-Link AC3200Max Speed: 1300Mbps / 5GHz
Bands: Tri (2.4GHz, 2x 5GHz)
LAN Ports: 4
Standard: AC
Features: 2x USB, Beamforming, SmartConnect, mobile app.
What We Like: Great performance across all ranges, user friendly interface.
What We Don’t: File transfer speeds are a letdown, expect more from a tri band.

Another solid addition from D-Link. The AC3200 maintains respectable speeds across it’s bands, trading blows back and forth over ranges with the Linksys EA7500. Unfortunately it costs $60 more. But it is faster overall across the 5GHz band. However the EA7500 has MU-MIMO, which is a feature the AC3200 is missing, but partially makes up for it with the additional band.

The read/write speeds (across the USB ports) are a different story altogether, though. The AC3200 is significantly slower than the EA7500 and the Linksys AC1900 – both costing $60 less. It’s not all bad news, though. Thanks to an intuitive interface and handy mobile app managing your network never felt simpler and the smart connect functionality diverts traffic automatically across the bands, speeding up your main devices when you need them most. The beamforming feature is also great for mobile devices on the edge of your WiFi’s range, ensuring the signal is always as strong as possible. A decent router from D-Link, it’s unfortunate that even with the price drop it still falls short in important areas to lesser priced models.
See the D-Link AC3200 Ultra

Wireless Router | nrkbeta

Specs Table:

Wireless Router Price Max Speed Bands Ports Std.
Asus RT AC88U $270 2167Mbps / 5GHz  Dual (2.4GHz, 5GHz) 8 AC
Linksys WRT AC1900 $132 1300Mbps / 5GHz Dual (2.4 GHz, 5 GHz) 4 AC
Google WiFi $298 1200Mbps / 5GHz Dual (2.4 GHz, 5 GHz) 6 AC
TP-LINK ARCHER C9 AC1900 $118 1300Mbps / 5GHz Dual (2.4 GHz, 5 GHz) 4 AC
Starry Station $279 1300 Mbps / 5GHz Dual (2.4 GHz, 5 GHz) 2 AC
Linksys EA7500 Max-Stream AC1900 $154 1300Mbps / 5GHz Dual (2.4 GHz, 5 GHz) 4 AC
D-Link AC5300 Ultra $413 2166Mbps Tri (2.4GHz, 2x 5GHz) 4 AC
Linksys EA6350 $80 867Mbps / 5GHz Dual (2.4 GHz, 5 GHz) 4 AC
Netgear Nighthawk X4S R7800 $199 1733Mbps / 5GHz Dual (2.4 GHz, 5 GHz) 4 AC
Netgear Orbi $350 1733Mbps / 5GHz Tri (2.4GHz, 2x 5GHz) 2 AC
D-Link AC1200 $60 867Mbps / 5GHz Dual (2.4 GHz, 5 GHz) 4 AC
D-Link AC3200 Ultra $180 1300Mbps / 5GHz Tri (2.4GHz, 2x 5GHz) 4 AC

 

Buying Advice:

How Do Routers Work?

You used to get the Internet by running a cable from your computer into your phone line, usually via some sort of modem. Now, it's incredibly rare to have a wired connection. Chances are, you have WiFi, and a router is what enables that. Instead of connecting your computer to the phone line (or dedicated Internet line), you connect the router to it. The router then broadcasts a signal which your computer picks up, allowing you to send and receive data. 
 

What Separates Cheap And Expensive Models?

The very obvious answer is speed. The higher it is, the faster your Internet is going to be. Our table above should give a good indication of max speed for each model. More expensive routers may also operate using dual bands, and you really want this: having a router that can kick it on 2.4GHz and 5GHz simultaneously (these terms are explained below) means you get far fewer interruptions, and is ideal for households with a lot of devices and users.

What Affects Wireless Signal?

One of the biggest factors of your router’s performance is the environment it’s operating in. Pushing a signal through surfaces like brick and concrete is a lot harder than plaster and wood. For starters, keep your router above ground (the higher the better actually) and away from the corner of the room (where most routers currently live). Moving your router to a more central location and away from other wireless signal-emitting devices like cordless phones, Bluetooth speakers, and even microwave ovens can improve your signal performance.

However, there are some places that your router just might not reach, no matter what you try. If you have a rec room above a garage or a basement converted to a media room, your wireless signal may not reach there, or may only do so sporadically, resulting in frustrating coverage. In these cases, you should consider a wireless range extender. Wireless range extenders repeat your router’s signal and pump it into far corners of your home. And while your signal may lose some strength in the process, it’s still a considerable solution.

NETGEAR Router | DeclanTM

What Is A Wireless Extender?

These work by receiving your router’s signal, then retransmitting that signal. If it only has one antenna, it has to do both those by switching from receiving to transmitting mode, cutting your speeds by at least 50 percent and usually more. There are some, like the Netgear AC750 EX6100, that use two antennas to transmit the signal and get much better speeds. However, since it has one 5Ghz and one 2.4Ghz, that means you’re either slowing down speeds in receiving or retransmitting the signal. To avoid this, run an inexpensive Ethernet cable between the two routers to extend your network and keep the speed up. Here’s a good guide to setting up your old router as an extender.

Hopefully you only have to look at your router’s interface once while you’re setting it up. But if you have to venture into it, you want to know what you’re looking for. If you’re trying to get off your neighbor’s channel, look under the wireless settings area of your browser’s interface. You also can use the interface to set up passwords, name your wireless networks, and access advanced features like guest accounts and firewalls. Luckily, most manufactures have tech support lines that can help you set up all your devices and walk you through activating special features to get the most from your wireless router (good luck with that…)
 

Dual Band Vs Tri Band

Wireless devices have to send data, and they do so by sending it at specific frequencies. That means they are subject to a whole lot of regulatory oversight, and can only use specific frequencies. In the early days of the Internet, and the early days of wireless routers, this was 2.4GHz.

The problem was, this got congested quickly, especially when we started using intensive applications like Netflix and YouTube. So, routers started using another assigned band, 5GHz. By doing this, they created an extra ‘lane’ they could use, much like adding another lane to a highway. It allowed increased levels of traffic, and higher speeds.

Several of the routers in our list are dual band, and at least one is tri-band, which means it is significantly faster.
 

Wireless Standards Explained (What AC, N and 802.11 Mean)

First off, some good news. You can ignore the numbers.

The 802.11 simply means that the network in question is a wireless network. Bluetooth networks are designated 802.15, and ethernet networks are 802.3. These numbers are set by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Standards Association, and all you need to know is that if it says 802.11, it’s WiFi.

What we are interested in other letters that come after 802.11.

When looking at wireless routers, you’ll often see them listed as having “IEEE 802.11a/b/g/n/ac” wireless antennas. Each one of those slashes is a progressively faster iteration of the standard. There’s a lot of technical detail in each update, like if it operates in the 2.4 or 5 GHz band and how quickly it can transfer data, but the more slashes after 802.11, the better. The latest standard, 802.11ac, was introduced in late 2013, so if you have newer devices, you’ll definitely want to get a router that can output 802.11ac. But you’ll be hard-pressed to find a new router that doesn’t support satisfactory speeds—the limiting factor will more likely be your cable company. (There is a newer standard, ad, which is slowly being introduced, although it isn’t widespread yet)

We'd love to tell you what n and ac stand for, but they don't really stand for anything. 

The 802.11n standard, found on all models we recommend above, has a maximum speed of 450 Mbps and 802.11ac, the newest standard, is capable of a theoretical 7 Gbps. While actual speeds may be not be as high due to less-than-perfect setups and receiving equipment, your cable company isn’t likely to provide speeds over 100 Mbps. In Seattle, for example, the largest cable provider offers speeds that max out at 105 Mbps. 

Wireless Router | Sean MacEntee

What Do Ethernet Ports Do?

A good wireless router will have Ethernet ports on the back to send direct signals to certain devices in your house. This is helpful for streaming to media players online gaming on gaming consoles, or desktop computers that don’t need to move around a lot. You can also find routers with USB ports. These allow you to hook up printers for wireless printing and hard drives for streaming media. You’ll want to look at each router’s capabilities if you want to use those features, as most are specific to individual manufacturers. Also, these features involve dealing with your router’s interface, which might be daunting.

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