The 9 Best Wireless Routers of 2021

Shop the best routers for gamers, streamers, large houses, apartments, and more

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If you truly want to enjoy everything the modern internet has to offer, then you need one of the best wireless routers to deliver the performance necessary for demanding online activities like streaming, gaming, and video calling. With many households playing host to everything from laptops and PCs to smartphones, tablets, game consoles and connected home appliances, a basic router isn’t enough anymore—you need one that can keep up even while multiple family members are streaming Netflix in 4K and hanging out on Zoom and FaceTime.

The best wireless routers deliver top-notch range and speed for households of all sizes—and all the devices and users in them. Whether you’re in a small condo or a sprawling villa, you’ll find one of the best wireless routers that will meet your needs, thanks to advanced technologies like beamforming antennas, quality-of-service, and Wi-Fi 6 support to ensure every one of your devices gets its fair share of your broadband connection. The best wireless routers aren’t just for power users, either—they’re easy and intuitive to set up thanks to accompanying smartphone apps, so anybody can get one up and running on their home network in no time at all. 

Read on for our picks of the best wireless routers available.

The Rundown
Best Overall:
Netgear Orbi at Amazon
The Netgear Orbi can cover up to 5,000 square feet and can handle speeds of up to 2.2Gbps.
A really affordable way to move into the latest Wi-Fi 6 technology, with a wealth of advanced features for its price.
Best Security:
Asus RT-AX88U at Amazon
Cutting-edge Wi-Fi 6 performance and advanced security features keep everything in your home protected from internet threats.
Best Mesh:
Eero Pro at Amazon
Can cover your whole home and beyond without the need to fiddle with advanced Wi-Fi settings.
Best for Gaming:
Asus GT-AX11000 at Amazon
An ultra-fast Wi-Fi 6 router with a plethora of advanced features designed specifically with gamers in mind.
With a futuristic look and 802.11ax Wi-Fi 6 support, the RAX80 paves the way for the future.
Best Parental Controls:
Synology RT2600ac at Amazon
The full-featured router operating system makes it easy to set up filtering rules for your whole home and each of your kids.
Best for Smart Homes:
Google Nest Wi-Fi at Amazon
Features tight Google Home integration and point units that double as smart speakers.
A great little router for an extremely reasonable price.

Best Overall: Netgear Orbi Whole Home Wi-Fi System

Netgear Orbi RBK50 Mesh Wi-Fi System
4.5

Our Ratings
  • Design
    4/5
  • Setup Process
    4/5
  • Connectivity/Ports
    4/5
  • Network Performance
    5/5
  • Software
    4/5
What We Like
  • Full Home Coverage

  • Speedy performance

  • Beautiful aesthetics

What We Don't Like
  • Pricey

  • Older devices can complicate things

Netgear’s Orbi offers a much more living room friendly aesthetic than most wireless routers, and it’s actually a pretty big departure from Netgear’s usual design. However, it’s also the company’s first mesh Wi-Fi system, so it’s not something you’re expected to hide somewhere in your basement. Chances are you actually will have one or more of these units in your living space, so looks are important here. 

Don’t let its appearance fool you, though, as this powerful Wi-Fi system can easily cover even the largest and busiest homes with more than enough performance for all of your streaming and video calling needs. A dedicated wireless channel runs between the main Orbi router and the satellite units to keep everything running quickly and smoothly, which means you’ll get consistent speeds, no matter which unit you’re closest to. 

This also makes the four wired Gigabit Ethernet ports on each satellite especially handy. These are designed to let you hardwire in a non-Wi-Fi device like a smart TV, PC, or game console, and thanks to Orbi’s high-speed mesh network you’ll get the same speeds at a satellite unit that you would from plugging straight into the main router. With Netgear Armor security and advanced Circle with Disney parental controls, it’s also a great system for families of all ages.

Wireless Spec: Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac) | Security: NETGEAR Armor, WPA2 | Standard/Speed: AC3000 | Bands: Tri-band | MU-MIMO: Yes | Beamforming: Yes | Wired Ports: 4 (per unit)

"Anyone that has a large home or office that needs a fast and reliable network connection will find a lot to love with this router." — Bill Thomas, product tester

Netgear Orbi

Lifewire / Bill Thomas

Best Value: TP-Link Archer AX50 AX3000 Dual Band Gigabit Wi-Fi 6 Router

TP-Link Archer AX50
What We Like
  • Affordable Wi-Fi 6 technology

  • 160MHz-wide channels

  • Free advanced security and parental controls

What We Don't Like
  • Slow NAS performance

TP-Link’s Archer AX50 lets you step into the latest Wi-Fi 6 technology without spending a bundle. Even if you don’t have a lot of Wi-Fi 6 devices in your home yet, this router will make sure you’re ready when they do come along, and in the meantime it will deliver impressive performance for all your 802.11ac Wi-Fi 5 devices.

With enough range to handle a modest-sized home, the AX50 offers great value for its affordable price tag, delivering up to 3Gbps of bandwidth to all of your Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 5 devices. It also supports 160MHz-wide channels, which is a pleasant surprise considering that’s something omitted by many more expensive Wi-Fi 6 routers. On top of that, TP-Link also includes a lifetime subscription to its HomeCare suite of security and parental control features, powered by Trend Micro, letting you block malware and create profiles for different family members to set time limits and keep your kids safe online. 

Around the back you’ll find the usual collection of four Gigabit Ethernet ports, but the AX50 has another nice surprise up its sleeve. You can combine two of the wired ports to use as a single link for the very highest speed multi-gigabit internet plans. There’s also a USB 3.0 port for plugging in an external hard drive or sharing a printer, and while it doesn’t offer the fastest NAS capabilities we’ve seen, it’s more adequate for things like network backup, and it even supports Apple’s Time Machine for Mac users. 

Wireless Spec: Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) | Security: HomeCare, WPA3 | Standard/Speed: AX3000 | Bands: Dual-band | MU-MIMO: Yes | Beamforming: Yes | Wired Ports: 4

Best Security: Asus RT-AX88U AX6000 Dual-Band Wi-Fi 6 Router

Asus RT-AX88U
4.7

Our Ratings
  • Design
    5/5
  • Setup Process
    4/5
  • Connectivity/Ports
    4/5
  • Network Performance
    5/5
  • Software
    5/5
What We Like
  • Advanced Wi-Fi 6 support

  • Advanced security features

  • Eight LAN ports

What We Don't Like
  • A bit pricey

If you’re looking for a router that can offer you the peace of knowing that your home network is safe against malware and other online threats, then Asus RT-AX88U has you covered. It’s a high-performance router with a wealth of advanced features, from online security and parental controls to the latest Wi-Fi 6 technology, plus enough range and power to cover a large and busy home.

Thanks to its suite of AiProtection Pro features powered by Trend Micro, the RT-AX88U will block malicious sites to protect your devices from malware, phishing, spam, adware, and ransomware attacks. A two-way intrusion prevention system also prevents infected devices in your home from making outbound connections that could transmit your sensitive personal information. There's also built-in router security assessment tool helps you lock things down properly by identifying potentially insecure settings, so you won’t need to worry about a misconfigured router leaving your home network vulnerable to hackers. 

On the hardware side, the RT-AX88U also offers up a powerful beamforming antenna array that can cover a 5,000-square-foot home, with a total of 6Gbps of bandwidth for your devices. It also sports a generous collection of eight Gigabit Ethernet ports around the back to hardwire in your PC or game console for maximum performance, plus a pair of USB 3.1 ports for sharing files and other media on your home network. 

Wireless Spec: Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) | Security: AiProtection Pro, WPA2, 802.1x | Standard/Speed: AX6000 | Bands: Dual-band | MU-MIMO: Yes | Beamforming: Yes | Wired Ports: 8

"I was able to stream high definition Netflix to two televisions on my network while someone else was gaming, and various other phones and tablets were in use without any stuttering or slowdown." Jeremy Laukkonen, Product Tester

Asus RT-AX88U

Lifewire / Jeremy Laukkonen

Best Mesh: Eero Pro Mesh Wi-Fi System

Eero Pro kit with two Eero Beacons
4.3

Our Ratings
  • Design
    5/5
  • Setup Process
    5/5
  • Connectivity/Ports
    3/5
  • Network Performance
    4/5
  • Software
    5/5
What We Like
  • Very easy to set up

  • Great wired speeds

  • Real-time content filtering & malware protection

What We Don't Like
  • Limited Ethernet ports

  • Lacks PPPoE support

  • Content filtering requires monthly subscription

The Eero Pro takes all the complexity out of setting up a mesh Wi-Fi system, with an intuitive mobile app that will have you up and running in a matter of minutes. This versatile and expandable mesh Wi-Fi system can also grow with you to cover even the largest homes.

A single tri-band Eero Pro router will cover up to 2,000 square feet on its own, which means if you spring for a three-pack of Eero Pro units, you’ll get a total of 6,000 square feet of coverage. If you need more, you simply need to purchase additional Eero units, which can either be more Eero Pros for the fastest tri-band speeds, or standard dual-band Eero or Eero Beacon units, each of which offer 1,000–1,500 square feet of extra coverage.

With the exception of the Eero Beacons, you’ll also get a pair of Gigabit Ethernet ports on each unit, so you also can hardwire in non-Wi-Fi devices like game consoles or smart TVs. The more discrete Eero Beacons, on the other hand, omit the wired ports, but have the advantage of simply plugging directly into any wall outlet—and they can double as night lights around your home, too. Unfortunately, Eero is one of the very few routers that lacks support for the PPPoE protocol used by many DSL providers, so if this is your ISP you’ll want to steer clear of Eero unless you're willing to change providers, or you have the advanced networking skills needed to work around it.

Wireless Spec: Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac)| Security: Eero Secure, WPA3 | Standard/Speed: AC2200 | Bands: Tri-band / Dual-band | MU-MIMO: Yes | Beamforming: Yes | Wired Ports: 2 (per unit)

"The bottom line is that this system offers decent performance while demystifying the process of setting up a mesh Wi-Fi network." — Jeremy Laukkonen, product tester

Eero Pro Mesh Wi-Fi System

Lifewire / Jeremy Laukkonen

Best for Gaming: Asus ROG Rapture GT-AX11000 Wi-Fi 6 Router

Asus ROG Rapture GT-AX10000 Wi-Fi Gaming Router
4.6

Our Ratings
  • Design
    5/5
  • Setup Process
    4/5
  • Connectivity/Ports
    4/5
  • Network Performance
    5/5
  • Software
    5/5
What We Like
  • Advanced Wi-Fi 6 Support

  • Extremely Fast Performance

  • Cutting-edge game-centric QoS

What We Don't Like
  • Large footprint

  • Expensive

  • User interface can be a bit daunting

Asus’ GT-AX11000 is an insanely powerful gaming router that can handle the needs of the most demanding online gamers with enough performance to spare for the rest of the family to enjoy other online activities like 4K streaming and video calling. 

With blazing fast 802.11ax Wi-Fi 6 performance and up to 10Gbps of total throughput, the GT-AX11000 can handle even the busiest homes, and the eight-antenna beamforming array will easily cover a living space of up to 5,000 square feet. If that’s not enough, Asus’ AiMesh 2.0 technology will let you add additional routers into the mix to create a full mesh Wi-Fi system. The usual four Gigabit Ethernet ports around the back are also joined by a special high-speed 2.5Gbps dedicated gaming port for the ultimate in wired performance. 

Under the hood you’ll also find a full collection of the kind of advanced configuration features that Asus routers are known for, including its AiProtection Pro suite of security and parental controls, plus built-in VPN features, and the ability to tweak the three Wi-Fi bands for optimal performance. The 1.8GHz quad-core CPU makes sure gamers get a lag-free experience, while also powering advanced optimization features like the WTFast Gamers Private Network, adaptive QoS to prioritize gaming traffic, and VPN Fusion to protect your privacy without slowing down your games. 

Wireless Spec: Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) | Security: AiProtection Pro, WPA3, 802.1x, VPN | Standard/Speed: AX11000 | Bands: Tri-band | MU-MIMO: Yes | Beamforming: Yes | Wired Ports: 5

"The ROG Rapture AX11000 worked almost flawlessly in the five days I spent with it. Even with multiple devices hitting it from every direction for high-bandwidth streams, it never failed to provide what was needed." — Jeremy Laukkonen, Product Tester

Asus ROG Rapture GT-AX11000 Router

Lifewire / Jeremy Laukkonen

Best Design: Netgear Nighthawk RAX80 8-Stream AX6000 Wi-Fi 6 Router

Netgear Nighthawk RAX80
4.5

Our Ratings
  • Design
    4/5
  • Setup Process
    5/5
  • Connectivity/Ports
    5/5
  • Network Performance
    5/5
  • Software
    4/5
What We Like
  • Sleek design

  • Wi-Fi 6 Support

  • 8K streaming

What We Don't Like
  • Expensive

  • Design can make for awkward placement

As one of the first routers to introduce support for Wi-Fi 6 technology, Netgear’s Nighthawk RAX80 looks every bit the futuristic router that it is, with sweeping hawk-like wings that elegantly hide away its four high-powered beamforming antennas. With up to 2,500 square feet of coverage along with support for 160MHz-wide channels, this router will make sure you get the streaming, video calling, and gaming performance that you need.

Like any Wi-Fi 6 router, it’s backward compatible with all of your 802.11ac Wi-Fi 5 devices, meaning you won’t need to worry about upgrading everything on your home network right away. Of course, 802.11ax Wi-Fi 6 clients will get you the best performance, but either way it offers up a combined 4.8Gbps on the 5GHz band and 1.2Gbps on the 2.4GHz side for all your Wi-Fi devices. 

Around back there’s the usual collection of four Gigabit Ethernet ports, and the RAX80 also supports 802.3ad link aggregation, so you can pair up one of the LAN ports with your WAN port to get up to 2Gbps of throughput for ultra-fast broadband plans. While the RAX80 originally lacked any malware or parental controls, Netgear has also since rectified that with a firmware update that adds the same Netgear Armor and Circle with Disney features found on its almost all of its Wi-Fi 6 routers, although you’ll still need to pay a small monthly subscription fee to take advantage of them. 

Wireless Spec: Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) | Security: Netgear Armor, WPA2, 802.1x, VPN | Standard/Speed: AX6000 | Bands: Dual-band | MU-MIMO: Yes | Beamforming: Yes | Wired Ports: 5

"The Netgear Nighthawk RAX80 is a flashy dual-band router that features good Wi-Fi speeds, future-proof Wi-Fi 6 support, and fantastic file transfer speed between devices on your network." — Jeremy Laukkonen, Product Tester

Netgear Nighthawk RAX80

Lifewire / Jeremy Laukkonen

Best Parental Controls: Synology RT2600ac Dual-Band Gigabit Wi-Fi Router

Synology RT2600ac Wi-Fi Router
What We Like
  • Sophisticated, free parental controls

  • Well-designed web interface

  • SD card slot

What We Don't Like
  • Difficult to wall mount

  • Slow network storage

Keeping your kids safe from the darker corners of the internet can be a challenge, but fortunately, there are routers like Synology’s RT2600ac to give you a helping hand. The RT2600ac protects your kids from online threats right at the perimeter of your home network, so you don’t need to worry about installing parental control apps on each of their devices. 

Best of all, Synology’s parental control features are ready to go right out of the box, with no additional subscription fees to deal with. The full-featured router operating system makes it straightforward to configure filtering rules for your whole home, plus individual profiles for each of your kids. From there, you can schedule when they’ll be allowed online and for how long, and choose from over 20 different content categories to block. You can even set up individual filters for different periods of the day, so you can keep your kids off games and social media while still allowing them to access educational and research sites during homework time. There’s also support for Safe Search to keep your kids from seeing inappropriate results when searching Google, YouTube, or Bing. 

With dual-band Wi-Fi offering up 2.6Gbps of bandwidth and four beamforming antennas, the RT2600ac provides more than enough speed and coverage for an average-sized home, so you’ll have no problem with streaming, video calling, and gaming. There’s also the usual set of four Gigabit Ethernet ports and a pair of USB ports around the back, and as an added bonus, the RT2600ac also offers an SD card slot, so you easily share your media files with your whole family. 

Wireless Spec: Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac) | Security: WPA2, Guest Wi-Fi Secure Access | Standard/Speed: AC2600 | Bands: Dual-band | MU-MIMO: Yes | Beamforming: Yes | Wired Ports: 4

"This router is worth a look if you want something that’s easy to set up but hides a lot of hidden potential under the hood." — Jeremy Laukkonen, Product Tester

Synology RT2600ac Wi-Fi Router

Lifewire / Jeremy Laukkonen

Best for Smart Homes: Google Nest Wi-Fi (2nd Generation)

Google Nest Wi-Fi (2nd Gen)
4.4

Our Ratings
  • Design
    5/5
  • Setup Process
    5/5
  • Connectivity/Ports
    4/5
  • Network Performance
    5/5
  • Software
    5/5
What We Like
  • Attractive and simple design

  • Integrates with Google Home

  • Point units double as smart speakers

What We Don't Like
  • No Ethernet ports on points

  • Lacks a dedicated backhaul channel

Google’s Nest Wi-Fi is one of the things that distinguishes the Google Home ecosystem from the competition, offering a tight level of integration that most others can’t match. Not only does this mesh Wi-Fi system provide the full Google experience, but it also packs some other really nice bonus features. 

For one, each of the satellite units, which Google calls “points,” double as smart speakers around your home for Google Assistant. This means that any room with a point unit in it doesn’t even something like a Google Home mini to let you make “OK Google” requests. A single Nest Wi-Fi router with a single point can easily handle up to 200 connected devices in a 3,800-square-foot home, while adding a second point will bump that up to 5,400 square feet and 100 more devices. 

Thanks to the Google Home app, the Nest Wi-Fi is also a total cinch to set up and manage, including prioritizing devices that need maximum speed, setting schedules for your kids, linking up Chromecast devices, and even sharing Wi-Fi with your friends, and many of these features can even be kicked off with Google Assistant commands, including running speed tests and pausing your kids’ Wi-Fi access during homework time. The only downside is that the entire system only supports dual-band Wi-Fi, so you won’t get the benefit of the dedicated backhaul channel between the main router and points that’s found on higher-end mesh Wi-Fi systems, so it's not the best choice for really busy homes where all the kids are streaming and gaming over Wi-Fi at the same time.

Wireless Spec: Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac) | Security: WPA3 | Standard/Speed: AC2200 | Bands: Dual-band | MU-MIMO: Yes | Beamforming: Yes | Wired Ports: 2 (per unit)

"Google Nest Wi-Fi warrants its high price tag with super-smooth wireless performance throughout the home and incredibly easy setup and use." — Andrew Hayward, Product Tester

Google Nest Wi-Fi

Lifewire / Andrew Hayward

Best Under $50: TP-Link Archer A6/C6 AC1200 Dual-Band Wi-Fi Router

TP-Link Archer A6/C6 (V3)
3.3

Our Ratings
  • Design
    3/5
  • Setup Process
    5/5
  • Connectivity/Ports
    2/5
  • Network Performance
    3/5
  • Software
    3/5
What We Like
  • Affordable and reliable router

  • Four Gigabit Ethernet ports

  • Setup is easy and hassle free

What We Don't Like
  • Speed falls off at longer ranges

  • No USB ports

TP-Link’s Archer A6 is a solid budget router that’s ideal for users in smaller living spaces. While it doesn't have the range to handle larger homes, it offers more than enough for a single user or a small family living in a bungalow, apartment, or condo.

Featuring dual-band Wi-Fi, the A6 is an 802.11ac router with up to 1.2Gbps of bandwidth across its 2.4GHz and 5GHz channels, so you’ll have no problem streaming Netflix in 4K or keeping in touch with friends and family on Zoom or FaceTime. An array of four beamforming antennas and MU-MIMO support also means your 5GHz devices won’t slow each other down. Surprisingly, it even supports the latest WPA3 wireless encryption standard, and includes a built-in OpenVPN server.

There’s also the usual set of four Gigabit Ethernet ports around the back to hardwire in devices for maximum performance. Sadly, you won’t find any USB ports on this one, but that’s not surprising for a router in this price range—TP-Link obviously had to cut back somewhere. It’s also worth noting that the Archer A6 is virtually identical to the Archer C6. For whatever reason TP-Link has chosen to use unique model numbers for different sales channels, but both models offer the same features and capabilities. 

Wireless Spec: Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac) | Security: WPA3 | Standard/Speed: AC1200 | Bands: Dual-band | MU-MIMO: Yes | Beamforming: Yes | Wired Ports: 4

"The TP-Link Archer A6 AC1200 is an entry-level gigabit router that gets the job done at an attractive budget price." — Jeremy Laukkonen, Product Tester

TP-Link Archer A6 AC1200

Lifewire / Jeremy Laukkonen

Final Verdict

Netgear's Orbi can cover even the largest homes and give you the performance you need where you need it the most. For an affordable way to step into the world of Wi-Fi 6, however, TP-Link’s Archer AX50 offers amazing value for the price. 

How We Tested

Our expert reviewers and editors evaluate routers based on design, connectivity, performance, and features. We test their performance in both wired and (where applicable) wireless configurations, measure their effective range and bandwidth, and analyze their feature sets, including how well those features are implemented. We also consider each router as a value proposition—whether or not a product justifies its price tag, and how it compares to competitive products. All of the routers we reviewed were purchased by Lifewire; none of the review units were furnished by the manufacturer or retailer.

About Our Trusted Experts

Jesse Hollington has over three decades of experience in information technology and networking, and has installed, tested, and configured just about every type and brand of router, firewall, wireless access point, and network extender, dating back to the days long before Wi-Fi even existed, in places ranging from single-family dwellings to office buildings and university campuses.

Bill Thomas has been covering tech for several years, and has extensive experience with PC hardware, networking gear, and gaming. They've written for a number of major tech publications.

Jeremy Laukkonen is an experienced tech journalist with a background in automotive repair. He specializes in VPNs, antivirus, and home electronics, including wireless routers.

Andrew Hayward is a Chicago-based writer who has been covering technology and video games since 2006. He tested the Google Nest Wi-Fi on our list and appreciated its smooth integration with the rest of the Google Home ecosystem.

FAQ
  • Can a better router increase your internet speed?

    While no wireless router can give you more speed than your internet plan offers, the best wireless routers will help you take full advantage of the broadband connection that you do have by removing bottlenecks that are often caused by poor Wi-Fi coverage and too many devices sharing your Wi-Fi. Features like powerful multi-core CPUs, beamforming antennas, and dual-band or tri-band Wi-Fi provide extended range while also ensuring that every connected device in your home gets its fair share of your bandwidth. 

  • How often should you replace your wireless router?

    It’s a good rule of thumb to upgrade your router about every three to four years to make sure that you’re staying abreast of the latest technologies. While Wi-Fi standards are fully backward-compatible, newer routers are much more capable at keeping up with the increasing demands of modern internet services and the number of devices you have in your home. This is even more true if you're expanding your home with new smart home devices, as even the most basic Wi-Fi light switches will add some extra load to your wireless network.

  • Do wireless routers go bad?

    Just like any other electronic device, even the best wireless routers can fail over time, especially if you’re putting more stress on them by adding more devices and spending more time streaming and downloading large files. The most common cause of router failures is excessive heat, since many folks tuck their router away in a corner or a closet and don’t pay much attention to it. To keep your router in good condition, be sure to put it in a cool and well-ventilated area and clean it once in a while to prevent dust from building up around the cooling vents.

The Ultimate Wireless Router Buying Guide

Your home network enables devices like computers and printers to communicate inside your house, and it also allows your computers, phones, game consoles, and other devices to connect to the internet. While the modem is the component that actually connects to the internet, the wireless router is really the linchpin of the entire system that connects everything together.

Choosing the right wireless router can mean the difference between lightning fast download speeds and frustratingly slow data transfer, a rock-solid network or constantly dropped connections, and even basic compatibility with your latest devices.

Wireless router technology might seem dry and complicated, or even difficult to understand, but you can make an informed decision if you’re able to wrap your head around a few key concepts. For example, you need to select a wireless router that supports the standards required by your wireless devices, and it’s important to understand the difference between the two main wireless router frequencies.

Other features, like range, speed, and ports all impact the usability of a router and can have a huge effect on your overall experience and satisfaction. Select a router that doesn’t have enough bands to support all of the users and devices in your house, for example, and you’ll set yourself up for a disappointing experience.

Wireless Router Standards: Compatibility is Key

The wireless standards supported by a router determine which devices are able to connect to that router. These standards have evolved a lot over the years, so it’s important to make sure that you choose a router that works with the same standards as your devices to get the best experience. You can also future-proof your purchase a little by selecting a router that supports the latest Wi-Fi standard even if you don’t currently own any devices that can take advantage of that technology just yet — every new Wi-Fi standard is backward compatible with the ones that came before.

The modern Wi-Fi standards that you’ll most often see when shopping for wireless routers all start with the number 802.11 followed by one or more letters. The latest standard that's in widespread use today is 802.11ac, which is essential if you have a lot of cutting edge equipment, like laptops, phones, and streaming devices that can really benefit from the higher speeds and frequencies that it offers. If you really want to make sure that you stay on the leading edge of technology, however, look for a router that supports the newest Wi-Fi 6 802.11ax standard, which offers better performance for the newest smartphones and other devices while remaining fully compatible with 802.11ac devices (which is also now known as Wi-Fi 5).

Netgear Orbi
Lifewire / Jordan Provost

If you really don’t have any devices that support 802.11ac, or your internet connection is slow, then choosing an 802.11n (Wi-Fi 4) router might save you some money, but we don't really recommend that these days unless you're reasonably certain you'll never need the better performance, or you're willing to purchase another router down the road if you ever do.

There are a number of older standards, like 802.11a, 802.11b, and 802.11g, but you won’t find routers that focus specifically on those standards. If you have older devices that use those standards, however, there's no need to worry as almost all modern routers are backwards compatible with older devices.

Frequencies and Channels: Should You Save Money With Single-Band?

A wireless router is essentially a device that allows wireless connectivity between your modem and various other devices over radio frequencies. Every wireless router supports at least one frequency band, but these days dual- and tri-band routers are far more common, and you'll almost never find a Wi-Fi 5 802.11ac router that doesn't offer at least dual-band support.

Single-band routers typically use the 2.4GHz band, which is significantly slower than the newer 5GHz band. Dual-band routers support both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz and are actually capable of creating two simultaneous Wi-Fi networks, while tri-band routers add an additional 5GHz band to support more devices at full capacity.

Most people need both 2.4GHz and 5GHz, because older devices only work with 2.4GHz, while newer devices can really benefit from the additional speed you get with a 5GHz signal. It's also important to keep in mind that 5GHz signals don't travel as far, so good 2.4GHz coverage is still important.

Dual-band routers are available in a wide variety of configurations, from budget models to higher priced units that offer blazing fast speeds, so you can probably find a dual-band option to fit both your budget and your connectivity requirements, whatever they may be.

If you have a slow internet connection that can’t benefit from a 5GHz router, none of your devices support 5GHz, or you just value saving money over getting the best performance, you might save a bit of money by going with a single band 2.4GHz router, but keep in mind that there are also some very affordable basic dual-band routers.

Tri-band routers tend to be the most expensive of the bunch. If you have a lot of wireless devices, and a lot of people in your home who use those devices simultaneously, then this type of router can be well worth the investment. You can even dedicate one of the 5GHz bands to a single purpose, like your work computer or a gaming console, to avoid slowdowns caused by network congestion.

Keep in mind, however, that since each of your devices can only connect to a single band at a time, a tri-band router won't offer any faster performance unless you have a lot of 5GHz devices—its purpose is to reduce congestion by spreading your 5GHz devices across both bands. There's also still only one 2.4GHz band, so a tri-band router won't do anything at all to help your older 2.4GHz devices—they'll remain cluttered up together on the lone 2.4GHz band.

Range: Antennas, Extenders, and Mesh Systems

The range of a wireless router simply refers to the physical space covered by its Wi-Fi network. Range is normally calculated based on a clear line of sight, with no obstructions between the router and the wireless device. Obstacles like furniture, walls, ceilings, and even people will reduce the actual range of a router. Also remember that 2.4GHz signals travel farther, and better through solid objects, than the higher-frequency 5GHz signals.

There are a few things that can increase the range of a router, eliminate dead spots in a Wi-Fi network, and improve connectivity. The first is the number of antennas that a router has and the orientation of those antennas. As a general rule of thumb, a router that has multiple antennas that can be rotated manually will have a greater range, and provide better coverage, than a router with just a single antenna. 

Asus AC3100 RT-AC88U
 Lifewire/ Jordan Provost

If you have a small home with an uncomplicated layout, then you may do fine with an inexpensive single antenna router. Larger homes, multi-floor homes, and any situation that places a lot of obstructions between the router and your devices will benefit from a multi-antenna router. The construction of your home matters here as well, as concrete and metal will block signals more than wood and drywall.

For large homes, you will have a much better experience if you use one or more Wi-Fi extenders or choose a mesh Wi-Fi system instead of a traditional wireless router. Wi-Fi extenders connect to your existing network and project it further, while mesh systems use a number of interlocking nodes to cover a large area without slowing down your connection or introducing lag. These systems are more expensive than traditional wireless routers.

Speed: Don’t Pay For More Than You Can Use

If you like to stream movies in 4K, play video games, or just download large files, then the speed of your router is key. When you look at most modern routers, you’ll typically see a label like AC1700, AC3000, or AX6000. In some cases, the number will come before the AC or AX designation, which simply indicates whether it's using 802.11ac (Wi-Fi 5) or 802.11ax (Wi-Fi 6).

In either case, these numbers refer to the maximum throughput that the router can offer for all of the devices that are connected to it simultaneously, across all of its frequency bands combined. For example, a dual-band AC1700 router has a theoretical maximum speed of 1,700Mbps, but that's split across both its 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands. Similarly, tri-band routers usually have much higher numbers like AC5400 since that total speed is divvied up across three bands instead of only two.

While the numbers are theoretical, and you typically won’t see actual speeds that match the listed numbers, you can use them to compare one router to another. For example, two AC1700 routers from different manufacturers are in the same general speed class (although they may offer different speeds on each individual band), while an AC3000 router is going to be a lot faster.

In general, you should look for a router that’s fast enough to match the speed of your internet connection. That is to say you should absolutely invest in a dual- or tri-band gigabit router if your internet connection supports it, but buying a fast router like that is a waste of money if your internet connection speed itself is slow, unless of course you run your own media servers or often transfer files between your home computers.

If you aren’t sure how fast your internet is, you can contact your ISP or just connect your computer directly to your modem and run a speed test. Once you know the top speed of your internet connection, look for a router that can match it, and don’t waste money on an expensive router that’s significantly faster than your connection.

Lastly, remember that these numbers represent the combined speeds that are available to all of your connected devices across all of the bands the router offers. Don't let the numbers fool you into thinking that a tri-band AC5400 router is significantly faster than a dual-band AC3000 router, as both likely offer similar speeds on each band. The tri-band router just has one extra band for handling more devices.

Linksys Max-Stream AC1900
Lifewire/Jordan Provost

Ports and Connectivity: Is Ethernet Enough?

While the Wi-Fi network is the most important thing about any wireless router, you shouldn’t overlook other ports and connectivity. At a bare minimum, your router should have at least one extra Gigabit Ethernet port in addition to the one you use for your modem or internet connection. This is a wired connection that provides the fastest possible connection speed, and you can always add a network switch later if you want physical connections for other devices.

A good standard to look for on a router is four Gigabit Ethernet ports, although some higher end devices include eight or more. Some even allow you to achieve a 2Gbps connection by connecting to two Gigabit Ethernet ports at once, and a few leading-edge gaming routers now offer special 2.5Gbps or even 10Gbps ports.

When selecting the best wireless router, it’s important to think about the devices you own that could benefit from a wired connection. If you have a desktop computer, gaming console, and a network printer that don't support Wi-Fi, then a router with four Ethernet ports would be a good fit. If you don’t really need or want to connect anything via Ethernet, then a router with just a single Ethernet port would be fine (although to be honest it's pretty hard to find a router with fewer than four Ethernet ports these days anyway).

Some routers offer additional ports, like USB ports and memory card slots. These ports are typically for connecting a hard drive to provide network storage. If you have a lot of digital media that you’d like to stream to various devices on your network, then make sure your router includes at least one USB port, but also look closely at what you plan to use it for. Most routers offer simple file sharing, but if you want to stream media, then you'll probably be better off with a router that includes a built-in DLNA server or Plex Media Server that's specifically designed to handle streaming videos to your smart TVs and other devices.

Security: Protect All of Your Devices at Once

Basic routers don’t include any built-in security measures, so you have to meticulously secure each of your devices individually. If you’re looking for a central approach, then look for a router that has built-in security features. Some routers include a built-in firewall, virus scanner, and even the ability to protect all of your devices from malware and ransomware.

Pay close attention to whether these features are free or part of a subscription. Some routers will come with a complimentary subscription to a security service, and then you have to pay if you want to keep the security features. Others include basic functionality, like a built-in firewall, that you don’t have to pay any ongoing fees to use. In some cases, a monthly subscription may be worth the expense if it offers sufficiently advanced protection features, but you can usually find routers that include basic firewall and content filtering features for free.

Eero Pro Mesh Wi-Fi System
Lifewire / Jeremy Laukkonen 

Accessories: Most Routers Work Right Out of the Box

When you buy a router, you usually don’t need to worry about any accessories. Most routers include everything you need to get started right there in the box. One notable exception is the Ethernet cable used to connect the router to your modem, as the included cables are almost always very short.

If you need to place your router more than a few feet from your modem, consider purchasing a high-quality Ethernet cable. Use the shortest Ethernet cable that will work in your application, and stick with CAT 6 or CAT 7.

If you plan on hanging your router on a wall, and your router supports that, check to see if mounting hardware is included. If you can mount directly to studs, then you may need to pick up some wall anchors.

Brands/Manufacturers: All The Big Names

The networking space is extremely crowded with time-tested giants and intriguing newcomers alike. Here are a few that are worth looking at as you search for your ideal wireless router.


Asus
You might think of laptops and computers when you think of Asus, but they actually make some of the best wireless routers on the market. From budget routers to their high performance (and high priced) Republic of Gamers (ROG) line, Asus has a wireless router to fit just about any situation. Asus also has its unique AiMesh 2.0 technology that lets you easily group almost any set of Asus routers into a mesh Wi-Fi system, making it easier to expand your network if you find you need more coverage. These are also some of the most configurable routers on the market, making them an ideal choice for power users, but that also adds a layer of complexity that less tech-savvy users might find a bit intimidating.

Netgear

With more than two decades of experience in the networking hardware space, it’s no surprise that Netgear is one of the most well known wireless router brands. They’ve ridden the cutting edge of router technology over the years, including MU-MIMO, beamforming, and even a mesh offering in their Orbi system, and were one of the first companies to offer Wi-Fi 6 802.11ax routers. They offer a decent balance between ease of configuration and advanced features.

Linksys
This company has a bit of an interesting past. While it was one of the original giants in networking equipment, it was eventually folded into Cisco and then sold to Belkin. Despite changing hands a few times, Linksys still has a reputation for rock solid hardware that doesn’t break the bank, and they make some of the best open source routers available.

Synology
This is a company that’s been around for a long time, and is well-known for their network storage appliances. They more recently broke into the wireless router market, where they've applied their expertise in building some universally impressive routers, with specifications, performance, and pricing that meet or beat more established brands.

Google
Google has its fingers in everything these days, and wireless networking is no exception. With their Nest brand, Google provides an intriguing mesh option where the nodes are also smart speakers and the whole thing integrates especially well with Google Home.

Eero
This is another relative newcomer that has put out high-quality equipment on a regular basis since they showed up on the scene. Like Google’s Nest, Eero is focused on mesh routers, and they do it quite well. They're also the simplest and easiest to manage of just about any other router on the market, since everything is done through a mobile app, but more tech-savvy users who like to tinker with things will find the lack of advanced options to be somewhat limiting

Conclusion: How to Pick the Best Wireless Router

Compatibility with your wireless devices is key, because there’s no point in owning a wireless router if your devices can’t connect. In that same vein, speed is important, but only if your internet connection can handle it. Range is also important, but the degree of its importance is directly related to the size and configuration of your home. In the end, the key to finding the best wireless router is to consider all of the factors outlined above, and then select the device that best meets your own personal needs.

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