Best Wireless Routers - WiFi Router Comparison, Reviews
We spent over 10 hours researching wireless routers to find the best ones for any household. Overall, we recommend the Linksys WRT1900AC. Its fast, dual-band AC1900 speeds, beamforming technology and preconfigured network make it great for any home. If your home networking needs are a little simpler, the budget-friendly Linksys E1200 is a great value, and if you're looking for an easy installation, the TRENDnet TEW-812DRU's plug and play setup can get you connected in no time.
The Linksys WRT1900AC is the fastest router we researched and is rated for speeds of up to 600 Mbps on the 2.4GHz band and 1,300 Mbps on the 5GHz band.
If you need a router for under $30, the Linksys E1200 offers 802.11n speeds of up to 300 Mbps. This is a good value if you’re looking for a basic router.
The TRENDnet TEW-812DRU is a cinch to set up because it comes with a preconfigured network. All you need to do is plug it in and connect.
The Linksys WRT1900AC is the fastest router we researched and features possible speeds of up to 600 Mbps on its 2.4GHz band and up to 1,300 Mbps on its 5GHz band. This router has the capability and maximum speed to support high-definition video streaming and gaming, provided your ISP and modem don’t slow down your network.
The WRT1900AC uses beamforming technology to concentrate the signal from its antennas in the direction of your connected devices. This means stronger signals are reaching your devices, which results in faster connection speeds.
This router includes all the best security features of other routers we tested, including WPA2 encryption, an SPI firewall and parental controls. The parental controls on this router let you restrict sites for certain devices on the network and choose specific times that devices can access the internet. This is great if you want to put a hold on late-night Facebook sessions.
The Linksys WRT1900AC comes with a preconfigured network with all the network information located on a sticker on the bottom of the router. All you need to do is plug the router in and connect to the network. Then you can configure the network name and password to something more secure, as well as toggle any extra security settings.
The Linksys E1200 offers speeds of up to 300 Mbps on an 802.11n network for under $30, making it one of the best budget routers we researched. If you have more room in your budget, we recommend that you purchase an 802.11ac router like the Linksys WRT1900AC, our pick for the best router. However, if you are looking for a basic router with moderate speed capabilities, this router will work well for you.
This router comes with four LAN ports that you can use to connect wired computers or devices. It doesn’t come with any USB ports, so you can’t use it to create a home media server or for NAS. If you’re looking for that functionality, you’ll need to purchase a different router.
This Linksys hardware comes with WPA or WPA2 encryption as well as backward compatibility with WEP encryption. You can set up a guest network with this router where guests can’t connect to printers or other networked files or computers. You can also set up parental controls blocking access to specific sites.
This router comes with a one-year warranty as well as a year of free telephone or online technical support. You can browse knowledgebase articles and forums on the Linksys website.
If you’re looking for a router with a simple setup, the TRENDnet TEW-812DRU comes with a preconfigured network that only requires you to plug the router in and connect to start configuring your home Wi-Fi network. This 802.11ac router operates on both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands, but its top speed is slower than the Linksys WRT1900AC, the fastest router we tested.
On the 2.4GHz band, this router can reach speeds of 450 Mbps. On the faster, 5 GHz band, it can reach up to 1,300 Mbps, the fastest available on a single 5GHz band for an 802.11ac router.
On the back, the TEW-812DRU has one WAN port to connect the router to your modem and four LAN ports that you can use to connect network devices. Using an ethernet cable is the best way to get the fastest possible speed from your network. Unfortunately, this router doesn’t have a USB 3.0 port for fast NAS, but it does have a USB 2.0 port.
This router is secured using an SPI firewall and WPA2 encryption so you don’t have to worry about security. Using the preconfigured network name and password, you can connect to this router’s preconfigured network and change the firewall or activate some parental settings.
Best for Apple Ecosystems
The Apple AirPort Extreme is a minimalist dual-band router that connects to up to 50 devices simultaneously.
It doesn’t have all the gaudy lights and antennas that many other routers sport, and all its ports are discreetly hidden on the back. These ports include three Gigabit LAN ports, a USB 2.0 port, a Gigabit WAN input and a power input. It does have one fewer LAN port than most routers we tested. It can connect to all Wi-Fi enabled devices, of course, but its required setup application, AirPort utility, is only available on Mac computers or through the App Store. Therefore, it’s best for iPad, iPhone and Mac users. With this, setting up and configuring the router is simple. The AirPort uses network address translation (NAT), VPN pass-through, WPA2 and remote authentication dial-in user service technology (RADIUS) to secure your network.
Best Parental Controls
The ASUS RT-AC66U is a dual-band router that can reach speeds up to 1,300 Mbps on the 5 GHz band.
Though it has similar specs to many of the other products we reviewed, the Asus router is easier to control. It uses SPI and NAT firewall technology and WPA2 password encryption. You need to connect the router to a computer using a LAN connection to set up the router because it does not come with a preconfigured network. Once you access the browser-based user interface, you have more control options than other routers, including parental settings. These allow you to easily schedule access times for specific devices, block user access to specific sites or filter out content with URL and keyword blocking, making it the best choice for families that want to monitor children’s internet use.
Why Trust Us?
We used customer reviews from websites like Amazon.com to pick 17 different routers to research and evaluate. We compared the theoretical top speeds of each of the routers, the number of ports, the ease of setup and the warranty and service options included with each router. We also read and compared reviews from former CNET editor Don Ngo, an expert in the field of wireless routers.
We researched up and coming technologies to compare future wireless standards like 802.11ad with what is currently on the market. Very few devices or networks support the high speeds of 802.11ad, so we focused our research on 802.11ac routers.
We have reviewed tech products, including wireless routers, for over a decade. We buy most of the products we review independently, and any products that are given to us for review are done so with no expectations. Our reviews are independent and original. I am an experienced writer and reviewer and have tested and written reviews for many digital products and services.
How We Evaluated
We first compared the advertised absolute throughput for each router. Though all routers claim these speeds, we took into account that you will rarely see these actual speeds in real-life scenarios. Though we focused on 802.11ac routers, we also researched cheaper 802.11n routers for our best value pick. Most people looking to save money on a router just want something that works, and speed wasn’t the top consideration for that category.
Beyond the underlying wireless protocols, we compared size and how many ports each router had, as well as the ease of contacting the router manufacturers for help with firmware, warranty issues and troubleshooting.
Wireless routers use similar technology, but each router allows different customization options and has a different set of parental control features. We made sure to look at the parental options for blocking sites and restricting access to certain devices during designated times of the day.
We combined all the information for each router in a spreadsheet and ranked each category according to its importance. We then picked the top routers from each category for our best picks.
Wireless routers cost $80 to $120 for current-generation technology that isn’t quite cutting-edge. Top-of-the-line products cost about $200 or more, but most users don’t need such a sophisticated router. On the other end of the spectrum, last-generation routers are available for less than $30. We don’t recommend buying products that use the wireless n standard, as they are outdated and don’t give you the same speeds and network quality as wireless ac devices.
You can easily tell the theoretical max speed of a router you’re purchasing by looking at the wireless standard it uses. The standards you’ll see when shopping for a router include the numbers 802.11 and then a number or a series of numbers separated by slashes. “N” routers have maximum speeds of 300 Mbps, but “AC” routers can achieve much higher speeds – as fast as 1 Gbps, and sometimes higher.
Newer routers may advertise 802.11ad standards, but these superfast routers aren’t compatible with many devices yet and therefore aren’t worth the extra cost.
It’s vital to secure your wireless network because hackers can access all sorts of personal information if they break into your network. When shopping for a router, be sure it supports WPA2 encryption. This is the newest and most secure level of encryption. Other encryption levels like WPA or WEP may still work, but they’re out of date and aren’t nearly as secure as WPA2.
Stateful Packet Inspection, or SPI, is a firewall that detects potential hackers. The best routers we researched offer SPI, and it’s something you should look for in your router.
Also be sure to secure your wireless network with a strong password. Don’t use the preconfigured network name and password for more than setting up your router. Pick a password that is unique and change it regularly if people get access to it.
The Difference Between Modems & Routers
If you’re replacing your ISP-provided networking equipment, you may need more than just a router. ISPs often supply subscribers with modem/router combination devices, and you need to replace both to set up your network. A modem modulates the internet signal from the provider, whether that comes from a cable, satellite, DSL or fiber optic service. It translates the signal from the original into an Ethernet-friendly version and back and acts as the gate between your home network and the ISP’s larger network.
Though you can plug your computer’s Ethernet connection directly into the modem, we don’t recommend it. That’s where the router comes into play. The router connects to your modem and creates your home network. It manages all the wired and wireless internet connections in your home and adds a layer of security between your home network and the internet at large.
When replacing both pieces of equipment, you can either buy a combination device or two separate devices. A combo takes up less space but is less convenient to replace. With separate devices, it is easier to upgrade your network by simply getting a new router or to replace a single component if only one of the devices stops working. If buying separate devices, check both the modem's and the router's wireless standards and advertised speeds. A home network is limited by the slowest piece of equipment, so we advise buying a modem and router that both support speeds at least as high as your internet subscription's top advertised speeds.
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