It came as no big surprise when Apple announced last week that it was discontinuing its AirPort line of Wi-Fi routers. While the AirPort Time Capsule, Extreme and Express appealed to Mac and iPad users, the big reason for leaving the market is that the hardware wasn't keeping up in the hyper-competitive wireless-router market.
The worst offender has long been the AirPort Express, which still uses the antiquated 802.11n specification for an N300 rating. The Extreme and Time Capsule models are newer, with AC1300 ratings, but most of the hardware is at least four years old — an eternity in this area.
If you absolutely must have an AirPort router, fear not. While the company will no longer manufacture any of these routers, the Express ($99), Extreme ($199) and Time Capsule ($399 with 3TB drive) models remain on sale while supplies last, and Apple will continue to support and repair the three models. The thrifty among us might even wait and see if Apple will drop prices on the older models to move the last remaining units.
There's another way to fill your home with Wi-Fi data: Replace your old AirPort with a non-Apple Wi-Fi router. If you haven't gone router shopping recently, there's a multitude of models that have features, performance and abilities that AirPort has lacked. From wider data channels for hot gaming and airtight online security to removable antennas and inexpensive hardware, you might find that the new routers speed things up at home.
Depending on what you're looking for, here are our five favorite AirPort alternatives.
Best Overall: Norton Core
Looking like a small geodesic dome, Norton's Core is not only one of the wildest-looking routers available but also a speed demon that can protect your family and computers from hackers and eavesdroppers. That's because Core applies a layered approach to security, with deep packet inspection, artificial-intelligence-based website cloud checking and local security software.
Credit: NortonIt even provides a security score. While the AC2600 router leads the field, with the ability to move 672.2 Mbps (at 5 feet), it is limited to a range of 80 feet. The $200 price is just the start, because after a year, you need to spend $10 a month for security software. It's worth every penny to protect what really counts: your family.
Wi-Fi spec: AC2600
Ports: 1 WAN/3 LAN gigabit per second
Number of antennas/removable: 4/No
Ports: 4 Gbps, 2 USB 3.0
Processor/memory/storage: Dual-core 1.7GHZ/1GB/4GB
Wi-Fi chip: Qualcomm IPQ 8065
Peak 802.11ac performance: 672.2 Mbps at 5 feet
Range: 80 feet
Size: 6.0 x 6.0 x 5.2 inches
Best for Gaming: Linksys WRT32X
If having the hottest gaming router is important to you, the Linksys WRT32X needs to be in your home. Combining wider channels for data to travel on with a low-latency design and innovative prioritization engine, this router could be the difference between triumphantly flying away and ending up as intergalactic dust.
Credit: LinksysThis is among the most flexible routers on the market; you can stack the router with other WRT units or wall-mount it. You can also aim the WRT32X's four external antennas or replace them with more-powerful ones, something that's out of the question for AirPort users. The $200 WRT32X carries an AC3200 rating, can move up to 544.5 Mbps (at 15 feet) and has a range of 95 feet.
Wi-Fi spec: AC3200
Number of antennas/removable: 4/Yes
Ports: 1 WAN/4LAN gigabit per second, USB 3.0, Combo USB 2.0/eSATA
Processor/memory/storage: 1.8GHz Marvell dual-core/512MB/256MB
Wi-Fi chip: Marvell 88W8964
Peak 802.11ac performance: 544.5 Mbps (at 15 feet)
Range: 95 feet
Size: 9.7 x 7.6- x 2.0 inches
Best for Security: Bitdefender Box (2018)
There's nothing more precious than your family's safety, and today, there's no better way to protect it online than with Bitdefender's second-generation Box. Like the Norton Core, Bitdefender Box has a layered approach to keeping hackers at bay, with a combination of online site checking and excellent local security software.
Credit: BitdefenderYou get a free year of software, but then you need to pay $100 a year for the protection. Box can be a stand-alone security appliance, but it's also a surprisingly able AC1900 router that moved 488.5 Mbps (at 15 feet) and had a 90-foot range. While you can still configure most routers online, unfortunately, the only way to set up the Box is via an iPhone, iPad or Android device. At $250, this router is expensive, but it can be your family's online bodyguard, so it might be worth the cost.
Wi-Fi Spec: AC1900
Ports: 1 WAN/1 LAN gigabit per second
Number of antennas/removable: 6/No
Processor/memory/storage: Dual-core 1.2GHz/1GB/4GB
Wi-Fi chip: MediaTek MT7615
Peak 802.11ac performance: 488.5 Mbps (at 15 feet)
Range: 90 feet
Size: 7.0 x 4.5 x 4.5 inches
Best Value: Netgear R6220
When the top three considerations for getting a router are price, price and price, Netgear's R6220 is a solid option, offering a lot for $80. The AC1200 router's design is small, and its pair of antennas can be aimed but can't be replaced with more-powerful ones. It may lack the latest MU-MIMO beam-forming technologies for connecting several clients at once, but the R6220 has four LAN ports and a USB connection for a printer or networked hard drive.
Its 382.4-Mbps throughput (at 5 feet) can hardly be called speedy, but the R6220 was able to push a strong signal for up to 125 feet, 50 percent farther than many of its competitors. In other words, it should be able to fill most midsize homes with Wi-Fi.
Wi-Fi spec: 802.11ac/Dual Band
Number of antennas/removable: 2/no
Ports: 4 Gbps LAN, USB 2.0
Peak 802.11ac performance: 382.4 Mbps (at 5 feet)
Range: 125 feet
Size: 1.6 by 9.4 by 7.2 inches
Best Mesh Router: Netgear Orbi RBK40
Apple routers quickly fell behind the times by failing to embrace the latest technology, like mesh kits of two or three devices that can fill all but the largest mansions with Wi-Fi data. Our favorite example of this technology is Netgear's second-generation Orbi RBK40. This AC2200 router and extension is kind of chunky and hard to hide, but it has a dedicated back channel for connecting the router with an extension, streamlining data delivery.
Credit: NetgearThe results speak for themselves: 552.1 Mbps of available bandwidth and a range of 110 feet. A pair of Orbi RBK40 units costs $250 and can cover roughly 4,000 square feet. If you have more space to fill with Wi-Fi data, you can add on a satellite unit to expand coverage; standard satellites sell for $200 and add up to 2,000 square feet of coverage, and smaller, plug-in units sell for $130 and add up to 1,500 square feet of coverage.
Wi-Fi spec: AC2200 tri-band router-extender kit
Number of antennas/removable: 4/No
Ports: Four 1 Gbps LAN, power
Processor/memory/storage: quad-core 717Mhz, 512 MB/4GB Flash
Wi-Fi chip: Qualcomm IPQ4019
Peak 802.11ac performance: 549.93Mbps at 5 feet
Range: 110 feet (router only)
Size: 8.0 x 6.4 x 3.1 inches