Based on our in-depth testing and reviews of more than 15 routers, the TP-Link Archer C2300 ($145) is the best overall choice, thanks to its category-leading throughput and extensive feature set. If you're on a budget, you should also consider Netgear's R6220 ($80), which offers welcome features like parental controls alongside solid performance in a reasonably priced router.
There's a traffic jam in your home, with a wide array of connected devices — from smartphones and tablets to laptops and media streamers — competing for a share of your wireless network. According to market research firm IDC, the average home has more than eight connected devices. Make sure your home network can handle today's networking needs by getting up to speed on the latest wireless routers.
Latest News and Updates (November 2018)
- Netgear's first Wi-Fi 6 routers are coming, and they look awesome. The Nighthawk AX8 and Nighthawk AX12 use the new 802.11ax standard, and will offer speeds of up to 6Gbps. The Nighthawk AX12 won't be here until early 2019, but the Nighthawk AX8 can be bought today for $400 on Amazon.
- The next generation of Wi-Fi is coming, and it's got much less complicated name. Wi-Fi 6 (once known as 802.11ax) is faster, smarter and brings several other big changes with it.
- Ubiquiti, maker of the popular AmpliFi HD mesh router, has announced the latest iteration of it's mesh system, the AmpliFi Instant. The new system boasts 802.11ac wireless, with dual-band 5GHz and 2.4GHz coverage. It can can be purchased as a standalone router, or paired with a secondary Mesh Point to expand coverage, and Ubiquiti promises setup times as short as 2 minutes. The standalone Amplifi Instant is available today for $99, or you can get the router and MeshPoint combo-pack for $179.
Types of Routers: Standalone and Mesh
Routers that support the latest wireless standard, called 802.11ac, help alleviate traffic issues by providing more than four times the throughput of 802.11n hardware. Plus, by using a more efficient process, newer routers can help save battery life on your mobile devices. But not all 802.11ac routers are created equal.
A new type of router uses mesh networking, in which a router uses relay points to extend a wireless network throughout your home. The Netgear Orbi ($400) is currently our favorite mesh-router system, although rival mesh systems, including the Eero, the Amped Wireless Ally Plus and Google Wifi have their merits. If you need to fill a large home with Wi-Fi, we recommend the $350 AmpliFi HD.
If there's a router you'd like us to review or if you have any questions about what to buy, drop us a note in the comments. You may also want to check out our recommendations of cable modems and Wi-Fi extenders.
How Much Do Routers Cost?
Current 802.11ac routers often sell for under $100 for basic, dual-band models. Many models will sell for more, but deliver better coverage, and range up to $300. You can also buy mesh routers for whole-house coverage, security routers that protect your network, and gaming routers that deliver performance optimized for online gaming, but all of these options come at a premium.
How We Test Routers
We test every router we review to get an accurate measurement of performance, but also to get a clearer picture of how a given router will perform in various environments. To start, we test all routers in our Utah testing facility using Ixia's IxChariot to measure throughput at distances from 5 feet to 150 feet. These distance-based tests measure both throughput and range, telling us not only how much data a router can move, but how well it does at 5, 50, 75 and 150 feet. If you want the best performance in a large, spread-out home, you'll want a router that does well over longer distances. If you're in a smaller apartment, short-range performance will be your priority.
We also test how well each router does at transmitting and receiving through various materials – drywall, brick, concrete, and even metal. You may not be able to change the building you're in, but you can select a router that provides strong signal even through Wi-Fi dampening barriers. Testing is also performed on more than one floor of the building, since two- and three-story homes have their own unique Wi-Fi needs.
For mesh routers, we perform additional testing to determine how well the mesh system does sending signal through both the main router and through a satellite unit. We also test to see how consistently a pair of mesh units will cover a large area, taking dozens of measurements throughout our lab space and producing detailed heat maps of signal strength and quality.
Finally, we send each router out of the lab to our reviewer's home, to measure real-world performance. These anecdotal tests are performed in an older house with thick walls, to test both range and how they handle simultaneous streams from multiple devices. Other factors used in evaluating the routers include ease of setup and use, software features and available ports.
Here are our top Wi-Fi router picks across several categories.
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