The Best Wireless Routers
A Wi-Fi router makes it possible to connect wirelessly to the internet from anywhere in your home or office, letting you and your family stream movies, play games, and do everything else you do online. Although most internet service providers offer wireless routers as part of their packages, most experts agree that it makes more sense to buy your own. This is especially true if you want to avoid being saddled with outdated equipment, if you want more control over your network settings and speeds, or if you’ve got a larger home plagued by dead spots. While rental rates for routers generally range from $5 to $10 a month, in the past few years, the cost to buy a wireless router has dropped considerably. For less than $50, you can get a good Wi-Fi router that can handle even the most data-hungry tasks and support multiple devices without lagging or stuttering. Whole-house and high-speed wireless networks cost more, usually upward of $200, but many users insist they’re worth the initial investment.
Our Top Pick
Netgear Nighthawk AC1750 (R6700v3) Review
- Easy to configure.
- Consistent performance in speed and range testing.
- 1 GHz dual-core processor.
- 3 antennas and beamforming for improved reception.
- USB 3.0 port.
- Built-in Circle with Disney parental controls.
- Works with both Alexa and Google Assistant.
- A handful complaints about customer support.
- Relatively large for a router (11.2 by 7.2 inches).
Takeaway: Netgear's entire Nighthawk line of routers gets positive reviews, especially from gaming enthusiasts and expert testers. The AC1750 (now in its third generation) is the entry-level model, but compared with other cheap dual-band routers, it's got the basics down and then some. With a powerful 1 GHz dual-core processor and beamforming technology, this Netgear router offers consistent, if not blazing-fast, data speeds at both short and long range (450 and 1300 Mbps), something few other routers do equally well. And most consumers report the Nighthawk AC1750 transmits a reliable signal, even in two-story homes. Those looking for a router with robust parental controls will be happy with the Disney Circle app found here. The basic service offers site blocking and internet interruption, and allows parents to view all browsing history (subscription packages provide even greater monitoring capabilities). Digital Trends recommends this Nighthawk router as its best pick for 2018, saying, "It's everything you could want in a home router without the need to spend hundreds of dollars."
Asus RT-AC68U AC1900 Review
- Reliable connections at long distances, according to PCMag tests.
- 1 GHz dual-core processor; fast data-transfer speeds.
- 3 antennas and beamforming.
- 2 USB ports (3.0 and 2.0).
- Comes with Trend Micro security tools.
- Parental controls allow users to block content and set time limits.
- Many users report problems with AiMesh feature.
- Some have had issues updating firmware; many say customer service is not particularly helpful.
- Older model; not as speedy as the upgraded Asus RT-AC1900.
Takeaway: If your home is crammed with wireless devices, a reliable internet connection able to stand up to heavy usage is essential. In professional tests, the dual-band Asus RT-AC68U excels even when up to 30 feet away from connected devices, and it delivers the fast speeds its advertised 1,900 Mbps would suggest. It can also be paired with other Asus routers to create a wireless mesh network for an entire home (although user reviews of this feature suggest functionality can be a bit hit or miss). The included Trend Micro software adds an additional layer of security, protecting the connection against malware, viruses, and access by unauthorized users. When this Asus router first came out in 2013, it was the favorite of many an expert and set the standard as the AC1900 router to beat. Five years later, it may not be as fast as its successor, the Asus RT-AC1900, but it's still more popular and stands pretty much toe-to-toe on most other fronts, excluding price: The Asus AC68U costs about $40 less than Asus' next-wave device.
Google Wifi Review
- Wi-Fi mesh systems are much easier to set up than routers.
- Dual-band system with quad-core processor supports beamforming and MU-MIMO, handily managing 4K streaming and gaming despite slower speeds, experts say.
- Covers up to 1,500 square feet with a single Wifi point, more than many other mesh systems and traditional routers.
- Compact size still allows for two gigabit Ethernet ports, plus an USB-C port, on each unit.
- Mobile app helps users calibrate the Wi-Fi points for the best reception.
- Parents can restrict access and pause internet service to select devices.
- Scattered user complaints about inconsistent signal strength.
- 1,200 Mbps connection speed is not particularly impressive for the price.
Takeaway: Google Wifi is a wireless mesh system, which consists of a base unit that communicates with nodes placed around the house to maintain a consistent, strong signal. Experts say mesh systems are a great choice for multistory homes and other large spaces with thick walls or other obstructions. The primary drawback is that some signal loss can occur, because the units are both receiving and sending a signal, although most users say they don't notice this. Mesh systems are also more expensive than most wireless routers, but Google Wifi is actually on the cheaper end of that spectrum, and the price is worth it if you and your family are high-demand users or want to integrate other Google devices, like the Home personal assistant and Nest thermostat. The listed price is for a single Wifi point; a set of three, which should cover homes up to 4,500 square feet, costs about $256. Experts and owners alike are enamored of the aesthetics of these small, unobtrusive devices.
Netgear AC1200 (R6230) Review
- Dual-band technology reduces the risk of interference.
- Installation and configuration, whether automatic, via the Netgear web interface, or with an app, is a breeze, users say.
- Built-in parental controls are easy to set up and modify.
- Relatively slow (1,200 Mbps) compared with other dual-band routers.
- No USB 3.0 port; slower 2.0 port only.
- Scattered user complaints about customer service.
- Parents cannot program scheduling restrictions for devices.
Takeaway: Reviewers say the dual-band Netgear AC1200 router is a good choice for users who want to stream movies and browse the web but don't need to support a large network. Most owners say the router is simple to configure, and it's easy to connect devices, but several also note that the signal occasionally drops or slows down if more than five or six devices are connected at once. A few complain that this router doesn't have a range that's robust enough to provide a strong signal throughout a multistory home, but others claim they've been able to pick up the signal outside, up to a block away (some suggest using the 2.4 GHz band for greater range and penetration, although you sacrifice speed). Satisfied users appreciate the low price and reliability. Many say upgrading to this router from an older one has significantly increased their internet speeds.
Asus N-300 (RT-N12) Review
- Very inexpensive.
- Supports up to 3 guest networks.
- Parental controls can block websites and set timers.
- Single (2.4 GHz) band.
- Setup is difficult and time-consuming, users say.
- Older 802.11bgn standard.
- No gigabit Ethernet ports; hardwired connections (4 LAN, 1 WAN) can achieve top speeds of only 100 Mbps.
- Some reports of early demise.
Takeaway: The Asus RT-N12 is a basic, single-band router that gets very enthusiastic reviews from users for its reliable, if somewhat slow (300 Mbps) data transmission. It's a solid choice for users who need a strong Wi-Fi signal in only one or two rooms and don't mind a lack of 802.11ac support. It's also handy for those who want to set up multiple secure networks for guest access. Signal strength diminishes quickly, although you can buy a second router and use it as a network extender for larger spaces; it can easily be switched to repeater or access point modes, and the antennas can be detached and swapped out. For such a low price, you probably can't expect this router to last forever, but even with just a few months of service, it would pay for itself when compared with renting a router from your ISP (which might not be much faster and certainly wouldn't have the security and guest networking options).
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