Best Cheap Wireless Routers
Published on By Michael Sweet
Netgear WNR2500 Review
(From $55.00 Best)
This model isn't quite as fast as an N600 router but has plenty of speed. It maintains excellent signal strength at long range and it's not prone to dropping connections.
The Netgear WNR2500 (starting at $55, Amazon) is a bit of an oddball in that it's neither an N300 nor an N600 router. This is a relatively uncommon N450 router, which lies between the other two with a theoretical maximum speed of 450 megabits per second. this router is a bit slower than N600 models, that's to be expected, according to a Netgear WNR2500 review from an expert at Small Net Builder, and it still has pretty good download speeds all things considered. This reviewer comments that the router has impressive range, given how cheap it is, and its performance at a distance is reliable.
Netgear WNR2500 reviews on the retail site Newegg are mainly positive, with users saying that the router is easy to set up and plenty fast enough for regular Internet use, as well as more intensive tasks such as streaming Netflix video. Although one buyer does comment that the router died after only a month of use, other reviews tout this model's reliability.
The Netgear WNR2500 supports 802.11b/g/n wireless standards. It's a single-band router that runs on the 2.4 GHz band and has no 5 GHz band. On the back of the router are four 10/100 LAN ports but no gigabit Ethernet ports, so if you need those faster connections -- for streaming of high-definition video or online gaming, for example -- this isn't your router. The Netgear WNR2500 has three external antennas, a design that may offer a slight improvement in signal strength and speed over models with two antennas. Other devices can easily connect to the router using a WPS button. Users can set up a guest-access connection with this router, so visitors can connect to the Internet without being able to poke around the network. The router also supports the WEP/WPA/WPA2 encryption protocols. The Netgear WNR2500 is compatible with the Windows, Mac, Linux, and Unix operating systems. Netgear offers a free app called Netgear Genie, a nice extra that lets users monitor and control the router remotely from a smartphone or similar device.
The Netgear WNR2500 certainly isn't the fastest budget router out there, but reviews praise the reliability and speed nonetheless. If you simply need a router to connect your devices to the Internet, this model will serve you well.
Buffalo AirStation WHR-600D Review
(From $30.00 Good)
This N600 router has good range and good signal quality. It's a dual-band model that can use both the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands simultaneously.
The Buffalo AirStation WHR-600D is a pretty typical N600 router, with a maximum theoretical speed of 600 megabits per second, but it excels at managing a lot of network traffic. An Buffalo AirStation WHR-600D review on KitGuru, a tech news and review site focused on gaming, identifies this router as a good choice for gamers, users who stream a lot of video, and others with heavy network loads. The reviewer notes that this router provides a lot of configuration options for users who want to play around with different settings, although the setup wizards and interface are perhaps a little complex for novices.
On Amazon, reviewers comment that this router is slower than expected, although there is plenty of praise for the long range. Some users complain the router sometimes drops connections and needs to be reset, but others have found the signal strong and reliable. Buyers posting reviews on the retail site Newegg seem to be in agreement: This router is easy to set up, maintains a stable connection, and has good range and signal quality.
The Buffalo AirStation WHR-600D (starting at $30, Amazon) supports 802.11b/g/n wireless protocols. This is a dual-band router that transmits data on both the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands. It offers WEP/WPA/WPA2 encryption for security purposes and includes a WPS connection option for hooking up with compatible devices with the press of a button. The router has four 10/100 ports but no gigabit connections.
The Buffalo AirStation WHR-600D is a robust, dual-band router that can handle about as much traffic as you can throw at it, although it has a more complex setup than competing models. It also lacks any extra features, such as supporting apps. Still, it's a solid product and comes with a three-year warranty.
On Networks N150R Review
(From $15.00 Think Twice)
This router is as cheap as you're going to find, but it's also pretty slow. Some users say it has a habit of dropping connections, and it has only two Ethernet ports instead of the usual four.
The On Networks N150R (starting at $15, Amazon) is about as cheap as routers get, but it's also about the slowest wireless-N router you'll find. Consumers who have posted On Networks N150R reviews on retail sites tend to emphasize the product's value and offer mixed assessments of its performance. Reviewers posting on the Walmart website don't seem to mind the slower speed. They say the router is easy to set up and has good range. Reviews on Amazon are mostly positive and report that the signal is reliable, but some users disagree about the router's range, which they found to be pretty short. Some shoppers who have posted reviews on Newegg are not particularly impressed with the On Networks N150R. There are complaints that the router has a short range, is prone to dropping connections, or has stopped working altogether. On the plus side, reviewers do say this model is a cinch to set up.
The On Networks N150R is very much a no-frills router. It supports 802.11b/g/n connections and includes a WPS button, a standard feature. The theoretical maximum speed is only 150 megabits per second. The router has just two 10/100 LAN ports on the back instead of the usual four. Data are protected by a double firewall and the router has the latest WPA/WPA2 security protocols.
The On Networks N150R may be a steal if you simply want a router to get you online wirelessly. It's certainly cheap, but it's lacking in speed, power, and ports. These days, you don't have to spend much more to get a much faster router with four LAN ports.
Trendnet TEW-731BR Review
(From $18.00 Think Twice)
User complaints about this router run the gamut. Some report that it has broken down in less than a year, or that it has a weak signal and tends to drop connections.
As is often the case with particularly cheap items, there is a good amount of concern surrounding the durability of the Trendnet TEW-731BR (starting at $18, Amazon). We found some positive Trendnet TEW-731BR reviews on Newegg, where shoppers say the router is a good value for the price, with respectable transfer speeds and an easy setup process. Some buyers have also found the range to be good, and say the Trendnet TEW-731BR can stream HD video without a hitch. However, other reviewers on Newegg complain of frequent dropped connections, and several have seen the router break down within nine months or a year, well below a router's normal life expectancy. Reviewers on Amazon have similar gripes about dropped connections and weak signals. Some users like the product, though, because it's cheap and works well enough for their purposes.
The Trendnet TEW-731BR supports the 802.11b/g/n standards and includes a WPS button for making connections with external devices. It runs on a single 2.4 GHz band at a theoretical maximum of 300 megabits per second. It supports the WEP/WPA/WPA2 security protocols. The router has four 10/100 LAN ports on the back but doesn't support the gigabit network speeds that are becoming more and more popular for streaming high-definition video or online gaming. Users can set up a VPN, or virtual private network, with this router if they're so inclined.
The Trendnet TEW-731BR is affordable enough to attract the attention of budget shoppers, but we're concerned about the many complaints from buyers about this router's durability. Routers aren't complicated devices, especially when it comes to their hardware, and a good router should last several years. In too many cases, this router breaks down long before it should. As a result we hesitate to recommend it.
These days, no one expects to be tied to their desk when they need to get online to check email or update their Facebook page. A wireless network makes it possible to connect to the Internet from anywhere in your home. The first piece of equipment you need to set up a home network is a router. Many companies -- Linksys, D-Link, and Netgear among them -- make affordable wireless routers that sell for less than $60.
Cheap Wireless Routers Buying Guide
Our research found a number of cheap wireless routers that are adequate for most home networks. Our favorites are the Netgear WNR2500 (starting at $55) and D-Link DIR-826L (starting at $50). We also like the Buffalo AirStation WHR-600D (starting at $30). The Linksys E1200 (starting at $38) has been available for a few years now, but it's been so popular and reliable that Linksys continues to sell it. Two super-cheap routers -- the On Networks N150R (starting at $15) and Trendnet TEW-731BR (starting at $18) -- sink to the bottom of our list due to subpar performance.
Inexpensive wireless routers are basic devices. They may not be the speediest or most potent, but online reviews indicate that the best budget models are up to the demands of casual users. That is, they can keep you connected from most anywhere in your home and move data along at a fairly rapid clip. If you plan to use your network primarily for web surfing, email, and connecting an ebook reader or iPad, a slower and cheaper router will work just fine.
Some top budget routers, including the D-Link DIR-826L and Buffalo AirStation WHR-600D, have extra features that used to be confined to pricier models, including dual-band capability. Whereas a single-band router sends wireless signals on the 2.4 GHz frequency band, a dual-band router can also use the 5 GHz band. Other electronic devices, such as cordless phones and wireless baby monitors -- not to mention other Wi-Fi networks -- share the 2.4 GHz frequency and can interfere with a router's performance. For gamers and those who stream a lot of video or have a lot of close neighbors, the 5 GHz band is preferable.
Features Comparison Buying Guide continues below table
What We Looked for in the Specs
Wireless-N Router.All routers support a specific wireless standard or standards. This refers to a set of specifications created by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, or IEEE, that governs how the router operates. The most common wireless standards for home networks over the years have been 802.11a, 802.11b, 802.11g, 802.11n, and 802.11ac. Routers, like many devices, are backward compatible to previous standards, so older devices can be used with a newer router. Although the 802.11g standard is still around and 802.11ac now claims the bulk of review sites' attention, 802.11n is the most popular, and many wireless-N routers are very cheap.
All our picks support the wireless-N standard, which can, in theory, transfer data as fast as 600 megabits per second. The maximum varies from router to router, and real-world transfer speeds (a.k.a. throughput) typically fall between 40 Mbps and 100 Mbps. The newest standard, 802.11ac, is very fast -- up to 1,300 Mbps -- but also very expensive. The Linksys WRT1900AC, for example, starts at $249. The cheapest AC routers have slower maximum speeds and may not outperform wireless-N routers. The D-Link DIR-818LW (starting at $79) tops out at 750 Mbps, and a CNET reviewer concludes that a fast 802.11n router would be a better value.
Security Features.The security of a wireless router is critical, especially for apartment dwellers. If you leave your network unprotected, any nosy neighbor within range can tap into your wireless network and peek at your private files.
Budget routers, including our picks, almost always support two security standards: Wi-Fi Protected Access, or WPA, and Wired Equivalent Privacy, or WEP. WEP is an older protocol, so WPA is preferred. The budget routers on our list support WPA and WPA2, a newer version of the WPA standard. Your router should be set up to use WPA2, the recommended security protocol, automatically.
Most routers also include a firewall, which monitors data as it flows through an Internet connection. Firewalls block attacks from malicious hackers and keep unwanted data from passing through to your PC. All the routers on our list have a built-in firewall. You can also use a software firewall, such as the one included in Windows 8, to increase security.
Ports Aplenty.Any affordable router for home use should have at least four LAN ports on the back for connecting network devices via an Ethernet cable. Wired connections don't have the range issues or signal strength problems that can occur with wireless connections, so you may want to connect a desktop PC, for example, to your network with an Ethernet cable. The low-end On Networks N150R cuts a corner here, with only two ports.
Most budget routers feature 10/100 ports, which means they can send data at 10 Mbps and up to 100 Mbps (theoretically). More expensive routers have ports that can transfer data through a wired connection at a theoretical maximum of 1,000 Mbps. This is also known as a gigabit connection and is listed in the specifications as 10/100/1000. The D-Link DIR-826L is the only budget router on our list with gigabit Ethernet.
It is a bonus to have a port for attaching a USB device to the network -- an external hard drive, for example, as a convenient way to give all your PCs and mobile devices easy access to a backup drive. The D-Link DIR-826L is one inexpensive router that includes a USB port.
Wireless Router Reviews
We consulted a variety of sources when conducting our research, including wireless router reviews by experts on sites such as PC Mag and CNET. These authorities are familiar with the vast selection of routers on the market, have conducted hands-on testing, and are aware of the capabilities of the best affordable routers. We also took note of comments by consumers who had purchased routers on sites such as Newegg and experienced the products firsthand. Experts favor routers that are fast and reliable and give extra points to models with additional features. Meanwhile, home users want a routers that doesn't drop connections and is easy to set up and manage. Our top choices take into consideration both expert and consumer preferences.
Speed.The routers on our list of top picks support the wireless-N standard. Wireless-N is available with a variety of theoretical maximum speeds, commonly 300 megabits per second, or Mbps, (labeled N300) and 600 Mbps (N600). In the real world, however, speeds are quite a bit slower -- typically about 40 Mbps to 100 Mbps. The Linksys E1200 (starting at $38), an N300 router that blew away a PC Mag reviewer with its speed, topped out at just 60 Mbps in the site's testing. When an expert at CNET tested the same model, the speed reached about 38 Mbps -- a more down-to-earth number for an N300 router. Still, wireless router reviews confirm that that's more than fast enough for basic home networking.
The Buffalo AirStation WHR-600D (starting at $30) and D-Link DIR-826L (starting at $50) are N600 models and among the fastest affordable routers we found. That said, experts have found their speed lackluster relative to pricier N600 routers. For example, a reviewer from Trusted Reviews comments that the D-Link router's performance doesn't keep pace with other N600 devices.
Although experts have found that even N600 routers are not terribly speedy at the budget end of the market, the models we recommend are still plenty fast enough to meet the needs of typical Internet users, including video streaming. The TP-Link TL-WDR3500 (starting at $40) is another example of a cheap N600 router. The Netgear WNR2500 (starting at $55) may be a bit slower due to its 450 Mbps maximum speed, but an expert reviewer from Small Net Builder is still pretty impressed by its swiftness. The On Networks N150R (starting at $15), on the other hand, is the slowest among the routers we researched. It's technically a wireless-G router (an older standard) with "some N features" and runs at a theoretical maximum speed of 150 Mbps.
Long Range and Reliability.In an ideal world, a wireless router would be able to maintain a constant connection with a laptop, Nintendo Wii, or iPhone from every corner of a home at maximum signal strength. Unfortunately, this is unrealistic. Even dual-band-router reviews indicate that the extra antenna doesn't always perform as well as users might like. Furthermore, the farther away the device gets from the router, the weaker the signal becomes, which can reduce the speed of the connection significantly.
A wireless router's range, which typically falls between 150 and 300 feet, is only partially dependent on the router itself. The environment in which a network operates has a big impact on range -- the more walls, floors, and ceilings the signals must pass through, the shorter the effective range of the router. Therefore, expert testing under controlled conditions provides the most valuable feedback. Small Net Builder, for example, employs a standard testing method and gives the Netgear WNR2500 high marks for its range (as do buyers posting reviews at Newegg, for the record). With a dual-band router such as the D-Link DIR-826L or Buffalo AirStation WHR-600D, keep in mind that the 5 GHz band has shorter range than the 2.4 GHz band.
A router's reliability is just as important as its range, if not more so. Most routers can maintain a strong signal within 40 or 50 feet, and dropped connections should be a rarity. The routers we picked are not inclined to drop connections, according to the expert and user reviews we read. However, some Wi-Fi router reviews reveal that this can be a problem for other models. The Trendnet TEW-731BR (starting at $18), in particular, draws complaints on Newegg and Amazon due to frequent dropped connections.