The need for a quality router has never been greater. In today’s connected world, virtually every household is packed with phones, computers, smart TVs, and many other devices, all fighting for bandwidth. It’s a common scenario that the router that’s handed out by your ISP is average at best. If you want a router that offers better throughput, range, and features, check out our top picks.
Best Wi-Fi System for Most
We’ve been long term testing Google Wifi for over a year in a number of different conditions, in buildings with concrete walls and so on, and we’re convinced that if seamless wireless coverage is what want first and foremost, mesh systems are the way to go, and Google’s offering is a top candidate to make it your own.
Unlike single, powerful routers, mesh networks use two or more devices that wirelessly communicate with each other, blanketing your home with a single, reliable network. They’re an excellent option for those with a medium or large space who don’t want the cost or rigmarole of setting up multiple devices.
Simplicity is the key word here: download the Google Wifi app to your phone or tablet, plug the devices into a power source (USB Type-C), attach your existing modem to one of the satellites via the Gigabit Ethernet port, and following the on-screen instructions. But that’s just set up and one of the many conveniences offered by this mesh wireless system. Another particularly great thing about Google Wifi is that it will automatically download and install the firmware updates.These arrive quite often, meaning your network performance and security is regularly improved.
Google’s system is one of the cheaper mesh networks, costing around $250 for a pack of three or $100 for a single unit, thereby offering good value should you want to add extra points to your home. Google says its 3-pack covers up to 4,500 sq. ft, so that should be enough for most people.
The feature-packed Google Wifi app is another of the highlights here. It allows users to see what devices are connected and how much bandwidth each one is using. You can prioritize traffic to specific devices for certain lengths of time, which is helpful if you’re streaming the latest 4K Netflix show or participating in a Fortnite: Battle Royale session. Concerned parents, meanwhile, can pause internet access for groups of devices, thereby making sure kids don’t stay online too long, and it’s also possible to automatically block adult websites from children’s eyes. Network stability is maintained as the units constantly check the best channel and Wi-Fi band for a client to connect to, and you can even create separate guest networks.
On formal testing, Google Wifi tests well for a dual-stream AC1200 router, achieving a top sustained Wi-Fi speed of more than 470 megabits per second at close range, falling to 201 megabits when at a greater distance. There is a performance drop when adding extra units, but that’s the case with all mesh systems. It is not the fastest mesh, in fact, raw throughput may be its biggest drawback today, but it’s the most convenient system for most households given the price.
Ultimately, for ease of use, competitive pricing, and a sleek design, Google Wifi is hard to beat, especially if you have a large home and want better coverage.
The Performance Option
While Netgear’s Tri-band Orbi RBK50 is a lot larger than Google’s nodes and less easy on the eye, they do offer more. You get a complete web interface containing all the same features as Netgear’s Nighthawk routers, including static routing, advanced port mapping, firewall rules, and backups. There’s even MU-MIMO support, a three-port gigabit ethernet switch on the router, and a four-port switch on the satellite.
The $320 base package includes two units instead of the usual three, but they still cover 5,000 square feet. You might be losing out on the easy-to-use app (though Netgear is also updating and improving its software continuously) and subtle stylings of Google WiFi, but Orbi offers the best wireless performance of all mesh routers.
Best Enthusiast & Gaming Router
While it may be overkill for most people, few routers can match the speed, features, and gaming focus offered by the Asus GT-AC5300. As part of Asus’ Republic of Gamers brand, you know who its main audience is. It should come as no surprise to learn that if you want a router that’s pretty much the best in the business, you’ll have to pay for the privilege at around $380. However, all that cash does get you plenty of cutting-edge tech.
The Asus GT-AC5300 offers 4×4 MU-MIMO (Multiple User, Multiple-Input, Multiple-Output), which allows it to connect to multiple devices simultaneously, rather than them having to take turns, thereby speeding up the network.
This is a tri-band router that can deliver 5300mbps of combined theoretical throughput. Additionally, users can allocate one of the 5GHz bands to gaming devices, while anything not dedicated to that most important of pastimes can use the second 5GHz band or the 2.4GHz band.
In addition to those eight distinctive aerials, the GT-AC5300 also comes with two USB 3.0 ports and a massive eight ethernet ports. Two of these are dedicated to gaming traffic, while another two can be used for link-aggregation—combining two ports to create a 2Gbps connection.
The number of features on the GT-AC5300 is staggering: VPN Fusion (for running a VPN and ordinary internet connection simultaneously), Game IPS, Game Radar, Range Boost, AiMesh Support, Smart Connect, built-in malware protection, and much more. The router’s internals are equally impressive: a 1.8 GHz 64-bit quad-core CPU, 1GB of RAM, and 256MB of flash memory.
Again, this router is overkill for the average consumer, but for those who want the best there is out there, then you can’t go wrong with the Asus GT-AC5300, especially if you prioritize gaming and raw throughput above all others.
Less Extreme, Plenty Fast
The Netgear Nighthawk X4S (R7800) is another great option for enthusiasts, and although this dual-band router may not seem to be as feature-packed, it’s still an excellent high-performance choice and available for less than $200.
The Nighthawk X4S is a dual-band AC2600 router (WiFi-800+1733 Mbps), powered by a Qualcomm 1.7GHz dual core processor with support for 4×4 multi-user MIMO. It sports five Gigabit Ethernet ports, dual USB 3.0 and eSATA. Even though Netgear offers a money-is-no-object competitor to the Asus ROG router above (see the Nighthawk XR500), it is the X4S that dominates most of Small Net Builder’s benchmarks along with the Asus GT-AC5300.
Best Router for Most People
For those who want a traditional router but don’t need all the bells and whistles that come with $200+ models, there’s the Asus RT-AC68U. But don’t think its $140 price equals sub-optimal performance: there’s a reason why this was our Best Enthusiast pick in 2016, back when it cost nearly $300.
This dual-band AC1900 gigabit router offers great range and throughput, especially for the price. It supports 600Mbps at 2.4GHz and up to 1,300Mbps on the 5GHz band. And while it may not have the snazzy looks of today’s newer high-end models, it does boast a sleek yet subtle design.
The router comes with four Gigabit LAN ports and a WAN port, along with a USB 2.0 port and a USB 3.0 port, which support printers and mobile broadband devices, as well as USB drives. It even has removable antennas. Asus’ web-based setup is clean and simple to use, offering traffic management, status, and parental controls. There are also options for more advanced users, such as multiple wireless SSIDs, dual-WAN support, QoS, security, and encrypted VPN access.
The RT-AC68U supports AiMesh which lets you create a quasi-mesh system. But don’t buy it for this alone, as it’s not the best implementation of mesh (dedicated systems are simply better, more seamless in real usage), but it is a good way of putting your old Asus router to use given the right scenario.
The Asus RT-AC68U is a good all-rounder for everyone who doesn’t demand the latest features and blistering speeds. We’ve long term tested it and it’s pretty good overall.
Also Great: Synology RT2600ac
If you want a top router with a few upgrades over the RT-AC68U and are willing to spend a bit more, then the Synology RT2600AC is a great alternative, and one that packs a 1.7GHz dual-core processor. Synology’s model is a quad stream (4 x 4) router that supports MU-MIMO and comes with a host of features, yet still manages to stay just under the $200 mark.
It has top speeds of up to 1,733 megabits per seconds on the 5GHz band and up to 800Mbps on the 2.4GHZ band, while offering excellent range. It’s also expandable through additional packages for VPN, DNS, several file-sharing services and more.
Like some enthusiast routers, the RT2600ac will probably be overkill for some people, though tinkerers will no doubt appreciate the advanced network features offered by the Synology firmware. It might not be gamer-focused like the Asus GT-AC5300, but it’s an excellent choice for busy homes, and the fact it can double as a network storage server is another plus.
A Solid $70 Option: TP-Link Archer C7 1750
If you want something that simply does that job, there’s the TP-Link Archer C7 1750. It’s generally found selling for $70 – $80 on Amazon and for the price this router still offers simultaneous 2.4GHz 450Mbps and 5GHz 1300Mbps connections for 1.75Gbps of total available bandwidth. It’s a great value overall and has all the basic features the majority of people will actually use, and then some. That includes Gigabit Ethernet, a couple of USB 2.0 ports for basic NAS capabilities, parental controls, guest networks, and a utilitarian (read: not the prettiest, but gets the job done) web interface.
As a last note, the Archer A7 is 95% the same router offered exclusively by Amazon at a small discount. It gets fixed antennas instead of detachable ones, one USB port instead of two, and no USB status LED. It adds Alexa support and it’s currently just $70.