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Before you call the cable company the next time your internet goes out, consider checking your router. Even if you’ve got a decent connection, a spotty router can make you think otherwise, dropping the signal from your modem or making one so weak it doesn’t reach every room in your house. Your router creates the wireless network your devices join to access the internet, so if it’s not working you won’t be able to use the internet.
There’s nothing worse than experiencing lag while watching live sports, or seeing the dreaded buffering icon show up on your screen while trying to upload or download a file. Think a dropped call is bad? Try experiencing a dropped signal in the middle of an important work call, or while you’re trying to record a track.
We’ve rounded up some solid options that work intelligently to find faster, more efficient ways to get you online. From mesh routers, which can be placed around the house to build a full WiFi network, to a traditional point-to-point router, which stays in a central location in your home.
What You Need to Know Before Buying a Wireless Router
There are many factors to think about when choosing the right wireless router for you; below are the most important ones, which we considered while we were researching this list.
Speed: The most important feature when getting a wireless router is its maximum speed. The hardware (chips and antennas) wireless routers use to create a WiFi network evolve every few years; the latest standard is called WiFi 6, and it has a theoretical maximum speed of 11Gbps (Gigabits per second). Previous generation WiFi 5 routers have a theoretical maximum of 1Gbps.
We recommend a mix of WiFi 5 and WiFi 6 wireless routers because the bottleneck that caps your maximum speed probably isn’t coming from your router. Both support many of the same features, including operating on both the 2.4Ghz and 5.0Ghz frequencies to avoid network congestion when a lot of devices are connected at once. To take full advantage of a WiFi 6 wireless router’s speed, your devices will need to support that standard. An overwhelming majority don’t right now — even gadgets released recently.
Your network speed will also be limited by the internet plan you’ve chosen from your ISP (internet service provider). If your plan has a maximum speed of 200Mbps (megabits per second), it won’t matter that your router’s theoretical fastest speed is five or 25 times that. Still, getting a WiFi 6 compatible router now means you won’t need to upgrade for many, many years, which is a major upside.
Coverage Area: Having a wireless router that can make a fast connection doesn’t matter much if it can’t reach every room in your house. We made sure to choose routers with a long reach, so you don’t have to deal with dead zones or weak spots.
Security: You don’t want anyone snooping around your network, so we only picked routers that support WPA2, a security standard that checks whether or not an unwanted intruder has accessed or altered any data flowing through your network. For best practices, make sure to have a very strong — I.e. long, mixed character (letters, numbers, and symbols) — WiFi password.
Ease Of Use: Wireless routers have been notoriously difficult to manage in the past, but the situation has gotten a lot better recently. All of the routers in our guide allow you to change key settings — your password, enabling or disabling a firewall, blocking certain devices from accessing the internet — via an app on your smartphone (iOS and Android). It’s far better than logging into your router and navigating around an old web interface.
Mesh or Point-To-Point: Modern wireless routers come in two variants: point to point, or mesh. Point-to-point routers are traditional: they have antennas sticking up from the back, and stay connected in a fixed point in your home.
Mesh wireless routers are newer; instead of one router, they typically come in packs of two or three, which you place in different parts of your home to create a larger, stronger network. The type you choose will depend on the size of your home — smaller places can get away with a single router, larger ones could use the extra support of a mesh network — but there’s no wrong answer.
Cable Modem vs. WiFi Router: It’s important to know that a wireless router is not the same as a cable modem. A cable modem connects to your cable or fiber optic cable to bring the internet into your home.
A wireless router connects to your cable modem, and turns the wired connection into a wireless network — think of your cable modem as the water line coming into a home, and the wireless router like the sprinkler system distributing the water onto a lawn.
Point-to-point routers must be connected to your cable modem at all times. If you have a mesh router WiFi system, only one of the wireless routers needs to be connected to your cable modem, the others can be placed anywhere else.
1. Eero mesh WiFi system
Eero released the first modern mesh WiFi router system, and after testing its routers for several years, I can’t recommend them highly enough.
Its latest three-router system supports WiFi 5, and can create a network over a 5,000 sq. ft. area. Setting the routers up is easy: connect one to your cable modem with an Ethernet cable, and plug the other two anywhere else in your home. The routers will send out a signal to “find” one another, and create an interconnected WiFi network that covers your entire place.
The main reason I recommend eero’s routers is their performance, which has been excellent and consistent in my experience, but also because they’re so easy to use. Eero’s app is simple and organized, which lets you get to simple settings (your WiFi password) and more complicated one (setting up port forwarding), a few taps away.
Eero pushes security and performance updates to its routers on a regular basis, and times them to download in the middle of the night, so they don’t interrupt your work during the day. If something goes wrong with your network, you’ll get a notification, and can diagnose the problem.
If there’s any real fault to these routers it’s that they were released right before the WiFi 6 standard was adopted, so they’re not quite as future proof as another option in our guide.
Pros: Eero’s wireless routers look sleek, create a large, fast network, and are very easy to set up and use.
Cons: No support for WiFi 6.
2. ASUS RT-ACRH13 Router
Asus’ AC1300 is the most traditional wireless router in our guide, but it covers the basics well. It’s a point-to-point router with four antennas you can move in different directions to optimize your signal.
It supports WiFi 5, and only has four antennas, so it should cover a range of about 1,500 sq. ft., although ASUS doesn’t give a firm number.
Beyond that, there’s not a lot to say about the AC1300 — it’ll get the job done if you have a smaller place, and only need to connect a smaller handful of devices. It’s a set-it-and-forget-it solution if your current wireless router is flaky, and you don’t need any very smart features.
Pros: Its four antennas and support for WiFi 5 makes this a very good choice for people in smaller homes who just want the basics.
Cons: It doesn’t have any particularly smart features.
3. TP-Link OnHub
TP-Link teamed up with Google to create its OnHub smart wireless router. It looks like an Amazon Echo, but the router has 13 antennas inside to help ensure a fast connection. These antennas are all pointed in different directions, to help ensure a more even connection.
The OnHub is a point-to-point wireless router that supports WiFi 5, which means its network should extend to cover roughly 1,500ft to 2,000ft, but TP-Link hasn’t gotten specific. The numbers I’ve given are based on the performance of other similar routers.
What makes TP-Link’s OnHub stand out is its smart features, which are enabled in part by Google’s WiFi app. The wireless router scans its network every five minutes to optimize its performance, and gives you suggestions if it senses slowdowns. You can prioritize certain gadgets — WiFi enabled security equipment, for example — so they get the best connection.
Pros: The OnHub has 13 antennas, and automatically scans its network to optimize performance every five minutes.
Cons: TP-Link doesn’t give specific information about the OnHub’s maximum range.
4. Linksys Velop Wifi 6 Mesh Router
If you want a wireless router that’s on the cutting edge of technology, Linksys’ Velop MX5 is your best choice.
It’s a mesh WiFi router, which means you can connect multiple MX5s at once, but it’s so powerful that one may be enough. The WiFi 6-enabled router can create a WiFi network that covers up to 3,000 sq. ft. on its own. Linksys says it has enough bandwidth to connect to over 50 devices simultaneously without a hit to performance.
The MX5 is capable of this feat because it supports a technology called BSS (Basic Service Set), which allows it to intelligently organize how your devices connect to the wireless router. By arranging the WiFi channels and frequencies perfectly, it can dramatically improve your internet speeds per device.
If you have a larger space, you can get a pair of MX5 routers, which can cover an area up to 6,000 sq. ft., and connect to up to 100 devices simultaneously. The caveats, which I mentioned earlier, is that you’ll need the latest-and-greatest gadgets and an incredibly fast internet connection to get the most out of this WiFi 6-enabled router. But, if you won’t settle for anything less than the best, you’ll find little else to complain about.
Pros: The MX5 can connect to up to 50 devices simultaneously, and optimize each connection. You can add additional MX5 wireless routers to create an incredibly powerful WiFi network.
Cons: You need the right equipment and internet plan to take full advantage of this WiFi router.