Say goodbye to WiFi dead zones and hello to an easier setup and stronger security
By Nicholas De Leon
Your wireless router is responsible for handling all of the data that flows into and out of your home through your internet service provider (ISP).
“If I’m paying for a 200-megabit internet connection, can I actually get data that fast with my wireless router?” asked Richard Fisco, who oversees electronics testing at Consumer Reports.
A good router can help you make sure the answer is yes. But if you experience problems with dead spots or slow connections, Fisco says, it could be time to go shopping.
There are more than 100 models in our ratings, split across two categories: multi-unit mesh routers and single-unit wireless routers.
A single-unit router plugs directly into your modem.
Mesh routers feature one unit that plugs into the modem, plus one or two additional units, sometimes referred to as “satellites” or “beacons,” that can be stationed in other parts of your home. The units then “talk” to one another, creating what’s known as a mesh network.
A single router is generally fine for apartments and smaller houses, but if you live in a house larger than 2,000 square feet, a mesh router may be a better pick. That’s especially true if you work from home, even just a few days per week; nobody likes dealing with dropped video calls.
The satellite units of a mesh router can be moved around to maximize coverage, steering the WiFi signal around obstacles such as doors, walls, and appliances.
On the other hand, if you’re merely trying to improve WiFi in a single room, an inexpensive WiFi extender may be a better alternative. These can cost as little as $20 and generally do a good job of, yes, extending your WiFi network to a hard-to-reach part of your home.
The current WiFi standard is known as WiFi 6, which is sometimes (including in our ratings) referred to by its technical name 802.11ax. You may notice that we still have a handful of WiFi 5 wireless routers in those ratings, including prominent models made by companies like Google and Netgear. While those are generally a few years old, they still perform quite well—and are often cheaper than their WiFi 6 counterparts. They’re just less equipped to deal with the heavy traffic of a home or apartment building filled with internet-connected devices.
Given the big role WiFi now plays in our lives, we recently refined our testing methodology to reflect real-world conditions better. Our goal remains the same: to provide accurate, scientifically rigorous data so you can make informed buying decisions.
While a majority of the routers in our ratings do quite well in our labs, the ones here stand out with strong Overall Scores, offering solid performance at a range of distances and decent privacy and security protections.
This model, sold in a two-pack, aced all three of our distance tests, which measure a router’s throughput (“speed”) from distances of 8, 20, and 55 feet. That means you’ll probably get a stable and speedy connection in the typical home environment.
It supports WiFi 6, so you shouldn’t have to worry about upgrading for a while.
And it earns admirable scores for data security (thanks to automatic firmware updates), ease of setup (via a mobile app and a web-based wizard), and versatility. It features four built-in Ethernet ports and two built-in USB ports, handy for connecting devices like game consoles (so mammoth-sized games can be downloaded more quickly) and peripherals like printers.
Asus ZenWiFi AX Hybrid Powerline Mesh WiFi6 System (2-pack)
This model comes in a pack of three and combines speedy performance with a price that’s among the lowest in our ratings, making it worth a look even though it’s not WiFi 6-compatible.
Our testers give it high marks for throughput, ease of setup, and data security. You’ll also find handy features like smartphone-based setup and management, automatic firmware updating (which helps keep your data safe), and a single built-in Ethernet jack.
There are, however, no built-in USB ports, which can be useful for connecting and more easily sharing peripherals such as printers and external hard drives among the various devices in your home.
Netgear Orbi AC1200 (3-Pack)
This three-pack provides good all-around performance, scoring well for throughput at near- and medium-range distances. It may fall a bit short in large homes, though, and it’s “only” WiFi 5 compatible, but at this price, it’s hard to complain.
Our testers did bemoan the lack of ports (two Ethernet and no USB). Maybe your printer can print wirelessly, but there’s something to be said about the simplicity of plugging a printer into a router and letting the router do all the work.
TP-Link Deco W6000 AX3000 (2-pack)
Netgear Nighthawk AX8 AX6600
If you don’t need (or want) a multi-router mesh setup, this single-unit WiFi 6 model from Netgear should be near the top of your list. It aced our throughput tests at all distances and was easy to set up via a smartphone app or an old-school, web-based wizard.
There’s automatic firmware updating to keep your data safe, plus four Ethernet ports and one USB port for connecting peripherals.
If you need one more Ethernet port, you might also consider this other Netgear model, which performs similarly.
Netgear Nighthawk AX8 AX6600 (RAX70-100NAS)
This WiFi 6 wireless router from Asus scores quite well in our throughput tests, is easy to set up via a smartphone app, and has automatic firmware updates. But the throughput lags a bit in our near-distance tests, so you might want to put a little space between the router and any devices that require tip-top speed.
The model has four Ethernet ports and two USB ports for your external peripheral needs.
The ROG Rapture, an Asus model aimed at gamers (hence the rather aggressive-looking design), might also be worth a look, especially if you need one more Ethernet port.
Asus AX2700 (RT-AX68U)
Here’s a WiFi 6 model you can regularly nab for less than $100, a price that would have been unheard of just a few years ago.
The AXE 5400 scores well in our throughout tests, has automatic firmware updates, and has a decent amount of Ethernet (four) and USB (one) ports to extend its versatility.
Linksys AX5400 (E9450W)
Home WiFi Mesh Networks
Can’t get a decent wireless internet connection in your home? On the “Consumer 101” TV show, Consumer Reports expert Nicholas De Leon explains to show host Jack Rico how mesh networks provide faster speeds and better coverage.
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