Although Wi-Fi routers are a common technology found in most households, they also often go overlooked when people try troubleshooting lagging internet speeds or other connectivity issues. Choosing a good router—and making sure yours has been replaced in the last five years or so—can be the difference between constant buffering and smooth streaming, whether you have top-notch gaming desktop or a humble Chromebook. These are some of the best to help keep you connected no matter your square footage or number of devices.
Check out quick reviews of the top five Wi-Fi routers below, then scroll deeper for more helpful buying info and full reviews of these models plus other high-ranking options.
Things to Consider
When it comes to Wi-Fi routers, the biggest thing to account for is the size of the space in which it will be used. If you’re only connecting across a small apartment, you may not need a particularly powerful router. But you’ll want one for large homes or connecting many devices to your internet at a time. Many manufacturers will rate their Wi-Fi router to cover a certain square footage, so be sure to cross reference that with your living space. Also be aware that while your square footage may fall within your router’s reach, the construction of your house—like thick stone walls—can prevent the signal from extending throughout the whole house. If that’s the case, invest in an extender (or mesh system with satellites) to fill in any dead spots.
While many people opt for a router and modem system offered by their phone service provider, it’s often cheaper to buy one of your own, and it can provide you with better, more powerful Wi-Fi. Often, phone services don’t offer routers with the best or most up-to-date technology, so you end up paying more for an inferior product. When purchasing your own router, consider what exactly you will be using it for. Say you have a smart home or use many smart appliances, you’ll want a Wi-Fi system that has enough speed and bandwidth.
Radio bands essentially determine how powerful your Wi-Fi will be and how well it can travel through walls and other barriers. Any decent router you’d get today will likely have at least two. One will be a 2.4GHz band, which provides lower speeds at a higher distance, and the other a 5GHz band, which brings you high-speed internet but at shorter distances. Working together, they afford speedy and expansive internet access.
Since 2.4GHz is used by all Bluetooth devices, it can get bogged down. But most routers will allow you to choose which band you wish to connect your devices to, which makes it easier to work around high traffic situations and use the band best for your purposes. For example, streaming a game or movie through the 5GHz band can prevent lagging. And when scrolling through Instagram far from your router, you’ll want to connect to 2.4GHz.
If you need even more bandwidth, you can opt for a tri-band router, which contains two 2.4HGz and one 5Ghz. You will still be able to allocate devices to individual bands, so this is a great option if you have a lot of active users and still want to be able to stream videos or games, or if you’re looking to invest in Wi-Fi for a business that will have many customers using it at once. While a dual-band is often enough for most households, you can tell you need an upgrade should you notice lagging despite having a newer router.
Wi-Fi Extenders vs. Mesh Wi-Fi Systems
Wi-Fi extenders have been a tried and true technology that allow you to extend the reach of your Wi-Fi throughout the house without replacing your entire router. While these certainly work just fine, the newer mesh system is quickly becoming the preferred method of extending coverage.
Mesh systems use a system of hubs or points, which each function as individual Wi-Fi routers, bringing speedy and powerful internet to multiple areas in your house. Often, they also function as smart speakers that can play music and podcasts and serve as virtual assistants, controlling smart home devices by voice command. The other benefit with mesh systems is that all hubs function under the same network, which means that you will connect to the same network no matter where you are in the house. An extender does not have that luxury, so every time that you change from the router to extender, you’ll have to switch between networks.
How We Selected and Rated Them
The first three routers in this list were carefully tested and reviewed by our test team. To select the remaining, we researched 10 expert sources such as Digital Trends, PCMag, and Tech Radar, as well as 12,000 consumer reviews. Our Consumer Score represents the percentage of customers who rated the product at least four out of five stars on retail and review sites like Amazon, Walmart, and manufacturers’ pages.
—FOR LARGE HOMES—
Netgear Orbi AC3000
Consumer Score: 80% gave it 4 stars or more
This Orbi mesh system is ideal if you need to cover a large area with many users. Including one router and one satellite, the complete system can cover up to 5,000 square feet. Should you need to extend your internet even further, Orbi also offers a variety of desktop, wall-plug, and outdoor tabletop satellites, as well as one that functions as a smart speaker.
In our testing, we found that this tri-band mesh system provided consistent and reliable internet. Streaming services such as Amazon Fire TV connected easily to Netflix, Amazon Prime, and HBO Now without any lagging or buffering. It was also able to download some large 30+GB files to a Playstation, which was a bit slow, but steady and eventually successful. The included instructions could have been a bit clearer. Still, setup was generally simple.
—FOR GOOGLE HOME USERS—
Google Nest Wi-Fi
Consumer Score: 81% gave it 4 stars or more
If you’re willing to dish out a little extra cash, you’ll find that the Google Nest Wi-Fi is a great alternative to your typical router. It forms a system of hubs, which Google calls “points,” that double as smart home speakers with built-in Google Assistant so they can stream music, podcasts, and voice control other smart devices. This system will mesh perfectly with other Google Home products to optimize your smart experience. While the satellites don’t include any Ethernet ports, the router does have two for wired connection.
In our testing, setup was incredibly easy, taking less than 10 minutes from unboxing to internet connection. We also tested Google’s claim that one router and hub will cover as much as 3,000 square feet and found that it held up, providing high speed internet up to about 70 feet away. But even when not at its fastest, we were able to stream movies and video calls without a hitch.
—PREMIUM TRI-BAND MESH SYSTEM—
Consumer Score: 89% gave it 4 stars or more
With advantages like easy setup and incredible reach, the Eero Pro is easily at the top of the mesh Wi-Fi game. This tri-band network has expansive coverage (we tested up to 2,900 square feet) and the ability to work around thick stone walls via satellites. If you require a lot of coverage, the Eero Pro claims to cover up to a 5,500 square foot area, but smaller homes can get away with the standard Eero Router, which is a better deal at only $99. Another bonus is the ability to control the router through the app. Here, you’re able to connect to a modem and monitor activity, seeing which devices are active and how they’re being used, and even set a schedule for when certain devices can access the internet.
The house we tested in previously had issues connecting outside to the patio and a nearby building. However, once the Eero was installed with a beacon near a window and the other building, Wi-Fi connectivity spanned across almost two acres of property.
TP-Link AC1750 Archer A7
Consumer Score: 82% gave it 4 stars or more
While a powerful processor is essential for seamless gameplay, you would be remiss to disregard your Wi-Fi connection. Though it may not fit the gamer aesthetic, this dual-band router can handle your everyday games while still providing enough bandwidth for other users to connect their devices, too. It features four LAN ports, which allow for wired connection to the internet—often preferred for certain gaming sessions. The Archer A7 is a great option for hobby gamers, who can save money by opting for a dual-band router without sacrificing much speed while running most online games.
Asus RT-AC66U B1 AC1750
Consumer Score: 80% gave it 4 stars or more
For just about $100, this little router is an overachiever. Using a dual-band system, the Asus RT-AC66U is more than capable of handling multiple devices at once in homes up to 3,000 square feet, and it has four LAN ports for high-speed wired internet. The router is easy to install, and comes with some solid built-in security to prevent viruses and malware from infecting devices. Families with kids: It also features parental control settings. You can control the router with the web-based AsusWRT console or the Asus Router app available on iOS and Android. PC Mag wrote that this router outperformed others in its price range, making it a reliable and affordable choice for those on a budget.
Netgear Nighthawk X10
Consumer Score: 99% gave it 4 stars or more
While this router will require shelling out some cash, it could be worth it if you have a large home with heavy internet use. This model promises blisteringly fast performance and can handle multiple users thanks to its three bands and Multi-User, Multiple Input, Multiple Output (MU-MIMO) data streaming. Other reviewers noted that it had some of the fastest 5GHz speeds they tested. “While there are other routers that have MU-MIMO, 160MHz, or 802.11ad Wi-Fi capabilities, the R9000 is the only one we’ve seen so far with all three,” writes PC Mag. “It’s loaded with six Gigabit LAN ports, an SPF+ LAN port for 10-gigabit connectivity via fiber.” While this may be a bit overkill for streaming and swiping through Instagram, the Nighthawk is at the top of the premium tri-band router game. Though it’s not a mesh system, it’s unlikely you’d have to add any extenders given it’s rated for very large homes.
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