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Your Wi-Fi router is your gateway to getting online, turning the wired internet connection from your provider into a wireless network for your home. While your internet service provider decides on what maximum speeds you can achieve and how much data you can use, it’s your wireless router that establishes that much-desired home Wi-Fi connection for your devices.
However, it’s no secret that not all wireless routers are created equal, and certain models will be a better fit for your family depending on your online activities, amount of connected devices and the size of your home. Prices for wireless routers vary greatly depending on their capabilities. You can find budget options around $50, while the latest hardware can go all the way up to $500.
How we chose our favorite wireless routers
To find the the best wireless routers, we focused on three factors while we were comparing models:
- Speed: The more devices and users, the higher speeds you’ll need, so aim high. In most wireless routers, you’ll find both 5 and 2.4 GHz bands. The 5 GHz band can handle more bandwidth but in a shorter range. The 2.4 GHz band can handle less bandwidth but in a larger range. Shoot for a dual or even tri-band wireless router to break up congestion. Just keep in mind that while a wireless router might be able to achieve a certain download speed, your internet service provider ultimately decides on what’s possible.
- Antennas: Any wireless router will only be as good as the signal it projects and the antenna is a major part of that. If your desired wireless router doesn’t have any external antennas, think about choosing a model that’s based on a mesh network.
- Features: Many wireless routers come with additional security features like guest networking, automatic firmware updates and remote management features. We required all of our routers to have the latest WPA, WPA2 or WPA3 certifications.
Overall, we narrowed our search down to over 20 of the models according to customer reviews and ratings from testing sites like Consumer Reports. From there, we compared the features and prices on each one to find the best value for every situation.
What about Wi-Fi 6?
Wi-Fi 6 is an industry certification program based on the 802.11ax standard for wireless networks. It was approved by the Wi-Fi alliance in February, 2021, and it allows for 30% faster speeds, lower latency and higher data capacity. Many devices are equipped with Wi-Fi 6, like the iPhone 11, 12 and newer Samsung Galaxies. But you’ll need a Wi-Fi 6 router to take advantage of them, and these tend to be on the pricier side.
The five best wireless routers of 2021
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Best router overall: Netgear Nighthawk AX8
Wi-Fi 6 compatible
Great security features
Not great for larger homes
Netgear is one of the most respected names in wireless routers, and the Nighthawk AX8 is their newest model stacked with all the latest features. More than any other router we looked at, the AX8 is able to cut through walls and floors, delivering gigabit speeds to every corner of the house. Netgear says this model can connect devices up to 90 feet away, but you can expect performance to tail off after about 50 feet. If you need more range, we recommend a mesh network (more on that below).
The AX8 also has advanced malware protection and the latest firmware updates upon installation. It even works with Disney’s Circle app, which allows you to block inappropriate content on certain devices.
Router with fastest speeds: ASUS ROG Rapture GT-AX11000
Capable of fastest speeds of any router
Wi-Fi 6 compatible
Eight LAN ports
Alexa voice control
One of the bigger routers around
Whether you’re a gamer, have a big household or just want to make sure you’re using every bit of your high-speed internet connection, the ASUS ROG Rapture is the top-performing wireless router we came across. It has a stunning eight gigabit LAN ports for gaming on multiple devices, and it can reach top speeds of up to 3,000 Mbps, although you’ll be hard pressed to find an internet plan that can supply them.
And this router looks the part. At 2.5 by 9.6 by 9.6 inches, it’s one of the biggest models on the market, with eight massive (and removable) antennas. But with all of its powerful engineering, it’s relatively user-friendly. You can set up Alexa voice commands to do things like pause the internet or turn on the guest network, and the ROG Rapture can also be used with other ASUS routers to create a mesh network in bigger homes.
Best budget router: TP-Link Archer A7
Great short range speeds
Works best in apartments or smaller homes
Uses older Wi-Fi 5 standard
The Archer A7 isn’t the newest router from TP-Link — it first debuted all the way back in 2018 — but it still holds up as a workhorse router that outperforms many models twice its price. Speeds can still get up to around 650 Mbps at close range, which is well above what most Americans are getting.
The Archer A7’s issues come into play with bigger homes. It has a range of about 80 feet, but you can expect speeds to decrease significantly the further away from the router you get. It’s also the only router on our list that uses the older Wi-Fi 5 standard. While newer devices that have Wi-Fi 6 will still work with the Archer A7, you won’t see the same speed and bandwidth benefits. If you want to invest in a wireless router that will take you through the next decade, it’s probably worth spending a little more for a Wi-Fi 6 router.
Best mesh router: Google Nest Wifi
Easy to set up and use
Routers double as Google Home speakers
Not as powerful as other mesh routers
Uses older Wi-Fi 5 standard
While it’s not as technically impressive as some of the other mesh routers out there, Google’s Nest Wifi is the most universally beloved Wi-Fi system around. Like all mesh routers, the Nest Wifi consists of a main router that connects to your modem and smaller extensions that spread your internet connection throughout your house.
But with the Nest Wifi, these extensions do double duty as voice assistants. Each of them is equipped with a Google Home smart speaker, so you can integrate every room in your house with your smart home devices at the same time as you’re extending your Wi-Fi network. There are other mesh networks that will provide faster speeds — Nest Wifi also isn’t compatible with Wi-Fi 6 yet — but none are more enjoyable to use.
Why you should buy your own router
In general, buying your own router instead of renting will usually pay itself off in about a year. Most internet service providers charge around $5-$15/mo. for modem and router rentals, while those same models usually cost about $100.
Granted, you still may have to pay a modem fee regardless, but in most cases, you’ll get faster speeds and save money in the long run by purchasing your router. Here’s how equipment rental costs compare with some of the top providers, along with the current price to purchase their modems and routers separately:
*Modem/router prices taken from manufacturer’s websites, buyyourownmodem.com and Amazon (updated 05/03/21)Learn more about renting vs. buying your router
You may need a faster internet plan
While a new router can significantly increase your internet speed, it can only work with the connection your ISP is giving you. In many cases, the quickest way to a speed boost is to upgrade your internet plan. Not sure if you’re getting what you’re paying for? Take our speed test below to find out.
Need more for the price?
Try these helpful hacks to improve your internet speed. Or if you just want more bang for your buck, check out providers near you with more speed for the price. Either way, we’ll help you find what you need.View providers near me
Rather chat? Give us a call: (844) 451-2720Rather chat? Give us a call: (844) 451-2720
Pro Tip: For best results, use an Ethernet cord to connect your router or modem directly to your device before you run the test.
If the speed that comes up is significantly slower than your plan advertises, a wireless router could give you a lift. For more steps you can take, we recommend checking out the following guides:
- Easy tips to boost your Wi-Fi signal and get more out of your internet connection
- How to speed up your internet connection
- Wi-Fi boosters, Wi-Fi extenders and Wi-Fi repeaters explained
- Problems with Wi-Fi at home? Here’s how a mesh network could be your solution
The bottom line
While Wi-Fi routers can initially be expensive, they often pay for themselves over a long enough period because you won’t have to worry about equipment fees through your internet provider anymore. And if you want to have a fully connected smart home or a lag-free gaming setup, a powerful router is absolutely essential. But a router can only do so much — let our experts know if you need any assistance in choosing a home Wi-Fi plan or use our free serviceability tool to check which providers are in your area.
Compare internet, TV and phone service offers in your area on Allconnect, for free.Compare providers
Written by:Joe Supan
Senior Writer, Broadband Content
Joe oversees all things broadband for Allconnect. His work has been referenced by Yahoo!, Lifehacker and more. He has utilized thousands of data points to build a library of metrics to help users navigate these … Read more
Edited by:Robin Layton
Editor, Broadband Content
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