Is your WiFi less than wonderful? We researched over 55 different wireless routers, then bought the top 9 products on the market today and tested them side-by-side to determine which WiFi router is truly worthy of an award. To determine which wireless router won, we ranked and scored the different features available on each router and how easy they were to use and set up. In addition, we also conducted a head-to-head test of each router's range and throughput, on both the 2.4 GHz. and 5 GHz. frequencies. Check out the comprehensive review below to see which router claimed the top spot, which one gives you the most bits for the buck, and which ones aren't worth the trouble.
Best Wireless Routers of 2018
Analysis and Award Winners
Best Overall Router
ASUS RT-AC88U Wireless-AC3100
Earning the top score of the entire group and handily claiming the title of Best Overall Router and the Editors' Choice Award, the ASUS RT-AC88U is our top recommendation. While this router is a little on the pricey side, it's the clear choice for those who want the best of the best and the fastest internet you can get. This model is exceptionally easy to use, absolutely jam-packed with features and functions, and has solid range and throughput. If you want a wireless router that truly rules them all, the ASUS is what you should get — if can foot the almost $300 bill.
Read Full Review: ASUS RT-AC88U Wireless-AC3100
Best Higher-End Value Pick
NETGEAR Nighthawk AC1750 (R6700v2)
If you balked at the price of our top model, consider the NETGEAR Nighthawk AC1750. This router is an exceptional value, earning the Best Buy Award for a great performance at an even better price, about $100. While this isn't our top recommendation if you are shopping on a tight budget, it is our upgrade pick if you are still shopping on a budget but are willing to spend a little more for improved performance. This router is also very easy to use and has an impressive set of features. Its throughput over both bands and its range didn't disappoint, making it a great choice for the budget-conscious shopper.
Read Full Review: NETGEAR Nighthawk AC1750 (R6700v2)
Best Bang for the Buck
TP-Link Archer C7 (AC1750)
The TP-Link Archer also earned Best Buy Award and is our favorite pick for those shopping on a tight budget. While this isn't one of the top performing routers by any means, it's a solid router that retails for around $80. It's very easy to use, though it is a little light on features. It also didn't do amazingly well in the throughput and range tests, but it should do a decent enough job for small to medium homes that don't need unusually high amounts of bandwidth. For those that want a simple, bare-bones router that is easy to use and won't break the bank, the Archer is where it's at.
Read Full Review: TP-Link Archer C7 (AC1750)
Analysis and Test Results
To find out which wireless router topped them all, we looked at existing user reviews of products, as well as various forum posts and other information to assemble a list of over 50 different routers that looked promising. Then, we picked the most highly-regarded products on the list and bought them to test side-by-side to see which one is truly the best. We broke our comprehensive testing process down into five weighted metrics: Features, Ease of Use, 2.4 GHz. Throughput, 5 GHz. Throughput, and Range. Each metric consisted of a handful of tests, with the performance of each product ranked and scored against its peers. The sections below detail the results for each metric, highlighting which products performed well and which ones fell a little flat.
If budget is one of your primary concerns when shopping for a new wireless router, take a glance at our Price vs. Performance chart above. Both of our Best Buy Award winners are shown in blue, with the TP-Link Archer being the best value if you are shopping on a tight budget and the NETGEAR Nighthawk R6700v2 is the best choice if you are shopping on a budget but are willing to pay a bit more to upgrade.
For our first metric, worth the most of the overall score at 25%, we compared and scored how feature-rich each wireless router is. First, we looked for the presence of three key features on each router: MU-MIMO, Beamforming, and how many LAN ports each product has. MU-MIMO, or multi-user, multiple-input, multiple-output (we know, it's quite a mouthful!) simply means the ability for the router to talk back-and-forth (multiple inputs, multiple, output) with multiple devices (multi-user) simultaneously. For example, a MU-MIMO router could be sending data back-and-forth between an iPhone, a laptop, and a Smart TV much faster than a non-MU-MIMO router, essentially making your network faster overall and leading to less buffering and lag issues. The second feature, beamforming, refers to how the router actually shapes the WiFi field. Routers that support beamforming don't send out the same signal strength of WiFi in every direction. Instead, the router communicates with each device to get the relative position and concentrates the signal strength in that direction, leading to better overall signal and reception for each device.
Additionally, we also noted if you had the ability to turn the indicator lights on and off, turn the router on and off remotely, and the number and type of USB ports available. The chart below shows the overall top scorers in this metric and which routers came across as a little sparse in terms of features.
As shown above, the ASUS RT-AC88U and the NETGEAR Nighthawk X10 tied for the top score, both earning an 8 out of 10 for their impressive suite of features. Both the ASUS and the X10 are MU-MIMO and have beamforming capabilities, as well as the ability to be remotely reset and toggle the indicator lights on and off. The ASUS has a slight edge when it comes to LAN ports having 8 compared to the 6 on the X10.
The ASUS again has a slight edge when it comes to USB ports, having both a USB 3.0 and USB 2.0 connector, compared to the pair of USB 2.0 ports on the X10.
Next, both the NETGEAR Nighthawk and the Linksys AC1900 Max Stream merited a 6 out of 10 for their above average set of features. These routers both feature beamforming and MU-MIMO capabilities, as well as the ability to turn off the indicator LEDs through the web interface — though the Max Stream leaves the power indicator light on regardless. However, the Max Stream lacks the ability to be power cycled remotely, forcing you to manually reset it when troubleshooting — a huge pain if you keep the router in a difficult to reach location.
This pair of routers both have 4 LAN ports, but the Max Stream has a pair of USB ports — one 3.0 and one 2.0 — out matching the single 3.0 USB connection of the standard Nighthawk.
Containing a relatively average set of features, the NETGEAR AC1750 (R6400) earned a 5 out of 10 in this metric. As far as we could tell, the R6400 does NOT have MU-MIMO, but it does support beamforming. This hurt its score considerably, effectively precluding it from a shot at an award. However, this router does have remote reset and the ability to turn the indicator lights off, as well as 4 LAN ports. It also has both a USB 3.0 and USB 2.0 port.
Next, the TP-Link Archer C7 and the NETGEAR AC1200 both earned a 4 out of 10 for their somewhat sparse selection of features. This pair of routers both lack MU-MIMO and beamforming, meaning your network will overall be slower than if you used a router that had these features.
You do not have the ability to turn the indicator LEDs off on either of these routers and the Archer C7 must be reset manually. However, the NETGEAR AC1200 does support remote reset. These both have 4 LAN ports, with the TP-Link having a pair of USB 2.0 ports, compared to the single 2.0 connection on the NETGEAR AC1200.
Finishing at the back of the pack, the D-Link AC1200 earned a 3 out of 10 for its meager set of features. This router lacks the majority of the features that the top products have, failing to have remote reset, MU-MIMO, beamforming, or the ability to turn the LEDs off. It has the typical 4 LAN ports, but lacks any USB ports at all.
Ease of Use
For our next metric, worth 20% of the total score, we looked at how easy it is to operate these products, including how difficult it is to accomplish the initial setup. We also looked at how much work it is to update the firmware and whether it is required upon unboxing, if there are parental controls, how user-friendly the interface is, and if there are Quality of Service (QoS) controls. The chart below shows which router is the overall easiest to use and which ones require you to be more tech-savvy.
Taking home the top score of 9 out of 10, the Asus RT-AC88U impressed us with how little effort it took to set up and get configured. While we did have to update the firmware upon the boxing, it wasn't particularly difficult to do. It was essentially problem-free to set up, with both a helpful web interface and a step-by-step wizard to guide you through configuring the network name and password. The wizard did give us some slight issues changing the network name one of the times that we tried to set it, but that was it in terms of issues.
This router has an exceptionally approachable user interface, being one of the most straightforward and easiest to understand of the entire group. You also have the option of enabling parental controls on this device, blocking websites by genre or by specific addresses. These blocks can also be set on a schedule or set to only apply for certain devices. Finally, the Asus supports QoS, allowing either adaptive, traditional, or bandwidth-limited. For those unfamiliar with the term, Quality of Service or QoS allows you to prioritize bandwidth allocations for devices, letting you customize your network to best suit your needs, whether you are a streaming media, gaming, or just casually surfing the web.
Next, the TP-Link model — the Archer — took the runner-up position, earning an 8 out of 10 for its performance. Out of the box the Archer did require a firmware update, but again this task was quite easy to accomplish. This model has a setup wizard that guides you through the network configuration. Thankfully, this process is very easy, as you can't surf the web with the Archer until this is completed.
The TP-Link Archer does have QoS, but it only allows you to sort priority by devices.
This router also has parental controls, allowing you to filter out websites by keywords, as well as set a schedule for internet access.
The bulk of the routers came next, with the Linksys AC1900 Max Stream, the standard Linksys AC1900, NETGEAR AC1200, NETGEAR AC1750, NETGEAR Nighthawk, and the NETGEAR Nighthawk X10 all earning a 7 out of 10 for their showing in this group of tests.
All of the NETGEAR routers required firmware updates upon unboxing, but the Linksys routers were all set to go from the start. However, none of these routers were incredibly easy to configure the network settings on, with a myriad of problems presenting themselves when we attempted to set the network name and password. Both Linksysmodels, the NETGEAR AC1750, and the NETGEAR Nighthawk were the easiest to set up, but still much more difficult than the Asus or the TP-Link model.
The Linksys models both took about 30 minutes for us to get set up, with both giving us an error or freezing and forcing us to start over. We found these to be a little finicky when it came to using the browser interface, so switching browsers is a good idea if you are running into issues.
The NETGEAR Nighthawk and AC1750 both were about the same as the Linksys models, with a wizard to help you set an admin password and network login, but this can be a bit more problematic if you have other existing networks. We found our computer kept wanting to hop to a different network mid-setup process, causing difficulties. The NETGEAR AC1200 was next in terms of setup difficulties. It was pretty much plug-and-play from the get-go with the defaults, but it is a little difficult to find the options to change the network name and password from the defaults.
We were plagued with difficulties when trying to set up the Nighthawk X10. While the wizard did open automatically, it kept failing to load and forced us to switch browsers multiple times.
Moving on to the interface, we vastly preferred the interface of the Linksys routers to the NETGEAR models, putting it second only to the Asus for being easy to navigate and user-friendly. The NETGEAR browser interface is about average, though it looks a little outdated.
However, the NETGEAR routers have the most sophisticated set of parental control options. It can be a little more labor-intensive to set up, but allows you the finest level of control. We found the Linksys parental controls to be quite ineffective for filtering content, as it can only filter by website address, forcing you to create a list of all the questionable content that you want to block — an impossible task. However, you can filter by time, cutting off access to certain devices at certain times.
The Linksys models both have QoS, calling it media prioritization, and is about average in terms of capabilities. The NETGEAR routers also had QoS, but it was mediocre at best, seemingly very outdated compared to other models.
Finishing out the back of the pack, the D-Link AC1200 earned the lowest score of the group with a 6 out of 10. This model actually had one of the easiest initial setups and didn't require any updates upon unboxing. However, it had the least user-friendly interface and did not have an easy way to enable parental controls. It did have an easy way to enact QoS, setting a priority list of devices.
2.4 GHz. Throughput
For our next two metrics, both worth 20% of the overall score, we looked at each router's throughput, or how fast each router and a test computer can exchange data, both on the 2.4 GHz. and the 5 GHz. frequency ranges. We conducted five different tests for each bandwidth, averaging the results of three trials. We used the iPerf3 software running on our test client computer connected to each router, so the test was independent of the ISP speed in our area. The chart below shows which routers were the fastest of them all in the 2.4 GHz. band.
Earning the top score of 6 out of 10, the Linksys Max Stream reigned supreme when it came to 2.4 GHz. speed. The Max Stream delivered an excellent job in our first assessment, having the average fastest throughput speed in our line-of-sight, short distance test — about 10' away. The Max Stream clocked in at an average of 57 Mbits/second, with the chart below showing how this compared to the rest of the pack.
The Max Stream continued its stellar performance in the obstructed version of the test, again delivering the highest throughput of the entire group with 57 Mbits/sec. It was also the top performer in the unobstructed, medium distance test — about 35 feet away. However, it was dethroned in the obstructed medium distance, dropping to third place, as shown below.
Finally, the Max Stream's performance dropped in the longest distance version of this test — about 70' separating the computer and router. It still scored close to the top of the pack, but it was eclipsed by the stellar performance of the Asus RT-AC88U.
Finishing next, the Asus, Linksys AC1900, NETGEAR AC1750, Nighthawk AC1750, and the Nighthawk X10 all earned a 5 out of 10 for their solid performance. The Asus and the Linksys AC1900 were the top two scorers in the short distance, line of sight test, clocking in at 51 Mbits/s and 53 Mbits/s, respectively. They were followed by the 49 Mbits/s of the X10, 48 Mbit/s of the standard Nighthawk, and the 47 Mbits/s of the NETGEAR.
Performance for some of the routers changed dramatically in the obstructed version of the test, with the Asus and the NETGEAR's throughput dropping dramatically, while the remaining trio of routers remained relatively unchanged. The chart below shows the performance of all the routers in this test.
Moving on the medium distance tests, the scores somewhat inverted, with the X10 doing the best of the group in the line of sight test. This product was followed closely by the normal Nighthawk and then the Linksys AC1900. For the obstructed test, the Linksys AC1900 did the best of this group, followed by the Nighthawk X10.
For the long distance test, the Asus not only did the best of this group, but the best job of the entire bunch, measuring in at 27 Mbit/s. The Nighthawk AC1750 did the next best, with the chart below showing how the rest of the pack did.
Next, the TP-Link Archer earned a 4 out of 10 for its overall lackluster performance. This model did alright in the low and medium distance tests, but was quite deficient in the long distance tests dropping to 9 Mbit/s.
At the back of the pack, both the D-Link and the NETGEAR AC1200 earned a 3 out of 10 for their substandard performance. These models didn't impress us in the short and medium tests and essentially were unusable at long distances, dropping to essentially 0 Mbit/s throughput rate.
5 GHz. Throughput
For our next metric, we repeated the above set of tests for each router, using the 5 GHz. network. The data rate is usually much faster over a 5 GHz. network, but the signal attenuates rapidly, meaning the speed rapidly decreases as the distance between the router and the server increase. The chart below shows which wireless routers have the best throughput 5 GHz. and which ones are going to leave you hanging.
Tying for first place overall in this metric, the Asus, Linksys AC1900, and the NETGEAR AC1200 all earned a 6 out of 10 for their showing. Both the Asus and the NETGEAR impressed us with their great performance in the long distance test, while the Linksys was a bit disappointing. However, the NETGEAR outperformed both of the other wireless routers in this group in the obstructed range tests, both in the short and medium distance versions. The NETGEAR had the edge in the short distance line of sight tests, while the Linksys did the best of this trio in the medium distance line of sight test, as shown below.
While the X10 delivered the overall fastest 5 GHz. performance at a distance, it performed relatively poorly in the short and medium distance tests.
Next, the D-Link, Linksys Max Stream, NETGEAR AC1750, Nighthawk, and Nighthawk X10 all earned a 5 out of 10 for their middle-of-the-road performance. As mentioned above, the X10 reigned supreme in the long distance 5 GHz. test, maintaining 46 Mbits/s. However, it did a below average job in both the obstructed and unobstructed short and medium distance tests.
Of this group, the D-Link did the overall best at the short distance test, while the normal Nighthawk excelled in the medium distance test.
Finally, the TP-Link Archer delivered the worst performance of the group, earning a 4 out of 10. It did above average at the line of sight, short distance test, but was relatively mediocre in the other tests.
For the final metric of our review, we compared and scored the range of each wireless router. This metric accounts for the remaining 15% of the final score and is comprised of a single test. We measured out set distances, then played the same video to see if there were any buffering issues. We noted at what distance the video playback was interrupted for each wireless router, then used that to determine the scores shown below.
The NETGEAR AC1750 delivering uninterrupted playback at a distance of over 200', earning it the top score of 7 out of 10 in this test. We successfully watched a 5-minute YouTube video in 720p without any buffering or interruptions when connected through this wireless router.
Next, the Asus, Nighthawk X10, Nighthawk, and the Linksys AC1900 all earned a 5 out of 10 for their performance. The range of all of these products dropped dramatically compared to the NETGEAR, with the video stream cutting out about 50' closer. The chart below shows the exact numbers for each of these products.
Next, the D-Link, TP-Link Archer, and NETGEAR AC1200 all merited a 4 out of 10 for their efforts, having an effective range of about 145', 135', and 143' in our tests, respectively. Rounding out the back of the pack, the Linksys AC1900 Max Stream earned a 2 out of 10 for its paltry range of just over a hundred feet in our test.
Hopefully, this review has answered some of your questions about wireless routers and helped you find the perfect one for your needs. If you are still interested in exactly what we did to test and score these products, take a look at our How We Test article here for a full breakdown of our processes and plans. You may also be interested in our Buying Advice article, linked below, that gives some more background on these products, what they actually do, and what you should look for when buying one.
Still not sure? Take a look at our buying advice article for more info.