The Best Wireless Routers of 2020
Best Overall Router
ASUS RT-AC88U Wireless-AC3100
Receiving the highest score that we have seen to date, the ASUS RT-AC88U is the clear Editors' Choice Award winner and earns the title of Best Wireless Router Overall. This top-notch router has one of the most comprehensive sets of features and functions, all while being one of the most intuitive and easy to operate routers of the entire group. On top of all that, it tied for the top spot when it came to 5 GHz throughput and in the runner-up position overall in our series of 2.4 GHz tests.
Unfortunately, the effective range on this router is more average than amazing and it is expensive. However, we think it is the best of the best and is the perfect option for someone who needs exceptional streaming performance from their router — as long as they are willing to pay a premium for it.
Read review: ASUS RT-AC88U Wireless-AC3100
Best Upgrade Budget Pick
NETGEAR Nighthawk AC1750 (R6700v2)
If you are looking for a high-performance router but the price tag of the ASUS RT-AC88U is giving you a headache, then you should consider the Nighthawk AC1750 (R6700v2) by NETGEAR. It earns a Best Buy Award and retails for less than half the price of the RT-AC88U. It is still quite easy to use and holds its own with the top products when it comes to throughput on its 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz networks. Additionally, it also has a phenomenal range, with our test computer able to effectively stream video at one of the furthest distances of the entire group when connected to the Nighthawk.
However, this router does have a reduced set of features and functions when compared to the top-of-the-line products. In spite of that, this is our favorite product to recommend to someone that is shopping on a budget, but willing to pay a small premium for better performance.
Read review: NETGEAR Nighthawk AC1750 (R6700v2)
Best on a Tight Budget
TP-Link Archer A6 (AC1200)
If the price point of the previous two routers is far too high for you, then you may want to consider the Archer A6 by TP-Link, which netted a Best Buy Award for pairing decent performance with a much more affordable price tag than the top models. This router has a surprisingly impressive set of features and is one of the more intuitive and easier to use routers.
However, the A6 isn't the most impressive of the group when it comes to throughput performance or range. It isn't terrible but we would recommend other routers over this one if you have a household with tons of bandwidth-intensive devices or a particularly far-flung network configuration. The A6 is a fantastic option on a tight budget but there is plenty of room for improvement if you are willing to pay more for an upgraded model.
Read review: TP-Link Archer A6 (AC1200)
Best for Extended Range
NETGEAR AC1750 (R6400)
If you struggle to get sufficient connectivity at the furthest extent of your home, then the NETGEAR AC1750 (R6400) is a good option to consider. This router did quite well overall in our tests but thoroughly impressed us when it came to range. Our test laptop was able to stream a video with over 200' separating it from the router, compared to other models that started buffering with as little as 65' between them and the computer. The R6400 also did well in our throughput tests and is one of the more intuitive and user-friendly routers we have tested so far.
On the downside, we did notice that the R6400 has a limited selection of features than some of the other top-tier products, notably lacking MU-MIMO functionality. The QoS service also is far from our favorite. Regardless, the R6400 is our top recommendation if you need to send a signal to the far-flung reaches of your home.
Read review: NETGEAR AC1750 (R6400)
Why You Should Trust Us
We bought all of the routers in this review at full retail price and won't ever accept any free evaluation units to include in our reviews. Our lead Wi-Fi router testing team of Austin Palmer and David Wise have both made a career out of reviewing tech and smart home products and have tested and reviewed hundreds of these products for TechGearLab. On top of their professional experience, Austin also brings his expertise as an avid PC gamer. He has extensively played PC games for over a decade, giving him a deep understanding of what factors contribute to the performance of wireless routers.
To find out which models top the list, we looked at existing user reviews of products, as well as various forum posts and other information to assemble a list of almost 75 different routers that looked like they might have the potential to claim an award. Then, we picked the most promising products on the list and bought them to test side-by-side to see which ones are truly the best. We did extensive range testing, seeing just how far away you can be from the router and still receive acceptable streaming speed. We also measured the throughput of each one on both the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz to quantitatively compare their performance.
Related: How We Tested Wireless Routers
Analysis and Test Results
We broke down our comprehensive testing process 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 the field. The sections below detail the results for each metric, highlighting which products performed well and which ones dropped the ball.
Related: Buying Advice for Wireless Routers
The TP-Link Archer A6 is the best value if you are shopping on a tight budget and the NETGEAR Nighthawk R6700v2 is a great deal if you are willing to pay a bit more to upgrade or if your streaming needs exceed the capabilities of the Archer A6.
Accounting for 25% of each product's overall score, we compared the feature sets of each router. First, we looked for the presence of three key features: 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 outputs) with multiple devices (multi-user) simultaneously. For example, an MU-MIMO router could be sending data back-and-forth between an iPhone, a laptop, and a Smart TV much faster than a SU-MIMO, or 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 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 could turn the indicator lights on and off, turn the router on and off remotely, and the number and type of USB ports available.
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 RT-AC88U 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 RT-AC88U has a slight edge when it comes to LAN ports having 8 compared to the 6 on the X10.
In terms of hardwired connections, the ASUS RT-AC88U has a slight edge on the Nighthawk X10. Both have a pair of USB ports but the RT-AC88U has one USB 3.0 and one USB 2.0, compared to the X10's pair of USB 2.0 ports.
Next, the ASUS RT-AC68U, the NETGEAR Nighthawk, and the Linksys AC1900 Max Stream each merited a 6 out of 10 for their above-average set of features. Both the Nighthawk and the Max Stream have both beamforming and MU-MIMO capabilities, whereas the ASUS RT-AC68U only has beamforming. However, all three of these products allow you to turn off their indicator and network traffic LEDs through the web interface — although the Linksys Max Stream leaves the power indicator light on regardless.
However, the Linksys Max Stream cannot 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 — while the other two can be reset remotely.
This trio each has 4 LAN ports, but only the ASUS RT-AC68U and the Linksys Max Stream have a USB 3.0 and a USB 2.0 port. The Nighthawk only has a single USB 3.0 port.
Retaining an average set of features, both the NETGEAR AC1750 (R6400) and the TP-Link Archer A6 each earned a 5 out of 10. 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, it 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 a USB 2.0 port.
The Archer A6 has a little more functionality than the R6400, supporting beamforming and MU-MIMO — which is a rarity for a budget router. Unfortunately, that's about all that stood out on the positive side for this model's feature set. You can't turn the LED status lights off and it lacks any USB ports at all so you can't use the A6 for direct file transfer. However, the A6 can be reset remotely and has four Gigabit LAN ports but these are standard features at this point.
Next, the TP-Link Archer C7 and the NETGEAR AC1200 (R6230) each merited a 4 out of 10 for their limited suite of features. Neither have beamforming or MU-MIMO capabilities, which means your network will be quite a bit slower than it would be with top-tier routers if your router isn't in a central location or if you have a large number of devices using the network.
Unfortunately, you can't turn off any of the status indicator LEDs on these routers but they do have the typical four gigabit LAN ports.
The NETGEAR AC1200 R6230 has a single USB 2.0 port for direct file transfer, while the Archer C7 has a pair of ports. Both of these routers can be reset remotely through their companion apps.
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: there is no 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
Our second series of assessments deal with how much work it took to set up and use each router and comprises 20% of each product's final score. In this metric, we paid specific attention to the initial setup process of each model — the time it took to get the network going, if you needed to update the firmware, and how thorough the documentation is. We also looked at the scope and ease of use of the parental controls and Quality of Service (QoS), as well as the overall user-friendliness of each product's interface.
Taking home the top score of 9 out of 10, both the ASUS RT-AC88U and the ASUS RT-AC68U are essentially identical in terms of ease of use, relying on the same interface. Both of these routers impressed us with how little effort it took to get them set up and configured. While both did require an update to their firmware upon unboxing, it wasn't particularly difficult to do. It was an essentially problem-free setup process, with both a helpful web interface and a step-by-step wizard that guides 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 on the ASUS RT-AC88U, but that was our only issue.
Both of these routers have an exceptionally approachable user interface. 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, both of these ASUS routers support QoS, allowing either adaptive, traditional, or bandwidth-limited.
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, both of the TP-Link Archer Models — the A6 and the C7 earn a 7 out of 10 for their excellent ease of use.
Out of the box, both Archers did require a firmware update but this was easily accomplished. You can complete the initial setup process for these routers through either a smartphone app or a personal computer. It is a super easy process whichever way you choose but the smartphone setup provides prompts for every step. The browser-based set up through the computer doesn't do as much to lead you through the process but you also have pretty extensive written documentation to consult if you need it.
The TP-Link Archer C7 and the Archer A6 both have QoS, but it only allows you to sort priority by devices, not by content like some of the other routers in the group.
This pair each have identical parental controls, allowing you to filter out websites by keywords, as well as set a schedule for internet access.
In the next tier, the Linksys AC1900 Max Stream EA7500, the Linksys AC1900 WRT1900ACS, NETGEAR AC1750 R6400, NETGEAR Nighthawk, the NETGEAR Nighthawk X10, and the NETGEAR AC1200 R6230 all earn a 7 out of 10 in this metric.
All of the NETGEAR routers that we have tested required firmware updates upon unboxing, except for the AC1200 R6230. However, none of the Linksys routers required a firmware update and were all ready to go right out of the box. However, the network settings of these routers are not particularly easy to configure compared to the rest of the group. They each had myriad problems when we attempted to set the network name and password — with the AC1200 R6230 being an exception. The R6230 is one of the easiest models of the entire group to set up, with an intuitive mobile app with a user-friendly interface. However, it is lacking in terms of features.
Both Linksys models, the NETGEAR AC1750 R6400, and the NETGEAR Nighthawk were easier to set up than the Nighthawk X10 but still much more difficult than the RT-AC88U or the TP-Link Archer.
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. Our computer kept trying to switch to a different network mid-setup, causing some difficulty.
Unfortunately, we found the initial configuration and setup process for the Nighthawk X10 to be a harrowing process. The wizard would immediately open but would freeze up and fail to load, forcing us to try again multiple times with a different browser until it worked.
In terms of the interface, we vastly preferred the Linksys routers to the NETGEAR models, making them second only to the RT-AC88U for being easy to navigate and user-friendly. The NETGEAR browser interface is about average and looks a little outdated.
However, the NETGEAR routers minus the R6230 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. The R6230 is pretty limited in letting you customize which content to block, leaving you with the preset lists already in the app. It is decent for blocking a wide spectrum of content but isn't very good at blocking specific things. We found the Linksys parental controls were to be ineffective for filtering content, as it can only filter by website address, forcing you to create an itemized 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 (which they call media prioritization) which proved to have average performance. The NETGEAR routers also had QoS, but it was mediocre and appeared to be very outdated compared to other models. Again, the R6230 differentiated itself from the other NETGEAR models, completely lacking QoS as far as we could tell.
Rounding out the group, the D-Link AC1200 merits a 6 out of 10. While this model didn't require any immediate firmware updates and was actually one of the easiest routers to set up, we found the interface to be very difficult to use. It isn't particularly easy to adjust settings or enable parental controls, though the QoS features are fairly easy to navigate. Overall, the AC1200 paled in comparison to the top models when it comes to user-friendliness.
2.4 GHz Throughput
Worth 20% of the overall score, we looked at each router's throughput, that is, how fast each router and a test computer can exchange data, on both the 2.4 GHz and 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.
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 performance 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.
The Max Stream continued its stellar performance in the obstructed version of the test, again delivering the highest throughput of the entire group with a comparable 57 Mbits/sec. It also delivered the best results in the unobstructed, medium distance test — about 35 feet away. However, it was dethroned in the obstructed medium distance evaluation, dropping to third place.
Finally, the Max Stream's performance dropped in the longest distance version of this test — with 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 RT-AC88U, Linksys AC1900, NETGEAR AC1750 R6400, Nighthawk AC1750, and the Nighthawk X10 all earned a 5 out of 10. The RT-AC88U 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.
The results of the routers drastically changed in the obstructed version of our assessment, with the performance of the Asus RT-AC88U and the NETGEAR decreasing notably. However, the other routers were relatively unaffected.
Moving on the medium distance tests, again we saw some movement in the rankings, 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 RT-AC88U not only outperformed the rest of the group, measuring in at 27 Mbit/s. The Nighthawk AC1750 did the next best.
Next, the TP-Link Archer C7, the A6, the NETGEAR R6230, and the ASUS RT-AC68U each earn a 4 out of 10 for their overall so-so performances.
These routers all did a fair job with the short and medium distance tests but their throughput fell off for the long-distance test. All of these routers averaged in the 30-50 Mbits/s range in the short distance tests and dropped to the 20-40 Mbit/s in the medium distance. This is a stark contrast to their performance in the 70' test, with the TP-Link models averaging around 9 Mbits/s, the ASUS RT-AC68U averaging 12.7 Mbit/s, and the NETGEAR R6230 only measuring an abysmal average of 2.3 Mbits/s.
At the back of the pack, the D-Link earned a 3 out of 10 for its lackluster performance. It failed to impress us in the short and medium tests and essentially was unusable at long distances, dropping to a throughput rate of essentially 0 Mbit/s.
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.
Tying for first place overall in this metric, the RT-AC88U, the NETGEAR R6230, and the Linksys AC1900 WRT1900ACS earned a 6 out of 10. The RT-AC88U impressed us with its great performance in the long-distance test, while the results from the Linksys WRT1900ACS were relatively disappointing. The NETGEAR R6230 did about average.
While the X10 delivered the overall fastest 5 GHz performance at a distance, it wasn't nearly as impressive in the short and medium distance tests, dropping it out of the running for a top score in this metric.
The NETGEAR R6230 did very well in the short and medium distance versions, while the Linksys AC1900 WRT1900ACS just did alright in the medium distance line of sight test.
Next, the D-Link, the TP-Link Archer A6, the Linksys Max Stream, the NETGEAR AC1750 R6400, the Nighthawk, and the Nighthawk X10 all earn 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, recording an average throughput of 46 Mbits/s. However, it delivered an overall uninspiring set of results in the other four tests.
Of this group, the D-Link did the overall best of this group at the short distance obstructed test and the A6 did the best at the line-of-sight short distance test. The normal Nighthawk excelled in both the obstructed and unobstructed medium distance tests.
Finally, the TP-Link Archer C7 and the ASUS RT-AC68U tied again, each earning a 4 out of 10 — the lowest score of the group. The TP-Link did above average at the line of sight, short distance test, but was relatively unimpressive in the others. The ASUS RT-AC68U was underwhelming in both the short distance and obstructed medium distance tests and did exceptionally poorly in the line of sight, medium distance test compared to the rest of the field. However, the ASUS RT-AC68U redeemed itself slightly in the long-distance test, doing extremely well compared to the rest of the group and finishing not far off from the top products.
For this metric, we compared and scored the range of each wireless router. This metric accounts for 15% of the final score and is comprised of a single test. We measured out various 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.
The NETGEAR AC1750 R6400 delivering uninterrupted playback at a distance of over 200', earning it the top score of 7 out of 10. We successfully watched a 5-minute YouTube video in 720p without any buffering or interruptions.
Next, the ASUS RT-AC88U, the ASUS RT-AC68U, the Nighthawk X10, the 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 wireless routers, with the video stream cutting out about 50'-60' closer.
Next, the D-Link, the TP-Link Archer C7, and the Archer A6 all merit a 4 out of 10 for their efforts. They have an effective tested range of about 145', 135', and 135', respectively. At the back of the pack, the Linksys AC1900 Max Stream earns a 2 out of 10 for its paltry range of just over a hundred feet and the NETGEAR R6230 earned a 1 out of 10 for its disappointing 65' range 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.
— Austin Palmer and David Wise