The world's most in-depth and scientific reviews of tech gear

How We Tested Wireless Routers

Monday January 7, 2019

How do we test wireless routers? First, we conducted extensive research, looking at user reviews and experiences with dozens of models, then bought the most promising. We took these routers and pitted them head-to-head in multiple tests, divvied up among five weighted rating metrics: Ease of Use, Range, 2.4 GHz. Throughput, 5 GHz. Throughput, and Features. The following sections describe our testing methods or you can consult our comprehensive review to see the full results of our test and find out which WiFi router won!

The D-Link was relatively easy to use  but still gave us more difficulties than the other routers.
The D-Link was relatively easy to use, but still gave us more difficulties than the other routers.

Features


Comprising the most weight out of any metric, the set of tests that make up this metric take credit for 25% of the overall score for each router. We looked at whether or not the router had MU-MIMO, if you could adjust the indicator LEDs, if you could wirelessly reset the router, the number of LAN ports, if the router has beamforming, and the number and type of USB ports to determine scores. We also noted if there were any other special or standard feature a router had, noting it in its individual review.

It was relatively easy to score each router on if it had MU-MIMO or beamforming, as these are yes or no questions. MU-MIMO, or Multiple User - Multiple Input, Multiple Output refers to the ability of a router to exchange data with multiple devices simultaneously, effectively increasing the speed of your overall network when there are multiple devices on it.

Beamforming is the ability of a router to roughly determine the relative position of a device and focus the WiFi signal strength in that direction, rather than transmitting omnidirectionally.

While these routers claimed the awards  they didn't manage to nab the top spot in our Throughput metrics.
While these routers claimed the awards, they didn't manage to nab the top spot in our Throughput metrics.

Next, we looked at if you had the ability to turn off or dim the LED indicator lights on the router.

The X10 has a ton of indicator lights  even LEDs showing which ports have an ethernet cord plugged in (1-6).
The X10 has a ton of indicator lights, even LEDs showing which ports have an ethernet cord plugged in (1-6).

These lights usually flicker with network traffic, meaning they can be somewhat distracting if you have your router by your TV and are trying to watch a movie or TV show at night. We awarded the most points to models that you could completely turn off all of the lights and fewer to ones that only allowed you to dim them.

Next, we looked at if you had the ability to wirelessly cycle power to the router. Usually, resetting the router by cycling power is the first thing to attempt if you are experiencing internet connectivity issues — something that is much more easily done if you can do it wirelessly, rather than digging out your router from the out of the way place where it is stored.

The Talon supports 4 LAN ports and 2 USB 3.0 ports.
The Talon supports 4 LAN ports and 2 USB 3.0 ports.

Finally, we tallied the number of LAN ports on each router and the number of USB ports — noting if they are 2.0 or 3.0 — and awarded points accordingly.

This is one of the easier routers to use and operate.
This is one of the easier routers to use and operate.

Ease of Use


For the next metric, worth 20% of the total score, we assessed and judged how much of a hassle it is to actually use each router. To do this, we focused on how much effort it took to get each wireless router going out of the box — whether it was a pain to set up or if you needed to update the firmware before use. We also looked at how user-friendly the interface of each router is, if there are parental control functions, and if there is Quality of Service, or QoS. QoS refers to the ability to prioritize bandwidth in your network allowing important devices to take precedence over unimportant ones. For example, a parent may want their work computer to be placed higher than a teenager's mobile device or a TV streaming device may be placed at the front of the queue to minimize interruptions.

To assess the difficulty of startup, we unboxed each router and noted if we needed to update the firmware. We then attempted to go through the initial configuration, setting a custom network name and password. We timed how long it took to accomplish this, as well as the number of issues we encountered and their severity, using this data to determine scores.

The step-by-step wizard of the Asus made the setup process very easy.
The step-by-step wizard of the Asus made the setup process very easy.

Next, we looked at the user interface of each router. We were looking for an interface that is relatively easy to understand and doesn't look completely outdated. We also noted if there were persistent, browser-based issues with the web interface, such as if it didn't work well in Chrome or Safari.

To evaluate parental control features, we first noted if the router even had the option to enable parental controls. Then, for the ones that did, we looked at how you could control content. We awarded more points for ones that allowed you to set a schedule of internet access by device and filter content by genre or keyword, rather than by specific URLs.


Finally, we compared how the QoS worked on each router — if they had it — looking at the difficulty in setting device prioritization and if there are any automatic features that make it easier.

2.4 GHz. & 5 GHz. Throughput


Both accounting for 20% of the overall score, our 2.4 GHz. Throughput and 5 GHz. Throughput metrics get into how fast each router actually is. To test this, we used a program called iPerf3 running on a test computer. This program sends data back and forth with the router, measuring the speed in Megabits/second, abbreviated as Mbits/s. This test is independent of the internet speed provided by the ISP, only testing how quickly each router can communicate with a computer. We used both the 2.4 GHz. and the 5 GHz. network of each router, scoring the results independently and

We conducted five different tests, each with a different level of obstruction and distance between the router and computer. For each test, we ran three trials of the iPerf3 test, averaging the results to account for any unexpected anomalies or variances.

Our first pair of throughput tests were the short distance line of sight and short distance obstructed test. The line of sight test had about 10' between the router and the computer, with the obstructed version having a single wall between them.


The next set of tests were the medium distance version of these test, with about 35' between router and computers, again with a wall between the two in the obstructed version.


The final test of each of these metrics was the long-distance test, with about 70' separating the router and computer. We only conducted an obstructed version of this test, as we felt it would be a very uncommon circumstance to have a distance that far be completely unobstructed between a router and computer. This test also had 3-4 wall separating the router from the computer, compared to the single wall of the previous tests.


Range


For our fifth and final metric, we looked at the effective range of each router. To do this, we selected a 5-minute YouTube video as our test clip, then attempted to play the video in its entirety at set distances away from the router. We streamed the content in 720p and measured out at what distance from the router the video stream began to experience interruptions and buffer. We cleared the cache between tests and conducted multiple trials, averaging the measurements to confirm our results.

Conclusion


For more information on how specific products scored with this testing process, take a look at our complete WiFi router review here or check out our helpful Buying Advice guide here for a thorough breakdown of what these products actually do and an explanation of some of the more technical jargon surrounding these products for those unfamiliar.