Best Wireless Router of 2021
$209.99 at Amazon
|$200 List||$75 List|
$49.99 at Amazon
|$80 List||$160 List|
$129.00 at Amazon
|Pros||Extremely easy to use, packed with features||Easy to use, above average 5 GHz. throughput||Easy to use, solid throughput||Inexpensive, not difficult to use||Not difficult to use, great 2.4 GHz. throughput|
|Cons||Average range, throughput||Pricey, overall mediocre performance||Abysmal performance in our range test, light on features||Sparse on features, mediocre throughput and range||Abysmal range, pricey|
|Bottom Line||Easy to use with lots of features, this is the best of the best when it comes to routers||This router overall failed to impress us and isn't one we highly recommend purchasing||This would be a decent router if it didn't do so poorly in our range tests||The D-Link finished at the back of the pack with its poor scores and we wouldn't recommend it||This router might work for you if you only use 2.4 GHz. devices, otherwise you would be better served by another model|
|Rating Categories||ASUS RT-AC88U Wirel...||Linksys AC1900 (WRT...||NetGear AC1200 (R6230)||D-Link AC1200 (DIR-...||Linksys AC1900 (Max...|
|Ease Of Use (20%)|
|2 4 Ghz Throughput (20%)|
|5 Ghz Throughput (20%)|
|Specs||ASUS RT-AC88U Wirel...||Linksys AC1900 (WRT...||NetGear AC1200 (R6230)||D-Link AC1200 (DIR-...||Linksys AC1900 (Max...|
|Wireless Specification||802.11ac||802.11ac||2.4 GHz: 802.11n
5 GHz: 802.11ac
|LAN Ports Available||8||4||4||4||4|
|Security||WPA2 Personal, WPA Auto Personal, WPA2 Enterprise, WPA Auto Enterprise||WEP, WPA2 Personal, WPA2 Enterprise, WPA2/WPA Mixed Personal, WPA2/WPA Mixed Enterprise||WPA2-PSK, WPA-PSK/WPA2-PSK||WEP, WPA Personal||WEP, WPA2 Personal, WPA2 Enterprise, WPA2/WPA Mixed Personal, WPA2/WPA Mixed Enterprise|
|Frequency||2.4GHz and 5GHz||2.4GHz and 5GHz||2.4GHz and 5GHz||2.4GHz and 5GHz||2.4GHz and 5GHz|
|USB Ports||2: 3.0 and 2.0||2: 3.0 and 2.0||1: 2.0||None||2: 3.0 and 2.0|
|Dimensions||11.8" x 7.4" x 2.38"||4.76" x 2.95" x 1.02"||9.27" x 5.94" x 2.14"||7.5" x 5.2" x 1.5"||10.12" x 7.24" x 2.2"|
|Antenna||4 external||4 external||2 external||4 external||3 external|
|Processor||1.4 GHz dual-core||1.6 GHz dual-core ARM-based||880 MHz dual-core||660 MHz||1.4 GHz dual-core|
|Memory||128 MB Flash
512 MB DDR3 RAM
|128 MB Flash
512 MB DDR3 RAM
|128 MB NAND Flash
128 MB DDR3 RAM
|8 MB Flash
64 MB RAM
|128 MB Flash
256 MB DDR3 RAM
|2.4 GHz. Short Distance Throughput - Line of Sight||51 Mbits/s||53 Mbits/s||42 Mbits/s||40 Mbits/s||57 Mbits/s|
|2.4 GHz. Short Distance Throughput - Obstructed||39 Mbits/s||53 Mbits/s||38 Mbits/s||32 Mbits/s||57 Mbits/s|
|2.4 GHz. Medium Distance Throughput - Line of Sight||39 Mbits/s||40 Mbits/s||33 Mbits/s||33 Mbits/s||52 Mbits/s|
|2.4 GHz. Medium Distance Throughput - Obstructed||38 Mbits/s||48 Mbits/s||32 Mbits/s||34 Mbits/s||51 Mbits/s|
|2.4 GHz. Long Distance Throughput||27 Mbits/s||2 Mbits/s||2 Mbits/s||0 Mbits/s||20 Mbits/s|
|5 GHz. Short Distance Throughput - Line of Sight||212 Mbits/s||204 Mbits/s||201 Mbits/s||224 Mbits/s||221 Mbits/s|
|5 GHz. Short Distance Throughput - Obstructed||211 Mbits/s||212 Mbits/s||232 Mbits/s||213 Mbits/s||179 Mbits/s|
|5 GHz. Medium Distance Throughput - Line of Sight||204 Mbits/s||210 Mbits/s||214 Mbits/s||198 Mbits/s||207 Mbits/s|
|5 GHz. Medium Distance Throughput - Obstructed||186 Mbits/s||211 Mbits/s||195 Mbits/s||186 Mbits/s||179 Mbits/s|
|5 GHz. Long Distance Throughput||37 Mbits/s||11 Mbits/s||27 Mbits/s||7 Mbits/s||19 Mbits/s|
|Video Playback Range Test||158 ft.||151 ft.||65 ft.||145 ft.||107 ft.|
Best Overall Router
ASUS RT-AC88U Wireless-AC3100
Of all the wireless routers we've tested, the ASUS RT-AC88U is the cream of the crop. This is a high-quality model with a comprehensive assortment of functions and features and is simple and intuitive to operate to boot. Regarding 5 GHz throughput, it tied for first place and also made it to the second spot for our 2.4 GHz series of tests.
One downside to this router is that its capable range is somewhat average, which can be disappointing considering its higher price tag. Still, if you don't mind paying top dollar for a router that will offer you exceptional streaming performance, and don't need a device with exceptional range, look no further than the ASUS.
Read review: ASUS RT-AC88U Wireless-AC3100
Best Mesh Network System
NetGear Orbi Wifi System (RBK50)
For a premium network that can provide a good range throughout your whole house, check out the NetGear Orbi RBK50. We found this router to be an intuitive device and one of the easiest to use right out of the box, delivering impressive range with its series of auxiliary transmitters. It includes robust parental controls and performed well in our testing for range and data throughput.
Unsurprisingly, this performance comes at a somewhat high cost. The Orbi carries one of the highest price tags of all the routers we tested. Also, data throughput can fall off at the edge of its range, and you cannot prioritize specific network traffic. For us, these weren't dealbreakers. If you're shopping for a mesh network's expanded coverage, we think you'll have a difficult time finding one better than this.
Read review: NetGear Orbi Wifi System (RBK50)
Best Upgrade Budget Pick
NetGear Nighthawk AC1750 (R6700v2)
If you want a router that delivers excellent performance but get sticker shock from the high-end models' price tags, check out the NetGear Nighthawk AC1750 (R6700v2). It stands up to the premium products when it comes to data throughput on its 5GHz and 2.4 GHz networks, and it's intuitive to boot. The range it provided was also quite impressive, allowing our computer to stream video without issue during testing from the farthest distance, performing the best out of our entire testing group.
However, this router doesn't have all the bells and whistles that the premium models feature. Despite that, this is our favorite product to recommend anyone shopping on a budget but is willing to pay a little extra for better performance.
Read review: NetGear Nighthawk AC1750 (R6700v2)
Best Budget Mesh Network System
eero Mesh Wifi Router
The eero Mesh WiFi Router is a great choice if you want to improve the WiFi coverage area in your house while keeping your spending in check. This small, sleek, and stylish router is simple to set up and to use, thanks to the companion app that guides you through the whole process with ease. It comes with a solid set of functions and features, and the data throughput proved good as well.
The eero Mesh WiFi Router is a little limited when it comes to wired connections due to its petite nature — it lacks USB ports entirely and only has one pair of LAN ports per transmitter. The range was also somewhat limited for a single node. Despite that, the network's entire range was pretty powerful. We think this router is a great choice for those seeking a straightforward and budget-friendly wireless mesh router system.
Read review: eero Mesh Wifi Router
Best on a Tight Budget
TP-Link Archer A6 (AC1200)
If the price point of the previous two routers is still too high for you, take a look at the TP-Link Archer A6. We felt this router showed a respectable performance, and at a price tag that is much more manageable than the top-shelf models. The Archer A6 has a surprisingly impressive set of features and is one of the more intuitive and easy-to-use routers.
However, the A6 isn't the most impressive of the group regarding throughput performance or range. It isn't terrible, but if you have a household with tons of bandwidth-intensive devices or a particularly far-flung network configuration, we would recommend other routers over this one. Still, the A6 is a fantastic option if you are on a very tight budget.
Read review: TP-Link Archer A6 (AC1200)
Best for Extended Range
NetGear AC1750 (R6400)
The NetGear AC1750 (R6400) is a good option for those who struggle to get sufficient connectivity at the furthest reaches of their homes. This router did quite well in our tests overall, but its range is what really made an impression on us. Our test laptop was able to stream a video with over 200 feet separating it from the router, compared to other models that started buffering with as little as 65 feet between them and the computer. The R6400 also did well in our throughput tests and is one of the more 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 purchased all of the routers tested here and never accept any free evaluation units to include in our reviews. Our lead WiFi 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.
We looked at existing reviews of products to find out which models top the list, 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. Next, we singled out 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
Our comprehensive testing process was broken 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 the field. Below you'll find the detailed 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. If your streaming needs exceed the capabilities of the Archer A6 and you're willing to pay a bit more for an upgrade, the NetGear Nighthawk R6700v2 is a great deal. The eero is our recommendation if you eventually want to get a mesh network throughout your home and are shopping on a budget. While this router is a little on the pricey side if you buy the 3-pack all at once, we like that you have the option to buy each node separately and build up your network as your budget allows.
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. Beamforming, which is the second feature, refers to how the router shapes the WiFi field. Wireless 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. This leads 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.
Tied for the top spot were the ASUS RT-AC88U and the NetGear Nighthawk X10 for their impressive suite of features. They're both 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 RT-AC88U has eight LAN ports, where the X10 only has six.
In terms of hardwired connections, the ASUS RT-AC88U has a slight edge over the Nighthawk X10. Both have a pair of USB ports, but the ASUS RT-AC88U has one USB 3.0 and one USB 2.0, compared to the pair of USB 3.0 ports on the X10.
The ASUS RT-AC68U, the NetGear Nighthawk, and the Linksys AC1900 Max Stream all have an above-average set of features. Both the Nighthawk and the Max Stream have beamforming and MU-MIMO capabilities, whereas the ASUS RT-AC68U only has beamforming. All three of these products, however, will 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.
We have to note that the Linksys Max Stream cannot be power cycled remotely. When troubleshooting, you're forced to manually reset it, which can be a huge pain if you keep the router in a hard to reach location. The other two can be reset remotely.
This trio each has four 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.
As far as we could tell, the NetGear AC1750 R6400 does not have MU-MIMO, but it does support beamforming. This hurt its score considerably, effectively preventing 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 four LAN ports. It also has both a USB 3.0 and a USB 2.0 port.
The D-Link AC1200 finished at the back of the pack 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 four 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, comprising 20% of each product's final score. We paid specific attention to the initial setup process of each model — the time it took to get the network going, whether or not you needed to update the firmware, and how extensive 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 intuitiveness of each product's interface.
Taking home the top score are the ASUS RT-AC88U and the ASUS RT-AC68U. Both are essentially identical in terms of ease of use, relying on the same interface. We were impressed with how little effort it took to get both of these routers set up and configured. Though each required an update to their firmware upon unboxing, it wasn't particularly difficult to do. For the most part, it was a 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 aside from that, everything was a breeze.
Both of these routers have an exceptionally approachable user interface. This device also gives you the option of enabling parental controls, so you can block websites by genre or by specific addresses.
These blocks can also be set on a schedule or programmed 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 streaming media, gaming, or just surfing the web casually.
Both TP-Link Archer models required a firmware update out of the box, 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 setup through the computer doesn't isn't as helpful when leading 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 has identical parental controls, allowing you to filter out websites by keywords, as well as set a schedule for internet access.
Equally easy to set up with a very helpful app that guides you through every step of the process is the NetGear Orbi. It helps you set the admin password, network password, and SSID, then walks you through adding in additional transmitters. We did have to update its firmware, but it was a painless process, and we liked how intuitive and user-friendly the interface and app layout is. This router also has some of the most extensive parental controls out of any that we have tested, though it is through a separate app.
It lets you select preset profiles based on the age you want to filter for, as well as letting you block content by categories or specific sites. Additionally, you can set these filters to work on a schedule.
With the exception of the NetGear AC1200 R6230, all of the NetGear routers that we have tested required firmware updates upon unboxing. Linksys routers were all ready to go right out of the box; none of them required a firmware update. 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 for the entire group to set up, with an intuitive mobile app with a user-friendly interface. However, it is lacking in terms of features.
Minus the R6230, the NetGear wireless 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. 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 to be ineffective for filtering content, as it can only filter by the website address. You are forced 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.
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.
Reigning supreme was the Linksys Max Stream, earning the top score for its 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 feet away. It 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 feet separating the computer and router. It still scored close to the top of the pack, but it was overshadowed by the stellar performance of the ASUS RT-AC88U.
The ASUS RT-AC88U, the Linksys AC1900 WRT1900ACS, and the NetGear Orbi were the top scorers in the short distance, line of sight test, respectively clocking in at an average 51 Mbits/s, 53 Mbits/s, and 55 Mbits/s. 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 eero followed up with an average of 39 Mbits/s.
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, though the eero weirdly did a bit better in this test.
Moving on to the medium distance tests, again, we saw some movement in the rankings, with the X10 and the NetGear Orbi delivering some of the best results. These products were followed closely by the normal Nighthawk, the eero, and then the Linksys AC1900 WRT1900ACS. For the obstructed test, the NetGear Orbi and the Linksys AC1900 WRT1900ACS did the best of this group, followed by the Nighthawk X10.
For the long-distance test, the ASUS RT-AC88U outperformed the rest of the group, measuring in at 27 Mbit/s. The Nighthawk AC1750 did the next best.
The TP-Link Archer C7, the A6, the NetGear R6230, and the ASUS RT-AC68U 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-foot 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 lot score 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 increases.
Tying for first place overall in this metric were the ASUS RT-AC88U, the NetGear R6230, and the Linksys AC1900 WRT1900ACS. The ASUS 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 NetGear Orbi, the Nighthawk, and the Nighthawk X10 all showed a 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 at the short distance obstructed test and the TP-Link Archer 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. The NetGear Orbi did just a bit better than the Nighthawk in the line-of-sight test but didn't handle the interference quite as well.
For this metric, we compared and scored the range of each wireless router. We measured out various distances, then streamed 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 feet, earned the top score in this metric. 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, the NetGear Orbi, and the Linksys AC1900 all displayed a middling performance. The range of all of these products dropped dramatically compared to the top wireless routers, with the video stream cutting out about 50 to 60 feet closer.
Next, the D-Link, the eero, the TP-Link Archer C7, and the Archer A6 all performed slightly below average. They have an effective tested range of about 145, 135, 135, and 135 feet, respectively. At the back of the pack, the Linksys AC1900 Max Stream had a meager range of just over a hundred feet, and the NetGear R6230 had an even more disappointing 65-foot range.
There can be a lot to consider when looking for a device like a wireless router. The lists of features and technical jargon can sometimes be overwhelming, and we try to make all those things much clearer for you in this review. Hopefully, this review has answered some of your questions about wireless routers and helped you find the perfect model to suit your needs and best fit your budget for your home.
— Austin Palmer and David Wise
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