Improved internet speeds and expanded radio bands have increased what you can do from your home. Add in a growing number of smart devices and gaming that grows more intense each year, and you’re going to need a router that can keep up. Routers are the air traffic controllers of your home network. If traffic is getting crowded, you most likely need an upgrade.

With the relatively new addition of WiFi 6 (802.11ax) and 6E to the list of growing options, you may need a router to keep up with your devices and internet packages now available from your internet service provider (ISP). Your router will make sure you can take advantage of every last GB your internet plan offers. 

Budget routers start around $70, while the models packed with bells and whistles come in well over $500. The number and types of devices you use, how you use them, and the specifics of your ISP plan can help you determine the router specs that will matter most. We’ve made our picks based on performance and have included a few tips to help you narrow down your options. 

Best Overall: TP-Link Archer AX11000 Next-Gen Tri-Band Gaming Router
Best for Gaming: Asus ROG Rapture WiFi 6 Gaming Router
Best WiFi 6: Netgear Nighthawk RAXE500
Best Mesh Router: Asus ZenWiFi ET8
Best Budget Router: TP-Link WiFi 6 AX3000

How We Picked the Best Routers

Methodology 

Routers come in a wide range of packages and configurations. To sift through the options, we looked at how the list of features affected performance. Routers were evaluated on their speeds (theoretical and real-world), security, customizable options, ease of installation and management, ports, bands, and extras. 

Speed: Manufacturers report the theoretical speed at which the router should function. However, those speeds are rarely, if ever, reached in the real world. We looked at the reported speed alongside the actual performance of the router at various distances. 

Security: We considered the included security features, how easy they are to access, and whether or not they require an ongoing subscription. 

Customization: Customization features let you manage your network based on how you use the devices in your home. The ability to assign devices to specific bands lets you optimize your gameplay or viewing experience. 

Ease of use: Everything from the installation process to the ways in which you access controls affect the ease of use. 

Ports and bands: Four LAN ports are fairly standard, though one model made it on the list with only three, but the router needed to have enough ports for the standard home. Dual and tri-band routers offer the best speed and control over traffic. 

Extras: Parental controls, MU-MIMO, and VPN features are only a few of the extras that could be included.

The Best Routers: Reviews & Recommendations

Best Router Overall: TP-Link Archer AX11000 Next-Gen Tri-Band Gaming Router

TP-Link

Why It Made The Cut: The AX11000 is incredibly fast and comes loaded with ports, anti-malware tools, and gamer-friendly features.

Specs:
Wireless Specification: 802.11ax
MU-MIMO: Yes
Ethernet Ports: 8

Pros:
— Simple installation
— Ten ports
— Link aggregation
— Excellent parental controls
— Impressive malware protection
— Gamer-friendly options

Cons:
— Bulky design
— Price

This TP-Link WiFi router doesn’t skip on the features with eight wired LAN ports and two USB ports, making it one of the best routers you can buy. Plus, with eight antennas and three bands, there are plenty of options for game systems, smart devices, and streaming services without things getting crowded or slowed down. 

It’s designed for gamers, but it has the ability to keep things running smoothly (and fast) in the ultra-connected home. Features like link aggregation, lots of ports, and the ability to control it through an app or web-based console that includes a Game Center give users the ultimate control over their network. You can customize how bandwidth gets used so that streaming services never slow down, even when intense gaming is going on elsewhere in the home. You can even get real-time access to speed and upload/download speeds. 

Parents get a robust parental control package. Additionally, the AX11000 includes lifetime malware protection. But be prepared for a high price tag and a bulky design that needs more than a little counter space. 

Best Gaming Router: Asus ROG Rapture WiFi 6 Gaming Router

ASUS

Why It Made The Cut: Gamers get excellent speed at close and long-range with this router’s tri-band design, delivering up to 10.8Gbps. 

Specs:
— Wireless Specification: 802.11ax
— MU-MIMO: No
— Ethernet Ports: 4

Pros:
Performance gets better with distance
Versatile and customizable
Offers good parental controls
Easy installation

Cons:
Price
Bulky

The Asus ROG Rapture gets the award for best gaming router because of its impressive performance and customization options. While it’s a bit of a beast in size, you get a serious amount of power that works for homes up to about 3,500 square feet. 

Interestingly, the ROG Rapture gets better and faster with a little distance. The included software lets gamers (and others) customize the setup based on gaming preferences and habits. For example, you can register your favorite games to boost performance or create a mesh network by connecting with other Asus routers in the home. 

While ROG Rapture’s security settings aren’t as robust as some competitors, it checks password strength and keeps an eye out for malicious sites. Parents will appreciate a strong set of parental controls, too. 

As with other gaming-focused routers, it’s big and bulky and comes with a price that’s a little overwhelming.  

Best WiFi 6 Router: Netgear Nighthawk RAXE500

NETGEAR

Why It Made The Cut: The RAXE500 is a tri-band router with the latest 6E WiFi technology for speed and performance to keep the most connected home running fast and glitch-free. 

Specs:
Wireless Specification: 802.11ax with 6E
MU-MIMO: Yes
Ethernet Ports: 5

Pros:
— Fast file transfer and throughput
— Can use the 6GHz band
— Multi-gig LAN/WAN
— Easy installation

Cons:
— Subscription needed for full security options
— Few parental controls

The Netgear Nighthawk RAXE500 is powered by WiFi 6E technology, so any user will be equipped for the next wave of technological advancement. As the best WiFi 6 router, it opens up the 6GHz band, giving you faster speeds, wider channels, and far less congestion. BUT, your devices have to support 6E technology, too, which at this point, very few devices do. 

You can manage the RAXE500 using an app on your phone or through a web console. However, certain features can only be accessed through the web console, such as USB sharing, NTP settings, and static routing. The web console is the only place you can access the (somewhat lacking) parental controls, configure WAN, and access administrative logs. 

Even if your devices aren’t ready for 6E, you get some serious speed on the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands. It’s optimized so you can customize how the bands are used, making it even faster. For those who want the ultimate in-home office speed and the ability to keep that speed as new 6E devices hit the market, this is the router for you. 

On the downside, it’s loaded with a security option that’s run by Bitdefender. However, you have to subscribe to unlock the full security features. And, as far as parental controls go, it’s a little light on options. 

Best Mesh Router: Asus ZenWiFi ET8

ASUS

Why It Made The Cut: Simple installation, excellent speed, and a large coverage area make the ET8 one of the best mesh routers on the market.

Specs:
Wireless Specification: 802.11ax with 6E
MU-MIMO: Yes
Ethernet Ports: 3

Pros:
— 5,500 square foot coverage area
— Only needs two nodes (six internal antennas in each)
— Lifetime security software
— Impressive  speeds

Cons:
— Expensive

The Asus ZenWiFi ET8 offers one of the best coverage areas from a mesh router. It’s equipped with 6E technology to access the 6GHz bands if you have devices that are equally equipped. 

The two identical nodes, each with six internal antennas, create a coverage area of 5,500 square feet. (You lose little speed at the outer edges of the coverage area.) It’s compatible with WiFi 6 technology but has the wider channels and faster speeds that come with 6E. 

Users control almost all of the settings through an easy-to-use app. The app lets you adjust a wide range of parental controls, manage devices and their bands, and give you visuals on who’s using each node. Gamers can control band priority for gaming or streaming, too. 

However, there are a few features that require logging into a web-based console, such as firewall settings, VPN profiles, and rebooting. The ET8 is pricey, but if you’ve got a big space full of people with a need for speed, this is the one for you. 

Best Budget Router: TP-Link WiFi 6 AX3000

TP-Link

Why It Made The Cut: The AX3000 is a WiFi 6 router that’s speedy with good security and parental controls at a great price. 

Specs:
Wireless Specification: 802.11ax
MU-MIMO: Yes
Ethernet Ports: 4

Pros:
— Simple installation
— Powerful parental controls
— Lifetime malware protection
— Good signal strength
— Link aggregation

Cons:
— Average file-transfer speeds

The TP-Link WiFi 6 AX3000 is barely over $100 but still brings WiFi 6 speeds and access to your home. If you’re not the most tech-savvy person, the AX3000 has easy installation using either an app or web-based console. Speeds and range are good for both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands. 

For the price, you get a lot of extras like multiple LAN ports with link aggregation and USB connectivity. However, we especially like the lifetime subscription to the security service HomeCare. It provides excellent malware protection and parental control to keep kids away from harmful sites. 

While this model lacks the fastest file transfer speeds, the AX3000 will keep the average but still highly connected home up and running with excellent speeds and control over network access. 

Things to Consider Before Buying a Router

WiFi Bands 

A router that can keep up with the internet packages now available should offer at least two radio bands — 2.4GHz and 5GHz. The 2.4GHz band has a better range and penetrates walls better than the 5GHz band. However, it also competes with everything from wireless phones to microwaves, which can disrupt your service. 

Most people need the 5GHz band for the high speeds it offers. You get better streaming and gaming because the 5GHz band isn’t competing with every other device in the home. Many dual-band routers let you assign devices to specific bands to keep one or the other from getting overloaded. 

Dual-band routers aren’t the only options. For those who have a house filled with smart devices, several gaming systems, and multiple users, a tri-band router can keep traffic from coming to a standstill. These routers typically have one 2.4GHz band and two 5GHz bands. You can assign specific devices to each band to keep any one of them from getting overloaded. 

And there’s now a 6GHz band, creating the WiFi 6 (and now 6E) you may have heard of. If you’ve got any devices that are WiFi 6- or 6E-capable, you’ll need a router with the circuitry to take advantage of the added speed and bandwidth offered by these routers.  

Wireless Protocol

The 802.11ac is the most popular WiFi protocol. It operates on the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands, offering speeds of up to 5,400Mbps. (Keep in mind that those are theoretical rates that are rarely, if ever, achieved in the real world.) This protocol can use Multiple Input Multiple Output (MIMO) technology for downlinks, which enhances performance by sending and receiving eight spatial streams at once. It also offers beam-forming, which sends signals directly to a specific location rather than sending them in all directions. These routers select the most efficient radio bands based on the traffic. 

802.11ac may also include downstream Multi-User MIMO (MU-MIMO). That way multiple devices get bandwidth simultaneously rather than sequentially, speeding up access to several users at once. However, both the router and the device it connects to must have MU-MIMO circuitry. 

WiFi 6 routers use the 802.11ax protocol. It provides increased speeds, greater capacity and range, and less congestion. There is a long list of benefits, such as allowing more users, extending the battery life of connected smart devices, and faster performance on the available bands. Plus, it can downlink or uplink MU-MIMO streaming. 

Extras

Security: Some routers include extra security options to protect your network from unauthorized access. 

Ethernet Ports: Ethernet ports let you connect wired devices like home-automation hubs and desktop PCs. Most people need at least four, so make sure the router can keep up with the number of devices you have. 

USB Ports: You’ll need at least one USB port for connecting a printer or a USB drive so you can connect several devices. 

Parental Controls: Parental controls let you limit access to certain sites, set time limits, or even days that certain users can access the internet. The range of the control varies, from basic time limits to in-depth presets for sites of all kinds, like shopping and gambling. 

Guest Network: Some routers allow you to set up a guest network so that guests can access the internet without the ability to access everything on the network. 

FAQs

Q: What does a router do?
Everything from computers and televisions to printers and smart thermostats use the internet. A router “routes” traffic between the internet and the devices in your home that use the internet by creating a network. The router directs incoming and outgoing traffic within the network to keep everything running efficiently. The more devices you connect to your router, the more you require the router to do. You may need to upgrade your router as more smart devices are added to your home to handle the extra traffic.

Q: What is a mesh router?
Homes larger than 3,000 square feet may be too big for a single router to cover. Brick walls and other construction issues may also limit the range of a single router. A mesh router pairs two or more routers on a single WiFi network. These routers expand the coverage area of your network, eliminating dead zones due to size or the construction of the home.

Q: What’s the difference between a modem and a router?
A modem brings the internet from the internet service provider (ISP) to the local network created by the router. There are modem/router combinations to cut down on the number of devices in your home. However, router technology typically changes faster than modem technology. Buying separate units lets you replace the router as you add smart devices or require more bandwidth.

Final Thoughts

The TP-Link Archer AX11000 Next-Gen Tri-Band Gaming Router packs just about everything (except 6E technology) into a highly customizable package. You get speed and control for a price. If you’re on a budget, but you want high speeds and good range, the TP-Link WiFi 6 AX3000 has a more affordable price point. 

This post was created by a non-news editorial team at Recurrent Media, Futurism’s owner. Futurism may receive a portion of sales on products linked within this post.


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