Netgear Nighthawk AC1750 (R6700v3) Review

From $100 Best

Best Value Wi-Fi Router Overall

Pros:

  • Easy to configure.
  • Consistent performance in speed and range testing.
  • 1 GHz dual-core processor.
  • 3 antennas and beamforming for improved reception.
  • USB 3.0 port.
  • Built-in Circle with Disney parental controls.
  • Works with both Alexa and Google Assistant.

Cons:

  • A handful complaints about customer support.
  • Relatively large for a router (11.2 by 7.2 inches).

Takeaway: Netgear's entire Nighthawk line of routers gets positive reviews, especially from gaming enthusiasts and expert testers. The AC1750 (now in its third generation) is the entry-level model, but compared with other cheap dual-band routers, it's got the basics down and then some. With a powerful 1 GHz dual-core processor and beamforming technology, this Netgear router offers consistent, if not blazing-fast, data speeds at both short and long range (450 and 1300 Mbps), something few other routers do equally well. And most consumers report the Nighthawk AC1750 transmits a reliable signal, even in two-story homes. Those looking for a router with robust parental controls will be happy with the Disney Circle app found here. The basic service offers site blocking and internet interruption, and allows parents to view all browsing history (subscription packages provide even greater monitoring capabilities). Digital Trends recommends this Nighthawk router as its best pick for 2018, saying, "It's everything you could want in a home router without the need to spend hundreds of dollars."

Linksys WRT1900ACS Review

From $160 Best

Best Wireless Router for Large Homes

Pros:

  • 1.6 GHz dual-core processor; judged the fastest 1,900 Mbps dual-band router in tests by Tom's Guide.
  • 4 adjustable antennas to fine-tune the signal; beamforming technology.
  • USB 3.0 port and eSATA port that doubles as USB 2.0.
  • Parental controls allow users to block content and set time limits.
  • 2-year warranty is twice as long as other brands.

Cons:

  • Can create only 1 guest network, on the slower 2.4 GHz band.
  • Weighs 3.2 pounds; relatively big and clunky for a router.
  • On the expensive side.
  • A fair number of reports of early demise.

Takeaway: The Linksys WRT1900ACS is a long-range router that performs quite well in professional tests. With support for OpenVPN, an open-source application that creates virtual private networks, it gives users an added layer of data security on busy internet connections. This also means that remote users can connect securely to the network, which can be useful if you need to access files or a data-backup system. Like many Linksys routers, it has a web console and mobile app that can be used to adjust settings and monitor the network, and most people say it's relatively easy to use. While the lack of MU-MIMO capabilities is a bit disappointing for the price, speed, of course, is the biggest selling point, and expert testing suggests that this router performs better on this front than many, even more expensive, AC2300 routers.

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Asus RT-AC68U AC1900 Review

From $142 Best

Good Router for Large Homes

Pros:

  • Reliable connections at long distances, according to PCMag tests.
  • 1 GHz dual-core processor; fast data-transfer speeds.
  • 3 antennas and beamforming.
  • 2 USB ports (3.0 and 2.0).
  • Comes with Trend Micro security tools.
  • Parental controls allow users to block content and set time limits.

Cons:

  • Many users report problems with AiMesh feature.
  • Some have had issues updating firmware; many say customer service is not particularly helpful.
  • Older model; not as speedy as the upgraded Asus RT-AC1900.

Takeaway: If your home is crammed with wireless devices, a reliable internet connection able to stand up to heavy usage is essential. In professional tests, the dual-band Asus RT-AC68U excels even when up to 30 feet away from connected devices, and it delivers the fast speeds its advertised 1,900 Mbps would suggest. It can also be paired with other Asus routers to create a wireless mesh network for an entire home (although user reviews of this feature suggest functionality can be a bit hit or miss). The included Trend Micro software adds an additional layer of security, protecting the connection against malware, viruses, and access by unauthorized users. When this Asus router first came out in 2013, it was the favorite of many an expert and set the standard as the AC1900 router to beat. Five years later, it may not be as fast as its successor, the Asus RT-AC1900, but it's still more popular and stands pretty much toe-to-toe on most other fronts, excluding price: The Asus AC68U costs about $40 less than Asus' next-wave device.

Google Wifi Review

From $100 Best

Best Wi-Fi Mesh System

Pros:

  • Wi-Fi mesh systems are much easier to set up than routers.
  • Dual-band system with quad-core processor supports beamforming and MU-MIMO, handily managing 4K streaming and gaming despite slower speeds, experts say.
  • Covers up to 1,500 square feet with a single Wifi point, more than many other mesh systems and traditional routers.
  • Compact size still allows for two gigabit Ethernet ports, plus an USB-C port, on each unit.
  • Mobile app helps users calibrate the Wi-Fi points for the best reception.
  • Parents can restrict access and pause internet service to select devices.

Cons:

  • Scattered user complaints about inconsistent signal strength.
  • 1,200 Mbps connection speed is not particularly impressive for the price.

Takeaway: Google Wifi is a wireless mesh system, which consists of a base unit that communicates with nodes placed around the house to maintain a consistent, strong signal. Experts say mesh systems are a great choice for multistory homes and other large spaces with thick walls or other obstructions. The primary drawback is that some signal loss can occur, because the units are both receiving and sending a signal, although most users say they don't notice this. Mesh systems are also more expensive than most wireless routers, but Google Wifi is actually on the cheaper end of that spectrum, and the price is worth it if you and your family are high-demand users or want to integrate other Google devices, like the Home personal assistant and Nest thermostat. The listed price is for a single Wifi point; a set of three, which should cover homes up to 4,500 square feet, costs about $256. Experts and owners alike are enamored of the aesthetics of these small, unobtrusive devices.

Linksys EA7300 Max-Stream AC1750 Review

From $110 Best

Good Cheap Router for Gaming

Pros:

  • Dual band, with speeds up to 1.7 Gbps.
  • MU-MIMO, beamforming, and 3 antennas for better, faster connectivity.
  • Easy to configure from a web browser or mobile app, users say.
  • USB 3.0 port.
  • Parental controls allow multi-device scheduling and restrictions.

Cons:

  • Some reports of glitchy units.
  • A bit pricey compared with other entry-level routers.

Takeaway: Speed is essential for high-demand online gaming, and this router delivers, users say. The Linksys AC1750 has a robust 880 MHz dual-core processor, as well as MU-MIMO technology, which allows it to feed data to as many as 10 devices simultaneously, rather than queuing them up and switching among them, resulting in even faster speeds. Gamers appreciate this router's relative affordability given its performance, saying it can easily handle streaming and gaming at the same time with no lag. Guest networks can be turned on and off via Amazon's Alexa virtual assistant. We did see complaints of faulty devices that suddenly lost signals and required frequent resets. Some owners suggest potential problems with firmware or quality-control issues since the brand switched hands from Cisco to Belkin. Overall, however, experts and users agree this Linksys wireless router is an excellent choice for multi-device homes. It receives consistently high ratings in consumer reviews across retailers. On Best Buy's website, for example, it has earned an average of 4.6 stars from over 2,000 reviewers.

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Linksys EA6350 AC1200+ Review

From $89 Best

Best Dual-Band Router on a Budget

Pros:

  • Fastest speeds on the 5 GHz band of any 1,200 Mbps router in PCMag tests.
  • Beamforming technology for reduced interference.
  • USB 3.0 port.
  • Parental controls allow scheduling and restrictions for up to 14 devices.

Cons:

  • Some users find it difficult to set up.
  • So-so performance on the 2.4 GHz band, according to testing.
  • Guest networking available only on the 2.4 GHz band.

Takeaway: Reviewers say the Linksys EA6350 is very fast for a 1,200 Mbps dual-band router. In testing, it rarely dropped signals, and videos loaded quickly and rarely stuttered while playing. This budget model has all the basics covered and even touts beamforming technology for robust wireless connections. The only consistent complaint we came across was that, unlike with other Linksys routers, several reviewers say they struggled to configure this unit properly and had to call customer service to help them complete the process. Regardless, Linksys loyalists insist that once any startup issues are surmounted, you can expect consistent and speedy performance from a router that will last a long time.

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Netgear AC1200 (R6230) Review

From $60 Best

Good Dual-Band Wireless Router

Pros:

  • Dual-band technology reduces the risk of interference.
  • Installation and configuration, whether automatic, via the Netgear web interface, or with an app, is a breeze, users say.
  • Built-in parental controls are easy to set up and modify.

Cons:

  • Relatively slow (1,200 Mbps) compared with other dual-band routers.
  • No USB 3.0 port; slower 2.0 port only.
  • Scattered user complaints about customer service.
  • Parents cannot program scheduling restrictions for devices.

Takeaway: Reviewers say the dual-band Netgear AC1200 router is a good choice for users who want to stream movies and browse the web but don't need to support a large network. Most owners say the router is simple to configure, and it's easy to connect devices, but several also note that the signal occasionally drops or slows down if more than five or six devices are connected at once. A few complain that this router doesn't have a range that's robust enough to provide a strong signal throughout a multistory home, but others claim they've been able to pick up the signal outside, up to a block away (some suggest using the 2.4 GHz band for greater range and penetration, although you sacrifice speed). Satisfied users appreciate the low price and reliability. Many say upgrading to this router from an older one has significantly increased their internet speeds.

Asus N-300 (RT-N12) Review

From $30 Best

Best Cheap Router

Pros:

  • Very inexpensive.
  • Supports up to 3 guest networks.
  • Parental controls can block websites and set timers.

Cons:

  • Single (2.4 GHz) band.
  • Setup is difficult and time-consuming, users say.
  • Older 802.11bgn standard.
  • No gigabit Ethernet ports; hardwired connections (4 LAN, 1 WAN) can achieve top speeds of only 100 Mbps.
  • Some reports of early demise.

Takeaway: The Asus RT-N12 is a basic, single-band router that gets very enthusiastic reviews from users for its reliable, if somewhat slow (300 Mbps) data transmission. It's a solid choice for users who need a strong Wi-Fi signal in only one or two rooms and don't mind a lack of 802.11ac support. It's also handy for those who want to set up multiple secure networks for guest access. Signal strength diminishes quickly, although you can buy a second router and use it as a network extender for larger spaces; it can easily be switched to repeater or access point modes, and the antennas can be detached and swapped out. For such a low price, you probably can't expect this router to last forever, but even with just a few months of service, it would pay for itself when compared with renting a router from your ISP (which might not be much faster and certainly wouldn't have the security and guest networking options).

Where to buy

Buying Guide

Choosing a Wireless Router

A Wi-Fi router makes it possible to connect wirelessly to the internet from anywhere in your home or office, letting you and your family stream movies, play games, and do everything else you do online. Although most internet service providers offer wireless routers as part of their packages, most experts agree that it makes more sense to buy your own. This is especially true if you want to avoid being saddled with outdated equipment, if you want more control over your network settings and speeds, or if you’ve got a larger home plagued by dead spots. While rental rates for routers generally range from $5 to $10 a month, in the past few years, the cost to buy a wireless router has dropped considerably. For less than $50, you can get a good Wi-Fi router that can handle even the most data-hungry tasks and support multiple devices without lagging or stuttering. Whole-house and high-speed wireless networks cost more, usually upward of $200, but many users insist they’re worth the initial investment.

Types of Wireless Routers

Wireless routers use radio frequencies to broadcast an internet signal through your house that laptops, phones, and other wireless devices can connect to. The quality of that connection depends on what frequency your router is using and how many radio bands it can broadcast on. The more bands, the less likely that your wireless devices will have to compete for a signal, which can cause videos and games to freeze or stutter while streaming.

  • Single-band routers are the cheapest and connect to the 2.4 GHz frequency band, which is the same one used by microwaves, cordless phones, and Bluetooth devices, among others.
  • Dual-band routers connect to both the 2.4 GHz radio band and the 5 GHz band, which is used by cellphones, tablets, and PCs. The 2.4 GHz band tends to get crowded, and these routers allow switching between bands to optimize performance. Dual-band routers are good for streaming and web surfing.
  • Tri-band routers have three radios: one connects to the 2.4 GHz band while the other two connect to the 5 GHz band. The three bands give users more bandwidth to support heavy activity like online gaming, video streaming, and downloading by multiple users simultaneously.
  • Wi-Fi mesh networks are relatively new. These networks use a series of nodes — essentially, mini router devices — that are placed in multiple locations to communicate with each other to expand Wi-Fi coverage. They are a good solution for multi-story homes or spaces that have a lot of dead spots due to obstructions such as concrete walls or odd layouts.

Wireless Standards

All routers are rated to support a specific wireless standard or standards. This refers to a set of operating specifications designated by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, or IEEE. The standard most new routers use is 802.11ac. Past standards are denoted by different letters: a, b, g, and n. There are still wireless-N routers available that are reliable and very cheap. The upcoming 802.11ax standard (to be officially introduced sometime in early 2019) promises to revolutionize the world of wireless routers, reducing congestion and allowing much faster uploading.

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Wireless Router Reviews: What We Considered

We consulted a variety of sources in our research, including wireless router reviews by experts on sites including PCMag, CNET, PC Verge, and Trusted Reviews, all of which conduct hands-on tests in making their assessments. We also noted feedback by consumers on retail sites such as Amazon, Best Buy, and Newegg.

Speed

Routers using the 802.11ac standard have an advertised maximum speed of 600 Mbps on the 2.4 GHz band and 1.3 Gbps on the 5 GHz band. Real-world speeds are quite a bit slower in expert testing, however; typically around 100 Mbps on the 2.4 GHz band and 550 Mbps on the 5 GHz band. But those speeds are perfectly sufficient for basic home networking, including video streaming, experts say.

Setup and Management

In most cases, setting up a wireless router is a no-hassle affair that can be done online (it helps to have a laptop or phone handy, experts say). Some routers also include a Wi-Fi Protected Setup button that lets users quickly and easily connect a WPS-compatible device, such as a printer, to the network. Some routers also have apps for monitoring router security and network traffic remotely, which can be handy if you’re managing an office network or the Wi-Fi at your vacation home.

Range and Reliability

A wireless router's range typically falls between 150 and 300 feet on the 2.4 GHz band, but that can be diminished by the number of walls, floors, and ceilings the signal must pass through. Range is typically reduced by about a third on the 5 GHz band. Also, the signal weakens as you get farther away from the router, significantly reducing the speed of the connection. Most routers can maintain a strong signal within 40 or 50 feet, and dropped connections should be a rarity. But the more devices using the Wi-Fi signal, the slower the overall data speed. Movies and games may stutter or stall and web connections may frequently drop out.

Wi-Fi mesh network systems are a good alternative for large homes and spaces that have a lot of dead spots, as well as heavy users. Mesh systems consist of a base unit and nodes that can be placed around the home to expand coverage. They’re still relatively new and can cost double the price of the best dual-band 802.11ac routers.

General network congestion also affects a router’s reliability. Dual- and tri-band routers aim to combat network congestion by using multiple frequencies. Some, usually more expensive, routers are capable of band steering: specifically, directing devices that can use the 5 GHz band in that direction and away from already crowded 2.4 GHz connections.

Some dual- and tri-band routers also use multi-user, multiple-input, multiple-output technology. MU-MIMO enables devices to connect simultaneously, rather than sequentially, without sacrificing bandwidth. Another technology called beamforming, available in some AC routers, focuses the Wi-Fi signal directly toward connected devices rather than simply broadcasting a signal in all directions. Both of these technologies result in more consistent connection speeds across all Wi-Fi-enabled devices on the network.

Ports

Ideally, a Wi-Fi router should have at least four LAN ports — look for faster gigabit ports — so you can connect devices such as a TV, amplifier, or gaming system to a hardwired Ethernet internet connection. Some routers also have a USB port, allowing you to connect a flash drive, printer, or an external hard drive and give all your PCs and mobile devices easy access to a backup storage system. Look for routers with USB 3.0 ports, which offer faster data transfer than USB 2.0 connections.

Security Features

Wireless routers use one of two security standards: Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) and Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP). WPA2 is the current standard and most secure; new routers should arrive already configured for it. Most routers also include a firewall, which monitors data as it flows through an internet connection. Firewalls block attacks from malicious hackers and keep unwanted data from passing to your PC. All the routers on our list have a built-in firewall. You can also use a software-based firewall to increase security.