As seen in:
ASUS
Wireless Dual Band
TP-LINK
Wireless N300
BUFFALO
AirStation Extreme
TRENDnet
Wireless AC1900
NETGEAR
Nighthawk AC1900
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Good

Incredible range and speed. Suitable for online gaming and rapid file sharing.

IP QoS. Inexpensive and easy to set up. A consistent performer.

Easy set-up. Runs the newest 802.11 ac protocol. Speed figure of AC1750. Includes "Priority Control" QoS.

Intuitive set-up wizard. Great for HD video streaming. Includes options for blocking and guest networking.

Stable connection and excellent speed. Fast set-up. Functions can be controlled remotely from another device.

Bad

Expensive. Some complaints about customer support.

No USB ports. Some complaints about slower Wi-Fi speed.

Some complaints about product range and customer service.

Some complaints of dropped WiFi signals and QoS confusion.

Expensive, but it's performance is worth the price.

Bottom Line

An expensive, feature-packed device with many strengths and a few known flaws.

A single-band, entry-level router that runs on a desirable 802.11n protocol and is known for its reliability.

It has a few shortcomings, but this inexpensive router can be controlled remotely and generally satisfies users.

With a satisfactory range and consistency that just edges the BUFFALO, this router provides quality at an affordable price.

The best value router: fast Wi-Fi, reliable connectivity, easy use.

How we decide
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Products received from manufacturers
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Models Considered
36
Hours Spent
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Experts Interviewed
161
Consumers Consulted

Best Wireless Routers

What you really want from a good wireless router is for it to be invisible. You want to take it out of the box, set it up, and forget about it. Unfortunately, most of us have had occasions when that hasn't been the case. Indeed, it's quite frustrating when you can't get a signal on your laptop, cell, or tablet! All five of our carefully selected machines meet all current technical standards and offer enhanced speed and connectivity benefits. Our finalists are:

Products we Considered

ASUS
Wireless Dual Band
TP-LINK
Wireless N300
BUFFALO
AirStation Extreme
TRENDnet
Wireless AC1900
NETGEAR
Nighthawk AC1900

Considerations

Technical Specifications

Do you know your Ethernet from your gigabit? Do you know which 802.11 protocol you need? In this part of our ratings, we look at the technical aspects of each router, and we tell you whether the claims made by each manufacturer make a real difference in performance.

Features

Security is, of course, a top concern. We look at what each wireless router offers to ensure the integrity of your personal data. We also examine any useful product additions (USB ports, printer sharing, and so on).

Everyday Use

Is it easy to set up? Does it have the range you need? Is it reliable? In this section of our wireless router review, we incorporate owner feedback to bring you the answers you seek.

Price

Cost may not be the most important factor, but there certainly is a difference between a cheap wireless router and a top-of-the-line model. Do you always get what you pay for, or are there some great budget-priced routers out there?

Considerations

Technical Specifications

TP-LINK TL-WR841N Wireless N300 Home Router

To begin with, we thought a quick summary of some relevant jargon would be helpful.

Although tri-band routers do exist, most of today's top wireless routers are single or dual-band models. Single-band wireless routers work in the 2.4 GHz frequency range (as can some other devices, like Bluetooth), so signal might be effected by other traffic. Dual-band wireless routers have both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz frequencies; the latter is quicker and usually gets less interference. As for the 802.11 protocol, all wireless routers use it, but the precise specification has changed over time. Older models running 802.11b or 802.11g can only work in the 2.4 GHz range and have data transfer rates of either 11 Mbps or 54 Mbps. More recent is 802.11n, which operates on 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz frequencies up to a maximum of 600 Mbps. This is currently the most common protocol, but it is being overtaken by 802.11ac (which offers more speed and wider bandwidth, thus providing for more users and devices at the same time.) That said, seldom do any of these devices run at the theoretical maximum. The speed supplied by your ISP may be considerably slower than what your wireless router is able to handle.

Although our first finalist, the TP-LINK wireless home router, is only a single- band router, it uses the 802.11n protocol (also sometimes written 802.11BGN to denote backwards compatibility with b and g versions), and it can run at a maximum of 300 Mbps. That's as much as some internet service providers can actually deliver at the moment. Twin aerials are there to help WiFi signal stability.

BUFFALO AirStation Extreme

Technology companies love a buzzword, and you may have seen a device like the BUFFALO AirStation Extreme described as a "gigabit wireless router." What this means is that the router's maximum speed exceeds 1,000 Mbps. (That sounds impressive at first, but most dual-band routers exceed that figure comfortably. Also, it's important to note here that the term "gigabit" only applies to direct wired Ethernet connections, not WiFi.) The BUFFALO runs the newest 802.11 ac protocol and quotes a speed figure of AC1750, which is derived by taking the 2.4 GHz speed of 450 Mbps and adding the 5 GHz speed of 1,300 Mbps. In real terms, these maximums might not be reached, but as every manufacturer uses the same method, they are useful for comparison. Like all 802.11ac devices – and all of our other finalists – it is backwards compatible with 802.11b, g, and n devices.

TRENDnet Wireless AC1900

There are visual similarities between the BUFFALO AirStation and the TRENDnet Wireless Gigabit Router, and they're not that different in terms of performance specifications, either. The TRENDnet is a dual-band model using the 802.11ac protocol, though it claims slightly faster speeds of up to 600 Mbps for the 2.4 GHz band (the theoretical maximum) plus 1,300 Mbps on the 5 GHz band. TRENDnet claims that this makes their wireless router ideal for HD video streaming.

ASUS RT-AC87U Wireless-AC2400 Dual Band Gigabit Router

ASUS' RT-AC87U router boasts a maximum of 2,334 Mbps. The company doesn't divide the figures, but if we assume the 2.4 GHz is running at its maximum of 600 Mbps, the 5 GHz band must be putting out 1,734 Mbps (again using the 802.11ac protocol). These speeds, according to ASUS, are suitable for online gaming, 4K/Ultra High Density video playback, and the extremely rapid sharing of large files.

NETGEAR Nighthawk AC1900

NETGEAR uses the latest 802.11 as protocol in its Nighthawk AC1900 wireless router. The NETGEAR's AC1900 description is an accurate split between the 1,300 Mbps speed from the 5 GHz band and the 600 Mbps from the 2.4G Hz band. While not quite as fast as the ASUS, the differences at this level are slight. The NETGEAR can still handle all but the most demanding tasks with relative ease.

The NETGEAR Genie app allows you to monitor and control the various functions of the Nighthawk router remotely.
Is universal compatibility too good to be true? We spoke with experts at an electronics shop to find out. It turns out that although the box might advertise universal compatibility, the truth could be buried in the fine print. Some products specify which brands they are not compatible with in very tiny lettering on the box. Moral of the story: it pays to read carefully.
Considerations

Features

Although it's fair to say that the TP-LINK is an entry-level wireless router, it offers a number of useful benefits. Security is the common WPA/WPA2 type that has been around for a while, but is still effective. There are numerous scare stories about how "hackable" these devices are, but such stories are quite exaggerated, and the chance of it happening is extremely remote. The TP-LINK includes four LAN ports for Ethernet devices but no USB ports. It also has IP QoS (Quality of Service), a system that allows owners to apply specific amounts of bandwidth to specific applications. This can prevent shortages. For instance, it will protect you if you're trying to stream a movie. (However, the protection comes at the expense of other users or applications.) When you've got lots of bandwidth available, the TP-LINK can be very effective, but it is less so with the TP-LINK's 300 Mbps.

The QoS on the BUFFALO AirStation Extreme wireless router is called "Priority Control." It interprets the media you are receiving and divides bandwidth accordingly. For example, if you're playing Xbox Live or watching YouTube, it will prioritize that via the faster 5 GHz band and leave the 2.4 GHz band for email, web browsing, and those things that demand less. In this way, it attempts to portion out the available bandwidth to all devices and all users in the manner that suits them best. Router security is handled by a variety of options with a top level of 128-bit encryption. In addition, owners can take advantage of parental control options from Symantec and web content filtering from Norton ConnectSafe. Like the TP-LINK, the BUFFALO has four LAN ports. Unlike the TP-LINK, you also get two USB ports – useful if you want to connect a printer or a big hard drive for everyone to share.

TRENDnet Wireless AC1900

Four LAN ports seems to be something of a standard among top wireless routers. To this standard, TRENDnet adds a USB 3.0 port and a USB 2.0 port for extra sharing ability. WiFi security comes pre-encrypted from the manufacturer, which many will find reassuring, although a few owners told us they would have liked to have more choice in the matter. Owners particularly love the optional "guest network" included in the TRENDnet. With this network, you can give visitors access to your WiFi without giving them access to all devices on your network. Parental controls offer plenty of flexibility, including the ability to block specific sites and types of content. The TRENDnet's interface is available in five languages: English, Spanish, French, German, and Russian. We had some difficulty obtaining information about the TRENDnet's QoS. It is there, and it gives owners plenty of options, but there are those who find it more confusing that they think it should be.

Most of the additional features included with the ASUS wireless router are those you would expect. Built-in USB 2.0 and 3.0 ports provide the usual benefits. ASUS calls its parental controls "robust" and its network security (using Trend Micro's AirProtection) "triple strength." Allied with this is an improvement on the TRENDnet's guest network that allows you to define up to six different guests who can each have partial access. QoS is an adaptive system that is defined by a number of presets. That might sound restrictive, but most owners find the hard-wire and wireless options available to be more than adequate. Last, but certainly not least, is ASUS AiCloud2. You can use this feature to sync and share files across any compatible device.

NETGEAR Nighthawk AC1900

Like the BUFFALO Airstation, the NETGEAR Nighthawk wireless router takes QoS out of the user's hands completely and assigns its own set of parameters in which video and music take priority. Quite a lot of owners like this approach! The NETGEAR includes the usual proliferation of LAN ports along with USB 2.0 and 3.0. While it doesn't perhaps have the sophistication of the ASUS, most owners find that this router offers more than they need. Security and parental controls are all industry standard, and you can create a guest network. The features that stand out on the the NETGEAR Nighthawk router are the provision of useful backup software for Windows or Mac (via Time Machine) and the NETGEAR Genie app that allows you to monitor and control various functions remotely from a laptop, tablet, or smartphone.

Owners appreciate the fact that the TP-LINK's IP QoS prevents bandwidth shortage during movie streaming.
Rafe
Expert Consultant
Rafe
Technologist, Product Review Professional

Rafe Needleman has been testing and writing about technology products for over 20 years. He has evaluated hundreds of products as editor of CNET and reviews/editorial director of Yahoo Tech.

Considerations

Everyday Use

TP-LINK TL-WR841N Wireless N300 Home Router

The inexpensive TP-LINK is is very popular and, according to most owners, relatively easy to set up. It's a basic, single-band model, so comparing it with dual-band routers would be a bit unfair in terms of range provided. Plenty of owners say it's a good product, though not everyone agrees. A few have complained about slower WiFi speed, especially when compared to the speed provided by the IP. All wireless routers suffer from this to some extent; sending a signal through the air rather than down a wire will do that. However, the drop probably seems more significant when you've only got 300 Mbps maximum to start with. A number of owners complained of unit breakdowns, but that figure is relatively small in proportion to the number of TP-LINKs that have been purchased overall.

BUFFALO AirStation Extreme

BUFFALO claims that their AirStation Extreme Wireless Router is simple to install thanks to the step-by-step wizard provided. Indeed, owners do give the AirStation high satisfaction ratings when it comes to set-up. The AirStation can be managed remotely via smartphone, tablet, or laptop, but some owners have complained of range problems. BUFFALO's "Highpower Technology," designed to provide a strong and consistent signal, was found by some not to perform as well as expected. Its range is still superior to single-band wireless routers, though. Owners registered few complaints related to the product's reliability, but those that dealt with BUFFALO's customer support thought the service could be better.

TRENDnet Wireless AC1900

It seems that manufacturers have taken heed of people's frustrations with getting internet devices connected, because the TRENDnet wireless router gets a lot of positive feedback for its intuitive set-up wizard. The majority of owners are also pleased with connection speeds, both wired and WiFi, though a few have reported occasional dropped WiFi and intermittent rebooting. A firmware update was released by TRENDnet not long ago in response to a fault experienced by some. Indeed, the company seems eager keen to support its users! Apart from the aforementioned issues, our research turned up no regular incidents of unreliability.

ASUS RT-AC87U Wireless-AC2400 Dual Band Gigabit Router

Although the ASUS Wireless Gigabit Router gets good reviews for the default set-up, it does offer a lot of options. This fact divides some people. Some like the multitude of things they could change to their preference; others find the interface complicated and difficult to use. When it comes to range, ASUS makes much of the "beamforming" capability from their four antennas – a system that provides coverage of up to 5,000 square feet, according to the company. The majority of owners agree with this claim and are impressed by both range and speed, though a minority of others find it poor. These opposing view are common with every router we rated and can be a result of environment issues as well as device faults. However, there were perhaps a higher number of reported reliability issues with the ASUS than typical. In addition, ASUS' customer support has received some poor feedback.

NETGEAR Nighthawk AC1900

Of all our finalists, the NETGEAR Nighthawk wireless router gets the most positive customer comments for ease of set-up. Typically, set-up takes just 10 or 15 minutes! Like the ASUS, it uses beamforming technology to extend its range. The NETGEAR Nighthawk scores highly with the majority of owners for both stability of connection and WiFi speed. However, as seems to be the case with every wireless router reviewed, there were isolated incidents in which users reported poor signal strength and loss of the 5 GHz band resulting in the need for a reboot. Other than these mild complaints, the NETGEAR's reliability seems fine, though not everyone who had occasion to contact customer service enjoyed the experience.

The NETGEAR Nighthawk scores highly with the majority of owners for its connection stability and WiFi speed.
Considerations

Price

TP-LINK TL-WR841N Wireless N300 Home Router

It's a reflection of the prominence of dual-band routers that you can buy the TP-LINK, a top single-band router, for just $21. If you compare raw specifications, it looks poor, but not too long ago, 300 Mbps was as fast as it got. Indeed, this speed is still adequate for many people's needs. No, it doesn't have the features that the other finalists offer, but if you're looking for a reliable, basic router, the TP-LINK is just about unbeatable.

BUFFALO AirStation Extreme

At only $290, you'd struggle to find a good dual-band wireless router for less than the BUFFALO AirStation Extreme. The availability of both Ethernet and USB ports gives it plenty of flexibility. (OK, so these are common features on high-end routers, but few are this inexpensive!) The BUFFALO AirStation can handle video streaming and online games, but admittedly, some other products do it better. With a combined speed of 1,750 Mbps, it should be fast, but some owners are still a little critical of the BUFFALO's WiFi range. The question is, do you want to pay more to get more reach, or are you prepared to put up with a few product shortcomings in exchange for a bargain price?

TRENDnet Wireless AC1900

At a price of $82, the TRENDnet wireless router is in close competition with the BUFFALO. It's marginally quicker, but the difference is negligible. It runs the same 802.11ac protocol and has the same number and types of ports. So what do you get from the TRENDnet that the BUFFALO can't give you? According to owner feedback, its range and consistency of performance is better. The last thing you want in the middle of a movie is to lose your signal. Though a few owners have had problems, the majority say the TRENDnet meets their demands.

ASUS RT-AC87U Wireless-AC2400 Dual Band Gigabit Router

There's no doubt the ASUS wireless router is an impressive device, but you'll pay $172 if you want this specification, and it's not without flaws. Offering combined speeds of up to 2,334 Mbps, it's the fastest model in our wireless router review. It's packed with useful features and uses the latest technology to provide both wired and WiFi signals of the highest standards. A potential range of 5,000 square feet is considerably more than the other finalists. However, some owners say that the ASUS doesn't always live up to expectations. Most think it's superb, and more than one owner has called it the best wireless router on the market. Indeed, when it's working well, few can rival the ASUS' smooth online game play and movie streaming delivery. However, others have voiced a variety of complaints, from signal loss to frustration with the complex user interface.

NETGEAR Nighthawk AC1900

The current price on the NETGEAR Nighthawk wireless router is $179, putting it in a bracket quite similar to that of the ASUS. If you look at the statistics, you'll see that it's not quite as fast, but raw numbers don't always tell the full story. Owners love how easy it is to set up. They frequently use words like "awesome" and "fantastic" to describe its WiFi performance. Some were annoyed by the NETGEAR's occasional tendency to drop the 5 GHz band. (A reboot is required to get it back.) That's understandably frustrating, but the flaw doesn't seem to be consistent; it only affects a small portion of owners. Overall, the NETGEAR is reliable, robust, and able to cope with just about anything thrown at it – even by complex home networks!

If you're looking for a reliable, basic router, the TP-LINK Wireless N300 Home Router is just about unbeatable.

Best of the Best

At a cost of just $282, our Best of the Best wireless router is the ASUS Wireless-AC3100. If you don't necessarily need dual-band and money is tight, the TP-Link and TRENDnet are both adequate performers that sell for a relatively low cost. However, if you want a top of the line wireless router for heavy internet use and video streaming, the ASUS is beyond doubt the ideal solution.  It's 1024-QAM technology will be more than enough for general web browsing, VOIP calls, video chat, and social media. It will also be your best bet with live movie feeds (though if you try to run numerous devices at the same time, signal strength is likely to drop significantly, as with all routers).

The ASUS has eight LAN ports, allowing eight Ethernet-connected devices to connect at once. Most owners say it's easy to set up and that it's a consistent performer (within its limitations). "Great product for the price!" is a customer phrase that sums up the majority of the feedback ASUS has received about this router, and it reinforces our decision that this is the best wireless router on the market right now.

Best of the Best
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A house full of gadgets – smartphones, tablets, gaming laptops, multi-media HD TVs – will operate successfully with the NETGEAR Nighthawk in place.

Best Bang for your Buck

All of the wireless routers on our shortlist are excellent products, but the Best Bank for Your Buck  is the NETGEAR Nighthawk. The TRENDnet is a close second, and it's undoubtedly a powerful rival, but it doesn't get quite as many positive accolades from owners as the NETGEAR.

The NETGEAR runs the latest 802.11ac protocol for WiFi, and it's backwards compatible with all previous 802.11 devices. It's a dual-band router with a maximum 600 Mbps on the 2.4 GHz range and 1,300 Mbps on the 5 GHz range. (Hence, the "AC1900" in this router's title!) The only product on our shortlist with better figures is the ASUS, but it's at a much different price point.

As distance from the base increases, the NETGEAR continues to perform well with the help of its beamforming antennas. A household full of gadgets (with everything from smartphones to tablets to gaming laptops to multi-media HD TVs) will operate successfully with this router in place. The NETGEAR has four ports to handle direct gigabit Ethernet connections as well as USB 2.0 and 3.0 for sharing other peripherals such as high density drives and printers.

The NETGEAR's Genie set-up app has earned plenty of praise for its ease of use. It takes about 10-15 minutes to set this router up. (More time could be required for those who have numerous devices.) Owners have run into occasional problems with static IPs (dynamic IPs are recommended), but complaints related to getting this device up and running are virtually nonexistent.

So what's not to like? Not much. The NETGEAR Nighthawk is quite large, so it requires a fair bit of desk space. Some people have had an annoying bug that causes the 5 GHz band to drop out. (A reboot is required to get it back). This problem is relatively uncommon, though. At $179, the NETGEAR Nighthawk is a fairly serious investment, but given its consistently high performance, owners believe it's money well spent.

Best Bang for your Buck
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If you want a basic wireless router for general internet use and occasional video streaming, the single-band TP-LINK TL-WR841N is arguably the best solution.
The team that worked on this review
  • Bob
    Bob
    Writer
  • Melissa
    Melissa
    Editor
  • Jess
    Jess
    Researcher
  • Jimi
    Jimi
    Product Analyst
  • Ben
    Ben
    Operations

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