A good choice if you need a portable model, as it sports a compact build that makes it easy to stash in a bag or pocket plus has multiple modes so you can use it at home or in a hotel. Affordable.
Not the best pick if you need very long range, but it works well in small homes, apartments, and hotels.
A router/modem combination. Pre-configured settings auto-connect for easy setup. Owners rave about the long range.
Not compatible with all internet providers, which eliminates a lot of customers.
Intuitive setup wizard. Great for HD video streaming. Includes options for blocking and guest networking.
Some complaints of dropped WiFi signals and QoS confusion.
Incredible range and speed. Suitable for online gaming and rapid file sharing.
Expensive. Some complaints about customer support.
We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.
There are a lot of different ways to set up WiFi in your home, but the most traditional method is to use a wireless router. Wireless routers, sometimes referred to as WiFi routers, take the internet signal from your cable modem and make it available wirelessly to your other devices — so it’s critical to get one that’s both fast enough for all of your gear and secure enough to keep all of your content safe.
Wireless routers are perfect for homes where they can be placed in a centralized location: most models include multiple antennas to increase their broadcast range. Many models also work with WiFi extenders, so you can add coverage to specific problem areas.
The wireless router market is pretty crowded, and picking the wrong one could slow down your entire network, so before you start shopping, read on for our best advice — and find the right router to keep all of your devices happy.
Jaime Vazquez has been writing about technology and geeking out with gadgets since 2000. He loves trying the latest electronics so that his readers don't have to, and using his inner cheapskate to find the best bargains.
We don't want to leave anyone confused, so we'll start with the basics. If you're already comfortable with what a wireless router is and how it works, fell free to skip ahead to the next section.
In layman's terms, a wireless router is what allows your computer, smartphone, tablet, and other devices to connect to the internet. It plugs into a power outlet and a phone line, and emits wireless signals in the form of radio waves on a specific frequency band.
Any wireless-capable devices send radio waves back to the router, producing two-way communication with the internet wirelessly.
We spent 36 hours testing 89 wireless routers to find the top five routers for you. We purchased our top pick to test in our office to make sure it's worth your money.
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 (a frequency shared by Bluetooth devices), so signal might be affected by other wireless devices in the immediate area. Dual-band wireless routers have both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz frequencies, the latter is quicker, and usually gets less interference.
All wireless routers are able to use the 802.11 protocol, but its 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 lower data transfer rates of either 11 Mbps or 54 Mbps.
The 802.11n wireless protocol, often referred to as Wireless N, operates on 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz frequencies up to a maximum of 600 Mbps, and sports a greater signal range than previously established WiFi standards. While Wireless N is currently the most common WiFi protocol, it is steadily being overtaken by the newer and superior 802.11ac. Also known as WiFi-5, 802.11ac is widely supported by modern wireless modems, and features the greatest signal range, widest bandwidth, and speediest maximum speed available.
As exciting as all of that sounds, it is rare to experience a time when any of these devices run at their theoretical maximum. The internet speed supplied by your ISP may be considerably slower than what your wireless router is able to handle.
Many wireless routers include parental controls to help kids stay safe while surfing the web.
The connection speed a wireless router can handle is measured in megabits per second (Mbps) or, with the fastest models, gigabits per second (Gbps) – note that one gigabit equals 1,000 megabits.
Some newer models have a wireless speed in excess of 1 Gbps, whereas older routers generally have speeds between 300 and 600 Mbps. Confusingly, however, these are only theoretical maximums, and your internet connection will never actually approach these speeds.
We touched on network standards above, but let's discuss them further. The network standard refers to the capabilities of a wireless router. Since technology is ever-improving, it's important to have these standards, so we can set reasonable expectations of router performance.
The latest network standard is 802.11ac, which has a theoretical maximum speed of 1.3Gbps. However, you'll still find some wireless routers from the 802.11n network standard, with a theoretical maximum speed of 600 Mbps.
If you're a heavy user – often playing online games, streaming or downloading files – you should opt for the ac, but light users can save some cash by going for an older model with the 802.11n network standard.
Serious gaming requires high speeds and a stable internet connection. Wireless routers with built-in gaming acceleration send data packets via a network of route-optimized servers to avoid lag and reduce buffering time.
All wireless routers on the market today have WPA2 encryption, meaning they're password protected, so that anyone with a wireless-capable device can't just login to your network and use your WiFi. However, some wireless routers support two-factor authentication (2FA) protection, which makes it far more difficult for people to worm their way onto your home network.
Although many buyers tend to focus on comparing the potential top speeds of various wireless routers, it may be more important to concentrate on the device’s widest WiFi signal range instead. After all, you will need a wireless router that will easily blanket your home with WiFi from the streaming box in your living room, to your office computer, and to every wireless device in between. Knowing that your entire home will be devoid of WiFi dead-zones is well worth investing in a wireless router sporting a superior signal range.
If you're concerned about internet security or keep a lot of sensitive data on your devices, consider a wireless router with multi-stage protection.
The average wireless router covers about 2,500 square feet. If your home is larger than that, extend the range with additional access points or a WiFi extender.
If you want to connect computers or other devices directly to the router using an ethernet cable, make sure your chosen model has sufficient LAN ports.
Some wireless routers allow you to change the settings via a dedicated app – perfect if you want to be able to control every aspect of your wireless connection.
If your router has two external antennae, you'll get the best signal if one is pointed vertically and the other horizontally.
Consider a home mesh system, instead of a conventional wireless router, if you have a very large home.
The cost of a wireless router depends on the features and network standard.
If you want a cheap router and you're not too concerned about speed, an 802.11n wireless router should cost between $20 and $50.
A basic 802.11ac router that will provide fast wireless connection and not much else will cost $40 to $80.
Expect to pay $80 to $150 for a mid-range 802.11ac wireless router, with a few added extras like apps for remote access or Alexa compatibility.
The price of a high-end 802.11ac wireless router is roughly $150 to $350. These models should have a range of extra features, like a boosted signal range, multi-stage protection, game acceleration, and more.
Q. How do I secure my wireless network?
A. There are a number of simple techniques that everyone should do to secure their wireless home network, such as:
Q. My WiFi connection keeps dropping. How do I fix it?
A. If your wireless router isn’t reliably emitting the WiFi signal that it should be, there are a few quick fixes to test out:
Q. What is the best way to restart my wireless router?
A. Restarting your router is a common fix for wireless and connectivity issues, but there is a right and a wrong way to do so. Unless you want to turn your device back to its factory settings, do not push the “Reset” button on the back of your wireless router.
To restart your wireless router, simply unplug both your router and modem, and wait at least one minute. Plug in your modem, and wait another minute. Finally, plug your wireless router back in, and wait another minute or two to see if resetting your network connection fixed your problem.
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