Lightning-fast WiFi speeds. Consistently smooth WiFi. Features 8 Gigabit LAN ports. Optimized for mesh WiFi systems. Covers a large area. Premium security features.
Initial setup could be a little easier.
Bargain price. Optimized for smooth gaming and 4K streaming. Blazing-fast WiFi speeds. Actively prioritizes your most important activities. High-end security. Amazon Alexa-compatible. Simple setup.
Its companion app could be more user-friendly.
Incredibly fast WiFi speeds. Features 4 Gigabit LAN ports. Easily accommodates a range of devices at once. Best for gaming and 4K streaming. Simple setup. User-friendly app.
Parental controls are sold as a separate service.
Impressively fast WiFi. Optimized for seamless gaming. Allows user to select the best gaming servers available. Features 4 Ethernet ports. Convenient companion app. Simple setup.
May not be worth it if you do not play games online.
We recommend these products based on an intensive research process that's designed to cut through the noise and find the top products in this space. Guided by experts, we spend hours looking into the factors that matter, to bring you these selections.
You use it to check the news, keep up with friends on social media, receive email, watch movies, and frag aliens on far-flung gaming shores. Your network has become much more than just another convenience. It is now your access point to everything online, and you need it to be both stable and fast while you go about your virtual life. Enter the high-performance wireless router.
A robust router can keep everyone in your house happy – from the businessperson downloading a few files for work to the movie fan to the hard-core gamer. It can regulate traffic, tighten security, and provide a wealth of other features that a house full of smartphones, smart TVs, and gaming systems demands.
Some features are needed, while others you’ll never use and shouldn’t pay for.
While this isn’t a huge issue if you have an apartment or smaller house, knowing what square footage the router can reach is important for anyone who wants to provide full coverage for a medium-size or large space. You need to know if a router’s coverage claims will meet your needs.
Single or dual band
Most routers are either single band or dual band.
Single band routers tend to be cheaper than dual band, but the single 2.4 gigahertz (GHz) band can be a problem if you have a number of devices competing for traffic. And we’re not only talking smartphone and Xbox traffic here. Any consumer item that uses a wireless signal, such as baby monitors, Bluetooth devices, and microwaves, generally use the 2.4GHz band. These bands can become pretty crowded (slow) if you have a number of wireless devices.
Dual band routers include the 2.4GHz band and a 5GHz band. Dual band routers are great for video streaming and gaming, and often such routers have added plusses, such as the ability to assign specific clients or applications to certain bands, which can result in a better wireless experience for everyone. While a bit more expensive, dual bands are the better way to go if you want a true high-performance router experience.
Tri-band routers, while still fairly rare, are becoming more commonplace. These routers have a 2.4GHz band and two 5GHz bands.
Wireless protocol is another specification you’ll need to know when buying a high-performance router. This is essentially the technology that allows you to connect to a network. The one most commonly used today in laptops, smartphones, and other devices is 802.11n. If you do a considerable amount of streaming – whether watching movies, gaming, or pulling in other data – you want the more advanced 802.11ac protocol. This new emerging standard for wireless protocols offers a variety of improvements and technological innovations over earlier standards.
If you flip the router around and examine the back, you’ll find a variety of ports. Most of them are Ethernet, although you may find a couple of USB ports, too.
Ethernet ports let you plug in a variety of devices, such as a desktop computer, giving you wired access to the network. When shopping for a router, it should have at least four or more Ethernet ports. Going with 10/100/1000 gigabit (Gb) Ethernet ports will give you more speed than the slower 10/100 Ethernet ports.
USB ports enable you to plug in printers or other devices and even charge a smartphone. One USB port is pretty standard on routers, but two is better. You should verify that the ports are USB 3.0, too.
One valuable feature that routers have is the ability to protect your network against viruses, malware, and ransomware. One of the easiest security protocols to use is WiFi Protected Setup (WPS). With WPS, you simply add devices to the network by pressing a button on both the device and the router. If you want stronger protection, go with WiFi Protected Access (WPA or WPA2). With these protocols, you’ll need a password to gain access to the network for each device. If you need even greater security than WPA or WPA2, consider WPA-Enterprise; however, it does require more advanced authentication methods.
Three control options that you’ll want to consider when buying a high-performance router are parental controls, the ability to set up a guest network, and quality of service (QoS) or network prioritization controls.
Parental controls: With parental controls, you can limit not only what your kids can view but also the time they’re allowed online.
Guest network: If you need to give houseguests or friends network access, a guest-network feature is a big plus. You can easily set up a separate network (with a separate password) so that guests can access the internet but not your home network computers, files, or other devices.
Quality of Service: With QoS controls, you can prioritize traffic on the network. This is a great way to eliminate lag time for users watching movies or playing video games.
Most routers now work with an app, so you can easily manage and monitor your network from your smartphone, including knowing when new devices connect to it. This gives you a way to interact with the router that may be more comfortable than the traditional browser-based system. It also lets you monitor the network from a distance. Apps vary greatly in terms of features and effectiveness, so research this feature more carefully (review user comments online) if it’s one you really want.
You can expect to pay more for a high-performance router than you would for a standard router. You can usually find a decent high-performance router for under $50, but the majority fall in the $50 to $100 price range. Expect to pay even more, as much as $400, for a more advanced feature set or better coverage.
Consider a tri-band router. If you do a fair amount of video streaming or online gaming in your house, a tri-band router can solve most heavy network traffic problems.
Consider a travel router. If you travel frequently, a travel router is compact, lightweight, and can usually be powered via USB.
Consider a router with embedded VPN support. This relieves you of the need to run additional virtual personal network software in the background.
Verify that any modem you buy will support IPv6. IPv4 is the current method for assigning IP addresses, but IPv6 will become the eventual standard.
Buy a router that automatically downloads and installs firmware and other updates. That way you won’t need to periodically deal with such maintenance issues.
Place your router in a central location. This will minimize dead spots and reach as much of the house as possible.
Follow the router’s setup directions carefully. Most routers are configured at the factory so that you can easily set it up and access your network, but you should still follow the instructions to avoid complications.
Change the router’s password as soon as you set it up. Your router will ship with a default password. For security purposes, put changing this password high on your to-do list once you’ve got the router up and running.
Q. Is there an easy way to expand my router coverage area?
A. The only way you can realize an extended reach is to buy a better router. You can also easily expand the reach – and kill dead zones – with a WiFi extender, which rebroadcasts your signal from another location in the house. These usually work within 40 feet of the main router and plug into an outlet. On the downside, the rebroadcast signal will only be half as strong as the original signal, and you’ll need to set up a second network for the rebroadcast signal.
Q. What is the best antenna position?
A. If your router came with antennas, you can change the effectiveness of the signal by repositioning the antennas. First, know which band the antenna is for (it should be labeled on the router, or look in the manual). When the antenna is pointing straight up, it is transmitting signals horizontally. When the antenna is parallel to the floor, the signal is emitted vertically.
Q. What is beamforming?
A. Traditionally, routers put signals out in all directions, which is a pretty ineffective way to do it because you lose a considerable amount of signal. With beamforming, you can “beam” the signal directly to a device or in the direction of the device. The result is less interference and a better overall WiFi signal, but it only works with 802.11ac devices.