The Best Routers 2020
The need for a quality router has never been greater. In today’s connected world, virtually every household is packed with phones, computers, smart TVs, and many other devices, all fighting for bandwidth. Your ISP might try to sell you their router, but it’s almost a guarantee that it will be overpriced and will underperform. If you want a router that offers better throughput, range, and features, check out our top picks.
Best Mesh Wi-Fi System
The Netgear Orbi was the best performer in our recent Mesh Wi-Fi roundup, receiving the top recommendation among several other competing systems. While most mesh Wi-Fi systems used three nodes, the standard Orbi kit has only two and yet it performed well ahead of the competition in almost all tests.
Mesh Wi-Fi kits are becoming a popular market segment. They are designed for medium to large houses where a single router doesn’t reach every corner. Mesh systems are more expensive than standard routers, but provide a host of benefits. This includes an easy setup process, an advanced management interface, and extended range.
A properly implemented mesh network will be leaps and bounds better than a traditional router with a cheap range booster. While those range boosters make it seem like you have good signal all around your house, they almost always deliver terrible speeds and poor reliability. Today’s mesh systems use advanced routing algorithms to maintain high speeds even at range. They typically use dedicated channels for internal backhaul, while basic extenders leech off your main connection.
Almost every major home networking provider has an entry in this market, but some are better than others. When mesh routers were on its first generation we used to recommend Google’s Wi-Fi system because of its ease of use and low cost, however this came at the cost of great performance. But now you can find much better and faster systems for about the same price, like this Netgear Orbi kit which is very competitively priced at $270.
We loved the Orbi for its great performance and easy setup. The nodes are much bigger than other models, but this allows them to use higher quality antennas and more powerful processors. We also liked the built-in four port switch since many other mesh systems have just two Ethernet ports, and in some cases less than that.
Best Wi-Fi Router for Most Households
For those who want a traditional router but don’t need all the bells and whistles that come with $200+ models, there’s the Asus RT-AC68U. But don’t think its $135 price equals sub-optimal performance: there’s a reason why this was our Best Enthusiast pick a few years ago, back when it cost nearly $300.
This dual-band AC1900 gigabit router offers great range and throughput, especially for the price. It supports 600Mbps at 2.4GHz and up to 1,300Mbps on the 5GHz band.
The AC68U sports a sleek yet subtle design. It still looks like a router though with three removeable antennas, unlike mesh systems which tend to blend better in your living areas. The router comes with four gigabit LAN ports and a WAN port, along with a USB 2.0 port and a USB 3.0 port. Asus offers both a mobile app or web-based setup that is relatively simple to use, offering traffic management, status, and parental controls. There are also options for more advanced users, such as multiple wireless SSIDs, dual-WAN support, QoS, security, and encrypted VPN access.
The RT-AC68U supports AiMesh which lets you create a quasi-mesh system. But we wouldn’t recommend this over dedicated mesh systems that are simply better and more seamless in real usage. Overall, the Asus RT-AC68U is a good all-rounder for everyone who doesn’t demand the latest features and blistering speeds. We’ve long term tested it and it’s pretty good overall.
Also Great: Synology RT2600ac
If you want a top router with a few upgrades over the RT-AC68U and are willing to spend a bit more, then the Synology RT2600AC is a great alternative, and one that packs a 1.7GHz dual-core processor. Synology’s model is a quad stream (4 x 4) router that supports MU-MIMO and comes with a host of features, yet still manages to stay just under the $200 mark.
Like some enthusiast routers, the RT2600ac will probably be overkill for some people, though tinkerers will no doubt appreciate the advanced network features offered by the Synology firmware. It might not be gamer-focused like some of Asus’ routers, but it’s an excellent choice for busy homes, and the fact it can double as a network storage server is another plus.
Best for Enthusiasts / Prosumers
Ubiquiti’s UniFi line of access points bridge the gap between consumer products and professional enterprise solutions. This type of product is for the enthusiast that isn’t happy with what traditional home Wi-Fi solutions offer. If you’re serious about providing a high quality network that is robust, the UniFi line is currently the best option on the market.
Although each unit sells for around $130, you’ll need some extra hardware to get up and running. Traditional home Wi-Fi solutions are actually 3 products combined into one box. They consist of a router, a switch, and an access point. Since the UniFi is just an access point, you’ll need to provide your own router and switch. This can be as simple as a $20 commodity switch and a $60 router, but you’ll need to take this into account when designing your system. If you’re the type of customer even looking for products in this category though, you should be fine with the network configuration.
Another thing you’ll need is a PoE injector since enterprise APs don’t have dedicated power inputs. Depending on what package you purchase, an injector may be included with your AP, but they come cheap either way.
With the UniFi, you’ll get seamless handoffs between units just like a mesh network. You’ll get stable operation even with dozens of devices all connected at once. This type of system isn’t for everyone though. You need at least basic networking skills to setup a system with the UniFi since the process is more involved but given certain demands, the effort is certainly worth it.
Best Gaming Router
This router is absolutely overkill, but if you need super fast speeds, the Asus RT-AX88U won’t disappoint. This is one of the first Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) routers to hit the market and there aren’t too many clients that can take advantage of it yet. However everything is backwards compatible which means the AX88U still offers incredible 2.4GHz and 5GHz performance to existing devices.
Gaming routers are a tricky category and they aren’t the best solution for everyone. Modern games are almost always dependent on latency instead of bandwidth. Speeds listed in the marketing materials are often grossly exaggerated and you’ll likely never achieve anything close to it. Despite all the other options like mesh networking and powerline adapters, if you still think you need a gaming router, the RT-AX88U is a great choice.
The router comes packed with useful features that improve performance and make the system easier to use. For example, OFDMA increases spectral efficiency and network capacity. The AX88U supports up to 1024-QAM which allows it to send four times as much data per transmission as older 256-QAM systems. It also supports 4×4 MU-MIMO to allow many clients to connect at once and comes packing eight LAN ports.
Once routers start getting this fast, the single gigabit Ethernet connection may become a bottleneck. The RT-AX88U addresses this with Link Aggregation. Assuming whatever you connect to on the other side is fast enough, aggregation allows you to combine the speed of multiple Ethernet ports into a single connection. If you are trying to cover a large area, the RT-AX88U has support for Asus’ AiMesh, so you’ll be able to add satellite nodes for increased coverage.
Best Budget Router
If you want something that is affordable and simply gets the job done, we recommend Netgear’s R6700. It’s an AC1750 router with no frills. It lacks many advanced features of other routers, but for most users, that will be fine. With over 20,000 reviews on Amazon, it’s one of the best selling routers on the market. If you’re setting up a basic system for a less tech savvy relative or friend, this is the way to go, too.
The R6700 will set you back less than $80 which is a great deal. There are cheaper alternatives on the market but some can be more headache than the savings are worth, so we wouldn’t recommend going much lower than the R6700 whether it’s for the lack of security features, updates, or lesser performance. Instead the Netgear R6700 presents a safe bet in the realm of inexpensive wireless routers.