The Best Wireless Router According to Wirecutter
You may find it tough to choose the ideal router wirecutter for your family in order to connect to the Internet. Houses have certain Wi-Fi connectivity needs, such as the size of the coverage area, the needed speed, and the quantity of capacity.
Sometimes no amount of advice or methods will suffice. It’s conceivable that you’re suffering symptoms such as lost connections outside your house, having to switch off your media streaming box when playing online games, or, even worse, delayed surfing even when you’re within range of your router. If your present router is more than a couple of years old, you may increase your Wi-Fi range, reliability, and speed by purchasing a new router or mesh-networking equipment.
This is why we’ve produced a list of The Wirecutter’s 5 best Wi-Fi routers, along with their primary features, strengths, and limitations, as well as how they vary from previous versions. In addition, we’ve included links to each Wi-Fi router so you may compare them in further depth.
1- TP-Link Archer A20 (Best router on wirecutter)
We chose the TP-Link Archer A20 as the best router wirecutter because it was the fastest router we tested, had the largest range, was competitively priced, and offered features that others lacked, such as a quad-core CPU and tri-band radios. As a result of these capabilities, our tests revealed that the router handled more connections concurrently, resulting in improved speed. The TP-Link Archer A20 is a standalone router that costs around $200. Despite the increased pricing of routers, we predict that many customers will not obtain any benefits from their added functionality (such as gaming PC optimizations or 802.11ax compatibility).
Despite our long-distance customers in the garage and master bedroom, the Archer A20’s band steering feature maintained all of our computers connected to both 5 GHz bands without any slowdowns. This is beneficial since it allows other devices that do not have 5 GHz radios to access the 2.4 GHz channel.
How to Setup tp-link archer a20
Unlike conventional routers, the Archer A20 seems to be a box with six antennas that swing up from the router’s body (we tested it with the antennas deployed). Connect your cable modem or fiber gateway to the router’s WAN connector, which is labeled WAN on the back. For media streaming and file sharing, connect a USB hard drive or SSD to the USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 ports on the rear. The router offers external storage capabilities in addition to operating as a Time Machine backup device.
2- Synology RT2600ac (2nd Best router on wirecutter)
The Synology RT2600ac router is highly flexible and simple to set up. Our throughput testing yielded fantastic results, and they provided exceptional service to a number of clients. It is often more expensive than the Archer A20 due to its high pricing and lack of a second 5 GHz CPU. If your home has a lot of wireless gadgets or if the 2.4 GHz band in your neighborhood is busy, the radio may hit its limits sooner, although it still performed well in our testing.
You may not have heard of Synology before, but the RT2600ac has been on the market for a few years and draws on the company’s expertise with network-attached storage systems.
Qualcomm’s RT2600ac has a 1.7 GHz dual-core CPU and 512 MB of RAM. A dual-band router cannot manage as many customers as a single-band router, hence a dual-core CPU suffices. However, it has two fewer cores than the Archer A20’s CPU.
Setup was a breeze with Synology’s SRM (Synology router management) operating system (based on Synology’s NAS OS). We found the procedure of setting the TP-Link Archer A20 to be pretty comparable to that of other routers we’ve used in the past: Everything’s simple when the setup wizard walks you through it, but it might be perplexing when you want to find a certain parameter after the first setup.
In contrast, the Synology SRM appears and behaves like a Windows-based system, thus it’s logically structured. You’re undoubtedly aware of the Synology DiskStation DS218+, our recommendation for the best NAS for home users. It runs in a browser tab, and you may customize it by browsing between windowed panes.
How to Setup Synology RT2600ac
Using the RT2600ac as the base station, one or more Synology MR2200ac routers may be utilized as mesh extenders. After purchasing a standalone router, you may expand your network to previously inaccessible regions of your home. If you have internal impediments limiting Wi-Fi, such as masonry, we still recommend buying a mesh router kit if you need to cover a wide area.
3- TP-Link Archer AX20
When it comes to throughput, responsiveness, and ease of setup, the Archer AX20 can compete with our top selection in most applications at a cheaper price.
How to Setup TP-Link Archer AX20
If our top option becomes unavailable or its price rises by more than $30, the TP-Link Archer AX20 is a solid substitute. If your home isn’t as big as our 2,300-square-foot test home but you still want a strong, responsive network, the AX20 is a solid option. The speed is not as excellent over long distances, and TP-Link sacrificed certain sophisticated capabilities to keep the price cheap.
4- Asus RT–AX88U
The RT-AX88U has enhanced features as well as greater speed and range, making it a useful upgrade for people who have gigabit internet service or who want to fine-tune their network settings. It is considered excessive in most homes.
As the best router wirecutter, we discovered that the Asus RT-AX88U had the lowest latency of any router we evaluated. It was also quicker than any of our top selections, but it costs twice as much as our top picks for what most people regard as a minor performance boost. If you already have gigabit internet service and need a router that can handle the higher speed, we believe the upgrade is worthwhile.
How to Setup Asus RT-AX88U
Because it has more customization choices, the Asus model is a better pick than the other types. Over the weekend, consider updating your router settings to optimize the functionality of your new smart gadget or video conferencing system.
5- TP-Link Archer A7
Despite the fact that it was introduced some years ago, the TP-Link Archer A7 continues to receive critical firmware changes, and it is better at close range than some newer, more costly models. It’s the most cost-effective choice for small houses or flats with a limited number of connected devices.
A low-cost TP-Link Archer A7 router can nonetheless provide a dependable network for small residences or apartments with few connected devices. It is substantially slower than our more expensive solutions when traveling large distances or over frequently utilized networks.
How to Setup TP-Link Archer A7
Since we last reviewed the Archer A7 in 2018, TP-Link has greatly enhanced it, adding features like support for TP-OneMesh Link extenders via many firmware upgrades. We feel that the Archer A7 is the best router available for less than $100, and it is less than half the price of the Archer AX50.
Router setup and network maintenance
If you’re using the best router wirecutter or anything similar. There are a few actions you must perform regardless of whatever router you choose to ensure a safe, dependable wireless connection:
- Make sure you don’t use any of the domain names supplied by the manufacturer of your router as shortcuts to reach the Web-based setup screen – such domain names have been known to be hijacked and expose you to attacks. Instead of looking for the IP address, connect a desktop or laptop to the router (wireless or wired), open a Web browser, and enter it in. Here’s how to get the IP address of your router.
- As soon as you set up the router, change the administrator password.
- WPA2-PSK encryption (AES) helps accelerate and strengthen your Wi-Fi network. If you don’t have any older devices that support WPA2, utilize the mixed-mode setting on your router (AES and TKIP). WPA3 is a newer security standard that is widely accessible, however, it is still supported by a few devices and routers. You’ll be alright as long as your router supports WPA3.
- Check for updates on your best router wirecutter firmware as soon as possible, and recheck every few months. Keeping your operating system up to date ensures peak performance, security, and dependability. When you access the Web-based administration page on the TP-Link Archer A20, Synology RT2600ac, or TP-Link Archer A7, you will be notified when new firmware is available, but you must visit that page on a regular basis to verify. If you want to make your router more secure in a few simple steps, we recommend SwiftOnSecurity’s guide.
- Make sure your router is strategically positioned in your home. It should not be thrown away with other equipment or dumped in the basement. Don’t squander your time. Because the antennas are omnidirectional, you may move them around. A change in antenna location can only provide a 1 or 2 dB gain or loss, which is insufficient to solve your difficulties.
- Yes, 5 GHz is faster than 2.4 GHz-at least in the short-range. However, you shouldn’t just connect everything to your 5 GHz radio. There will be more problems with crowded radios if there are too many devices. There will be more problems with crowded radios if there are too many devices. In addition, tri-band routers have two 5 GHz radios, which makes crowded radios more problematic.
- It is feasible to manually connect crucial equipment to a 5 GHz radio, such as a streaming set-top box or a gaming PC. If you don’t have or aren’t utilizing band steering, be sure you manually connect your devices to all of the bands that your router provides.
- Use an app like Wi-Fi Analytics (PC/Android), WiFiAnalyzer (Android, open-source), or WiFi Explorer to ensure that your Wi-Fi networks are correctly set up (Mac). Check to see if there are any additional Wi-Fi networks on the 5 GHz band or on 2.4 GHz channels 1, 6, and 11.
- If you frequently see several signal bars yet sluggish speeds, try switching to a different Wi-Fi channel. Don’t get too caught up in whatever channel has the most visible networks. Active Wi-Fi use contributes to congestion: One neighbor network with kids running around all day may give you more trouble than three neighbor networks with minimal activity.
- If your laptop is having problems connecting to your wifi, make sure its Wi-Fi card is up to date. The website of your laptop’s maker normally has these, but the Wi-Fi card manufacturer may have updated versions. During our prior testing, one of our laptops, an Acer, connected to the router’s wireless-ac network but lowered the speeds to almost nothing. Our problem was remedied as soon as we upgraded our Acer laptop using Wi-Fi drivers from Intel that were more recent than those from Acer.
Understanding wireless router technology
A typical home network is no longer what it was a few years ago. Without even mentioning the explosion of smart-home devices (everything from smart light bulbs to doorbells to washing machines now rely on a good Wi-Fi connection), most homes now have two or more personal Wi-Fi devices (phone, laptop, tablet), as well as smart TVs or media streaming boxes like a Roku or an Apple TV for each person.
A typical evening in a typical home might include one person downloading game updates in a bedroom, another listening to music from a smart speaker, a third watching TV in the living room, and fourth browsing the web while sitting on the couch—and all of that traffic necessitates a router that can provide fast performance for multiple devices at the same time. The ensuing network congestion in such households has made us pickier about which routers we accept as the best for most people, as well as much more interested in capabilities like Wi-Fi 6 support and mesh compatibility. These features are more expensive, but they are well worth it.
Although all current routers are dual-band, with one slower but longer-range 2.4 GHz band and one faster but shorter-range 5 GHz band, it’s difficult to fully utilize both bands. Most inexpensive (or ancient) routers need you to create two different network names, such as “mynetwork2.4” and “mynetwork5”, and then determine which network your devices should join. If you don’t give your networks separate names (SSIDs), all of your devices end up cramming onto the same 5 GHz band, resulting in reduced speeds, delays, and even failed connections when several devices are online and busy at the same time.
Band steering, more precisely load-balancing band steering, allows you to utilize a single network name for all of your Wi-Fi bands and allows the router to select which devices use 2.4 GHz and which use 5 GHz based on where they are in your house and how much bandwidth they need. Band steering is crucial for mesh networks, which have many access points and various bands to deal with, but it’s also vital in standalone routers because if you’re not using all of your router’s radios, you’re not receiving all of the performance you paid for.
In addition to the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands of a dual-band router, tri-band routers feature an additional 5 GHz or 6 GHz band. This third band enables more devices to join and be active at the same time without significantly slowing down the network. Load-balancing band steering is especially critical with tri-band routers—that extra radio is useless if none of your devices are connected to it.
When you see a router marketed as having 22, 33, or 44 transmitters and receivers, they are the number of transmitters and receivers with which the router can communicate across spatial streams. The catch is that the phones, laptops, gaming consoles, and other devices you’re using are usually always 11 or 22 (so they support one or two spatial streams, respectively), and the connection speed is decided by the device with the fewest spatial streams. A 22 laptop would not receive any more throughput from a 44 router than it would from a 22, but it would still receive twice as much as an 11.
What about leveraging those extra streams to connect to another device concurrently? That is, for the most part, a no-go. You may have a 22 laptop, a 22 phone, and a 44 router—but unless all three of them support MU-MIMO, the router can only communicate to one of them at a time, utilizing only two streams. With MU-MIMO, the router may communicate with the phone using two streams and the laptop using the other two at the same time. Routers with MU-MIMO capability are widespread, but not universal; the same is true for client devices. So having MU-MIMO support—as well as more than three spatial streams—in your router is advantageous for future compatibility.
The Wi-Fi Alliance, an industry body responsible for certifying Wi-Fi device compatibility, said in October 2018 that it was rebranding Wi-Fi 802.11n as “Wi-Fi 4,” 802.11ac as “Wi-Fi 5,” and 802.11ax as “Wi-Fi 6.” We hope that the new terminology will make explanations easier to understand.
Wi-Fi 6 introduces enhancements that we hope will assist routers and mesh networks handle an expanding number of wireless devices, such as OFDMA (Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiple Access) and TWT (Target Wake Time); nevertheless, devices must be Wi-Fi 6 compliant to take full benefit of them. Flagship phones and high-end business laptops are starting to support Wi-Fi 6, but inexpensive phones, tablets, and smart gadgets are still stuck with Wi-Fi 5 and will likely remain so for another year or two.
What to expect?
Netgear has announced a new gaming router for $200, the Nighthawk Pro Gaming XR300, which is also the best router wirecutter. This 802.11ac router is powered by a dual-core 1 GHz CPU, four Gigabit Ethernet ports, and dual-band Wi-Fi. Because Smart Connect does not currently enable band steering, it was omitted this time. Once that issue is rectified, the following release will most likely include testing.
Netgear’s Nighthawk AX4 RAX40 is another 802.11ax best router wirecutter. This dual-band router is powered by an Intel dual-core CPU and has four Ethernet connections. We’ll have a look when (or if) it supports band steering, given it’s roughly $200.
D-Link launched 802.11ac Exo-branded routers and Wi-Fi mesh extenders at the CES 2019 trade exhibition. We didn’t test standalone Wi-Fi routers or Wi-Fi extenders during the testing period for this guide. But we’ll keep an eye out for them when our next guide update includes standalone Wi-Fi routers and Wi-Fi extenders.