Wavelengths: The 9 Best Wireless Routers
In this day in age your television, radio, phone, and even your heat could go out and you’d be perfectly fine. On the other hand, if your Wi-Fi goes down you will begin fervently praying to whatever god you believe in for it to come back, please come back on. The Wi-Fi network is the quiet heartbeat of most households and its loss is one of great pain.
To keep your wireless network up and running, it is important that you use the proper wireless router with the proper specs. It needs to have at least an 802.11n protocol pumping 300 Mbps speed since this will give it improved bandwidth and be able to handle all connected devices. Your wireless router must also be able to use the full data transfer speeds allowed by your ISP since having a fast connection means nothing if it is bottlenecked through a weak router. It must be able to take the combined data usage of your whole family. Finally, it must support at least WPA2 security (it is nearly impossible to find one that doesn’t) so people can’t break into it. That being said, here are our 9 best Wi-Fi wireless routers.
Linksys E3200 Wireless Router
Best Budget Router: You don’t want a lot of jargon. You don’t need to know all about gigaflops and terahertz. You just want something you can plug in and get online. That is where the E3200 eats. It is built to be a Wi-Fi router for an entire household and has the broadcast spectrum to prove it. The signal is stable for most typical house sizes and the 300 foot range is excellent for an affordable router. It is easy to setup with the included Cisco Connect software, or can just be plugged in and left to do its work.
For those that are seeking something a little more advanced, this has you covered. It uses a dual-band system that can reach speeds up to 450 Mbps for older devices, while newer ones can get as high as 900 Mbps. It will work with Virtual Private Networks (VPNs), has simple menus for setting up any kind of security, whether you prefer WEP or WPA, and everything about it is meant to be user-friendly and simple. If you want to keep your budget at $100 but still want a fast, reliable, powerful router, this is hands down your best choice. [Purchase: $100]
ZyXel MWR102 Travel Router
On the Move: Taking a router with you is a strange act, but more and more people are doing it. The ZyXel is built with the unusual tech-nomads in mind. The whole point of this little flyweight is to be able to work fast and dirty. Setup is easy, the data throughput is solid, and it works with just about any system right out of the box. Also very cheap.
It does only pump 150 Mbps on a single band, so trying to use it at home will disappoint severely. The build is 802.11n, but it is backwards compatible with older protocols in case you find yourself in some third-world pit. There’s only one LAN port and one WAN port on the back, showing that it is not intended for anything other than a sole survivor to use on the fly. The tiny body and affordable design make it easily the best option for travel, but nothing else. [Purchase: $18]
Netgear R6250 Wi-Fi Router
Total Balance: For those that want something better than basic that will be with them for years but don’t feel like paying a premium for bells and whistles that will ultimately lie dormant, there is the R6250. It is a marginal step up from your basic 802.11n router and introduces users to the wide world of 802.11ac, which is slightly faster, but only for devices that can use it. It can reach up to 1300 Mbps, but that only works in theory. Actual performance is markedly lower, though still better than any other entry-level 802.11ac model you’ll find. The issue you will encounter is older devices are reduced to only 300 Mbps of data rather than the 450 or 600 Mbps that can be found at higher costs.
It has an internal transformer so there is no power brick to go along with the cord. It is easier to plug in and there are fewer external parts to kick around. The back has a USB 3.0 port which works surprisingly well with most peripherals. You’ll get WPA/WPA2 security to lock the router away from intruders. The single thing that made this stand out in our minds was the Beamforming addition. It uses the Wi-Fi signal of connected devices and then broadcasts toward them as best it can to help keep the signal moving where you actually use it rather than sending it through an outdoor wall or off into the ether. For an inexpensive 802.11ac that forgets about older technology, this is a great buy. [Purchase: $162]
TrendNet AC1900 Wireless Router
Old Reliable: Users who prefer machines that aren’t flashy or exceptionally fast but have a broad range and an extremely reliable signal should point their buying power toward the AC1900. The dual-band system offers either 600 Mbps or 1.3 Gbps depending on whether your wireless card uses the 802.11n or 802.11ac protocol. During tests, the AC1900 was much better at maintaining mid-range speeds than maxing out. Those with improved older devices will like the enhanced accessibility at the lower end since it pushes up the old standard of 450 Mbps to 600. Setup is a little old school in that it requires hooking up a computer manually through a cable, rather than working wirelessly.
You probably won’t want to fiddle with the controls too much since this is meant to be used right out of the box with a minimum of fuss. The automatic settings use a mixed protocol to give you not only good speed, but allows you to maintain throughput as you move away from the router On the back you’ll find a couple of USB ports, but they lie to you. Connecting devices to them usually results in absolutely no change whatsoever. Unlike most faster routers, the backwards compatibility on this opens doors for families where some users will be operating on older devices which require the lower 11n band for operation. Ideal for large, multi-person households. [Purchase: $164]
Netgear Nighthawk R7000 Wi-Fi Router
Sleek and Stylish: You’d have to be a fool to name something the “Nighthawk” and not make it look like a piece of modern art. Netgear stepped up their design admirably, but more than that, they have made an excellent Wi-Fi router. A nice change for them. It’s a dual-band 802.11ac that is clearly not meant to work with all comers since the lower band for users of older machines is sluggish and unreliable. On the flip side, if you have a screaming fast, sleek computer, tablet, or smartphone, you’ll be very pleased with the 1.3 Gbps data option on the higher bandwidth.
The whole apparatus seems rigged for streaming high-definition video into your home. It uses an impressive Quality-of-Service (QoS) system that reduces buffering time severely. The antennas mounted on the back are a godsend when it comes to broadcast range. It can go for hundreds of feet with limited signal degradation. The insides are just as slick as the outside boasting 128MB flash memory and 256MB RAM. For those that want to change the software or firmware, the Nighthawk can easily be flashed for adding an open-source system into the mix. It is easy to setup, but making changes in your settings tends to make it temperamental. Also runs warm, so keep it ventilated. [Purchase: $188]
ASUS RT-AC68U Wireless Router
Tech Overload: Need to be on the bleeding edge of technology? Want features in your home router that you won’t even be able to use yet because they’re so advanced? Then say hello to the RT-AC68U. This is only for those whose computers are outstanding. Older models – like, those from the days of 2013 – will not be able to get the full benefits that this geeky giga-pusher can offer. It has the newer 802.11ac protocol which can handle speeds as high as 1300 Mbps. The internal processor is a 800MHz Cortex A9 dual-core with 256MB of DDR RAM. There are computers being sold today that aren’t that powerful.
Older computers will still get a bump in speeds thanks to the Broadcom BCM4709 chipset. They can go as high as 600 Mbps, which is up from the 450 Mbps cap that was previously in place. It comes with a CD for easy setup, or can just be plugged in and ready to run. Those that wish to tweak will find the menus to be a buffet of marvelous options that will let you add and block devices with ease, change security settings, open parental controls, and maximize your data throughput. The WPS (Wi-Fi Protected Setup) activates at the push of a button. The back has USB 3.0 and USB 2.0 ports and a button that deactivates the LED lights for a dark bedroom. [Purchase: $220]
Apple AirPort Extreme
Super Speed: The first thing to know here is the newest AirPort Extreme is a retread of the older model with few improvements, so don’t snap this up if you don’t have to. That being said, the Extreme is still an awesome router, especially for Apple fanatics. It uses the upgraded 802.11ac protocol and has a massive 512MB of RAM which is double most competitors. That extra data processing power means that the dual-band system can push a full 1.3 Gbps (that’s with a “G” meaning 1300 Mbps).
Like all Apple products, you’re paying a lot for something that is missing some pieces. This doesn’t have a setting for virtual private networks (VPN’s). It doesn’t have parental controls. It has a USB port, but it’s a 2.0 which is soooo 2010. It also doesn’t support AirPlay. The security is very tight, though it can also be a little inflexible when it comes to adding guest computers or blocking particular devices or users. It does works seamlessly with any operating system and setup is a breeze. Basically it is a very fast, very simple product for plug-and-play. You can also save a few bucks and just buy the older model for the same basic experience. [Purchase: $185]
Linksys WRT-1900AC Wireless Router
Supreme Power: This was built for houses with a few gamers that need excellent throughput for high-data applications and fast-twitch functionality. The overall build is simplicity itself. Wireless router experts will find that the menus are somewhat lacking but when it comes to just pumping data in and out, this Kraken of a device is the home run king. It also comes with 256MB of DDR3 RAM and 128MB of flash storage which makes it accessible for 3rd party software and changing the configuration from the ground up.
While other routers claim to throw down 1300 Mbps, this is the only one that can come close in practical tests. It’s blindingly fast. It is built entirely on the brand-new 802.11ac which is so hot, it’s not in vogue yet. You can set it for whatever security strikes your fancy. On the back you’ll find both a USB 3.0 and USB 2.0 eSATA for sharing data or adding devices. You can just plug-and-play, but you’re better off setting this baby up so that you can access it from anywhere via Linksys’s Smart Wi-Fi service that lets you get your data on the go. This is a big, heavy bastard that runs hot. Put it where company won’t see it. [Purchase: $235]
AVM FRITZ!Box 7490 Wi-Fi Router
All In One: Having a wireless router is nice, but you typically need a modem to go along with it. This isn’t just a router. It has connections for all your devices, an integrated modem, and if you stuffed some yogurt and spinach into it, you’d probably get a smoothie. It has a full 802.11ac router that will give newer devices the full 1300 Mbps treatment while offering the somewhat lesser 450 Mbps to wireless-n devices. It has a 3×3 MIMO antennae setup which is handled internally for a sleeker overall look, though it still looks like a jukebox. It has two USB 3.0 ports that can handle just about any peripheral device or storage system you throw at it. Add in IPv6 and VPN support and it shines.
As far as routers go, this is just good. Where it catches fire is in the additional functions that make it ideal for the small office since it keeps clutter to a minimum. Thanks to the DECT system it can work with as many as 6 various handsets, answering machines, or even ISDN-based phone services making it a switchboard in a box. The on-board file sync and organizational functions give you the ability to store files and reorganize them right through the device itself so that they come in simpler packets when being passed around the office. It also monitors its own energy usage so that ports you aren’t using are switched off and data transfers are shuffled around to reduce power draw. The only problem is it is a beast to try to setup. [Purchase: $400]