The Best Wireless Routers

Best wireless router teaser

Invest in a good-quality wireless router and you can improve the reliability and speed of your home Wi-Fi no end.

If your Wi-Fi connection is constantly dropping, or if Netflix keeps juddering and buffering, the culprit is probably your wireless router. Choose from our selection of the best wireless routers, however, and you can improve your wireless coverage and ensure you're getting the most out of your broadband connection.

There are plenty of options for you to choose from. Below you'll find our selection of the best wireless routers on the market, from low-cost models to the latest superfast Wi-Fi 6 speed-demons, alongside links to our full length, in-depth reviews.

The best wireless routers to buy

D-Link EXO AC2600

If you need a serious router on a strict budget, the EXO AC2600 is hard to fault. It's a dual-band router with full support for 802.11ac, and four antennae which deliver good (if not exceptional) coverage.

Four Gigabit Ethernet ports support wired connections, and there are both USB 2 and USB 3 connectors for sharing external drives across your network. There's no printer support, mind, and only limited parental controls – but for such a good price, it's very hard to complain.

Key specs – Modem: None; Wi-Fi standard: 802.11ac; Stated speed: 2,600Mbits/sec; USB ports: USB 2, USB 3

Linksys EA9500

The Linksys EA9500 is a chunky router, with no fewer than eight aerials. Those help it serve up one of the fastest Wi-Fi connections we've seen: even away at the opposite end of the house, we were able to get download speeds of well over 100Mbits/sec.

It also features eight Ethernet ports – more than almost any other router you'll find – along with an Ethernet WAN socket (which you'll need to connect an external broadband modem).

Twin USB 3 ports let you share a hard disk and a printer simultaneously, and the highly visual management interface makes it easy to set up advanced features such as a guest network and dynamic DNS. The web portal can be a bit sluggish, but overall this is a superb router, offering top-flight speeds and features at barely more than a mid-range price.

Key specs – Modem: None; Wi-Fi standard: 802.11ac; Stated speed: 5,400Mbits/sec; USB ports: 2 x USB 3

Asus RT-AX88U

It's not cheap, but if you're eager to embrace Wi-Fi 6, this Asus router is your best option. Tested with an 802.11ax-compatible laptop, it gave us incredible wireless speeds topping 70MB/sec – equivalent to 560Mbits/sec. Performance over 802.11ac is naturally slower, but the connection was still fast and powerful enough to stream 4K Netflix even at the furthest reaches of our home.

The feature set is impeccable too, with eight Gigabit Ethernet ports and USB 3 ports at both the front and back. The web portal, meanwhile, includes a VPN server, and you can use Alexa and IFTTT to automate basic tasks. A superb router that sets a high bar for future 802.11ax rivals.

Key specs – Modem: None; Wi-Fi standard: 802.11ax; Stated speed: 6,000Mbits/sec; USB ports: 2 x USB 3

TP-Link Archer VR2800

The TP-Link Archer VR2800 is a great value router. It ticks all the important boxes, including 802.11ac Wave 2 Wi-Fi, it works with ADSL2+, VDSL2 and cable connections – and it even supports Sky Fibre and ADSL connections, which is unusual (although getting your username password details can be a bit of a challenge).

Performance is impressive and the router is a doddle to set up, maintain and configure. We particularly like the straightforward parental controls. If you're looking to replace your ISP-supplied unit with something a lot more capable, this TP-Link router does a great job at a very reasonable price.

Key specs – Modem: VDSL2/ADSL2+ (plus dedicated cable WAN port); Wi-Fi standard: 802.11ac Wave 2; Stated speed: 2,800Mbit/sec; USB ports: 2 x USB 3

How to buy the best wireless router for you

Before investing in a new router, check whether it will work with your internet connection. If you have an old-style ADSL connection, you’ll want a router with an ADSL2+ modem built-in; if you have fibre broadband, you probably need a router with VDSL2 support.

In some cases, all you need is an external WAN port. If you’re a Virgin Media fibre customer, for example, you can switch the supplied router into modem mode and connect it to your chosen router with an Ethernet cable. And some routers – such as the DrayTek Vigor 2860AC – support both ADSL and VDSL, which could be very handy if you’re planning to switch providers in the future.

Should I wait for Wi-Fi 6?

Wi-Fi 6 – or 802.11ax, to give it its proper technical name – is the new wireless standard that gives you a faster connection, plus better penetration so that all corners of your home or office can get a decent signal. And since it's designed for the connected age, it gets bogged down much less than 802.11ac when lots of devices want to connect at once.

Sounds great, huh? However, 802.11ax is still quite new, and you'll pay a premium for a router that supports it. And, perhaps more to the point, once you have your sparkly new router, you won't see the full benefit until you upgrade your devices as well.

All 802.11ax routers will work with older clients over 802.11ac, but if you're not ready to replace your smartphone and laptop it might make sense to hold back for now and wait until 802.11ax hardware comes down in price.

What’s the difference between dual-band and tri-band?

All modern routers can transmit and receive on two radio bands at once. The 5GHz band is fast, but some older devices don’t support it; the 2.4GHz band is slower, but it has a longer range so it can be good for big old houses with thick walls.

So far so good, but when multiple clients try to connect to the same radio, contention and interference can slow things down. A tri-band router contains two separate 5GHz radios, allowing twice as many devices to communicate simultaneously at full speed – so it might be a smart investment if you have a house full of Wi-Fi devices.

Note, though, that this mostly applies to 802.11ac: as we've mentioned, 802.11ax copes more elegantly with simultaneous connections, so tri-band technology is becoming less necessary as the world gradually shifts to the new standard.

What’s the difference between a wireless router and a mesh system?

A mesh system does the same basic job as a router, but alongside the main unit it comes with additional “satellites”, which you place around your home to help distribute the wireless signal more widely. A mesh kit will be more expensive than the average router, but if you're struggling to get a decent connection in the far reaches of your home, it could be the perfect answer. If that sounds good, check out our guide to the best mesh Wi-Fi systems on the market.

What speeds can I expect to see?

Router manufacturers advertise some very fast transfer speeds, but these are theoretical maximums: you’ll never get close to them in real life.

They also have a misleading habit of adding up the speeds of different radios to come up with a total data rate. For example, if a router has a 2.4GHz radio that supports speeds up to 400Mbits/sec, plus two 5GHz radios rated at up to 867Mbits/sec, the manufacturer may tot these up to advertise a total speed of 2,134Mbits/sec. In reality, no single device will get a connection faster than 867Mbits/sec, and the real-world transfer speeds you see will probably be less than half of that.

Don’t get too hung up on extreme speeds: it’s nice to be able to quickly copy big files around your personal network, but when it comes to downloads and video streaming, the limiting factor is usually your internet connection rather than the router.

How many wired Ethernet ports do I need?

Ethernet ports are far from obsolete. Many “smart” home devices come with low-power hubs that need to be wired into your router, and if you plan on adding a NAS drive to your network at any point, that’s also going to occupy a port. We’d suggest you look for a model that has at least four ports – although if need be, you can buy a low-cost Ethernet switch to attach more wired devices to your router.

Some high-end routers let you aggregate two ports into a single 2Gbits/sec connection, or may even have special high-speed ports rated as high as 10Gbits/sec. In practice, you're not likely to find much use for these abilities: sure, you can give your NAS box a super-high-speed link to your router, but when you want to actually access your files, the connection from the router to your laptop will act as a bottleneck.

What other features should I look out for?

If you have kids, you might want to choose a router with built-in parental controls. Some let you restrict access to the internet on a per-device basis at certain times of day, or limit it to a certain accumulated amount of time; some even provide category-based web filtering. There are software packages that can do the same thing, but router-based controls are easier to keep on top of and administer.

Finally, a USB 3 socket makes it easy to share a hard disk or flash drive with your whole network. It’s a cheap alternative to a NAS drive for easily sharing files, although it won’t give you the security of a properly configured RAID array. USB 2 works too, but it’s a lot slower.

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