Fed up of network hiccups and high latencies? These routers will help take your online gaming sessions to the next level
All routers do the same basic job – but from a gamer’s perspective they’re certainly not all the same. One model might give you reliable, lightning-fast Wi-Fi, while another slows to a crawl whenever flatmates and family members log on, ruining your gaming experience.
If that problem sounds familiar, a specialised gaming router could well be the answer. These routers typically include advanced quality-of-service (QoS) controls, which ensure that your games get priority ahead of other network traffic; they may also use clever tricks like geofencing to minimise latency by ensuring you only connect to the closest servers.
But which features should you be looking out for? And how much should you expect to pay? Here’s our buyer’s guide to help you make the right choice, along with our selection of the best gaming routers on the market.
How to choose the right gaming router for you
When you’re shopping for a gaming router, you can expect that all the standard router functions will be well covered. Almost all current models support the high-speed 802.11ax standard (also known as WiFi 6), and some offer Wi-Fi 6E, which allows compatible devices to connect on the super-fast 6GHz radio band.
With all routers, though, real-world performance varies from model to model, and different manufacturers include different game-specific software enhancements, so we strongly recommend comparing the specs, features and prices to find the specific router that’s right for you.
How much should I spend?
Gaming routers tend to be somewhat pricey. The cheapest router on our list below costs £204, and prices go as high as £438 for the top-of-the-range Netgear Nighthawk Pro Gaming XR700. As you’d hope, that router offers excellent performance and a superb set of gaming features – but if you just need simple traffic prioritisation then there are other options out there that can transform your gaming experience for a lot less money.
Do I need an ultra-fast wired connection for gaming?
You can expect a gaming router to have at least four standard Ethernet ports; some also have dedicated 2.5GbE or 10GbE ports. However, even a gigabit Ethernet link has more bandwidth than most domestic internet services, so using one of these faster connections between your PC and your router will probably make zero difference to your gaming (or anything else you do online).
What these upscale ports are good for is letting systems within your home network communicate with each other at tremendous speeds, which might be attractive if you want to host a local multiplayer tournament. Bear in mind, though, that there’s usually only a single high-speed port on the router, so if you want to hook up more than one computer you’ll need to invest in a multi-port switch, which pushes up the price considerably.
What other features should I look out for?
As we’ve mentioned, you can expect all the same features you’d demand from an ordinary domestic router. Those include the option to operate a separate wireless network for guests, set up parental controls, and share a hard disk or thumb drive with your whole network via the router’s USB ports.
There’s just one thing that you won’t find in any of these routers, and that’s a built-in modem. If you have a standalone DSL or cable modem, you can just yank its cable out from your old router and plug it into the new one. But if your current router uses an integrated modem, don’t splash out on a replacement until you’ve confirmed that you can switch your old router into modem-only mode, or hook up your new gaming router via some other method.
How we test gaming routers
Every gaming router that comes into our labs undergoes a rigorous set of hands-on tests. First, we use the router’s mobile app or web interface to install the router in a typical home, connecting to its 5GHz wireless network from a standard test laptop, equipped with an Intel Wi-Fi 6E network card supporting 2×2 MIMO.
We also hook up a NAS appliance to the router via gigabit Ethernet – or a faster wired connection, if the router supports it. To test performance, we take our laptop to various locations in the home, copy a standard set of files to and from the NAS, and measure read and write speeds in megabytes per second. This reveals the real-world performance and range of the router’s wireless hardware, in terms that can be directly compared with competing routers. If the router supports Wi-Fi 6E, we repeat the tests on the 6GHz band.
We also thoroughly explore each router’s gaming features as some “gaming” routers offer little more than a flashy design, while others build in extensive game-specific optimisations and customisable traffic-management features. We try out all of these functions, and explore the management interface to discover how easy it is to navigate and access the various gamer functions. Finally, we weigh up whether the router’s performance and features justify its price.
The best gaming routers you can buy in 2023
1. Netgear Nighthawk Pro Gaming XR700: The best all-round gaming router
Price: £438 | Buy now from Amazon
The Nighthawk Pro Gaming XR700 is no ordinary router. It runs the specialist DumaOS firmware, which has numerous features developed specifically to help gamers get a fast, reliable connection. Those include a geo-filter that blocks connections to servers more than a certain distance away – helping to keep latency to a minimum – and a traffic management tool called “anti-bufferbloat” that prevents other devices on the network eating up all your internet bandwidth. There’s also a VPN module that lets you route gaming traffic over an OpenVPN-compatible service, while everything else goes through your ISP as usual.
The XR700 is a very speedy router. Although it only supports 802.11ac wireless – not the newer, faster, 802.11ax – it gave us fantastic same-room download speeds of 32.6MB/sec, and even from several rooms away it kept up an exceptional 18.4MB/sec. With that sort of wireless performance you may well be able to ditch the cables but, for those who need to use Ethernet, a generous seven sockets are provided.
Other notable features include a 10GbE port, twin USB 3 sockets for file and printer sharing and even built-in support for the Plex Media Server. To be sure, the asking price of £438 is expensive, but you’re getting a superb all-round router with an unbeatable set of gaming features.
Key specs – Modem: No; Wi-Fi: Tri-band 802.11ac; Ethernet: 7xGbE, 1x10GbE; USB: 2 x USB 3
2. Asus ROG Rapture GT-AX11000: Best gaming router with 802.11ax
Price: £405 | Buy now from Amazon
It’s nearly as expensive as the XR700, but the GT-AX11000 has something special going for it: it’s the first gaming router we’ve seen that supports 802.11ax, the next-generation wireless protocol that’s fast enough to promise flawless gaming performance. Right now there are almost no computers or smartphones that can take advantage of 802.11ax, but you might be very glad of the option in a year or two when you next upgrade your laptop or network card.
Otherwise, the GT-AX11000 isn’t quite as extravagantly equipped as the Netgear Nighthawk XR700. It has only five Ethernet ports, and the fastest one is rated at 2.5Gbits/sec, rather than the full 10Gbits/sec offered by its rival.
The gaming features aren’t quite as impressive either: there are a fair few built-in tools and game-specific settings to tweak, but many of them only work with a limited selection of games. Crucially, though, the ROG Rapture GT-AX11000 does offer a powerful bandwidth-management console, so you can monitor exactly what’s bogging down your connection and make sure your games get priority. Factor in that future-proof wireless and it’s a very tempting option indeed.
Key specs – Modem: No; Wi-Fi: Tri-band 802.11ax; Ethernet: 4xGbE, 1×2.5GbE; USB: 2 x USB 3
3. TP-Link Archer C5400X: Best gaming router for families
Price: £300 | Buy now from Amazon
The Archer C5400X may be short on game-specific features, but its QoS controls let you make sure other apps and applications aren’t bogarting your connection. It also delivers impressively smooth and speedy wireless: although it only supports 802.11ac, rather than the more advanced 802.11ax, we found it delivered excellent Wi-Fi speeds, and it also has a good set of eight Ethernet ports. They’re all limited to gigabit speeds, but we strongly suspect that only a tiny fraction of customers would ever make use of anything faster anyway.
The C5400X also has a good range of domestic features, including network-level antivirus scanning and parental controls, which can be used to block selected categories of website on individual devices, and restrict internet access to certain times of day. Mac users can also plug in an external drive to one of its twin USB ports and use it as a backup destination for Time Machine.
While other manufacturers offer more tweaks and settings for gamers to play with, the Archer C5400X is a solid and speedy gaming router that will fit nicely into a family setting – and it’s a lot more affordable than Asus and Netgear’s flagship models.
Key specs – Modem: No; Wi-Fi: Tri-band 802.11ac; Ethernet: 8xGbE; USB: 2 x USB 3
4. Netgear Nighthawk Pro Gaming XR500: Best for gamers on a budget
Price: £233 | Buy now from Amazon
The Nighthawk Pro Gaming XR500 runs the same DumaOS firmware as the XR700 – so you get all the same wonderful and wide-ranging game-specific features in a package that costs £200 less.
What’s the catch? Well, one key difference is that this model only offers dual-band wireless, which means contention and interference are liable to be bigger problems, especially if you have lots of devices connecting at once. In our tests we also found that real-world Wi-Fi performance dropped off quite quickly with distance: it’s perfectly fast enough for streaming video or browsing the web all around the house, but if you want to play games over a wireless link you may fare better with a different router.
The rear also offers only four gigabit Ethernet sockets, with no ultra-fast network connector – but we doubt that will be a deal-breaker for many people. Indeed, if you’re happy gaming over a wired connection, the Nighthawk Pro Gaming XR500 is a superb choice, giving you all the goodness of DumaOS at a positively palatable price.
Key specs – Modem: No; Wi-Fi: Dual-band 802.11ac; Ethernet: 4xGbE; USB: 2 x USB 3
5. D-Link AC5300 DIR-895L: Best-value gaming router
Price: £204 | Buy now from Amazon
Gaming routers normally sport eye-catching designs, but even among this company the DIR-895L’s bright red metal casing stands out from the crowd. Thankfully it’s not a case of style over substance: its tri-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi performed very well in our tests, giving us an impressive 30MB/sec at close range and a still excellent 12MB/sec at the opposite end of the house.
As with the TP-Link Archer C5400X, the firmware doesn’t offer dedicated gaming features, but you can use the QoS settings to prioritise gaming traffic. Connectivity is also rather bog-standard, with just four Ethernet ports and a single USB 3 connector – although to be fair there is also a USB 2 connector, to which you can connect a flash drive or a printer.
Still, while the DIR-895L isn’t an all-singing, all-dancing choice, it ticks some important boxes. It gives great wireless performance over 802.11ac, even at medium range, costs less than half as much as some other gaming routers – and has futuristic looks that make a real statement.
Key specs – Modem: No; Wi-Fi: Tri-band 802.11ac; Ethernet: 4xGbE; USB: USB 3, USB 2