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Best wireless router 2021: Get faster Wi-Fi at home, from £50 in the Black Friday sales

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Find the best wireless routers to help improve your speed and coverage

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 buyer’s guide, followed by a 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.

BLACK FRIDAY DEAL: Save £40 on the Asus RT-AX82U

This Wi-Fi 6 router was pretty cheap at its regular price but it's a positive bargain now that there's an extra £40 discount in the Black Friday sales. Performance is good and there are plenty of features and settings to play around with, too. A great deal on our wireless router of the year.
Amazon
Was £174
Now £135

Best wireless router: At a glance


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 support both ADSL and VDSL, which could be very handy if you’re planning to switch providers in the future.

READ NEXT: The best mesh Wi-Fi routers for the ultimate in coverage

Should I upgrade to Wi-Fi 6?

Wi-Fi 6 – or 802.11ax, to give it its proper 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 despite quite a few new models being available, 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.

How to use two routers to extend range Step 3

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.

READ NEXT: The best Wi-Fi extenders to buy

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.

Looking for more advice on extending and improving your Wi-Fi signal? Check out our guide to increasing wireless speeds and fixing problems

The best wireless routers to buy

1. Honor Router 3: The best budget Wi-Fi 6 wireless router

Price: £50 | Buy now from Amazon

The Honor Router 3 is an amazing deal: a bona fide Wi-Fi 6 router for well under £100. Its sleek, compact design will slot elegantly into any living room, and it’s easy to manage using either the straightforward web interface or a friendly downloadable smartphone app.

Predictably, the Router 3 isn’t as feature-packed as the most expensive routers. Its parental controls are quite basic, and there are no fancy online services such as home security or dynamic DNS. The most important features are present and correct, however, including a secure guest network.

Similarly, the Router 3 won’t win any medals when it comes to speed but, for most households, it’s more than fast enough. In our tests, it provided good, strong connections to Wi-Fi 5 clients all over the house, and gave Wi-Fi 6-compatible devices an extra boost of up to 35%. It adds up to a very tempting proposition for anyone seeking a practical, forward-looking router that won’t break the bank.

Read our full Honor Router 3 review for more details

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


2. D-Link EXO AX1800 (DIR-X1860): Wi-Fi 6 on a budget

Price: £90 | Buy now from Amazon

Low-cost Wi-Fi 6 routers are beginning to appear but, so far, there still aren’t that many about. The absolute cheapest is the Honor Router 3 (above) but it’s rather basic in the features it offers. The D-Link EXO AX1800 is still basic but at least offers a more rounded feature set, albeit at a slightly higher price, with firewall and VPN support as well as 4x4 MIMO and dynamic DNS. It isn’t the fastest over Wi-Fi 6, but it is reasonably priced and puts in an impressive performance over Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac).

Read our full D-Link EXO AX1800 review for more details

Key specs – Modem: NoneWi-Fi standard: 802.11ax (Wi-Fi 6)Stated speed: 1,800Mbits/sec; USB ports: None



3. Asus RT-AX82U: The best mid-priced router

Price: £180 | Buy now from Amazon

You normally have to pay top dollar to secure exceptional wireless performance, but the Asus RT-AX82U proves the exception to the rule. While it isn’t quite a match for more exotic hardware, it gets pretty close and offers a keen balance of price and performance.

In testing, this Wi-Fi 6 router delivered a strong, fast signal in almost every part of the house, getting close to matching its more expensive sibling, the RT-AX88U. Despite that, and the reasonable price, Asus hasn't cut back on the features, which include outbound VPN support, a built-in VPN server, comprehensive parental controls and more.

It isn’t the cheapest router around, but the Asus RT-AX82U is more than competitive. It’s a brilliant all-rounder at a very tempting price.

Read our full Asus RT-AX82U review for more details

Key specs – Modem: None; Wi-Fi standard: 802.11ax (Wi-Fi 6); Stated speed: 5,400Mbits/sec; USB ports: 1 x 3.2 Gen 1


4. D-Link EXO AC1900 (DIR-1960): The router you can turn into a mesh system

Price: £104 | Buy now from Amazon

The D-Link DIR-1960 might look an unassuming lump of plastic, but it’s actually one of the best routers we’ve tested in recent times. Not only does it perform well, but it’s easy to use and packed with useful features as well, such as a simple-to-set-up QoS system that lets you easily prioritise certain types of network connectivity. 

The DIR-1960’s most eye-catching feature, however, is the ability to turn it into a mesh Wi-Fi system by adding mesh access points, should you want to boost speeds and reliability in the farthest reaches of your home or, perhaps, the garden.

The router is an 802.11ac model rated at 1,900Mbits/sec, which is split across 1,300Mbits/sec on the 5GHz network and 600Mbits/sec on the 2.4GHz network, so it isn’t the last word in modernity or outright speed. Note, too, that it doesn’t have an ADSL/VDSL modem built in. However, it’s a good, solid option at this price and it’s nice to have the flexibility of extending it, too.

Read our full D-Link EXO AC1900 DIR-1960 review for details

Key specs – Modem: None; Wi-Fi standard: 802.11ac; Stated speed: 1,900Mbits/sec; USB ports: 1 x USB 3


5. Asus RT-AX88U: The best 802.11ax router

Price: £298 | Buy now from Amazon

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.

Read our full Asus RT-AX88U review for more details 

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


6. TP-Link Archer AX90 (AX6600): The best value tri-band Wi-Fi 6 router

Price: £200 | Buy now from Amazon

We don't see many tri-band Wi-Fi 6 routers, simply because dual-band is usually enough for this latest technology to deliver strong, fast results to all parts of your home. But there are still reasons why you might want a tri-band - if you have lots of computers using your network simultaneously or you want to dedicate one connection to your gaming PC, for instance, and don't want to share the bandwidth with other members of your household.

That's what the TP-Link Archer AX90 gives you, and for a surprisingly reasonable price as well, although there is a significant caveat. In order to hit that low price, one of the 5GHz radios is high speed and one is low speed, with the third, a legacy 2.4GHz radio, in place for compatibility. Performance is super impressive - on a par with our favourite Wi-Fi 6 routers, including the Asus RT-AX82U, and although this router is a touch more expensive than that device, it does give you the extra flexibility of an additional router.

Combined with built-in parental controls, network scanning and QoS capabilities, plus the ability to expand the router into a mesh system using TP-Link's OneMesh system, the AX90 offers a fantastic all-round package for the money.

Read our full TP-Link AX90 review for more details

Key specs – Modem: None; Wi-Fi standard: Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax); Stated speed: 6,600Mbits/sec; USB ports: 1 x USB 3, 1 x USB 2

7. TP-Link Archer VR2800: A great value 802.11ac wireless router

Price: £150 | Buy now from Amazon

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.

Read our full TP-Link Archer VR2800 review for more details

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


8. Netgear Nighthawk AX8: The fastest mid-range Wi-Fi 6 router

Price: £285 | Buy now from Amazon

Netgear has a full range of Wi-Fi 6 routers on its books and, believe it or not, the Nighthawk AX8 isn’t the most expensive. Nonetheless, it still performs very well and offers huge amounts of potential bandwidth, promising up to 1.2Gbits/sec on the 2.4GHz band and up to 4.8Gbits/sec over 5GHz.

In our tests, it performed well, and not just for more modern devices supporting Wi-Fi 6: it was fast for older 802.11ac devices as well, ensuring fast connectivity no matter what you have hooked up to your home network.

You also get a healthy feature set, including five Gigabit Ethernet ports instead of the usual four, two USB 3 ports for sharing USB storage devices over your home network, and the ability to run backups to those devices via Time Machine, File History or Netgear’s own free backup software.

All in all, the AX8 is a mighty router; a tad expensive maybe, but not as expensive as the most cutting edge of home networking products.

Read our full Netgear Nighthawk AX8 review for details

Wi-Fi standard: 802.11ax; Stated speed: 6,000Mbits/sec; Ethernet ports: 5 x Gigabit; USB ports: 2 x USB 3


9. Netgear Nighthawk Pro Gaming XR700: The best router for gamers

Price: £400 | Buy now from Amazon

The Nighthawk XR700 isn’t like other routers. In place of the usual general-purpose firmware, it runs the specialist DumaOS, designed specifically to offer gamer-friendly features that you won’t find elsewhere. Geo-filtering, for example, helps ensure you get connected to a local server, to keep latency low, while anti-bufferbloat ensures that other home devices can’t eat up your bandwidth and interfere with your gaming experience.

No doubt about it, the price is steep. But for the money you get not only all the goodness of DumaOS, but also excellent 802.11ac performance, with download speeds close to 20MB/sec in all areas of our test home. There’s even a socket for a 10GbE adaptor for insanely fast wired connections: whatever your ambitions, the XR700 will keep up with them.

Read our full Netgear Nighthawk Pro Gaming XR700 review for more details

Wi-Fi standard: 802.11ac; Stated speed: 4,266Mbits/sec; USB ports: 2 x USB 3


10. Asus BRT-AC828: The best router for small businesses

Price: £250 | Buy now from Amazon

Asus’ BRT-AC828 is perfect for a small business or a busy home office. It has a generous eight Gigabit Ethernet ports, a hardware VPN server and a pair of Gigabit WAN ports, so it can automatically switch to a backup internet connection if your main line goes down. It can even set up and host a branded customer Wi-Fi hotspot, with a captive portal for username and password entry.

We found that the BRT-AC828’s overall performance was excellent, too. In our home tests, it distributed high speeds all around the house at speeds close to what you’d get from a mesh system. It’s overkill for your average household, but for a small business or sole trader, this is a great choice.

Read our full Asus BRT-AC828 review for more details

Key specs – Modem: None; Wi-Fi standard: 802.11ac; Stated speed: 2,500Mbits/sec; USB ports: 2 x USB 3


11. Asus DSL-AC68U: The best ADSL router

Price: £140 | Buy now from Amazon

The Asus DSL-AC68U comes with a built-in ADSL modem, so it can completely replace your current underperforming router. However, you can also configure one of the four Gigabit Ethernet ports as a WAN connector and use it with an external modem, so you can switch to cable in the future should you wish.

While the Wi-Fi provision is only dual-band, performance is great, especially considering the unit’s compact size, and the USB 3 port at the back can be used to share a printer or storage. You can also connect a 3G/4G USB mobile internet adapter as a fall-back option if your home broadband goes down. At this price, it’s a superb package.

Read our Asus DSL-AC68U review for more details

Key specs – Modem: ADSL2+/VDSL2; Wi-Fi standard: 802.11ac; Stated speed: 1,300Mbits/sec; USB ports: 1 x USB 3

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