With a wireless router, you can make the most of your internet connection without being tethered to cables. Connect your wireless router to your cable or DSL modem and enjoy the freedom of online gaming, content streaming, web surfing, wireless printing and so much more.
Wireless routers support either single- or dual-band performance. A single-band router operates on the 2.4GHz band, but may interfere with other devices on this band, including microwaves and cordless phones. A dual-band router lets you choose between a 2.4GHz or 5GHz frequency, reducing the chance of interruption with other devices.
The speed of your wireless connection not only depends on your internet service provider, it also relies on your router. Wireless AC is the latest internet protocol that offers superior speeds to its predecessors, wireless N and wireless G. With a wireless AC router, you can experience faster speed, greater wireless coverage and smoother performance.
For your security, wireless routers use encryption technology to make it difficult for hackers and snoopers to access your information. WEP was the first security protocol introduced in wireless routers, with the more recent WPA and WPA2 offering stronger data encryption and greater security. Most routers also let you set up a password for your network, preventing outsiders from accessing it.
We researched dual- and tri-band routers from each of the major router manufacturers, including Asus, D-Link, Linksys, Netgear, and TP-Link. We also looked for routers from less well-known manufacturers with strong reviews from tech experts or potentially interesting features that set them apart.
In addition, we consulted customer reviews on Amazon and Newegg, plus professional router reviews and performance rankings from CNET, Dong Knows Tech, PCMag, PCWorld, SmallNetBuilder, and Trusted Reviews, to generate our list of contenders. After identifying every model that met all of our criteria, we thoroughly tested the most promising routers ourselves.
At long range, when the signal had to pass through several walls, the AX55 performed better than most of the competition, aside from a few of our upgrade alternatives. The Archer AX90, for example, is a top-of-the-line router that costs two to three times what our pick costs, and even that model delivered speeds that were only 50% faster than what we saw from the AX55. Also at long range, the benefits of better Wi-Fi radios were clear: While the AX55 averaged 140 Mbps, our budget pick, the Archer A8, was relatively slow at 42 Mbps.
Instead of running just a single speed test, we used four laptops at different distances from the router in a 2,300-square-foot, two-story suburban home to simulate the real-world activity of a busy home network. Because these tests simulated real-world traffic, they did a better job of modeling real-world performance compared with a tool like iPerf, an artificial testing utility that moves data from one machine to another as fast as possible.
We characterized speed by looking at the combination of performance when downloading a large file at short and long range. The majority of the routers were able to top 500 Mbps at close distances, with some of the best-performing routers, like the Asus RT-AX88U, reaching over 640 Mbps. Only a couple of stragglers (the TP-Link Archer AX10 and D-Link DIR-X1560) fell far behind at 100 Mbps.
As mentioned in our guide to modems vs. routers, a modem is a box that connects your home network to your internet service provider, or ISP. A router is a box that lets all of your wired and wireless devices use that internet connection at once and allows them to talk to one another directly. Think of the modem as the box that deals with all the data packets to and from the outside world, and the router as the one that deals with all the communication inside your home (or business).
Tri-band routers have an extra 5 GHz band or 6 GHz band in addition to the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands of a dual-band router. This third band allows more devices to connect and be busy at once without slowing the network down so much.
The gaming-oriented TP-Link Archer GX90 was just behind the Archer AX90 in our performance tests overall. It is certainly one to consider if you have a gamer in your home, plus the router is ready for 2.5 Gbps internet. However, its styling calls attention to itself, with eight red-accented antennas sticking out of its body, and it is overkill unless you absolutely need its gaming optimizations.
Fans of the Synology RT2600ac may be interested in the Wi-Fi 6 Synology RT6600ax. Like its forebear, it straddles the space between a high-end router for consumers and one that is capable of serving the internet to a small business like a coffee shop or family restaurant. It can be linked with other RT6600ax routers to make a mesh network, though that could get pricey quickly. The RT6600ax was an above average performer on our tests, and it tested well in our latest mesh guide update.
The TP-Link Archer AX10 and D-Link DIR-X1560 were our budget router contenders. Both had tri-core CPUs, but both seemed not to utilize them well, as both finished behind the single-core Archer A7 and A8 in our tests. The DIR-X1560 in particular lost points for having a stripped-down administration interface that looked as if it came from a 2012-era router, not from a 2020 model.
The TP-Link Archer AX6000 has eight retractable antennas that make it look like an upside-down spider. Those antennas helped the router place well in our long-range throughput test, but the rest of its performance numbers were closer to middling. The AX6000 is notable for having a 2.5 Gigabit Ethernet port, for those who own a compatible modem, but on the whole the Asus RT-AX88U is a better pick.
We tested the Linksys E5600, E7350, and E8450. Ranging in price from about $40 to $150, these three routers share an antenna-less angular design, but were poor performers overall. The E5600 and E7350 notably were at the bottom of our performance charts. Neither router supports smart connect (aka band steering), and each has a short, one-year warranty.
The D-Link DIR-X1870 and DIR-X5460 shared a very basic web-based user interface with very few settings. The DIR-X1870 experienced errors during testing, which caused clients to drop off the network, while the DIR-X5460 was in the mid-to-bottom tier on our performance tests. Like Linksys routers, the D-Link routers have a shorter, one-year warranty.
Asus routers like the RT-AX55, RT-AX3000 (aka RT-AX58U), RT-AX68U, and RT-AX82U tested well but were worse than our picks for one reason or another. For example, the RT-AX55 was competitive with the TP-Link Archer AX20 for approximately the same price, but was significantly worse at the long-distance throughput test. The RT-AX82U was also in our bottom third at the long distance test.
A travel router is a wireless range extender designed for people who are on the go and need to connect to the Internet when they are away from home. It also performs the functions of a wireless access point.
If you have a small budget, you can get a decent travel router for around $30. See our recommended travel router list later in the article; they are listed in order by retail price. But beware of ones that are really cheap as they may not work well as advertised. 781b155fdc