- TP-Link’s Archer AX50 is an affordable router, but its performance makes it a reliable pick for the best router.
- Your router’s speed and reliability will affect the speed of every Wi-Fi device in your home.
- Today’s best routers support the Wi-Fi 6 standard, which is now available at affordable prices.
The humble router is an often-overlooked device that’s key to unlocking great performance from computers, smartphones, tablets, and other devices that rely on a fast Internet connection. Buying the best router you can afford will ensure your home network’s performance doesn’t become a bottleneck.
Wi-Fi 6, the latest wireless networking standard, helps affordable routers achieve speeds that used to be reserved for the most luxurious models. Mesh networking has improved Wi-Fi reliability in homes with spotty WiFi signals, as well, though it’s not necessary in every home.
2021 is a great year to buy a new router. The Wi-Fi 6 standard is now broadly supported by new devices, but it remains a fresh innovation. Today’s best Wi-Fi routers will be useful for at least five years.
Here are the best Wi-Fi routers:
- Best router overall: TP-Link Archer AX50
- Best mesh router: Google Nest Wifi
- Best budget router: TP-Link Archer A7
- Best router for value: TP-Link Archer AX6000
- Best premium router: Asus RT-88AX
- Best gaming router: Asus ROG Rapture GT-AX11000
- Best mesh router for performance: Netgear Orbi AX6000 WiFi 6
- Best value mesh router: Asus ZenWiFi AX6600
TP-Link’s Archer AX50 is the gold standard in the router market. Affordable yet fast, the Archer AX50 challenges not only its inexpensive competition but also premium routers. You can spend a lot more on a router without seeing a significant boost in everyday performance.
The secret to this router’s success is a simple but fast Wi-Fi 6 implementation. The AX50 can’t claim the highest maximum bandwidth or the most Wi-Fi bands, but it consistently performs well in many situations.
It can handle real-world download and upload speeds of up to 800Gbps within one room from the router. Its performance will be slashed to half that a couple rooms over, but this remains more than adequate for most uses.
The AX50‘s range isn’t great for homes larger than 2,000 square feet unless it can be placed directly in the center of the house or apartment.
Still, this router is incredible value. It’s a great fit for a family of up to four people in a home or apartment smaller than 2,000 square feet.
The best mesh router
The Google Nest Wifi is a mesh network system that combines multiple wireless access points into a single wireless network. This happens seamlessly without additional management. Mesh networks are great for homes with Wi-Fi dead spots that a single router can’t fix and are superior to Wi-Fi extenders.
Ease-of-use is Nest Wifi’s key feature. Both setup and router control are handled through an intuitive smartphone app. Those who own other Nest devices, or frequently use Google Assistant, will find it instantly familiar.
It even supports Google Assistant. The access points serve double duty as Google Assistant smart speakers. This will be a killer feature for some buyers.
Nest Wifi is an entry-level mesh network with less impressive specifications than competitors. It doesn’t support Wi-Fi 6. It also offers just two Ethernet ports per access point, which can be a problem if you connect to multiple devices over Ethernet.
These flaws are forgiven by the price. The two-device bundle, which contains the Nest Wifi router and one wireless access point, is less expensive than many standalone routers. This makes Nest Wifi a great fit if you’ve found that a single router can’t provide acceptable Wi-Fi performance to your entire home.
The best budget router
The TP-Link Archer A7 was once the best value in routers. It’s an older model with good performance and range for the price. It doesn’t offer Wi-Fi 6, however, and was replaced by the Archer AX21 in 2020.
Why is this router still relevant? Because it’s ridiculously affordable. The Archer A7 is barely more expensive than a family dinner at Applebee’s. That makes it an attractive option for those who live in a home or apartment under 1,000 square feet.
As mentioned, this router does not support Wi-Fi 6. You can expect real-world performance between 350 megabytes per second and 50Mbps, depending on a device’s range from a router. That’s mediocre by modern standards, but it’s decent if your devices are close enough to the router to see the higher side of that range. This is all you need if your Internet service plan doesn’t include speeds above what the Archer A7 can provide.
Setup is easy, and the router’s range is good enough to cover most two-bedroom homes and apartments. The router itself is small but still offers the four Ethernet ports found on most routers, so it can handle several wired Ethernet devices.
The best router for value
TP-Link’s Archer AX6000 is among the most expensive routers available from the company, and its specifications receive an appropriate boost. The Archer AX6000’s maximum possible bandwidth is twice that of the AX50, and the AX6000 has a more robust antenna arrangement that can better handle multiple simultaneous devices.
This router has great range for the price. Windows Central found it could reach devices up to 40 feet away over its 5GHz band, or over 50 feet away on the 2.4GHz band. Its range is perfect for apartments or homes as large as 3,000 square feet if the router can be located near the center of your home.
There’s good news for wired Ethernet, too. The Archer AX6000 has eight Gigabit Ethernet ports. It also has a 2.5Gbps WAN port, an uncommon feature that can be useful if you have wired network devices, like network-attached storage, that support 2.5Gbps Ethernet. USB-A 3.0 and USB-C 3.0 ports round out the wired connectivity.
The Archer AX6000 is a large router, measuring about 10 inches on a side and two and half inches thick. It has a square, industrial look that can stick out in a room. This could annoy buyers who can’t easily hide the router.
Still, this router is perfect for those who want excellent range and performance without paying a premium.
The best premium router
The Asus RT-88AX is a nice upgrade for buyers who want excellent performance and enough range to handle larger homes, but don’t want to stretch their budget into the extreme realm of tri-band routers or premium mesh networks.
This router offers eight Gigabit Ethernet ports, double the ports found on most routers. Although this isn’t unheard of in a premium router, the Asus RT-88AX is among the least expensive routers with this feature. It also has a USB-A 3.1 port. This router is a great pick for those who have many wired devices.
The Asus RT-88AX is no slouch in wireless performance. It can come close to delivering on Wi-Fi 6’s promise of wireless speeds close to the performance of wired Gigabit Ethernet. This is only possible at close range, but PCMag found its bandwidth still exceeds 450 megabytes per second at a range of 30 feet.
Despite these features, the Asus RT-88AX has a conventional, sleek router look. This contrasts with alternatives that have a more industrial design. The RT-88AX is a good choice if you can’t hide your router and don’t want it to stand out in a room.
The best gaming router
Asus’ ROG Rapture GT-AX11000 is a top-tier Wi-Fi 6 router. It’s a tri-band router, which means it has two 5GHz Wi-Fi bands and one 2.4GHz Wi-Fi band. You can choose to split the 5GHz band between devices, or reserve one of the bands for just a single device that you want to have maximum wireless performance and reliability.
This router is marketed to gamers, but its capabilities are a good fit for large families and large homes. Tom’s Hardware found it offers nearly 100 feet of range, and its performance held up well as range from the router increased. The Asus GT-AX11000 is a good fit for homes larger than 3,000 square feet.
The Asus GT-AX11000 has a robust interface with many options designed to provide better control over how devices access the network. Power users and enthusiasts will like this interface.
Wired connectivity is a weakness. This router has just four Gigabit Ethernet ports alongside a single 2.5Gbps LAN port. It also has two USB-A 3.1 ports. Although enough for many homes, its mediocre wired connectivity is odd given the otherwise extreme feature set.
This is also among the most expensive home routers sold today. Its performance, while exceptional, isn’t a great value compared to the TP-Link Archer AX6000. However, the Asus GT-AX11000 is a better fit for large homes packed with dozens of wireless devices.
The best mesh router for performance
The Netgear Orbi Pro AX6000 is a fast and reliable mesh network system for large homes. Like the Nest Wifi, this system uses multiple wireless access points to deliver more reliable Wi-Fi connectivity and get around obstacles that might otherwise block Wi-Fi signals.
Netgear’s system is far more capable, however. It supports Wi-Fi 6 and has a significantly more robust antenna arrangement. This system even provides four Gigabit Ethernet ports per router or access point, so you can attach plenty of wired devices.
The least expensive Orbi AX6000 WiFi Mesh System bundle includes one router and one access point, which should work for homes between 3,000 and 4,000 square feet. You can add more access points for even greater range. The four-pack system, which has one router and three access points, should work for homes of up to 8,000 square feet.
Other Wi-Fi mesh networks can offer similar specifications, but reviewers currently lean towards the Orbi AX6000 as the best option. Forbes and Tom’s Hardware both named it the best Wi-Fi mesh router available.
Price is the only downside. This Netgear Orbi system is three times more expensive than Nest Wifi. Netgear does sell less expensive Orbi systems but, like Nest Wifi, they currently lack Wi-Fi 6 support,
The best value mesh router
Asus’ ZenWiFi AX6600 is a great mid-range mesh network that is suitable for most homes. It’s among the most affordable mesh options to support the new Wi-Fi 6 standard.
Wi-Fi 6 support leads to excellent performance. CNET and PCMag both named this router an editor’s choice thanks to its speed. The ZenWiFi AX6600 can deliver Wi-Fi speeds competitive with the more expensive Orbi AX6000 system in some scenarios. The Orbi pulls ahead at long range, but the ZenWiFi AX6000 is often neck-and-neck with the Orbi when connected to devices 30 feet away or closer.
That’s an acceptable compromise for homes and apartments that are smaller than 2,500 square feet. Asus’ ZenWiFi AX6600 system also provides smaller, more attractive satellites that will be easier to hide. The system’s router has three Gigabit Ethernet ports and a 2.5Gbps WAN port.
While not the most powerful mesh system, Asus’ ZenWiFi AX6600 hits a sweet spot of price and performance. It’s a great alternative to similarly priced routers which, although packed with more capable hardware, are often more difficult to manage.
Why you should buy a Wi-Fi 6 router
Wi-Fi 6 is the latest wireless standard. It’s backward compatible with previous standards but also offers a huge leap in performance.
The maximum theoretical speed of Wi-Fi 6 is 9.6 gigabits per second (Gbps), up from 3.5 Gbps with Wi-Fi 5. While most consumer Internet service plans can’t hit these speeds, they’re still useful for devices on your local network, such as network attached storage.
More importantly, the measured real-world performance of Wi-Fi 6 routers blows away their predecessors. A 20 to 50 percent improvement is common. Wi-Fi 6 routers also have better range and see less reduction in performance when handling many devices, traits that are useful in any home.
This comes with an important catch. Both the router and the device connecting to it, such as your smartphone or laptop, must support Wi-Fi 6 to boost performance. If not, the connection will fall back to the Wi-Fi 5 standard (or an even older standard, if you’re connecting an ancient device).
Still, Wi-Fi 6 is the way forward. Most new smartphones, computers, and smart home devices introduced in 2021 will support Wi-Fi 6. It will be the expected standard for new devices by 2022.
A Wi-Fi 5 router or mesh network can work well, but only makes sense when pricing significantly beats alternatives with Wi-Fi 6 support. That’s why most routers and mesh networks on this list support Wi-Fi 6.
What is a mesh network, and should you buy one?
Mesh networking is the latest trend in wireless connectivity. Mesh networking devices, often sold in packages as mesh network routers, mesh access points, or mesh network systems, provide multiple wireless access points for your network.
Each access point can communicate with its partners to balance network load, which ultimately provides a more reliable home network. The use of multiple access points can also help deliver Wi-Fi coverage to hard-to-reach wireless dead spots, like a basement or a room on the far side of a concrete or brick wall.
This might sound complex, but simplicity is among mesh networking’s best features. Most companies that sell mesh networks provide attractive companion apps that are more approachable than a typical router’s user interface.
Mesh networks will make standalone routers obsolete in the future. Pricing is all that holds them back. Even the most affordable examples are priced to compete with premium routers. This makes sense; you’re getting multiple access points instead of one router. Still, high pricing will turn off many buyers.
While mesh networks are excellent, buyers should beware so-called mesh networking devices that are glorified Wi-Fi range extenders. They’re often sold as add-on devices instead of mesh network systems with multiple access points in a single package. The term “mesh network” doesn’t refer to any specific technical standard, so the marketing minds at router companies are slapping the term on anything that can extend a wireless network.
What we’re looking forward to testing
The release of Wi-Fi 6 means router manufacturers are in the middle of updating their product lines. Most manufacturers have updated their consumer routers to the new standard, but mesh network products and specialty routers are still in the middle of updates.
The Wi-Fi Alliance introduced a new standard, Wi-Fi 6E, in 2020. Wi-Fi 6E adds a 6GHz wireless channel to the options available, alongside the 5GHz and 2.4GHz already supported. This is helpful because congestion on existing bands is a constant issue. The 6GHz band should also provide better performance in ideal scenarios.
Netgear, Linksys, TP-Link, Asus, and Arris announced Wi-Fi 6E routers or mesh systems at CES 2021. The Wi-Fi 6E options announced include:
- Arris Surfboard Max AX6600 mesh router
- Asus ROG Rapture GT-AXE11000 router
- Asus RT-AX68U router
- Linksys Velop AXE8400 mesh router
- Netgear Nighthawk RAXE500 router
- TP-Link Archer A96 router
- TP-Link Archer AX206 router
- TP-Link Deco X96 mesh router
- TP-Link Deco X76 Plus mesh router
Most of these options won’t be available until the second half of 2021. Though Wi-Fi 6E will improve performance in some situations, you shouldn’t hold off on purchasing a router because of this new standard.
Check out our other home tech guides