Best Wireless Routers 2020: Prices, Specs, and More
CableTV.com rounds up the top routers to satisfy your need for Wi-Fi speed.
Bottom line: Get Wi-Fi that works for you
When you signed up for internet service, your ISP (Internet Service Provider) probably provided you with a wireless router to create your home Wi-Fi network. For many people, that equipment works just fine, and the cost is reasonable.
But if you’re one of those people who’s paying way too much for equipment rentals or needs a little more juice from your network, know that there are alternatives available.
Whether your house is too big for the signal to cover, or you need next-level equipment for your gaming habit, we’ve got recommendations for you.
Best wireless routers
|Best overall||ASUS RT-AC86U AC2900||2,900 Mbps||Dual-band||4||$183.98|
|Most powerful||NETGEAR Nighthawk X10 AD7200||7,200 Mbps||Tri-band||6||$279.00|
|Best for gaming||ASUS ROG Rapture GT-AC5300||5,334 Mbps||Tri-band||8||$325.32|
|Best for large homes||Google Wifi||1,200 Mbps||Dual-band||2 per unit||$274.00|
|Best for a budget||TP-Link Archer C1200||1,200 Mbps||Dual-band||4||$59.99|
Data effective as of 06/18/2020. Prices and availability are subject to change.
- Great performance for the price
- Fast speeds
- Lots of advanced tech for a stronger connection
- Looks a bit like an alien spaceship
- Raises some concerns about quality control
For most people, we believe the ASUS RT-AC86U AC2900 (what a mouthful) represents the best balance of performance and price in a wireless router. It’s got the wireless 802.11ac protocol onboard for fast speeds, plus dual-band Wi-Fi for a better connection. And it packs a bunch of advanced features to help keep your Wi-Fi signal strong and fast—like MU-MIMO, which helps distribute the signal among multiple devices.
It’s not perfect, of course. The looks are definitely an acquired taste, and some reviewers have had concerns about the build quality of the router. But if you need a router for high-end gaming and 4K streaming that won’t break the bank, this is an excellent choice.
- Extremely fast speeds
- Advanced features for longer ranges and stronger connections
- Tech for the latest wireless protocols
- High price tag
If you need serious power and have the money to pay for it, check out the Nighthawk X10 from NETGEAR. Billed as the world’s fastest router, the X10 uses the newer 802.11ad protocol to offer speeds up to 7,200 Mbps. It also comes loaded with a powerful processor, MU-MIMO support, and specially designed long-range antennas.
All that power doesn’t come cheap—the X10 is one of the most expensive consumer routers we’ve seen. For that reason, we recommend it only to those who know for sure they need all the juice this one has in the tank.
- Lots of features built in to enhance the gaming experience
- Ability to mix with other ASUS routers to form a mesh network for large homes
- Special ROG (Republic of Gamers) benefits for customers
- Most expensive router on our list
- Looks even more like a spaceship
Gamers who want the most out of their network should check out this futuristic gaming router from ASUS. Capable of supporting speeds up to 5,334 Mbps and loaded with features to maximize the gaming experience, this one definitely earns its ROG branding.
What’s ROG? It stands for Republic of Gamers, and it represents ASUS’s gamer-focused line. Gaming features include access to the GPN (Gamers Private Network), a special low-latency network of servers that help optimize response time.
Again, all isn’t perfect here—the router’s looks are even more love-or-hate than the ASUS RT-AC86U, and it’s even more expensive than the Nighthawk X10. Still, if gaming performance is your top priority, this router could make a real difference in how you play.
- Incredibly easy setup
- Wide coverage
- Easily expandable framework
- Slower than other top picks
- Less advanced than NETGEAR and ASUS routers
Google Wifi is part of a newer breed of wireless systems called mesh networks. Essentially, a mesh network is a group of routers that work together to spread your wireless signal around your whole home so that no matter where you go, you get a strong connection.
There are several mesh network systems available for home use, but we like Google Wifi for the ease of use. Setup is as simple as downloading a smartphone app, scanning a QR code, and following the directions. The app also allows you to adjust network settings easily. If you want a wireless setup that you can set and forget, this is it.
- Comes at an affordable price
- Offers great speeds and plenty of ports for the price
- Not as fast as our other picks
The TP-Link C1200 is a classic affordable router that gets the job done and not much else. While you won’t find many bells and whistles here, you will get great performance for the price, with dual-band Wi-Fi and four gigabit Ethernet ports for all your devices. This router is a great pick for light users and the budget-conscious shopper alike.
What to look for in a wireless router
There are tons of buzzwords and funky-sounding features in the router world, but you’re really looking for only two things: speed and range.
Speed is one of the main reasons people upgrade their routers. The speed a given router is capable of handling is determined by a couple of things:
Wireless protocol: Wireless protocols are a set of standards developed so that wireless devices can communicate with each other. The wireless protocol a router uses plays a large part in determining how much speed it can provide.
In new routers today, 802.11ac is the most common, supporting speeds up to 1,300 Mbps. The newest standard, 802.11ad, can support up to 7,000 Mbps, but it’s still fairly hard to find.
Supported wireless bands: Routers often have designations like “dual-band” or “tri-band” on the spec sheet. These refer to the number of wireless frequencies they can operate over. Dual-band routers—the most common type that’s currently available—support the 2.4 Ghz and 5 Ghz bands, while tri-band routers usually add either a second 5 Ghz band or the newer 60 Ghz band.
If that sounds like gibberish, don’t worry. What you need to know is that the more bands available, the better a router can handle multiple devices at once while maintaining fast speeds. Look for a router that’s at least dual-band.
Range can be as important as speed when it comes to Wi-Fi performance. That’s because the farther from the router you get, the weaker the signal gets.
Wireless signals can also be weakened by walls and interference from other electronics, which can cause slowdowns. A large range is important for maintaining top speeds as you move throughout your home or any other building.
Some standard routers have tech included to maximize range, but if your home is larger than average or you find yourself with dead zones, there’s really no substitute for a mesh network like the Google Wifi router system. Since this system functions as a group with individual hubs located throughout your home, it makes it easy to spread the signal thoroughly across a large area.
Final take: get your Wi-Fi network up to speed
No matter what you need from your next router, there’s one out there that can get it for you. Pick the one that works best for you from our list and start enjoying the benefits today! Let us know in the comments if you have a favorite router that didn’t make our list.
FAQ about wireless routers
What is the best long-range wireless router?
For the best coverage over large areas, we recommend a wireless mesh router system like Google Wifi. These routers are made up of several nodes that communicate with each other, allowing you to spread the wireless signal over a much longer range than traditional routers can.
What’s the difference between a router and a modem?
Basically, the modem takes the raw signal from your ISP and translates it into something your devices can understand. The wireless router takes that translated signal and broadcasts it wirelessly.
How many devices can I connect to a wireless router?
You can generally connect as many as you want. There is a theoretical limit, but it’s so high that you would never reach it in a home situation. However, in practice, the more devices that are connected to the network, the slower the connection will be, so keep that in mind before you connect the whole neighborhood.