Last week, we brought you our in-depth guide on choosing the right router for your home network. As mentioned in that guide, having a decent router can make all the difference when it comes to making the best out of your connected devices. Though considering the sheer number and variety of options available in the market, a lot of us simply don't have the time or patience to do all the research needed to make sure we're getting the best value for our money. And that's when recommendations by industry experts come handy. So, here's our list of best-in-class Wi-Fi routers for your home that give you the best bang for your buck, and come highly recommended by networking professionals considered an authority on the subject.
Here's a bird's-eye breakdown of our take.
The best of the best
The Netgear Nighthawk is the absolute cream of the crop. It's a high-performance router that meets the demands of a high-tech household.
Whether you're slinging media from screen to screen, downloading huge games, or have big files to move across the network, the Nighthawk has proven itself to be top of its class.
Bang for buck
The TP-Link Archer C7 is a well-rounded router with solid range and throughput for AC connections. There's no USB 3.0 port on here, so it may not be an ideal pick for media junkies.
Still, you get FTP features that can make use of the two USB 2.0 ports. Software features like schedulable firewall, guest network, and bandwidth allocation are all included. It doesn't have all the bells and whistles of expensive high-end routers, but it still manages to cram in a lot of features at its current price range.
Though a little pricey, the NETGEAR R6250 earned rave reviews from just about everybody, delivering on performance, range, and software. Parental controls and guest networks are easily set up.
A mobile app provides a control panel for all router functions, and a USB 3.0 jack mixed with DLNA support makes it a fine home for a media library.
The Edimax BR-6478AC provides great bang for buck. It connects all of your home's AC-compatible devices and with a simple flip of a switch, it can go between standard hotspot, access point, and extender modes.
The extra fifth Ethernet port on the back is nothing to sneeze at either. On the downside, there's no USB port, and you'll be missing out on some advanced features on the software side that are available on higher-end alternatives.
The NETGEAR Centria WNDR4700 is a great pick for building your own personal cloud, with a dedicated disk drive bay, two USB 3.0 ports, DLNA compatibility, and an SD card slot.
Nab one of these if you have a lot of media to push over your network.
If you're familiar with router classification, you'll notice that we have skipped routers from certain classes altogether, specifically AC1300, AC750, AC580 and anything below N900. We believe these classes just aren't worth investing in anymore because the speeds they offer just don't cut it by today's standards, and better routers are available in higher classes at lower or comparable prices. At the other end of the spectrum, routers in classes even higher than AC1900 (such as AC3200) have started to surface, but we wouldn't consider them targeted at the home market for now, as their price range of over $300 would make them cost-prohibitive for most people who wouldn't get to utilize any of their additional benefits anytime soon. For those unfamiliar with router classification, we highly recommend you go through the section on router classes and speeds in our guide linked above.
Special thanks goes to Tim Higgins and his team at SmallNetBuilder for rigorously testing pretty much every router out there, and sharing their results with all of us. For most people, Tim suggests setting a maximum budget of $100 for your purchase and getting the best router available in that range, and we completely agree. That said, for those of us who do have the latest connected devices supporting AC1750 or above, or at least plan on getting some within the next few months but can't wait till then to get a new router, going into the $150+ zone might make more sense. Also, if spending a few dollars more gets you a router with some built-in extra features that could be very useful to you, that's all the more reason to go for it.
Now, without further ado, let's get to the list. For your convenience, we have organized the list by router class, and also discussed a few alternatives in each class that didn't make it to the top of our list.
1. AC1900 routers: Welcome to the future
This is the best class of routers that is expected to go mainstream over the next couple of years. At the time of writing this post, though, the available consumer hardware that supports this class of connectivity can probably be counted on fingertips of one hand. It'll take a while for such devices to go mainstream and by then, much more affordable routers in this class are bound to become available. For this reason, we'll recommend getting an AC1900 router right now only if price isn't a factor in your decision. Again, don't expect an AC1900 router to magically offer higher speeds compared to even an N900 router if your connected devices only support up to N900 class Wi-Fi.
NETGEAR Nighthawk R7000: Crème de la crème
I first came across the Nighthawk R7000 before actually knowing its name, and the first image that came to my mind was that of its namesake stealth fighter, with the second one being of a ninja. And with edges this sharp, it could potentially be used as a lethal slashing and stabbing weapon! Its sleek looks aside, this $188 router offers everything you could ever ask for from a router, and then some.
When it comes to performance, it is tied at SmallNetBuilder's #1 spot in its class with the $220 ASUS RT-AC68U, and for good reason. You get Broadcom's super-fast BCM4709A dual-core processor clocked at 1 GHz per core - the fastest processor of any router in this list. It's three huge antennas with x3 amplifiers offer unmatched Wi-Fi range even over AC, and the speed results measured on supported AC1750 or higher hardware have been unprecedented.
Its 256 MB of RAM means you can connect dozens of devices to it and heavily configure its firmware to perform any supported functions such as some serious traffic filtering, without worrying about any slowdowns. The included software itself is powerful enough for even the most advanced users, and its 128 MB of ROM means the enthusiasts and DIY guys among us will be able to flash the full versions of pretty much any supported third-party firmware (such as OpenWRT or DD-WRT) on it as it becomes available.
Additional features include DLNA for streaming home media, two USB ports including a USB 3.0 one on the front for plugging in your external hard drives and accessing their data from any devices connected to your home network, printer support, a robust firewall with scheduling options, software for automatic backups to connected storage devices including Time Machine support for Macs, FTP server, WPS connections, apps for smartphones, tablets and computers for easily setting up and managing the router, VPN, parental controls, IPv6, guest networks, 4 Gigabit Ethernet ports and more.
The overall result is a router that gives you the ultimate features as well as maximum range and highest speeds, limited only by the maximum supported speeds of the devices you connect to it. The only reason to not buy it right now, then, is that most of us will not be utilizing the benefits it's offering over the cheaper AC1750 routers that we're about to see. And that alone should be reason enough for most of us to hold up on it for now.
- Fastest router available (not considering routers prohibitively expensive for most home users)
- Best in Wi-Fi range for both AC and N devices
- Pretty much every router software feature you could ask for
- USB 3.0 port with easy access from connected devices, FTP, and automatic backups
- Bandwidth prioritization for demanding tasks like media video streaming and gaming
- Bonus: Can be used as a sharp weapon for self-defense against any intruders
- A high price tag
- Anti-bonus: Can also be used by any intruders as a sharp weapon against you
If you really are to go for an AC1900 router, we can't think of a practical reason that justifies choosing any other option over the Nighthawk R7000. While the $220 ASUS RT-AC68U offers overall average throughput marginally higher than the Nighthawk's by a few Mbps, it sports a slower, 800 MHz processor, and goes in the $200+ range. The $161 Linksys EA6900 might seem like a viable alternative and it's also a great router, but if you are to spend that much on a router, you might as well go all in with the Nighthawk by shelling out $26 more for its overall better performance and features.
2. AC1750 routers: Fastest of the present
This is also a class that we wouldn't have recommended for most people because of the same reasons as those mentioned above for AC1900 routers, but a brand not generally considered top-end has surprised us by releasing a high-performance option at a price almost unbelievable for this class right now. Let's take a look.
TP-LINK Archer C7 v2: The best router for most of us
When we talk about high-end routers, the brand names that generally come to mind are NETGEAR, ASUS, Linksys and D-Link, with TP-Link being only an afterthought known for its cheap routers. Who would have thought the Chinese manufacturer would surprise us with a router that would deliver performance rivaling (and in some categories, even exceeding) other high-end routers in its class by these big names, at a price of under $100? If all you primarily need your router to be is a router, the $99.99 TP-Link Archer C7 is the best option available for most of us, period. Though that doesn't mean it comes without any extra features at all.
When it comes to the specs, its 600 MHz Atheros AR9344 CPU might not sound as impressive as the 800 MHz ones sported by some other routers in this class, but it still outperforms them in throughput at 5 GHz, so your AC devices get the best-in-class download and upload speeds. Its software might not be as robust as that offered by the big brands, it still offers everything a vast majority of home users will ever need, with 128 MB of RAM to provide the firmware with ample memory for all its supported operations.
Its only shortcoming compared to other routers in this class when it comes to core routing features is the comparatively lower throughput at 2.6 GHz, but even that difference of a few Mbps is marginal for most users, and shouldn't bother you unless you're obsessive about getting the highest speed possible (be it by just a few percentage points) while gaming or transferring files between Wi-Fi N devices on your network. But then, if you're that obsessive about performance, you're probably using AC devices in the first place, where Archer's performance is unmatched.
Another important area where the Archer C7 shines is its impressive Wi-Fi range over AC, thanks to its three powerful x3 amplified large external antennas. The range for N connections might not be as impressive due to the 2.4 GHz antennas being internal ones, but it's still far from inadequate and better than any cheap router.
When it comes to the extra features, the only thing missing that might put you off is USB 3.0 support. If you are going to frequently use your router as a networked storage hub by attaching a portable USB drive to it, you'll probably want the higher speeds offered by USB 3.0 over 2.0. That said, for those of us who would only need to do this occasionally, spending $50 extra on a more expensive router just for the purpose might not be a worthy investment.
You still get features like a decent firewall with scheduling, guest networks with bandwidth allocation, printer support, FTP and media server capabilities for the two USB 2.0 ports, IPv6, VPN, 4 Gigabit Ethernet ports etc. If you plan on flashing a custom firmware like OpenWRT or DD-WRT to get much more advanced software features, however, either go for some other option or wait to confirm its support before buying it, as its 8 MB ROM might not be adequate for full versions of such firmware.
To sum it up, unless you absolutely have to get the maximum throughput possible for your N devices, a USB 3.0 port, or some particular advanced software feature not offered by the Archer C7, we don't see why you should spend more than $100 over a router with this one being available in the very top-end zone, and that makes it our router of choice for most people.
- High-end router with an unbelievably low price tag for its class
- All the features most home users would need
- Best-in-class range and throughput over AC
- Lack of a USB 3.0 port
- Not all the software features that advanced users might expect from a high-end router
- Throughput at 2.4 GHz is a little lower than the fastest router in this class
- Not suitable for custom firmware enthusiasts
When it comes to the overall performance and extra features, the excellent ASUS RT-AC66U is undoubtedly the best router available in the AC1750 class. However, for most users, its price of $150 doesn't justify the marginal increase you'll get in 2.4 GHz uplink throughput over the Archer, or the additional software features it offers. If you are to go in that price range, we recommend spending a few dollars more for an AC1900 router like the Nighthawk R7000 or at least the $161 Linksys EA6900. Furthermore, its also only offers USB 2.0 ports, which makes its high price tag even less justified.
If you just want faster shared storage, media-focused features like DLNA and overall better software with advanced parental controls etc. without having to go into the $150+ zone, the personal cloud-focused $124.99 D-Link DIR-868L is an option worth considering.
3. AC1600 routers: Tried and tested
If you don't have any AC1750 or above devices, don't plan on buying them anytime soon, can't deal with the lack of a USB 3.0 port and some advanced software features in the TP-Link Archer C7, and just want the best AC1600 router because you'll only be using it with at most AC1600 devices till your next router upgrade, you're in the right section. If price is your only concern though, and even the $100 Archer C7 is a bit too heavy on your budget, just skip to the next two section - there's no budget option available in this class that doesn't sacrifice significantly on performance and overall features.
NETGEAR R6250: In a class of its own
If an AC1600 router is all you need, you simply can't go wrong with the NETGEAR R6250. No router in its class comes even close, in pretty much any area. That said, this performance comes at a cost of $145. When it comes to features, there's everything you would expect from a high-end NETGEAR router, including highly robust software, best-in-class range, USB 3.0 with easy media sharing features, DLNA, parental controls, guest networks, app-based dashboard for easy setup and control from various platforms, and more. That said, if I were to spend this much on a home router, I'd personally just spend some more and get the Nighthawk once and for all. If the Nighthawk costed $200 or more, and TP-Link hadn't disrupted the AC1750 market with an impressive $100 option, I'd see justification for spending close to $150 on an AC1600 router, but that just isn't the case.
- Best in pretty much every single aspect in its class, be it performance, range, software or extra features
- USB 3.0 port with easy access from connected devices
- One of the best reviewed routers of all time by the most respected industry experts and consumers alike
- A high price for its class considering prices of some excellent routers available in higher classes
As I said earlier, based on the other options available in higher classes, you should only be considering this class if the Nighthawk R7000 is too expensive for you, the TP-Link Archer just doesn't cut it for you due to lack of certain extra features, and budget isn't one of your concerns. And if that's the case, you simply shouldn't look beyond the R6250, period. That said, the Linksys EA6400 is also quite decent alternative, and might be worth considering if, apart from meeting all the above conditions, you just refuse to spend $145 on a home router but find the figure of $122 more palatable.
4. AC1200 routers: When less can be more
By this stage, we have gone through pretty much every router that could possibly be worth spending more than $100 on, and it's now time to take a look at more affordable options.
Edimax BR-6478AC: AC on a budget
If $70 is where you draw the line when it comes to spending on a router, but you must have Wi-Fi AC at the same time, Edimax has just the right one for you. At $68, the Edimax BR-6478AC lacks a fancy name unlike many options we've seen so far. and at this price point, one can't really complain about the lack of some advanced software, built-in media streaming support or even a USB port. Though in addition to offering pretty decent performance for its class (ranking at #2 for AC1200 routers at SmallNetBuilder), Edimax has thrown in five (yes, one more than what the high-end routers we've seen above offer) Gigabit Ethernet ports, guest network support, and smart bandwidth management.
And that's not all — perhaps the best extra feature is the ability to easily switch it between router, access point, and range extender modes, which also make it an excellent affordable option to use in addition to your primary router for getting a decent level of Wi-FI AC coverage in areas of your house that your primary router just can't cover.
- Easy on your wallet for an AC1200 router
- Pretty respectable performance for its class
- 5 Gigabit Ethernet ports
- Can also be easily switched into an AC1200 access point or range extender for another router
- No USB port
- No advanced software features offered by the big industry names
- Not suitable for custom firmware enthusiasts
The $126.95 ASUS RT-AC56U is the best-performing AC1200 router available, but it's not even worth considering in this class due to its price. And while the D-Link DIR-860L might offer several more high-end software features as well as USB 3.0 support for a rather affordable price of $90, it's only worth considering against the $100 Archer C7 if the lack of these particular features is a deal-breaker for you.
5. N900 routers: Still relevant enough
By now, Wi-Fi N devices are completely mainstream, and in fact that's what most current laptops, smartphones and tablets sport. Though a lot of people are still using their older G routers, or some of the earliest and slowest N routers. If that's the situation with you and you don't plan on buying AC devices anytime soon but your current G router or low-class N router is keeping you from getting decent speeds on your high-end N devices over your network, getting a decent N900 router for now would make perfect sense, especially if it also saves you some money.
NETGEAR Centria WNDR4700: More than just a cheap N router
So far, NETGEAR has dominated most of this list, and for good reason — their routers offer some of the best-in-class performance and feature combination at prices that make them completely justified purchases. The $74 NETGEAR Centria WNDR4700 is yet another example of this, and it's more than just a router; it's also an automatic backup and media server, with an integrated 3.5" disk drive bay for adding up to 6 TB of network accessible space for all your media and storage needs. The automatic backup feature supports both PCs and Macs, there's DLNA support for streaming it across your network on supported devices, mobile apps for easily accessing it on your devices, printer support, and two USB 3.0 ports, and even an SD card slot added for good measures to ensure any external drives or storage cards you may have won't feel left out of your personal cloud.
Attention to detail in software features such as the ability to automatically backup SD cards to your attached storage can become an immensely useful feature for the photographers among us. And then there's the performance and robust software you'd expect from any high-end NETGEAR router. For your wired LAN connectivity, there are 4 Gigabit Ethernet ports.
All of this results in a combination that justifies paying $6 more than the AC1200 Edimax BR-6478AC that we've just seen above, if you don't really need AC connectivity for now.
A $185 variant is also available that comes with a 2 TB hard disk built-in, though you can always go for the diskless version and just buy a cheaper hard disk with a storage capacity of your choice, or use one you may already have.
- Affordable price tag considering all the added features
- Great performance for its class
- Integrated hard disk bay for network-accessible storage
- Two USB 3.0 ports
- SD card slot
- No shortcoming we can think of for a router in this class
There are a couple of great alternatives available in the N900 class: the $122.39 ASUS RT-N66U and the $129.99 NETGEAR WNDR4500, but we won't recommend even considering either of them solely because they are priced way too high for an N router, and many great routers with comparable or better features are available in much higher classes for comparable or even lower prices.
6. Wait, no Apple routers?!
If you're a fan of Apple products, it'll only be natural for you to wonder where are your favorite Airport routers in this list. While both the Airport Extreme and the Airport Express are decent routers in their own right and just work, that's the thing - they just work, nothing less but nothing more either.
This goes in line with Apple's philosophy of making devices targeted at brand-loyal users that just work well enough for them, but simply don't cut it when it comes to earning the title of the best device in a class, due to there being much faster, more feature-rich, customizable, powerful and cheaper options being available out there.
Let's briefly take a look at Apple's router offerings individually to see why they didn't make it to our recommendations.
Apple's flagship router, the Airport Extreme couldn't even make it to our alternative recommendations for this class despite being a fairly high-end simultaneous dual-band AC1750 router because it just doesn't come close to any of our recommendations in terms of both performance and price. At $185, it's the most expensive router in the AC1750 class, but is outclassed in pretty much every aspect by the top few contenders in the category, be it maximum throughput over the 5 GHz and 2.4 GHz channels, range, software features or extras. Speaking of extras, it doesn't even have a USB 3.0 port or any software customization options - the only two reasons that could possibly justify not going for the $100 TP-LINK Archer C7 in this class.
The only reason I can think of, then, for choosing the Airport Extreme over the likes of the NETGEAR NightHawk R7000, ASUS RT-AC68U, Linksys EA6900, TP-Link Archer C7, ASUS RT-AC66U or D-Link DIR-868L etc. would be brand loyalty. If it were priced at, let's say, $99, I'd be more than happy to recommend it as a very decent budget alternative, but I simply don't see a single rational reason to justify spending $185 on it.
The Airport Express is in a router class that we didn't even consider for our review: N600. That's because there are enough extremely decent options available in the highest N class i.e. N900 for very affordable prices, to make going for any lower class simply not a smart decision.
The one single benefit the Airport Express offers over other routers is integrated AirPlay support, so if you have no Wi-Fi AC devices, don't care about getting the best simultaneous dual-band speeds on your Wi-Fi N devices, and have many AirPlay speakers connected to your home network, it might be worth investing into the Express. For every other scenario, it would be nothing short of insane to spend $99 on an N600 router at this point in time, when you can get the best-performing AC1750 router for that much! $40 would be a much more fair price for it, considering some of the best-performing routers in this class are available in the $34-$85 range.
That's all from us; now it's your turn to tell us and our readers about your favorite routers, and what makes you vouch for them.
Updated September 2015 by Simon Sage, Original article published in 2014 by HAROON Q RAJA