Your network connection plays a huge role in how well you can take advantage of the internet, and if it is lacking you’re going to end up frustrated by buffering, signal interruptions, and more.
Along with your modem, the router is one of the most essential pieces of equipment when it comes to getting online.
It allows you to share an internet connection with multiple devices through wireless networking, expanding past just a direct connection to the wall.
When it comes to choosing a wireless router, there are tons of different brands and models each with different specs you may not understand.
Do you need a dual-band? How much bandwidth is enough? Those are just the tip of the iceberg, and there’s plenty more to ask yourself.
Thankfully, with this article, we’ll show you some solid choices to consider for your upgrade, as well as teaching you a little something about networking to make the most of your connection.
As always, we recommend you to read our buyer’s guide to have a more in-depth understanding of what you should be looking for before you dive into our list of the top rated wi-fi router in 2018.
|Wireless Router||Best For||Type||Price|
|TP-Link AC1750 Smart Wi-Fi (Editor’s Pick)||Best Dual Band Wireless Router||802.11ac||Price|
|ASUS N300 Wireless Router (Editor’s Pick)||Best Budget Choice for Simple User||802.11n||Price|
|Linksys EA6350 Wi-Fi Router (Editor’s Pick)||Best Mid-Tier for Smaller Homes||802.11ac||Price|
|AmpliFi Whole Home Wi-Fi System (Editor’s Pick)||Best Wireless Router for Apartment with Concrete Walls||802.11ac||Price|
|Medialink AC1200 Wireless Router||Best Secondary Mid-Range Choice for Smaller Homes||802.11ac||Price|
|NETGEAR XR500 Nighthawk Pro AC2600 Router||Best Gaming Router||802.11ac||Price|
|Wise Tiger AC1200 Smart Router||Best Budget Option for Slower Connections||802.11ac||Price|
|HooToo Wireless Travel Router||Best Router for Multimedia Devices||-||Price|
|Securifi Almond Wireless Router||Best Mid-Tier Router with Touchscreen||802.11n||Price|
|Tenda N300 Wireless Wi-Fi Router||Best Cheapest Router||802.11n||Price|
1. TP-Link AC1750 Smart Wi-Fi Router — The Best Dual Band Wireless Router
The AC1750 router from TP-Link is an excellent mid-tier option for a regular family household that needs enough bandwidth to sustain regular internet browsing activities like surfing websites or streaming video from places such as Netflix or YouTube but doesn’t want to pay for all the extras.
Being endorsed by J.D. Power for the highest rank in customer service for wireless routers, you can be certain that this product is highly supported.
Along with that very prestigious ranking, with this product you are receiving a full 2-year warranty and free 24/7 technical support should you run into any issues with your device to further add to the value.
On the actual router itself, you will find three antennas that act as signal extenders, which are a huge factor in determining your wireless router’s total range of coverage.
This number can fluctuate up or down based on your location or materials in your home, but on average this router is able to achieve a possible Wi-Fi range of up to 2,500 square feet of coverage.
This makes it a solid choice for mid-sized homes and exceptional for smaller areas.
On the back of this router, you’ll find four LAN/Ethernet ports for directly connecting devices for a rock-solid and incredibly fast connection, a USB port to connect additional devices, a WAN port for the modem, and the power on/off.
While the interface is rather simple, having 4-gigabit Ethernet ports is essential for any gaming station or desktop computer setup due to the increase in performance.
An area of improvement for this router is its bandwidth capacity, as at just AC1750 it doesn’t offer too much bandwidth for busy households.
Thankfully, it is dual-band which will allow you to maximize the available bandwidth but if you have a larger home or have members of your household that require more internet power for things such as downloading or online gaming you may run into issues with this router.
However, for the average family who just needs the internet for casual use such as school research and occasional web browsing you should run into realistically no issues with this device.
At a fair price, this dual-band 802.11ac wireless router is likely good enough for medium households.
It has extras to add to the value but lacks a little bit of bandwidth to make it a real powerhouse.
- Dual band
- Priced well
- 3 antennas – long range
- Comes with app
- Alexa compatible
- Quality of service control
- 2-year warranty
- Possible firmware issues
- Limited bandwidth capacity
2. ASUS N300 Wireless Router — A Viable Budget Choice for Simple User
ASUS is a world-renowned provider for all things electronic, specifically those relating to computers.
This router is a reliable budget option for an apartment or anyone who wants a decent quality router while spending as little as possible.
It is an 802.11n router, with a capacity of up to 300 Mbps which puts it near the bottom of the list, but the price matches it.
For starters, setting up this router is incredibly easy and is possible on any tablet, smartphone, or PC.
All you have to do is plug it in and then navigate to the router interface to complete the setup. For those looking for no-fuss, you’ll love the easy installation.
If you look on the back of the router, you may notice the Software EZ switch and wonder what that’s about.
This allows you to switch from traditional router mode where it takes the internet connection from the modem to supply Wi-Fi and instead lets it act as an extender for another router.
To do this, you can use the repeater and AP mode settings to allow you to extend the range of your wireless networks to relay the signal further distances.
The Software EZ switch allows you to switch between these modes with the simple push of a button, giving this simple device a perk for advanced users.
This model also allows you great control over your network by enabling firewalls, parental controls, and more to keep your network safe.
It also comes with few extras like Alexa compatibility, QoS control, and more.
The areas that this router tends to fall short in are the power, features, and customizability.
It’s a decent router for the price point, but when compared to other routers you’ll notice that it has significantly less bandwidth, less range, and lacks gigabit Ethernet ports for a genuinely unlimited speed capacity.
But, at this price point, it’s pretty hard to expect too much, and you will not be let down with the purchase.
If you’re looking for a router that is easy to set up and use, this could be it.
However, it lacks bandwidth capacity, signal strength, features, and more that make it best suited for those who don’t ask for much from their internet connection.
- Switch between router, repeater, AP mode
- Multiple account control
- Easy to set up
- Very affordable
- Lacks power
- Few extras
3. Linksys EA6350 Wi-Fi Wireless Router — Best Mid-Tier for Smaller Homes
The EA6350 router from Linksys is a middle-priced router that puts more of its focus towards the extra features that come with the device than other competitors at similar price points.
It’s an 802.11ac standard router with a 1,200 Mbps bandwidth, split between dual-bands for a better signal.
One of the unique features you’ll notice with this device is the beamforming technology it uses to create a stronger Wi-Fi connection. Beamforming is a technology that allows the router to identify and immediately connect with devices when they are in range.
The alternative is that many routers directly send wireless signals in general directions searching for devices to connect to. The result of this is there are a lot more wireless clutter and the signals, as a result, aren’t as strong.
With beamforming you will be able to hone in directly on devices that are connected, keeping a more direct connection. Due to this, you’ll notice much stronger Wi-Fi connections because of the better range and reduced interference.
Another great feature of this router is the customization it offers. You can download the Linksys app to your smartphone or tablet to customize parts of your wi-fi like guest networks, IP control, bandwidth control, parental controls, and more.
On the back of this router, you will find four Gigabit-LAN ports, a WAN port for bridging with the modem, and a power switch for easy router resets.This makes it easy to plug and play on a lightning-fast connection (as long as you have the bandwidth for it!) and makes setup and troubleshooting easier as well.
While the features with this router are incredibly handy, there is still the blaring issue of very low bandwidth capacity for routers of this price range. With this router, Linksys focused more heavily on the features, but this leaves for room to be desired in the actual power and functionality of the router.
With the 2.4GHz band only offering 300 Mbps of bandwidth and the 5GHz band offering 867mbps, you’re going to run into trouble as your smart devices start to add up.
However, for the average person, these may be non-issues and something you will never notice during the lifespan of your device. You may just have to rely on mobile data when guests come over.
While we’d always prefer performance over extras, this model’s beamforming technology helps to offset its slightly weaker bandwidth rating.
In a smaller household where bandwidth is no problem, this is a perfectly serviceable router.
- Comes with app
- Very customizable
- Lacks bandwidth
4. AmpliFi Whole Home Wi-Fi System — Best Mesh Wireless Router for Apartment with Concrete Walls
If you’re looking for a full-house wireless system and have some deep pockets, this may be the choice for you. The folks at AmpliFi have gone above and beyond with this comprehensive Wi-Fi system, and it shows with 4.4 stars on Amazon and tons of rave reviews.
This is a luxurious and pricier alternative to other routers, but when going with an option like this for your router, you get what you pay for.
After all, you won’t find AC5300-bandwidth routers too often.
One of the most frustrating aspects of the wireless internet experience is the inconsistency you can experience. In some areas of your house you’re getting a perfect signal, and in some others like the basement, it’s almost as if you have no internet connectivity at all.
When you purchase this Wi-Fi system, you are paying for the router, but one of the main reasons for the high price point with this device is the fantastic mesh points.
By strategically placing both of these across the house, you can effectively boost the range and strength of your wireless signal up to 10,000 square feet total coverage.
To add to the luxury and convenience, it also boasts a touchscreen monitor to show you exactly what you’re working with rather than needing to decipher blinking red and green lights.
This display gives you actual numbers and information about your internet in real time as you’d get off of a computer speed test.
As is customary for many of the higher end routers, with this device also comes the ability to use the app on any smartphone or tablet for initial setup and any fine tweaking you need to make on the fly in just minutes.
On the back of the router, you’ll find a mostly barebones structure with only the four LAN ports and one WAN port, but the Ethernet ports are gigabit-level so you can be confident in your direct connection.
A significant downside of this whole-home system is that the mesh extenders don’t offer Ethernet connectivity; instead it forces you to connect via wireless twice.
Rather than taking advantage of Ethernet’s reliability from the extender, you’ll instead be subjected to 2 rounds of wireless interference, hurting your connection.
Other than that, it’s mostly a question of if the very high price point that comes with this device is worth it.
If you have a very spacious area or lots of potential interference like concrete walls, then something like this could be a must buy just for you to have stable internet throughout the house, but otherwise, you will likely get more bang for your buck from a lower priced router.
In terms of full-home solutions, this router stands at the top as it sits. If you can afford the price tag, you can easily make this system work for the entirety of most homes without running into lag.
- Up to 10,000 sq. ft. of range
- Touchscreen display
- Easy to set up
- Works well with homes that has concrete walls
- Cheaper than Google WiFi Mesh System
- Very expensive
- No Ethernet on extenders
5. Medialink AC1200 Wireless Router — A Secondary Mid-Range Choice for Smaller Homes
This AC1200 router from Medialink is made with simplicity in mind.
It comes at a very middle and average price point and at 1200AC is suitable for average-sized homes, especially if you don’t want all the bells and whistles or don’t use many devices at once.
An essential feature of this router is the return of beamforming technology, allowing it to direct its relatively lacking bandwidth capacity directly towards devices to minimize interference.
It should be able to cover a home up to 2,000 square feet with the 2.4GHz band, or a smaller area with the faster 5GHz band.
Built into the router, is also a Universal Range Extender Mode which gives you the option to further boost the range of your internet signal from another router to help it reach an even further distance, similar to plug-in extenders you can buy separately.
This one can be used as a backup router, however, making it a better value than a mesh extender. Fortunately, on the back of the router along with the usual setup, you will find a USB 2.0 slot to give you the option for file sharing with your device.
Features of this Medialink router that could be improved are the range. Some customers have reported issues with range, and even Medialink themselves have mentioned this while suggesting you invest in buying one of their range extenders, or even a second router.
This is apparently a drawback, and with the 5GHz band being already limited in size, you’ll definitely want to look into getting more range with an extender or stronger router.
For many people, it will be worthier to shell out for one expensive router rather than hoping that investing in two middle-priced ones hoping to fix the range issue. This makes the router a hard sell when combined with its lack of bandwidth availability.
With all things being said, if your home doesn’t experience a great deal of interference or one that fits within this router’s range, then it can be a good choice.
While it’s not our first pick, in terms of mid-range routers this model can work for middle-sized homes or homes with little interference.
However, you would likely be better off spending a bit more for a better product if you can afford it.
- USB port
- Safety features
- Range extender mode
- Range issues
- Low bandwidth
6. NETGEAR XR500 Nighthawk Pro AC2600 Router — Best Gaming Router
For many years the Nighthawk series of gaming routers by NETGEAR has been at the very top of the router game, and with stellar customer ratings, it lives up to the hype.
As expected, the XR500 is a more expensive and luxurious option when compared to other options, but you’re paying for top-of-the-line hardware, and that is precisely what you’re getting with the Nighthawk Pro.
The XR500 is all about features. While it boasts an 802.11ac network standard and 2,600 Mbps of bandwidth, where it really separates itself is the gaming extras. This is a gaming router through and through.
A remarkable feature or perk that comes with buying this router is that you’ll be given access to NETGEAR’S VPN server. This allows you to protect your network identity when online, protecting your IP address and information safe from phishing, IP resolving, and more that can affect your gaming.
Another fantastic feature is the gaming dashboard that comes provided. This gives you access to real-time information about your internet connection and how it’s being used.
Furthermore, you can prioritize specific devices or connections to make sure that you’re getting the most you possibly can out of your gaming and internet experience.
If your little brother is on the computer and you’re gaming online, you can set your own bandwidth allocation to be higher to ensure you get the speeds you need without completely cutting him off.
Goodbye internet-related disputes! Another excellent tool with this router is the networking monitor.
If there are interruptions or decreases in your connection, with this tool, you will be able to quickly decipher what is causing the issues and be able to remedy them instead of wildly guessing where the problems may be coming from.
Too many connections slowing you down? See what devices are hogging the bandwidth and limit their share.
The only issue anyone could have with this router is the price. There are no real issues with the router, and it’s even been reported to be the fastest router ever by PC Gamer, but it’s not for everyone.
Not everyone requires the incredible amount of power, and numerous features that come with this device and not everyone is a hardcore gamer.
If that’s the case, then it’s possible you should look elsewhere for a more average router to suit your needs, but if you want the best of the best you should be taking a look at the Nighthawk series by NETGEAR.
If you’re looking for the very best gaming experience possible, the Nighthawk Pro XR500 router is one of the very best. From exceptional speed to extra perks, it’s hard to go wrong if you can afford it.
- Gaming dashboard
- QoS tool
- Network monitor
- Two USB ports
- Dual band
- Geo filter
- Access to gaming VPN
- Very expensive
7. Wise Tiger AC1200 Smart Router — Best Budget Option for Slower Connections
This wireless router from Wise Tiger is a viable budget option for a spacious home or even businesses such as offices or restaurants. It boasts excellent ratings from users, letting you know that you can depend on it to get you up and running online in no time.
The primary goal for this router to achieve for the makers at Wise Tiger is maximum range possible at the minimum price possible. At this price point it’s more common to expect one or two antennas to boost range, but with this router, they opted to go for a total of four antennas to increase range even further.
Another significant aspect of the very low price point is that this router is also able to double as a repeater to further the range of your internet connection even more.
This is great for homes with multiple floors and especially for homes with basements housing thick concrete walls preventing strong signals from getting through and maintaining strength.
By using this router as a repeater and placing it in your basement, your main router can power the range for the rest of the house and the repeater will extend it throughout your basement to maintain optimal signal strength.
You’ll also get an extra Ethernet port, with this router hosting 5 plus the WAN port so you can use Ethernet for every device on your network if you choose to. The device is also compatible with the Amazon Alexa devices should you own one and have an interest in controlling your router via voice commands.
As with many of the other budget options, the aspects of this device that could be improved are both the features and speed of the router. The router lacks virtually any features, and the only real things it has going for it is the price and range potential.
Wise Tiger also recommends that users of this router have under 100 Mbps internet connections as having more could result in seeing your connection bottlenecked due to the restrictions of the router.
When you add this to the fact that the Ethernet ports are only 100 Mbps, you’re wasting your connection if you have higher speeds.
Despite boasting an extra Ethernet port and some additional antennas for further range, this router is likely to bottleneck faster connections.
You’ll really only want to consider this option if your connection is below 100 Mbps; otherwise, you’re wasting speeds.
- Four antennas – long range
- Amazon Alexa compatible
- Dual band router
- Repeater compatible
- 2-year warranty
- Lacks features
- Lacks bandwidth
8. HooToo Wireless Travel Router — Best Mobile Router
Mixing things up a little bit, we have a very portable travel router from HooToo.
While it may look like an iPod Nano, it is actually a great budget option for the user who does a lot of traveling but still wants to maintain control and privacy over their own borrowed wireless network.
If you’re in a dorm or on public Wi-Fi, this device can make your private personal network that you can control safely.
The HooToo is a traditional router and not a modem, so while with this device you will be able to create your own private connection, you will still need an already existing internet connection to use for your private connection to have internet connectivity (it is NOT a hotspot).
Alternatively, as is the case with many of the wireless router options with lower price points, this router can be used as a repeater or extender. This allows for you to use a more expensive and powerful router as your primary router, and just use the less expensive router to extend the signal range to other areas where the signal is not as strong.
Another feature that comes with this device is the ability to share media such as photos, videos, or music wirelessly to other devices. You simply connect the device with the files into the router via USB and then you’ll be able to wirelessly transmit the files to other smartphones, tablets, or other devices of your choice.
As far as potential improvements go for this device, its primary use is strictly as a travel router that allows you to create a private network off of an existing network, not as a home router.
It has no Ethernet ports for connecting devices, offers no bandwidth on its own, and relies on an outside internet connection to be used. Thinking of it as a standard router will leave you disappointed, so don’t expect much more than a traveling storage device and private network connection.
If you’re trying to secure your own personal network off of public Wi-Fi to transfer files, you can use this to help you. However, it’s not to be used as a home router.
- Wireless media streaming
- Very affordable
- Can’t be used for home connection
9. Securifi Almond Wireless Router — Best Mid-Tier Touchscreen Router
Want to feel like a hacker every time you interact with your router?
This wireless router from Securifi is the world’s first entirely touchscreen router and will make you feel like Mr. Robot as you play with the interface. It comes towards the higher end of the middle price points for routers reviewed today despite only boasting reasonably satisfied reviews on eCommerce sites.
The Almond Wireless Router takes control and security seriously. One of the most enticing features about the Almond router by Securifi is the Almond app that is usable with the device right from the get-go. To start, you’re given complete control over your internet connection and what happens on it at all times.
Whenever a device connects to your network, you’ll be given a notification directly to your phone and from there you’ll be able to decide if you’d like to allow them to use your internet or be given the option to block them from accessing without the need to change your Wi-Fi password every time someone connects.
You can also implement parental controls, blocking specific sites and shutting down connections when it comes to bedtime.
Additionally, security is an essential aspect for Securifi routers, promising all models to come fully secure out of the box. It comes with a built-in firewall, tracking blocking, DMZ customization, and more to make sure you’re only allowing connections you trust to get onto your network.
To add onto this, they also come with a 1-year warranty and unlimited technical support should you run into any other issues while using your router. Finally, set up with the Almond router is easier than ever, not requiring any devices at all with setup being possible directly on the touchscreen screen within a mere 3 minutes.
If you’re looking for possible improvements with this router, it’s definitely the power in a traditional router sense. Using 802.11n as the standards for the wireless connection, this router is only able to provide 300 Mbps of bandwidth to users, making it hard to work with for larger households.
The primary place this device seems to excel is using the universal range extender mode to extend an already existing router’s wireless signal to help power other areas of the house, as its power on its own isn’t impressive.
It also only has 2 Ethernet ports, both of which are capped at 100 Mbps, which causes a bottleneck for faster connections and limits its potential use.
While it certainly looks fancy and has some neat features, this router is just not up to par with other similarly priced models in terms of performance. It is simple and easy to use, but a technical user will be left wanting more.
- Effortless setup
- Complete touchscreen control
- Has an app
- Unlimited technical support
- 1-year warranty
- Range extender conversion
- Lacks bandwidth
- Bottlenecks higher connections
10. Tenda N300 Wireless Wi-Fi Router — Cheapest Router Available
Just looking to get your Wi-Fi setup cheap and don’t care too much about the details?
Consider this minimally priced choice. This N300 wireless router from Tenda is an affordable lower-end option that is best for small-to-medium environments with lower internet connection speeds and few internet users.
It won’t blow you away, but for the price, you’ll struggle to find anything with a better performance.
A great deal of the focus from Tenda was put towards ensuring that this router has excellent range. For the low price point, it even has an impressive list of features.
Firstly, you’re able to turn on the bandwidth control setting and set download and upload limits for each specific connected device. This can be especially useful for users with internet connections that are limited on a monthly basis if you want to ensure you’re not paying any additional monthly fees accidentally.
This can also be used to boost other connections as a quality of service controller, directing bandwidth where you want it. By limiting the bandwidth of other devices, it leaves more bandwidth for your desired devices.
The setup for this device also promises to be super simple, only needing a very simple plug in, log in, and play. On top of that, the router also offers multiple levels of security. It comes with a firewall that lets you whitelist and blacklist connections, MAC addresses, and more to keep your network extra-secure.
This just adds another layer of protection to your internet connection and helps prevent any unwanted visitors out.
As you can expect from a budget option, bandwidth is a severe problem for this device. Being an N300 router, it is only able to achieve speeds up to 300 Mbps which is just a fraction of the speeds you will be used to seeing routers capable of reaching in today’s market.
It also is single-band only, limiting your connections to the unreliable 2.4GHz band or the 100 Mbps-capped Ethernet ports. These are some serious flaws, but when you consider the price point, warranty, and if you have an internet connection that is sure not to be bottlenecked by this router, this could easily be worth it for your home or office.
For the price of a pizza, you can turn your connection wireless to help you connect more devices at a time. It won’t do much else outside of some QoS control, but for under $20 what else could you want?
- Straightforward setup
- 3-year warranty
- Very affordable
- Bandwidth control feature
- Lacks speed
- Lacks features
Wireless Router Buyer’s Guide
A router can be a gamechanger for your connection, and once you have the right one for you, you’ll never game, stream, or browse the same. But how do you pick out the right one?
Are you sick and tired of losing your Wi-Fi connection around the house and sitting through Netflix buffering? Do you want to know why your connection stinks, and what you can do about it?
If so, keep reading to learn more about your network and how you can maximize its performance without breaking the bank. The load time you’ll save alone will be more than worth it!
What Affects How Fast My Connection Is?
When you’re screaming at your TV or monitor for things to stop buffering, you’re experiencing one of two things: loss of connection, or a lack of bandwidth.
Apparently, there isn’t much that is more frustrating than continually buffering videos, but what can you do about it?
Outside of service outages from your internet service provider (ISP), most of your connection issues are going to stem from a lack of available download or upload speed, either due to a weak signal or not enough bandwidth available on your device to accommodate it.
The various aspects of your internet connection all play a significant role in the overall quality of service and knowing what exactly they’re for can help you diagnose why your connection may be lacking.
Internet speed is described by 3 metrics: download speed, upload speed, and ping.
When performing any action that involves the internet, you are either downloading or uploading something, with the ping being the time it takes for those actions to happen.
When you’re browsing the internet or watching videos, you are receiving information from the servers of various websites to your computer.
This information is downloaded, processed, and then displayed by your computer to show you the webpage or store the video on your computer to be played.
Download speed refers to how quickly your internet connection allows you to receive/download this information from the source.
Often measured in megabits per second (Mbps), the higher the number is, the more information is sent and received at a time, lowering the overall time it takes to complete the transfer.
On the opposite side of downloading is uploading, where you put information online from your local device rather than taking it from the internet. This allows it to be accessed (downloaded) by others (streaming, file sharing, and more) off of a server.
The upload speed refers to the rate at which you can transfer the information onto the server from your device. The faster you can upload the data, the sooner it is available online to be downloaded which leads to a smaller delay for things like hosting video games or streaming.
Ping is not directly a contributing factor to the time it takes to download or upload things but instead acts as your connection’s reaction time.
Ping measures the time it takes for your device to send a “ping” or message to the server being accessed and have it returned. Because you are accessing this server for your downloading or uploading, the time it takes is the delay between being told what to download/upload from the server and being able to begin the process.
You’ll notice the effects of ping on online video games primarily, as they require lightning-fast downloading of information as to what happens on the game server.
If your computer cannot download the rapidly-changing information quickly enough, your experience will be “laggy,” or give you delayed visuals or inputs because you are on a different timeframe than the rest of the server.
Now that you’re familiar with the various speed-related metrics of an internet connection, it’s time to discuss the reason some people get 25, and some get 1,000 Mbps of bandwidth and how to maximize yours.
Bandwidth refers to the amount of information that can be transferred in a specific amount of time usually measured in megabits per second (Mbps). Think of it as a straw; the information is the liquid, and the straw is the form of data transfer.
The amount of fluid that can flow through the straw is the bandwidth available to the drinker. If you increase the size of the straw, there is more room for liquid to flow through, giving you a higher bandwidth.
In the case of internet bandwidth, your ISP chooses the size of the straw you’re using. When you buy an internet plan, you are paying to have your ISP increase the bandwidth available to your connection.
This explains why it costs more for higher speeds and therefore greater bandwidth. Download speed and upload speed (mentioned above) describe the available bandwidth a specific device can use to complete downloads or uploads.
In simple terms, bandwidth tells you the maximum amount of data transfer that your home router, phone, gaming console, PC, and more can process at a given time. Higher bandwidth means a higher transfer speed and a shorter wait for you.
However, there are more limitations than just the amount of bandwidth your ISP provides. In its path from your ISP to your smart device, the data needs to go through multiple devices.
Each device has a specific bandwidth capacity it can process, meaning the amount of download/upload speeds you can use at a given time is continuously subject to capacity limits.
For example, using your computer to access this article through Wi-Fi forces the bandwidth to travel through 3 devices. First, the bandwidth must travel from your ISP to your home, limited by the amount of bandwidth you pay for.
Then once it hits your modem & router or gateway, it faces the restriction of your router’s broadcasting bandwidth capacity. If your router has a low capacity, you can lose a ton of your bandwidth right there.
Traveling from the router to your computer then subjects the bandwidth to your PC’s bandwidth capacity, further limiting your potential performance if your wireless card isn’t up to par.
Additionally, with each connection to your network, you are splitting the bandwidth that is available to the rest of the devices, limiting their resources and lowering speeds. This is why you will often see performance issues when there are multiple users online at a given time, making it essential for larger households to maximize their bandwidth.
To get the most out of your internet connection, you’re going to want to ensure that your bandwidth capacity is as high as possible. This includes getting the best bandwidth from your ISP as well as hardware that can handle it.
If you have 1,000 Mbps download and upload speeds but your router can only output 100, or your PC can only accept 150 Mbps, you’re not able to take advantage of the extra speed.
Additionally, if your hardware has gigabit levels of bandwidth capacity, but you’re only working with a 10/10 download/upload speed connection, you’re going to be missing out on serious speed.
Single-Band vs. Dual-Band
When you walk into a friend’s house and ask for the Wi-Fi code, chances are that you’ll see 2 networks to choose from – 2.4GHz and 5GHz variations.
They tell you to go into their guest room to check for the passcode on the router when you notice the 5GHz connection went from 2 bars to 3. What gives?
As time goes on, more and more household appliances are becoming “smart,” offering the ability to access the internet, connect with other local devices, and more. However, you may not realize that with every new smart device comes a new connection to your internet, and a wireless signal to come with it.
In addition to walls, flooring, and other barriers, additional wireless signals need to bounce their way to your router. That can lead to interference, and when you’re aiming for a fast and steady connection, you want as little interference as possible.
The solution for minimalizing interference among connections in your home or office came in the form of dual-band technology, allowing routers to use a new frequency of wave – 5GHz.
Due to it being on an entirely separate spectrum, there is no interaction with the lower-frequency 2.4GHz devices. This lets devices that are capable (and routers with dual-band technology) communicate exclusively, allowing for a more stable and faster connection.
Unfortunately, the new 5GHz capabilities do not come without their faults. There is very much so a place for both frequencies, with each offering benefits and drawbacks.
Depending on the devices you own, their wi-fi capabilities, and the amount of area they need to cover, you’ll likely end up choosing your connection based on the device you’re using.
2.4GHz is the older and more common frequency for routers to have, with most single-band routers supporting it. In addition to a wireless connection, many household appliances (TVs, wireless phones, and more) also operate on the same band for their own signals.
The more devices on the band, the more crowded the network becomes and the stronger the interference, leading to signal drops or low-quality signals and connections. 2.4GHz bands use long waves for communication, making them better for long ranges and for traveling through objects like walls or floors to reach the entirety of your house.
Unfortunately, they also offer much lower bandwidth capacity than 5GHz connections, making 2.4GHz the second choice for performance outside of a heavily-isolated router with tons of barriers blocking the signal.
5GHz is the newer band that is available primarily in dual-band routers next to 2.4GHz. Because it is more modern and more advanced, there are not as many devices to get in the way of the signal, improving the connection quality.
The technology also allows for faster speeds, and when coupled with fewer devices fighting for bandwidth, you’ll have a better overall experience.
Sadly, the shorter waves of the 5GHz band make them struggle to penetrate walls and other solid objects. This means that you’ll struggle to get a reliable connection when you’re out of sight, limiting the potential benefits.
To combat this, you can place your router in an open area where it can reach the most space without running into walls or flooring. Additionally, not all devices are capable of using the 5GHz band, so you’ll be stuck with 2.4GHz for those devices without being able to take advantage of the dual-band router.
Overall, you’ll probably want to use 5GHz whenever you can due to the performance benefits. However, if there are a lot of walls and barriers in your way, you may get a better signal from the 2.4GHz frequency that can penetrate through the walls. If neither seems to work, consider going wired.
Should I Use Ethernet or Wireless?
You’ve got choices for how you want to browse the internet; you can plop on the couch with a mobile device or at your desk with a PC.
Sure, your PC can do way more things than your smartphone can do (bigger screen, more power, specific programs, and more) but you have to stay at your desk the whole time.
However, if you use a laptop or mobile device, you’re able to take it on the go with you while you cook food, clean the house, or watch your kids.
Choosing between Ethernet and Wi-Fi connections is similar to choosing your device; you choose mobility and convenience, or you can choose limited freedom but better performance.
Ethernet allows you to connect to the internet through the use of a cable rather than using a wireless signal. As you can likely guess, the absence of radio waves leads to less interference, which then provides a more stable connection.
This means that you’ll not only avoid connection disruptions, but you’ll maintain your download, upload, and ping rates without much fluctuation because there is an uninterrupted constant stream of bandwidth available.
In addition to stability, you’re also going to see much faster speeds in most Ethernet connections when compared to wireless connections.
While some bandwidth can be lost or limited by the wireless router, the Ethernet cable will most likely be able to handle whatever speeds you provide due to a higher bandwidth capacity (usually about 1,000 Mbps) and no sharing with other signals on the same frequency.
Outside of the freedom to roam that wireless provides, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a performance benefit of choosing a wireless connection over a wired one.
However, you’ll most likely be taking advantage of both with different devices so making the investment into a quality router with robust wireless bandwidth and gigabit Ethernet ports would be your best bet.
Router and Modem vs. 2-in-1 Gateway
In the past, many internet setups consisted of 2 parts: a modem and a router.
The modem would connect to the wall to receive the signal from your internet service provider (ISP), allowing you access to the internet. However, the modem alone didn’t provide Wi-Fi, instead offering just a single Ethernet port in many cases.
Fortunately, by simply connecting a router to the modem you could provide Wi-Fi throughout the house, letting people sign on and off at will.
As time has gone on, ISPs have begun to combine the modem and router into a single unit called a gateway. This allows users to connect directly to the unit for Ethernet or Wi-Fi, making it convenient for those who want a simple internet setup.
However, combining the 2 also limits the options for customization, security, performance and more. With many gateways offering the option of attaching a separate router to them if you choose, it is essential to know the pros and cons of a 2-in-1 versus separate units.
Separate modem and router
With a separate router and modem combination, you are emphasizing control over convenience. With a combined unit, your router and modem are both controlled by your ISP.
This means that you are relying on them for support, updates, and more. However, by using their modem with your own router, you open up a variety of customization options that their standard gateway may not allow for.
Certain IP address control, firmware updates, and other added perks like Alexa integration are available for routers but not often for gateways. You can also control your firewall and security options, access port forwarding, and more by interacting with the router’s interface (something some ISPs don’t like you tinkering with).
In addition to improved control, you’re also allowing yourself more freedom with your internet setup. Have your modem coming through a room nobody uses?Connect it to a router placed in a central location for the best connection.
Have an out-of-date router that is holding your wi-fi back? Upgrade your router rather than waiting for new hardware from your ISP! It may be a bit more complicated, but for those who value control, it’s worth it.
With a gateway device, convenience and value are the selling points.
While you have to go out and buy a separate router for your modem with the 2-piece setup, you can simply use the provided gateway from your ISP out of the box without spending more.
With comparable performance to mid-tier routers and straightforward installation, saving the extra money may be worth it for those who just want wireless internet and don’t care to tinker or customize things.
A gateway will also take up less room than a 2-piece setup, with the restriction of requiring close proximity to the service input. You’ll be able to reset both at once, and only need to access one interface to make changes (if the ISP allows them).
Making the choice
In the end, the correct option for you depends on what you value: convenience or control. A separate setup will likely cost you more but allows you more customization, upgradeability, and freedom with your configuration.
A gateway is cheaper, more straightforward, and out-of-the-box ready to go for those not looking for a fuss; however, you will give up some of the fine-adjustments that your own router offers.
Personally, we would recommend that you go with separate devices to take advantage of the control it allows you, and the ability to tweak your connection to perfection.
Differences Between 802.11 Standards
If you’re like many internet users, you’re probably having flashbacks of calculus when they started adding letters to math. While it’s not much easier to understand than calculus, you don’t really need to know what the numbers mean – just the letters that follow.
802.11 is the networking standard for wireless devices, telling them which protocol to use for establishing a wireless connection. As with most technology, wireless networking advances regularly leading to a need for different identifiers for the current protocol being used for 802.11.
Letters placed at the end of the sequence tell the user what version of the standard the router is using. This allows them to make a general assumption about the performance of the product without needing to know the technicalities behind it.
While just about every letter has been used for version control behind the scenes, there are only a few that are still used today. In order of earliest to latest, they are:
- 802.11g – bandwidth up to 54 Mbps (single-band)
- 802.11n – bandwidth up to 300 Mbps (single-band)
- 802.11ac – bandwidth up to as much as 5,200 Mbps between 3 networks (dual-band and tri-band capabilities)
As you can tell, the newer the device, the better the bandwidth capacity and therefore potential speeds. You’ll primarily see 802.11ac routers on the marketplace, allowing you to take advantage of the benefits of dual-band technology, but if you’re on a budget with a slower connection or a smaller home, you can definitely get away with an 802.11n router.
We’d recommend not dipping below that though, as the performance to cost ratio will massively drop off.
What to Look For
Now that you’re aware of what makes your network work, you can begin searching and comparing different routers to choose from.
There’s a lot of tech-talk in the listings you’ll come across, so we gave you a rundown of the essential parts and what to look for.
The perfect router for you will vary based on your home size, connection usage, budget, and more so when you’re looking, keep an eye out for these features to let you know if that choice will work for you.
When you’re looking for a router, you’ll see an extensive range of prices. Generally, you’ll pay more for extra features, better bandwidth, and more extensive ranges. Overall, you can expect to pay between $20-$500.
A band is a specific frequency that your router and devices use to communicate and provide wireless internet. There are currently 3 band-types: single-band, dual-band, and tri-band and they will often each have separate bandwidths.
A single band will contain only a 2.4GHz frequency, while a dual-band router will include a 2.4GHz frequency and a 5GHz frequency.
A tri-band router adds another 5GHz frequency to the dual-band for a total of one 2.4GHz band and two 5GHz bands. You probably don’t need tri-band, but dual-band can be a great way to get extra performance on devices that are compatible.
Bandwidth capacity is perhaps the most critical metric when searching for a router.
The bandwidth capacity is the amount of data that can be transferred through the router (or a specific band on the router) at a given time, which allows you to experience faster download and upload times.
It is measured in megabits per second (Mbps), and you’ll want a minimum of 300 Mbps and as much bandwidth as possible for the best performance.
You’ll need enough bandwidth from your ISP to take advantage of it though, so consider what you receive to your modem before choosing a router!
Wireless signals need to be bounced to your smart device from the router as its point of access for transferring information to provide internet access.
The further you are away from the router, the longer it takes to ping back and forth and the higher the risk of interference.
To adequately support your house, you’ll want to get a router that can support the square footage of your home at its minimum, with more being better than less coverage.
Number of LAN/Ethernet ports
Ethernet is merely the better method of connecting to the internet.
It is faster and more reliable, but also requires ports on the router to be used. The number of LAN/Ethernet ports you need depends on how many devices you plan to wire into your router, but in general, you’ll want at least 3.
That way it can support your PC, gaming console, and smart TV. Got more consoles or smart devices that are close? Look for more.
LAN/Ethernet port bandwidth
Like wireless, Ethernet ports also have bandwidth capacities that determine how much data can be transferred through the wire.
They primarily come in 100 Mbps and gigabit connections (1,000+ Mbps), with gigabit being preferred. However, if your speeds are less than 100 Mbps already, you won’t benefit from a gigabit port so consider that when shopping around.
Part of a good router is being able to control connections and bandwidth to allow for the best experience at all times.
Many routers will include control settings to limit bandwidth usage for individual IP addresses and devices, allowing you to keep your connection stable even when your family member decides to boot up Netflix.
Look for IP control or quality of service (QoS) controls in listings to take control of your connection.
If you don’t feel like getting up to reset your router or performing a speed test, consider finding a router with Alexa compatibility so that you can simply yell at her to take care of it for you.
There’s not much that is more frustrating than a bad internet connection.
Things taking forever to load, constant signal dropping, and more are enough to make you want to throw out your modem. Fortunately, you’ll often find that the cause of the problem is merely hardware-related and can be fixed with the right router.
Once you upgrade, you can say goodbye to the days of frustration and hello to newfound internet freedom.
For many people, understanding the technicality of the wireless internet can be confusing and frustrating, especially when you can’t replace your router if you don’t know what to buy.
Between the hundreds of brands and models available, filtering through until you can find the right option for you can take forever if you don’t know what to look for.
Thankfully, in this article, we’ve not only armed you with a cheat sheet for understanding routers but also provided a list of 10 fabulous choices for you to consider.
They have their strengths and weaknesses, but each is approved by hundreds of Amazon shoppers and us, so you can’t go wrong. Not feeling our recommendations? Take your newfound knowledge and lead the hunt yourself.
Now that you’re fully equipped to take your internet experience to the next level to find the perfect router for you and enjoy binge-watching Netflix or dominating your favorite game without interruptions.