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Best routers for 2020 for newbies, advanced users and the everyman

You consider yourself an advanced or general user? A newbie, maybe? No matter. Whoever you are, CNET editor Dong Ngo suggests a router that will work best for you.

Dong Ngo SF Labs Manager, Editor / Reviews
CNET editor Dong Ngo has been involved with technology since 2000, starting with testing gadgets and writing code for CNET Labs' benchmarks. He now manages CNET San Francisco Labs, reviews 3D printers, networking/storage devices, and also writes about other topics from online security to new gadgets and how technology impacts the life of people around the world.
Dong Ngo
6 min read
Ngo, Dong

If you happen to be on a quest for the best Wi-Fi router, you have arrived at the right post.

There's no one best router that works for everyone, because we all have different needs. There are at least three types of users, in my estimation: novice, general and advanced, and each will probably gravitate towards a different type of wireless router.

Read on to learn what (loosely) constitutes each type of user and discover two routers that work for each: one for the budget-minded and the other for those with deep pockets. I'll also list similar alternatives for each recommended router. Determine what type of user you are and you'll find the router that best suits your needs.

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Read more: Wi-Fi 6: Better, faster internet is coming this year -- here's everything you need to know  

Keep in mind that all of the routers mentioned in this post will work in all homes and with multiple devices; it's just that they work best for the category they're assigned to. For this reason, some of them actually can be used for more than one type of user. Also, I have personally used all of these routers for an extended period of time, and they all deliver in terms of stability and Wi-Fi speeds.

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Advanced users

This group wants to take full control of their home network destinies and has the know-how to do so. If you're fairly comfortable with networking or have a strong interest in learning more, this is the group for you. Hardcore gamers as well should consider advanced-user routers for gaming, as many online games require you to get into the nitty gritty of your router's settings to minimize your lag. This is the category I consider myself a part of.

These wireless routers have extensive yet well-organized web interfaces and lots of features, way more than what the average home needs. You can use them to set up all kinds of wireless services (even in what may have previously been dead zones) and manage multiple types of servers within your home network.

With that in mind, following are two best routers for advanced users.

Josh Miller/CNET

Asus RT-AC88U

The good:

  • This Asus router is clean and well-organized interface with lots of features including the ability to work as a WTFast private game network client, which translates to reduced lag for gamers.
  • Regularly updated firmware with useful improvements.
  • In-depth network setting customization.
  • Eight Gigabit LAN ports with the ability to combine two of them into a single superfast connection (great for hosting a server) or turning one of them into a second WAN port (perfect for those using two internet services at the same time).

The bad:

  • Bulky and expensive (current cost: around $250).
  • When hosting an external hard drive, the network storage speed is kinda crappy.

Similar alternatives: Asus RT-AC87U, Asus RT-AC5300, Netgear R8500.

Josh Miller/CNET

Synology RT1900AC

The good:

  • Comprehensive Linux-based web interface that works like an a full-featured operating system.
  • Apple AppStore-like package center with useful apps.
  • Regular firmware updates with useful improvement.
  • Reasonably priced: $225

The bad: As an AC1900 Wi-Fi standard router, it's great for now but not future-proof in terms of Wi-Fi speed.

Similar alternatives: Asus RT-AC68U, Netgear R7000.

General users

This is your category if you don't mind fiddling with a few router settings -- even if you'll have to glance at the instructions a few times -- and are comfortable with using a web browser. Mostly, however, you want to cut to the chase and get online. Once in awhile, though, you do want to check in with your router to change some parental controls or block a few unwanted clients.

Here are my picks for users who are technology-capable but nonchalant about networking. (Note that routers shown above for advanced users will also work for this group.)

Josh Miller/CNET

Linksys EA9500

The good:

  • Easy to use
  • An optional mobile app that lets you easily manage your network when out and about.
  • Ability to quickly block https websites (meaning you can block popular social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. Other routers require a lot of work before they can block https sites)'
  • Eight Gigabit router network ports for extra wired clients (great for those with lots of wired connected devices who want reliable connections).
  • Seamless Roaming, which lets clients seamlessly move from the original network to the extended network when a supported Wi-Fi extender is used.

The bad:

  • Expensive (current cost: $350).
  • Lack of in-depth settings and customization options for Wi-Fi technology.
  • Extremely bulky; overkill (in terms of hardware specs) for most homes.

Similar alternatives: Linksys EA8500, Asus RT-AC5300, Asus RT-AC88U, D-Link DIR-890L.

Dong Ngo/CNET

Netgear R7000

The good:

  • Relatively easy to use with a mobile app for quick setup.
  • Fast network storage performance when hosting an external hard drive.
  • Built-in support for a VPN server, OpenDNS parental controls.

The bad:

  • Web interface is bloated and slow, making it hard to configure advanced settings/features.
  • Not future-proof in terms of Wi-Fi speed, thanks to AC1900 support.

Similar alternatives: Asus RT-AC68U, Linksys WRT1900ACs, D-Link DIR-879.

Novice users

If you've been searching for the "Routers for dummies" book (which, by the way, doesn't exist) you belong here. Nothing wrong with that -- not everybody can be an expert or have the time to learn everything. You just want something that's dead-easy to use. You don't want to think about it -- you just want to plug it in and binge-watch a new Netflix show.

Unfortunately, this level of convenience comes with both a financial cost (these routers are expensive) and possible risks in terms of privacy. In order for a router to be this easy to use, it needs to be managed by the manufacturer 24-7, and that means you ultimately never have full control over your home network.

That said, here are two routers that will make your life easy, if you can afford them.

Dong Ngo/CNET

(Strictly speaking, this is a system that includes three Wi-Fi units.)

The good:

  • Super-easy to set up.
  • The most effective and easy way to blanket a Wi-Fi signal across a large home.
  • The ability to further increase coverage simply by plugging more units into power.
  • Supports seamless handoff: you can move from the signal of one unit to another within the local mesh network without any interruption. This is great for those who have the habit of walking around their home while online.
  • Each unit is well-designed and compact.

The bad:

  • Extremely expensive (current cost: $249 for three units; each additional mesh router unit costs $99).
  • Requires a live high-speed internet connection (you can't have an off-line local network with it) and a smartphone (with a working phone number) to set up.
  • No web interface (you can't use a computer to manage your network or guest network), and users must first connect to an Eero account, using a mobile app, before they can control their home network.
  • Not so fast Wi-Fi speed. The Wi-Fi wireless speed is only fast enough for sharing internet access -- not suitable for heavy local tasks such as file-sharing or backups -- and can get progressively slower as each additional unit is added.
  • Scarce on features and settings.

Similar alternative: None for now, though more will be available soon. The Arris SBR-AC3200P router and the Arris SBX-AC1200P extender will deliver similar Wi-Fi coverage for $100 less.

Dong Ngo/CNET

Google Asus OnHub

The good:

  • Super-easy to manage via the mobile app.
  • Compact and includes lots of potential hardware functions, such as home automation, which lets you control support light bulbs, thermostat, etc.
  • Relatively affordable (current cost is around $78).

The bad:

  • Needs to be connected to a Google account 24-7 in order to work.
  • There's no web interface, and some hardware parts (such as the USB port and home automation feature) are just placeholders for now.
  • Supporting AC1900, it's great for now but not future-proof.

Similar alternatives: Google OnHub (by TP-Link), Starry.