If your router is more than a few years old, it might be holding back your internet connection. We tested the top brands to help you find the right one.
Ry CristSenior Editor / Reviews - Labs
Originally hailing from Troy, Ohio, Ry Crist is a writer, a text-based adventure connoisseur, a lover of terrible movies and an enthusiastic yet mediocre cook. A CNET editor since 2013, Ry's beats include smart home tech, lighting, appliances, broadband and home networking.
ExpertiseSmart home technology and wireless connectivityCredentials
10 years product testing experience with the CNET Home team
You may think that getting a high-speed plan at an affordable rate from your internet provider would guarantee you consistent and fast speeds. However, that's just half the battle. To get the most out of your internet connection, you'll need a router that can access the speeds you're paying for. That doesn't mean you need to spend a fortune to buy the best Wi-Fi routers though.
For instance, the TP-Link Archer AX21 is enough for most homes. It is the best router choice based on our testing -- and it's a Wi-Fi 6 model that costs less than $100. But the best fit for your network depends on a few factors, from the size and layout of your home to the content you stream. We've tested dozens of the latest models to help find options for every situation.
It's a particularly good time to upgrade your internet equipment. Routers have come a long way in the past few years, with a number of today's best Wi-Fi router options boasting impressive speeds and features worth investing in. Over the past few years, the new and improved version of the Wi-Fi standard called 802.11ax -- or Wi-Fi 6 -- has grown more ubiquitous, boasting faster, more efficient home network performance. On top of that, there's a growing number of mesh router options that are well worth considering too, particularly since many of them are far less expensive than the router combo systems that came before them.
All of that means that you've got a lot to think about if you're currently in the market for an upgrade. That's where we come in. Whether you're interested in gaming routers, mesh systems, Wi-Fi 6 routers or just want something decent that won't break the bank, we're here to simplify things and point you in the right direction so that you can find the best Wi-Fi router to manage your needs.
Expect regular updates to this post as we continue testing networking devices periodically. When we find a new router that merits strong consideration, we'll add it to this list with links to our most recent test data so that you can always find the best router.
Available for $100 (or less if you catch a sale), the TP-Link Archer AX21 is an entry-level, dual-band Wi-Fi 6 router that supports top speeds of up to 1,201Mbps (1.2Gbps) on its 5GHz band. It's nothing fancy, but it offered near flawless performance for small- to medium-size homes in our tests, and it's a cinch to setup and use thanks to TP-Link's Tether app.
Wi-Fi Standard Wi-Fi 6Speed Rating AX5400Range Up to 2,700 sq. ft.Wireless Networking Security WPA2, WPA3Bands Dual-Band (2.4 and 5GHz)
If you've already got a budget router running your network and you're ready to upgrade to something more powerful, the Linksys Hydra Pro 6 belongs high on your list. With a dual-band, AX5400 build, full support for Wi-Fi 6, and 160MHz channel support for moving data more efficiently, it was an excellent performer in my speed tests, even managing to outperform flashier picks like the also great Asus RT-AX86U.
Wi-Fi Standard Wi-Fi 6Speed Rating AX3600Range Up to 5,500 sq. ft. (two devices)Wireless Networking Security WPA2, WPA3Bands Tri-Band (2.4 and two 5GHz)
For the best performance from your mesh router, you'll want to prioritize getting one with support for Wi-Fi 6, plus a tri-band design that includes three separate bands of traffic: the usual 2.4 and 5GHz bands, plus an additional 5GHz band that the system can use as a dedicated wireless backhaul for transmissions between the router and its satellites. Most mesh routers like that cost at least $300 or even $400, but the TP-Link Deco W7200 gets you there for less than $200.
Gaming routers promise high performance and low latency for die-hard gamers, and it isn't uncommon to find them selling for $300 or even $400. At less than $300, the Asus RT-AX86U dual-band router isn't inexpensive either, but it's a strong value relative to routers like those -- and the performance it delivers as a gaming router is flat-out great.
Wi-Fi Standard Wi-Fi 5Speed Rating AC1200Range Up to 4,500 sq. ft. (with two satellites)Wireless Networking Security WPA2Bands Dual-Band (2.4 and 5GHz)
It isn't as fully featured as systems that cost more, and it doesn't support Wi-Fi 6 -- but aside from that, the budget-friendly, AC1200 version of the Netgear Orbi mesh router stands out as a clear value pick in the mesh category. Currently priced below $200 for a three-device setup with the Wi-Fi router and two satellite extenders, it's an affordable system that managed to keep up with both Nest Wifi and the Wi-Fi 5 version of Amazon's Eero mesh router in our speed tests, and it'd be a great fit in homes with internet speeds of 300Mbps or less.
Wi-Fi Standard Wi-Fi 6Speed Rating AX6000Range Up to 5,000 sq. ft.Wireless Networking Security WPA, WPA2Bands Tri-Band (2.4 and two 5GHz)
Starting around $600 for the two-piece setup seen here, the AX6000 version of the Netgear Orbi is far more expensive than the dual-band version listed above, but it's also a lot more powerful. With a second 5GHz band serving as a dedicated backhaul for system transmissions between the router and its satellites and full support for Wi-Fi 6, the system is still our top-tested mesh router, with the best scores in both our lab-based top speed tests and our at-home mesh coverage tests.
At this point, Wi-Fi 6 is well-entrenched as the de facto standard for the latest Wi-Fi gadgets, so it's worth getting a Wi-Fi 6 router if you're looking for something new. Wi-Fi 5 routers will continue to get the job done, and there are a few that stand out as worthwhile budget picks, but you'll want Wi-Fi 6 for the latest features and fastest speeds.
For smaller homes and apartments with internet speeds of 500Mbps and less, an entry-level Wi-Fi 6 router like the TP-Link Archer AX21 will do a fine job handling your everyday network traffic. If you live in a home with faster, gigabit level speeds, or if you have multiple power users on your network, then it's worth stepping up to a more powerful midrange model like the Linksys Hydra Pro 6 or the Asus RT-AX86U.
If you live in a larger home or one with multiple stories, then stepping up to a mesh router that can offer better reliability at range makes a lot of sense. You can find a full slate of top picks in my mesh router rundown, but the TP-Link Deco W7200 stands out as an affordable option that tested well. Meanwhile, the Eero Pro 6E is my top mesh pick for homes with a gigabit connection.
That Eero Pro 6E system is one of a growing number of routers that support Wi-Fi 6E, which adds in access to the ultrawide 6GHz band. The only devices that can connect over that band are other Wi-Fi 6E devices, which means that it's largely free from interference. Wi-Fi 6E is more than most homes probably need, but it's worth considering if you're looking for something future-oriented, as the number of home Wi-Fi devices that can connect over 6GHz is expected to grow.
That said, at this point, the smarter play for future-focused shoppers might be to hold out until 2024, when we expect to see the full ratification of Wi-Fi 7, the next big generational update for Wi-Fi. Some manufacturers like TP-Link are jumping the gun with Wi-Fi 7 router releases in 2023, but buying in now seems premature given that the standard isn't fully ratified yet and there isn't a Wi-Fi 7 device certification process yet.
How we test Wi-Fi routers
Like a lot of people, I spent the majority of 2020 and 2021 working from home, and that included my router tests. Last year, in 2022, I relocated my home test setup back to our product testing facility in Louisville, Kentucky.
My operating procedure is largely unchanged -- I start by setting each router up in a fixed location in our lab, and once it's up and running, I run a multitude of speed tests from five different rooms nearby. I start in the same room as the router, I run multiple speed tests on a Lenovo ThinkPad laptop with full support for Wi-Fi 6, I log the results in a spreadsheet, then I move to the next room and repeat. Once I've run tests in all five rooms, I repeat the entire process, but this time, I start with a fresh connection in the room farthest from the router. Your distance from the router when you first connect will make a difference in how the router handles your connection, so running a split of front-to-back and back-to-front tests helps to keep my averages rooted in real-world results.
I run the entire process detailed above (a front-to-back round of speed tests, followed by a back-to-front round) three separate times: once during morning hours, again in the early afternoon, and once again during evening hours. I also run a separate round of tests to a Wi-Fi 6E device (a Samsung Galaxy S21 smartphone). If the router allows me to separate each band into a separate connection, then I'll run separate rounds of tests for each band to see how they perform when isolated.
After all of that, I'm left with a comprehensive look at how the router's speeds hold up to different devices across different distances, as well as how the router handles other considerations, like latency. From there, I make sure to evaluate each router's features and its ease of use, as well as considerations like security standards, smart home compatibility, and overall value relative to the competition.
I'll post the answer to commonly asked router questions below -- if you have any others, feel free to reach out on Twitter (@rycrist), or by clicking the little envelope icon on my CNET profile page. Doing so will let you send a message straight to my inbox.
Wi-Fi router FAQs
What does a Wi-Fi router do?
You need to be connected to your modem in order to send and receive data from the web -- your router lets you do that without need for a wire. It's basically a big, fancy antenna for your modem that lets you connect with it wirelessly, over Wi-Fi. You can also use that local Wi-Fi network to connect with other devices at home, like printers or remote storage servers.
How much should I spend on a router?
It depends on what you need and how many people and devices need to connect, but a small- to medium-sized home or apartment can probably get by with a well-tested dual-band router in the $100 range. If your home is larger, then it's probably worth spending more on a mesh system that can spread more consistent speeds from room to room. And if you're working from home, gaming online or sharing bandwidth with multiple housemates or family members, upgrading to something like a high-speed tri-band router is probably a good investment, too.
How do I set up a Wi-Fi router?
The old-fashioned way is to plug the thing in and connect it with your modem via Ethernet cable, then type its IP address into a browser's URL bar to begin the setup. The easier, more modern way is to use the router's app, which will typically walk you through setup in about 5-10 minutes. After setup, you can also use either approach to access the router's settings or change your Wi-Fi password.
What do the different Wi-Fi bands mean?
You can think of your router like a radio -- it sends and receives signals through airwaves. Whereas a radio picks up audio broadcasts in AM or FM airwaves, a Wi-Fi router sends and receives data through 2.4 and 5GHz airwaves (as well as 6GHz airwaves if it's a fancy Wi-Fi 6E router).
How do I know when it's time to update my router?
In most cases, you won't need to worry about updating your router more than once every five years or so, if not longer. That said, there are few things to watch for that might give you good reason to consider something new.
Should I consider a mesh router?
Mesh routers use multiple devices to relay a better Wi-Fi signal throughout your home, with fewer dead zones. It's definitely the right approach if you live in a large, multi-story home, or if there are multiple spots in your home where you can't connect as reliably as you'd like.