Top 5 home routers of 2013: It's a win for 802.11ac

CNET editor Dong Ngo picks the five best Wi-Fi routers of 2013.

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
4 min read

For home networking, 2013 was the year of the 802.11ac Wi-Fi standard. Virtually all networking vendors have at least one device that supports this new, much faster wireless specification. On the client side, there are more and more devices that also support 802.11ac, such as the latest MacBook Air or the MacBook Pro.

But not all 802.11ac routers are created equal. There are at least a few of them that you should avoid. Following, however, is the list of five routers I found to be the best of 2013 and all of them support 802.11ac.

They are quite different from one another but one thing is for sure, each will definitely transform your home network into the best that you can have for now, both for wired and wireless clients. For best results, make sure you also upgrade them to the latest firmware. This list is sorted in the order the products were reviewed, with the most recent review on top.

Dong Ngo/CNET

Netgear Nighthawk AC1900 Smart Wi-Fi Router R7000
The R7000 is Netgear's answer the Asus RT-AC68U below. The new router is the first from Netgear that also offers up to 600Mbps Wi-Fi for 2.4GHz clients while providing the top 802.11ac speed of 1.3Gbps for 5GHz clients. It's super-fast and has a lot of features. The device is powered by the most powerful dual-core chip that runs at 1,000MHz and is also one of the largest home routers on the market. You really can't go wrong with it. Read the full review of the Netgear Nighthawk AC1900 Smart Wi-Fi Router R7000.

Dong Ngo/CNET

Asus RT-AC68U Dual-band Wireless-AC1900 Gigabit Router
Similar to the Netgear above, the Asus RT-AC68U is one of a few high-end routers on the market that offers up to 1.3Gbps of wireless speed on the 5GHz band and up to 600Mbps on the 2.4GHz band. The router worked well in my testing and has lots of cool features; the ability to turn one of its four LAN ports into a secondary WAN port is by far the most uncommon. This allows you to use two separate Internet sources for faster speed or backup purposes. Note that this Dual-WAN feature was retroactively made available to previous models via firmware updates, including the RT-N66U and the RT-AC66U, but the RT-AC68U is the first that came with it. Read the full review of the Asus RT-AC68U Dual-band Wireless-AC1900 Gigabit Router.

Dong Ngo/CNET

Apple AirPort Extreme Base Station
The new AirPort Extreme and the new Time Capsule are the first devices from Apple that support the new Wi-Fi standard. The new router is very different from its predecessors, boasting an entirely new design that's much more compact and very pretty. In fact its glamour was what helped it earn a place on this top five, because as a router, it's quite limited compared with its peers.

Other than the support for 802.11ac, it's very similar to the previous model in terms of features. It still offers just three LAN ports (as opposed to the four that most routers have), one USB 2.0 port, and the same limited number of features. In my testing, it was very fast, though not the fastest. However, its new design and performance are enough for Apple fans to justify its hefty price. Read the full review of the Apple AirPort Extreme Base Station.

Dong Ngo/CNET

D-Link DIR-868L
The DIR-868L is the second 802.11ac router from D-Link, and it's much better than the previous one, the DIR-865L. The new router has a vertical cylindrical design, which was first available in the DIR-645. It looks more like a computer speaker or a Thermos than a router.

In my testing it had very fast performance and solid Wi-Fi coverage. You can also manage your home network via the Internet with a mobile app or Mydlink portal. The DIR-868L can only work as a router, however, not as a media bridge or a standalone access point. Read the full review of the D-link DIR-868L.

Dong Ngo/CNET

Trendnet TEW-812DRU
The no-frills TEW-812DRU is a reliable workhorse 802.11ac router. The router doesn't come wtih many fancy features; rather it offers very fast Wi-Fi coverage, and for most users that's all they need. Its only shortcomings are the lack of wall-mounting options and slow network storage speeds when coupled with a USB external storage device. As far as fast networking, both wired and wireless, is concerned, though, this is the best bargain. Read the full review of the Trendnet TEW-812DRU.

Want to see more? Check out our always-current list of the best wireless routers available.