2019 marked the big rollout of Wi-Fi 6, the latest version of the 802.11 wireless communication standard that we commonly call Wi-Fi. This new standard, 802.11ax, supports faster, more efficient performance from your router, and can enable it to handle lots of connections with lots of devices all at once (you can read more about 802.11ax here). Of course, to take advantage, you'll need to upgrade to devices that support the new Wi-Fi 6 standard -- most notably, your router itself.
We saw plenty of options that support the standard debut last year, but most were too expensive to recommend. Now, in 2020, we're seeing a new, second wave of Wi-Fi 6 routers and mesh systems hitting the market -- and a lot of them are surprisingly affordable.
Couple that with Wi-Fi 6 support in new flagship phones like the Samsung Galaxy S10 and the iPhone 11, and 2020 is starting to look like a pretty good year to upgrade your router. Keep scrolling through this gallery to get to know some of your top options -- we'll keep it updated with new models and specs as they arrive. And if you're curious as to just how fast these things actually are, check out our latest Wi-Fi 6 speed test results. (Spoiler alert: Yep, they're awfully speedy.)
More important than how it looks: the next-gen specs. As the "AX" in the name suggests, this is a Wi-Fi 6 router, and that means it supports key Wi-Fi 6 upgrades like OFDMA, which lets it transmit data to multiple devices at once on a single channel, as well as 1024-QAM, which lets it pack about 25% more data into each of those transmissions than previous-gen, 256-QAM routers (read more about 1024-QAM here).
Specifically, the AX88U and its four antennas promise combined wireless speeds of up to 6,000 megabits per second across the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands, which is up from 2,600Mbps with the previous generation (and remember that you can only connect to one band at a time -- the speedier 5GHz band clocks a top speed of just under 5,000Mbps). It's also compatible with the Asus AiMesh system if you want to add some extenders throughout your home to maximize coverage.
Like with other Wi-Fi 6 routers, your existing Wi-Fi 5 and Wi-Fi 4 devices will still be able to connect just fine, but don't expect them to be much faster, if at all. You'll need Wi-Fi 6 devices in order to take advantage of everything that a Wi-Fi 6 router like this one has to offer.
Asus ROG Rapture GT-AX11000 Triband Wi-Fi 6 Router
For even speedier top speeds, Asus offers the ROG Rapture GT-AX11000, which uses a 1.8GHz quad-core CPU to promise wireless connections as fast as 11,000Mbps.
The target demographic: die-hard gamers who require the best connection possible in order to stay competitive during online play. To deliver it, the GT-AX11000 supports Asus' GameFirst V feature, which prioritizes gaming traffic from ROG devices. The router also features a second 5GHz frequency band that you can dedicate to gaming only -- that way, your gaming setup won't have to compete with traffic from any of the other Wi-Fi devices in your home.
Meanwhile, Asus also offers a new Wi-Fi 6 mesh system that consists of two separate devices. You'll plug one into your modem like a traditional router, then place the second somewhere else in your home to act as a range extender. The two devices use a dedicated Wi-Fi 6 band as a "backhaul" to relay the signal back and forth at the fastest possible speeds, and with as little signal loss as possible.
You can also use this two-piece system to extend the range of an existing Asus router, including that Wi-Fi 6 ROG model from the previous slide.
We're still in the process of testing it alongside the growing field of Wi-Fi 6 mesh options, but early results are pretty promising. Current asking price: just shy of $400 for the two-pack.
Another intriguing new option from Asus is this updated, Wi-Fi 6 version of its ZenWiFi mesh router. The two-pack shown here costs $450, and did a terrific job in our tests -- enough to earn our highest review score for a Wi-Fi 6 router to date, and an Editors' Choice distinction to go with it.
In June, Asus unveiled the ZenWifi AX Mini. Like the name suggests, it's a smaller version of the full-size ZenWiFi AX. The hardware isn't quite as capable, and you don't get a second 5GHz band dedicated for system transmissions, but it still offers full support for Wi-Fi 6. Most importantly, it's a lot easier to afford at $300 for a three-pack.
It looks a little like something the First Order might use to shuttle Kylo Ren around in -- but it's actually Netgear's flagship Wi-Fi 6 router, the Nighthawk AX12.
Currently available in a dual-band model for $400 (model RAX120), the Nighthawk promises combined wireless speeds of up to 6,000Mbps (again, that's an inflated figure), with a total of eight antennas packed into those sexy fins to help maximize range. For an extra hundred dollars, you can upgrade to a triband version that adds in a second 5GHz band.
Here's a look at the back: four gigabit Ethernet LAN ports, a WAN port and a multigig port capable of accepting incoming speeds as high as 5Gbps, which is terrific if you're looking to wire this thing to a local server for remote file access. You also get two USB 3.0 ports and the capability to aggregate two LAN ports at once for faster file transfers.
We used that last trick to connect the Nighthawk to two separate MacBooks, which we used as servers in our first Wi-Fi 6 speed test. From there, we used a third, Wi-Fi 6-equipped laptop to wirelessly transfer files from the MacBooks, which let us measure the transfer speeds at up to 2Gbps.
The result? A top transfer speed of 1.32Gbps. That's blazing-fast -- but it isn't the fastest result we've seen from a Wi-Fi 6 router. (Keep scrolling, I'll get there in a few slides.)
If $600 sounds like overkill to you, then you might step down to the AX6000 version of the Wi-Fi 6 Nighthawk, which ditches the additional 5GHz band that comes with the triband model and lowers the top combined wireless speeds to 6,000Mbps (the faster 5GHz band boasts a top speed of 4,800Mbps, so that's your actual top speed).
It's available now with a retail asking price that's been bouncing between $300 and $500 for the past few months.
Here's one more of these spaceship-looking Nighthawk routers -- the AX8. Like the other two Nighthawks that cost more, the AX8 offers a quad-core CPU, and it matches the standard AX12 model's top wireless speed of 4,800Mbps on the 5GHz band. You only get four antennas with those fins, though, which might impact range, and as the "AX8" nomenclature suggests, you get four fewer Wi-Fi streams than the AX12 models.
Available now for $300, the AX8 is probably a little closer to the sweet spot for early adopters in search of a high-end router splurge, but it's still awfully expensive.
Don't need no stinkin' fins? Then step down to Netgear's entry-level offering in the Nighthawk's Wi-Fi 6 lineup. It's the AX4, which ditches the fins in favor of old-fashioned dual antennas, and offers four Wi-Fi streams at wireless speeds of up to 2,400Mbps on the 5GHz band or 600Mbps on the 2.4GHz band.
Available now, the AX4 costs $200, and can usually be found on sale for a bit less.
Remember when I told you that I'd get to our fastest-in-testing Wi-Fi 6 router in a few slides? Well, here we are. One of several new routers from TP-Link released in 2019, the Archer AX6000 features a 1.8GHz quad-core processor and 8GB of RAM to deliver combined, next-gen speeds of up to 4,800Mbps on the 5GHz band for lots and lots of devices at once.
And, in our lab-based top speed tests, where we wirelessly connect a Wi-Fi 6 laptop to each router, and then download data pulled from a local server connected to the router via Ethernet, the Archer AX6000 registered an average transfer speed of 1,523Mbps at close range. That's the fastest average we've seen to date.
The AX6000 initially retailed for $350, but it's currently down to $300. During the 2019 holiday season, TP-Link put it on sale for $270. At that price, we were pretty tempted.
For even faster performance, you could upgrade to this space tarantula of a router, the TP-Link Archer AX11000. Like the name suggests, the band-combined top speeds max out at more than 10Gbps, but the actual top speed is a little less than half that, since you can only connect to one band at a time, and the fastest of those bands boasts a top speed of about 4,800Mbps.
The AX11000 debuted at an asking price of $480, but now, in 2020, that price is down to $400, which is obviously still really expensive.
More recently, we saw the arrival of the AmpliFi Alien, Ubiquiti's first Wi-Fi 6 router. It features a tubular design with LED lights around the base and touchscreen controls on the front. Available now, it costs $379 as a standlalone router, or $700 to get it packaged as a mesh system with a range-extending satellite device.
Hoping for something more affordable? You've got one particularly interesting option: the TP-Link Archer AX1500, which supports Wi-Fi 6 and costs just $70. It's your most affordable way of getting 802.11ax if you're looking to buy in right now. A slightly faster AX1800 model is available, too -- that one costs $130.
More interested in multipoint mesh setups? Netgear now offers a new version of its popular Orbi mesh router system that supports Wi-Fi 6. Netgear claims the Wi-Fi 6 iteration will be fast enough to sustain Gigabit wireless speeds, with top transfer rates of up to 2,400Mbps (2.4Gbps) on the 5GHz band. Most current-gen mesh wireless systems provide top transfer speeds of around 50Mbps to 300Mbps in actual use, so that would be a definite step up as far as top speed is concerned.
This high-end Orbi system also features a second 5GHz band that the router uses for a dedicated backhaul connection with the satellite. It'll use that to pass data back and forth at Wi-Fi 6 speeds, which means faster connections in those pesky back rooms.
The extra hardware makes for a much higher asking price, though. Specifically, this two-piece system costs a whopping $700, though you can typically find it on sale for slightly less.
Here's another new Wi-Fi 6 mesh setup, this one from Arris. It's the aptly named the Surfboard Max (as in 802.11ax). Available as a single-point standalone router or a multi-unit mesh system, the new Surfboard also comes in both a Max Plus AX7800 version with top combined transfer speeds of up to 7.8Gbps, and a Max Pro AX1100 version with top combined speeds of about 11Gbps.
At CES 2020 in January, TP-Link announced new low-cost Wi-Fi 6 mesh routers for its Deco line. The cheapest of them is the TP-Link Deco X20, shown here. It costs $190 for a two-piece setup with top speeds of up to 1,200Mbps on the 5GHz band. That's the best price for a Wi-Fi 6 mesh system that we've ever seen. Two other new Deco systems are each a little faster and fancier, with prices of $270 and $450.
Another new model we'll be keeping an eye out for: the Asus RT-AX86U. That's a Wi-Fi 6 version of our favorite gaming router from 2019. We don't know much about its specs just yet, but I'll update this space once we do.
Another new system we saw at CES is this Netgear Nighthawk Wi-Fi 6 two-piece mesh router, available now for $230. Like the TP-Link Deco X20, it promises top speeds of up to 1,200Mbps on the 5GHz band. It was indeed plenty fast when we tested it out, but the unreliable mesh performance left a lot to be desired.
As for the design, Netgear basically took its dual-band, Wi-Fi 5 Orbi mesh system and painted it black. That weave design on top is actually a clever series of diagonal vents to help the devices keep their cool.
The backs of the Netgear Nighthawk mesh router (left) and satellite extender. The two are nearly identical in appearance, and the satellites include an Ethernet jack, which you don't get with that dual-band Netgear Orbi mesh system.