Best router: 10 top wireless routers for every budget
16th Dec 2013 | 12:12
The best performance wireless routers to buy
A wireless network is an essential part of every digital home. Without one, spouses will be left sobbing on their disconnected iPads, children will curse their lack of multiplayer mayhem, and you'll be left refreshing TechRadar wondering where all the stories have gone.
Choosing a new router isn't easy. Modern routers offer a lot of high-end features including DLNA media streaming, NAS capabilities, remote sharing features, guest networks, IPv6, and more besides. That's on top of the more straightforward 802.11n wireless connectivity, Ethernet ports and broadband capabilities. So what exactly should you be looking for?
Currently 802.11n is the base wireless standard and it will run at least a 2.4GHz 2x2 300Mbps antenna. That last part is important - more advanced router models provide a 3x3 antenna array and a faster 450Mbps throughput
Are you 802.11ac compatible?
To complicate things further, a second 5GHz wireless band is now available, which can technically improve wireless speeds under the right conditions. Around the techno-corner, a newer and much faster wireless standard known as 802.11ac is being finalised. It is already widely available in routers despite only being available in a few laptop models.
Besides core wireless networking, many routers offer an integrated broadband connection. Basic models provide a cable DSL port, which will plug into an existing broadband modem. More expensive models can offer an ADSL2+ modem or for new fibre services a VDSL modem up to 100Mbps.
If you're hoping to replace an existing ISP supplied model either because it's broken and out of warranty, or it only offers poor wireless support, then ensure that you replace it with a model that supports your current broadband connection. Perhaps one of these clever routers will catch your eye…
1. Asus RT-N66U
The RT-N66U 'Dark Knight' is Asus' first N900 router and it's the feature-rich follow up to the highly popular and award-winning Asus RT-N56U, which can still be picked up for a lower price. This update comes with increased Wi-Fi speeds of up to 450Mbps on both the 5GHz and 2.4GHz bands concurrently - hence the N900 name.
This makes it ideal for bandwidth hungry tasks like 3D HD video streaming and multiplayer gaming, while at the same time still enabling you to surf the web and download/share files. It's also jam-packed with features such as a built in VPN server, a firewall that you can customise, QoS and IPv6 support.
2. Linksys EA6500
What is the Linksys EA6500 packing? It has six antenna, so it's a full 3x3 450Mbps 802.11n 2.4GHz and 5GHz dual-band router with the added ability for 1300Mbps 5GHz 802.11ac. There are also four Gigabit LAN ports, plus WAN and two USB 2.0 ports with printer, DLNA and NAS capabilities.
The Linksys aced all of our speed tests but it also fell foul of a highly irritating cloud registration system - you'll see people protesting this at length online. But thankfully, since we first looked at the EA6500, this annoyance has been removed. So you can just get on and enjoy unprecedented speed!
3. Netgear D6300
Wireless 802.11ac draft routers are coming out thick and fast, and the Netgear D6300 802.11ac dual band gigabit Wi-Fi modem router is in fact an ADSL2+ equipped version of the Netgear R6300, which is equally well-worth checking out.
For UK and European countries that largely use copper-based ADSL, rather than cable DSL, this represents the first all-in-one device that can provide a complete communication solution from a single unit. It's the stuff of dreams for the purist and for people who hate cables.
4. Netgear WNDR4500 N900
Netgear continues to brand its wireless routers with two different model numbers. The WNDR4500, for example, is also marketed as the N900, presumably because this is a dual-band model that's capable of supporting three 150Mb/s spatial streams on both its 2.4- and 5GHz radios: three times 150 equals 450, and 450 times two equal 900.
That's all nonsense, of course, because the two radios can't be bonded to serve a single client. It's also unfortunate, because this router is so fabulous it doesn't need to be hyped.
5. Apple AirPort Express
The first thing you'll notice is a new design. Apple has done away with the previous form factor, in favour of something resembling a white Apple TV, making the whole AirPort svelter and easier to place exactly where you need it.
The biggest improvement, though, is in the most fundamental part of any Wi-Fi base station: its radio. Previously, you had to use 802.11n on either the 2.4GHz or 5GHz frequency bands; but with the new AirPort Express, both bands are available simultaneously. So you should see better performance at both short and longer ranges with 802.11n devices. The big win for the Apple router is it's utterly rock solid in terms of performance.
6. FRITZ!Box 3370
AVM's new FRITZ!Box 3370 ADSL router doesn't have as many features as the flagship 7390 model, but its wireless connectivity actually makes advances over its top-of-the-range stablemate.
The 3370 lacks the 7390's built-in DECT base station and physical telephony ports, and it doesn't support simultaneous 2.4GHz and 5GHz connections. But its three data streams give a WLAN data transfer rate of to up to 450Mbps, up to 50% faster than the more expensive FRITZ!Box 7390's two streams.
It proved more robust in our tests too, and if your home network has blind spots that your existing wireless router can't reach, you might well that find this one improves the coverage.
7. FRITZ!Box 7390
Your router is the beating heart of your home network and so not something to skimp on. This new FRITZ!Box is definitely at the luxury end of the market, but it's more than just a router.
As well as networking your home machines and getting you on the internet, the FRITZ!Box Fon WLAN 7390 works as a base station for up to six cordless phones. Up to five telephone answering machines can be set up too, and it can also send and receive faxes. But it's as a networking and internet device that it really shines. The 7390 is the first FRITZ!Box router with simultaneous dual band support for 2.4GHz and 5GHz wireless frequencies.
8. Belkin Wireless AC1200 Dual Band
Up until recently, wireless N was the top of the Wi-Fi range for home users. However, 802.11ac - which the new Belkin Wireless AC1200 router is compatible with - has now entered the ring, offering almost three times the speed of wireless N, theoretically reaching heights of 1GB/s.
With the number of devices we have in our houses that stream media from the internet increasing, routers that are capable of the increased bandwidth offered by AC wireless are increasingly desirable.
Competing with the Netgear R6300 and the Buffalo AirStation 1750, the Belkin Wireless AC1200 is a router for cable broadband with a more expensive ADSL2+ version available, which specialises in two areas - media and user friendliness.
9. Western Digital My Net N900 Central
We're all coming around to the idea of a digital home. Despite the complexities of networking and network applications, manufacturers like Western Digital are marketing entire ranges of network-ready media systems.
The WD My Net N900 Central is the flagship model of its new My Net range, bringing FasTrack networking, ease-of-use and a fleet of features to your home network.
You may want to consider the closest sibling to this model - the WD My Net N900. This model forgoes the internal hard drive but features three additional Gigabit ports and an extra USB port. This wave of network-aware, media-serving devices isn't bringing us a great deal that's new.
10. TP-LINK Archer C7 AC1750
In a world of forgettable model numbers, the TP-Link Archer C7 AC1750 is at least a breath of fresh air. It's a delight to have the friendly sounding Archer C7 appear on your list of network devices, while inside its ultra-gloss black chassis is some serious networking hardware.
The TP-Link AC1750 is an affordable fully-featured 802.11ac wireless and cable broadband router. With excellent 802.11n performance it offers good 802.11ac wireless too, ensuring that it's future proof. The only fly in the ointment is its oddly low upstream speeds from in its 802.1ac mode.
So we tested the TP-Link Archer C7 AC1750 with a second 802.11ac adaptor (the USB-based D-Link DWA-182) and did see a slight increase in the same-room, up-stream average speeds to 22MB/s. This is encouraging, but we would conclude that this points to some underlying issue in the draft 802.11ac standard. Hopefully, it's a kink that can be ironed out in a future firmware update, which would eliminate our only real criticism of the TP-Link router.