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Widely regarded as the crème de la crème of internet routers, the Asus RT-AC88U wireless AC1300 is a superb choice for 802.11ac. While its futuristic style might catch your eye, it’s what’s under the hood that helps set the tone for this Asus model. Powered by a 1.4 GHz dual-core processor and 1024-QAM technology, the AC88U is blazing fast, offering 5 GHz speeds of up to 2.1 Gbps and 2.4 GHz performance up to 1 Gbps. Additionally, the four-transmit, four-receive antenna offers 5,000 square feet of coverage on the 2.4 GHz band.
Another standout feature is the inclusion of MU-MIMO (multi-user multiple-input and multiple-output), which offers every connected device its own dedicated Wi-Fi connection. In other words, each device that’s connected to the AC88U doesn’t unintentionally slow down the entire network. With all these great features, it’s good to know that setup is a snap with Asus getting you online with a three-step web-based installation process. With maximum combined performance of 3,167 Mbps, incredible coverage inside a home, and easy setup, the 2.6-pound AC88U is an easy recommendation for the best router on the market.
Full home coverage
Older devices complicate things
A relatively new technology for consumers, mesh networking represents a whole new way of covering an entire house or office with Wi-Fi without taking out a second mortgage. Netgear’s Orbi Home Wi-Fi system not only replaces Wi-Fi range extenders, but does so while offering a fast and secure system that offers a stronger and faster signal. Connecting two 1.96-pound Orbis together will provide enough signal strength to cover a 4,000-square foot home. Fortunately, setup is a snap. The Orbi comes preconfigured right out of the box with your internet service provider of choice. Utilizing tri-band mesh Wi-Fi, the Orbi connects on the 5 GHz band with speeds up to 1,733 Mbps and 866 Mbps and runs speeds up to 400 Mbps on the 2.4 GHz band.
Add in beamforming and MU-MIMO technologies and the Orbi offers each individual Wi-Fi user the best possible signal without adversely affecting others who are online at the same time. Whether it's gaming, streaming 4K movies, or just browsing online, the tri-band Wi-Fi hardware searches for the best possible signal strength and route to get each device online.
Open source firmware
Solid 5 GHz throughput
Slower 2.4 GHz speeds
Poor long-range performance
The Linksys WRT3200ACM is one of the latest entries in a classic line of routers that dates back for years, and it not only remains one of the most customizable routers that you can get your hands on but also one of the fastest in its class, thanks to Linksys' Tri-Stream 160 and other advanced technologies like MU-MIMO and beamforming. On the 5 GHz band, the WRT3200ACM delivers impressive speeds of up to 2.6 Gbps, with a healthy maximum performance of 600 Mbps on the 2.4 GHz side.
In addition to solid Wi-Fi performance, there are also four wired Gigabit Ethernet ports so you can directly connect your PC or gaming console, along with USB 3.0 and USB 2.0/eSata ports to connect external storage devices to share media on your network.
Linksys offers a solid mobile app for the WRT3200ACM that lets you configure and monitor it from anywhere via Linksys' cloud, but what really sets this router apart is the ability to replace and customize its firmware. While the stock firmware already offers quite a few features, you can replace it with packages from a variety of open-source repositories such as OpenWrt or DD-WRT to automatically tunnel your traffic through a VPN, set it up to act as VPN server, create a personal hotspot, capture and analyze network traffic, and more.
Solid tri-band technology
Easy guest access
Set aside the space-age style of Netgear’s Nighthawk X6 and look at the feature set, which offers some of the best pound-for-pound performance available today. Offering up to 3.2 Gbps in total Wi-Fi speed, six high-performance antennas guarantee a powerful connection thanks to the 1 GHz dual-core processor and three additional offload processors that boost performance when it matters most. Add in beamforming technology and this 802.11ac splurge adds an even stronger signal for all your devices.
Additionally, Netgear’s inclusion of Dynamic QoS bandwidth prioritization selects which devices require the most throughput, providing the fastest possible connection for those devices. With tri-band Wi-Fi on board, the bandwidth prioritization helps ensure that both fast and slow devices are connected to separate networks to maintain Wi-Fi signal stability. Fortunately, these features are easily connected with a simplified setup that requires only minutes to get online.
Solid Wi-Fi performance
Easy user interface
Can't be wall-mounted
Asus’ RT-AC68CU 802.11ac router is another outstanding choice that has the latest technology and ultra-fast speeds. Powered by a 1 GHz dual-core CPU, the AC68U offers dual-band 3x3 antenna technology that's capable of hitting up to 1,300 Mbps on the 5GHz band and 600 Mbps on the 2.4GHz side. Plus, 4K HD streaming is supported by Broadcom TurboQAM technology.
Additionally, Asus includes a proprietary feature called AiRadar, which adds beamforming technology for amplified high-power signal connectivity. Users will find extended coverage, large speed increases, and a stable signal. Fortunately, these features benefit from an easy setup with the AC68U requiring just a three-step web-based installation process that has users online with minutes. As an added layer of security, Asus also includes AiProtection through Trend Micro, which protects against multi-stage threats and keeps your devices secure.
8 Gigabit Ethernet ports
Two USB 3.0 ports
Gamers Private Network
The Asus GT-AC5300's tri-band performance is aided by dual 5 GHz bands and a single 2.4GHz band with the latest 802.11ac 4x4 technology, capable of reaching a maximum speed of 5,334 Mbps and covering a house or business up to 5,000 square feet. The inclusion of MU-MIMO technology allows the Asus hardware to direct higher speeds in the direction of specific devices based on their maximum capabilities, ensuring that all Wi-Fi connections are working at peak performance. For gamers, the Asus also has a built-in Gamers Private Network (GPN) that ensures stable ping times for increased multiplayer performance while online.
The GT-AC5300 has a four-transmit, four-receive antenna setup, offering both speed and range benefits with an amplified signal reaching areas of your home that might have been dead spots before. Additionally, AiRadar beamforming helps direct signal toward your devices that need it. With all this range and speed, protection against internet intruders is a necessity and Asus is assisted by AiProtection from Trend Micro, which will help detect and eliminate vulnerabilities that exist on your home network.
Still receiving firmware updates
Four Gigabit Ethernet ports
USB 2.0 ports only
Poor 2.4 GHz performance
Released in 2013, TP-Link’s Archer C7 AC1750 is still a great choice for buyers looking to get the best bang for their buck. The Archer C7 offers 1.75 Gbs in total available bandwidth, with 450 Mbps on the 2.4 GHz band and 1300 Mbps on the 802.11ac 5 GHz band. Boosting signal strength are six powerful antennas, three of which reside externally with the other three inside the C7 hardware. Regardless of their placement, high-speed Wi-Fi reaches just about every room in the house for hassle-free gaming, streaming, or browsing.
Setup is a snap with TP-Link’s tether app available for both Android and iOS, so buyers can quickly connect and jump online with just a few steps. The budget pricing does mean it lacks some of the more advanced features of its higher-priced competition (mainly beamforming and MU-MIMO technology), but the C7 still shines as a standalone model at a price point that’s easy to stomach.
Easy to set up
Limited feature set
Only one Ethernet port
Requires Google account to set up
Resulting from a partnership between Google and TP-Link, the OnHub AC1900 is a router that looks good enough to put on your dining room table, yet still offers good Wi-Fi performance and a really straightforward user experience. In fact, thanks to Google's pioneering On app, it's one of the simplest routers that you can buy in terms of the set up process.
Under the hood, the OnHub contains 13 antennas that can cover an area of 2,500 square feet with speeds of up to 1,900 Mbps, eliminating dead zones around your home, plus the generous antenna array means that it can also support over 100 connected devices simultaneously. There are also Bluetooth and Zigbee antennas for even more device management options, and it provides unique guest network features that let you share access to a Chromecast with your visitors while still keeping them off your main home network.
Further, in addition to letting you set up the OnHub, Google's On app lets you manage your internet bandwidth, prioritizing certain devices, as well as troubleshooting network issues, even when you're away from home, and a ringed colour LED light atop the OnHub provides an attractive yet informative way to see what your router is up to.
Inexpensive mesh solution
Poor signal handoff
5 GHz compatibility issues
While the design may not always be a deciding factor when purchasing an 802.11ac router, Portal’s Wi-Fi router has an unusually attractive look that offers coverage in homes up to 3,000 square feet. The design itself almost resembles a flattened pebble, but with features that can replace both a current wireless router and Wi-Fi extender, the Portal is far more than just a flashy device. With patented technology features like FastLanes, the Portal can use exclusive fast channels that can avoid congested Wi-Fi signals and networks.
The Wave-2 4x4 MU-MIMO dual-band internals all boost the Portal to more than 3x faster than any competitive AC3200 router. Additionally, the Portal is mesh-ready, which allows an additional Portal unit inside a single home to create a signal strength that’s faster and offers more than three times the coverage of the single unit. Beyond its feature set, setup is a snap; you’re online within minutes through the Android and iOS-compatible applications.
Replaces Cable Modem
DOCSIS 3.1 & Xfinity-certified
Some reported problems with Cox & Spectrum
If you subscribe to a cable internet package, chances are you're still paying your service provider a monthly fee for your cable modem, so there can definitely be an advantage to picking up a router that already has the cable modem built-in, and Netgear's Nighthawk C7800 is one of the best you can get in this category. Not only does it offer Netgear's solid Wi-Fi performance, but it's one of the first on the market to include support for the latest DOCSIS 3.1 cable internet standards.
In practical terms, this means you're getting a future-proof cable modem built into a modern router, capable of speeds of over 1 Gbps that will rival fiber connections. On the router side, it delivers AC3200 Wi-Fi speeds, with 2.4 Gbps on the 5 GHz band and 1 Gbps on the 2.4 GHz side. The four-antenna array also supports beamforming so that you can get reliable coverage across 3,000 square feet of living space.
If you need to hardwire in, there are also four Gigabit Ethernet ports, plus two USB 3.0 ports that let you connect a shared printer or external hard drive, and DLNA support means you can stream media from your hard drive right to your smart TV or game console. The C7800 is also ridiculously easy to set up, and even supports web self-activation for Xfinity customers so you won't need to make a service call to replace your existing cable modem.
While a good router with a built-in cable modem can be pricey, it can save you money in the long run compared to renting one from your ISP, but if you're going to go this route, it's definitely worth buying something that will support future standards like DOCSIS 3.1.
Our reviewers spent 129 hours testing three of the most popular 802.11ac Wi-Fi wireless routers on the market. They installed set them up in their own homes, connected their various devices, and took careful notes on the performance. We asked our testers to consider the most important features when using these wireless routers, from their speed to the number of Ethernet ports they have. We've outlined them here so that you, too, know what to look for when shopping.
Ethernet ports - Fast wireless is the selling point of 802.11ac routers, but you can’t forget about Ethernet ports. Look for a router that has at least four Gigabit Ethernet ports, unless you’re absolutely sure you’ll be able to get by with less. You can always add an Ethernet switch later on if you end up needing more ports, but it’s easier to buy a router with enough ports in the first place.
Dual- and tri-band - If you plan on streaming video from services like Netflix and Hulu over your wireless network, choose a dual-band router. Routers with this feature can create two networks — one 2.4 GHZ and one 5 GHZ — at the same time. If you want the best performance possible, a tri-band router adds second 5 GHZ connection so you won’t have to deal with congestion or slowdown.
Standalone vs. mesh - A standalone 802.11ac router can provide decent coverage, but if you have an especially big house, you’ll probably still end up with dead spots. Look for a router that uses mesh networking, which allows you to place wireless relay points around your home.
Good user interface
This “plug and play” router was a winner with one of our testers because it was “surprisingly easy” to set up — plus it was faster and more efficient than the models he’d used in the past. This efficiency is partly due to four tall antennas, which one tough tester wished were smaller: “My cable line is in my living room and I rest the router on a shelf,” he explained. “I wish it was a little flatter so I could hide it better.”
Simple setup process
Only offered in one color
Our testers gave Netgear’s Orbi a perfect five-star rating, with one person reporting that he experienced a very consistent connection and an improved range. “I get a very good connection even working out in the yard,” he said. Our reviewers did wish, however, that the router wasn’t offered just in white: “I’d like to see the product offered in at least one more color — preferably black — so consumers have a choice based on their home decor,” said one tester.
Very fast setup
Guest Wi-Fi access through EZ Mobile Connect feature
One tester deemed this router a “polished piece of hardware” for its well-thought-out menus, ease of use, and exceptional user support. Its speed and consistency were also above average. “The router doesn't drop connections,” reported one reviewer, “and can handle traffic on multiple networks that it’s handling at once. This was my primary concern, and the router comes through with flying colors.” Our reviewers didn’t have much to say in the way of negatives — just that the router was was oddly shaped.
Read additional tips and recommendations for buying a new router with our ultimate router buying guide.