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It may seem that there are a lot of factors to consider when picking out the best 802.11ac router, but in reality it comes down to answering three key questions: How much speed you need, how big your home is, and how many devices you have.
Since 802.11ac is the mainstream Wi-Fi standard today (now also known as Wi-Fi 5), there are a lot of options on the market, and the choices can seem overwhelming. This can tempt you into believing that the best 802.11ac router is one with the very highest specs, and while that's true, it's also possible to buy a lot more router than you actually need. However, the ultimate goal of a router is to provide solid and reliable Wi-Fi coverage for all of the devices in your home while delivering the necessary performance.
For users with large homes and lots of devices, this could mean buying a long-range router or mesh Wi-Fi system, but if you live in a small bungalow or condo, these are going to be overkill, and there are a lot of other more wallet-friendly options available. Our list of top picks should help you sort through the confusion and hype in order to select the best 802.11ac router to meet your needs.
Read on for the best 802.11ac routers for all of your networking needs.
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.
"The router is a dream come true for the power users out there, and is filled to the brim with software features." — Bill Thomas, Product Tester
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.
"Anyone that has a large home or office that needs a fast and reliable network connection will find a lot to love with this router." — Bill Thomas, Product Tester
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.
"With up to 3200 Mbps dual-band wireless speeds, it offers the fastest, most reliable speed and best performance of any current open source router." — Benjamin Zeman, Product Tester
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.
"We could consistently operate six to seven devices at once without any speed drops or major performance issues across all three bands." — Yoona Wagener, Product Tester
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.
"The Asus RT-AC68U is not too large or heavy, which makes it ideal for even smaller apartments." — Yoona Wagener, Product Tester
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.
"You essentially have a dedicated gaming Wi-Fi router combined with the bandwidth you want to support other activities like streaming 4K content." — Yoona Wagener, Product Tester
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." — Jesse Hollington, Tech Writer
For a well-rounded router that provides excellent performance, strong coverage, and versatility, Asus' RT-AC88U is easily our top pick, but if you need to get fast and reliable coverage into every corner of a larger home, the Netgear Orbi is the best mesh Wi-Fi system on the market.
Jesse Hollington has over three decades of experience in information technology and networking and has installed, tested, and configured just about every type and brand of router, firewall, wireless access point, and network extender, dating back to the days long before Wi-Fi even existed.
Bill Thomas is a Denver-based freelance writer who covers technology, music, film, and gaming. They began writing for Lifewire in January 2018, but you can also find their work on TechRadar. Bill has also worked as an editor at Future.
Benjamin Zeman is a business consultant, musician and writer based in southern Vermont. When he’s not reviewing tech products for Lifewire, he’s getting nerdy fixing them or solving complex problems for businesses in need of an outside perspective.
Yoona Wagener enjoys helping people simplify processes. She has experience providing technical support and help documentation to end users, building websites for small business owners, and offering career advice to social-impact job seekers.
The 802.11ac standard was ratified in late 2013, and these days it's pretty difficult to find a modern router that doesn't support the standard. In fact, even though it took until 2013 for it to become official, it was actually around in draft form for a few years before that, so there have been 802.11ac capable routers available on the market since at least early 2012.
These days, unless you're looking for a really inexpensive router or trying to stay on the bleeding edge of Wi-Fi technology, just about any router you're shopping for will be an 802.11ac router, but with so many on the market it can be hard to sort out what you should be looking for? Should you go for faster AC5300 speeds? What about dual-band or tri-band? Or supporting older devices?
It's easy to feel overwhelmed, but the good news is that picking out an 802.11ac router isn't nearly as complicated as it sounds, and you only need to consider a few relatively simple factors to pick out the best router for your needs.
At this point, 802.11ac is the definitive standard in Wi-Fi technology, having been around in official form since 2013, so the better question to ask might be why not buy an 802.11ac router?
While you can certainly save a bit of money by going with an older or more basic budget-friendly router that only supports the older 802.11n standard, unless you're on a really tight budget, or simply looking for a router for a cottage or dorm, it's a good idea to at least get basic 802.11ac support in your router even if you don't have any devices that support it or if you don't need the faster Wi-Fi performance.
Every 802.11ac router supports older Wi-Fi standards, so you won't be hampering your performance by getting a better router, and you'll be even more ready to support faster speeds when you do need them. Further, as a rule 802.11ac routers tend to offer better performance and reliability even for older Wi-Fi devices thanks to their support for the higher-frequency 5GHz band, which can also be used by 802.11n devices, even though it's rarely found in pure 802.11n routers.
When it comes to wireless frequencies, the rule of thumb is that higher frequencies offer faster throughput but shorter range.
While Wi-Fi technology is capable of running at different frequencies, back in the early days manufacturers standardized on the use of the 2.4GHz band due to its longer range and the fact that back then blazing fast Wi-Fi speeds weren’t really all that necessary; early 802.11b devices maxed out at 11Mbps, and even the “newer” 802.11g standard was capped at 54Mbps—tortoise-like speeds by today’s standards, and plenty for the 2.4GHz frequency range to handle.
However, as faster internet connections became the norm, it was necessary to create faster Wi-Fi standards as well. This began with 802.11n, a new standard that could run on either the existing 2.4GHz bands or the higher-frequency 5GHz range, offering performance of up to 600Mbps. Following that came 802.11ac, which runs exclusively on the 5GHz band, offering potential performance of up to 1.3Gbps.
Keep in mind, however, that these are theoretical maximums, and for various reasons you’ll almost never see those kinds of speeds from a single client device. In practical terms, the best you can expect to get from an 802.11n device is around 300Mbps, compared to around 800Mbps from an 802.11ac client.
Last year, the Wi-Fi Alliance came up with more consumer-friendly names for these standards, so 802.11n is now known as Wi-Fi 4, and 802.11ac is now known as Wi-Fi 5, which makes it more clear where they fit within the spectrum, but these are just new names and the underlying technologies remain exactly the same.
As we noted earlier, 802.11ac runs on the 5GHz band exclusively. However, since many of the devices that you’ll be using in your home likely won’t be 802.11ac devices, it’s necessary for 802.11ac routers to be backward compatible with all of the older standards, and this means that they also have to support the 2.4GHz frequency range.
As a result, all 802.11ac routers are at least dual-band routers, which is a simple way of saying that they operate on both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz frequencies. Older 802.11b/g devices will use the 2.4GHz band, 802.11n devices can use either, and 802.11ac devices will stick to the faster and less congested 5GHz band.
However, since 5GHz has a shorter range than 2.4GHz, especially indoors, the lower-frequency band is also important even for your 802.11ac devices, which can fall back to 802.11n when they wander out of 5GHz coverage. You won’t get the fastest speeds in this case, but at least you’ll still be connected, and in many cases it should definitely be enough for casual surfing and possibly even streaming video.
There are also 802.11ac routers that are tri-band routers, which means that they offer a second 5GHz band to help distribute your devices across two different frequency ranges, improving overall performance by reducing congestion. Think of it like another dedicated highway for your Wi-Fi devices to travel on. However, much like a car can only drive on one road at a time, a single device can only connect to one band at a time, so tri-band routers are only useful if you have a lot of 5GHz 802.11ac and 802.11n devices on your network, and the extra band is only for the 5GHz range, so it won’t make any difference at all to your older devices, since they'll have to stay cluttered up in the single 2.4GHz slow lane.
The speed rating on an 802.11ac router—normally expressed as an “AC” number, like AC1900 or AC3000—refers to the total throughput it can offer across all of its Wi-Fi bands. If you have a dual-band router, this usually means that 300Mbps to 600Mbps is reserved for the 2.4GHz band, which as we noted earlier is only used by the slower 802.11b/g/n standards, while the remainder is dedicated to the 5GHz 802.11ac frequency band.
So if you have an AC1900 router—meaning one that provides 1,900Mbps (1.9Gbps) of bandwidth—you’re likely getting around 1,300Mbps (1.3Gbps) on the 5GHz 802.11ac band and 600Mbps on the 2.4GHz 802.11b/g/n band.
This gets a bit more complicated with tri-band routers, since now the “AC” bandwidth number applies to all three bands, which is why you’ll usually see higher numbers on tri-band routers. Generally, the lone 2.4GHz band still gets the slower speed, since most 802.11n devices max out at 300Mbps, while the remainder is divided between the two 5GHz bands—and not always equally.
For example, one popular AC5300 router offers 1,000Mbps on the 2.4GHz side and 2,167Mbps on each of the two 5GHz channels, while another AC3000 router divvies that up into a 400Mbps 2.4GHz channel, an 866Mbps 5GHz channel and another 1,733Mbps 5GHz channel.
These router speeds usually go well beyond what individual 802.11n and 802.11ac devices are actually capable of, however, not to mention the speed of your home internet connection. The point of these numbers isn’t to give you super-fast throughput for a single device, but rather to ensure that your router has enough bandwidth to serve all of the Wi-Fi devices in your home, and much like buying a tri-band router, there's no point in spending more money for faster speeds if you don't have enough Wi-Fi devices—or the internet speeds—to take advantage of it.
If you have a large home, you’ll want to make sure you get a router that has enough coverage to reach all of your devices. This is especially true if you have a busy household with a lot of devices, since network congestion can come into play as well, effectively reducing the kind performance you’ll get when farther away from the router.
While there are some good standalone long-range routers available, if you have a very large house and can afford it, we strongly recommend getting a mesh Wi-Fi network system, which will make sure you get strong coverage throughout your home by letting you place satellite units where good Wi-Fi performance is most needed.
This is especially important if you want to ensure the fastest speeds are available throughout your home. Since 5GHz signals don’t travel nearly as far as 2.4GHz signals do, even the best standalone long-range routers will have you falling back to the 2.4GHz band much more quickly than you might like, which means you’ll no longer be using your router in 802.11ac mode. With a mesh system, on the other hand, you can always be close enough to a satellite unit to get a strong enough 5GHz connection, even across multiple floors.
As great as Wi-Fi can be, sometimes it’s just better to plug a device right in, especially if it’s something stationary that’s near your router anyway, such as a PC or a game console.
Wired connections can give you faster performance than Wi-Fi in most cases, and this is especially true for gaming, where low latency is a critical requirement. If you’re a serious gamer, or have one living in your home, most Wi-Fi routers just won’t cut it, so you’ll have to either plug-in using Ethernet, or be sure to invest in a specialized gaming router.
So if you need wired connections for one or more devices, start by making sure that your router has enough Ethernet ports for your needs to begin with, and definitely be sure that they’re Gigabit Ethernet, since otherwise your 802.11ac devices will still likely get a faster connection than your network jacks can provide. Also if you’re buying a mesh Wi-Fi system, consider whether you’ll need Ethernet ports on the satellite units, as not all mesh devices provide them.
You may have heard of Wi-Fi 6, also known by its more technical name, 802.11ax. This is the very newest leading-edge standard in Wi-Fi technology, and while it offers some nice benefits, it’s not yet widely supported by client devices. If you’re buying for the very long term, it might be worth investing in a Wi-Fi 6 router, but in most cases we’d recommend saving your money unless you’re absolutely sure that you need the benefits of Wi-Fi 6 and actually have devices that can take advantage of it, since as with any new technology, Wi-Fi 6 routers are expensive right now, but will become more affordable as the technology is more widely adopted
At this point, 802.11ac, aka Wi-Fi 5, is the mainstream standard for high-performance routers. It’s been around since 2013, and is supported by all but the most budget-friendly routers. It’s a safe choice that will remain supported for years to come and should meet the needs of all but the most seriously demanding Wi-Fi users.
Some of the most sophisticated and feature-rich routers you'll find are made by Asus, which particularly specializes in higher-end gaming routers that offer peak performance for busy networks. Thanks to a wealth of options to configure and excellent range, Asus offers some of the most versatile routers you'll find, and its tri-band routers are especially good if you have a really large home with a lot of Wi-Fi devices.
Netgear is one of the more venerable names in the business, having produced routers and other networking gear for over two decades for both home and business applications. The company provides a wide range of routers for different needs, ranging from small apartments and condos to excellent mesh systems that can cover homes of several thousand square feet.
This company is best known for its lineup of really affordable routers, and it offers some good options for those looking for a fairly no frills router that provides good performance at wallet-friendly prices. While TP-Link does make some longer-range routers and even some mesh systems, the company is best known for its solid and affordable wallet-friendly routers.
It's important to buy a Wi-Fi router that will meet your needs, both now and into the future, and that's especially true if you're looking at a more expensive one. However, don't be dazzled by higher numbers and specs like tri-band coverage, since you probably don't need these features as much as you might think.
When picking our an 802.11ac router, the key factors to consider are what kind of speed you actually need, how large of a home you need to cover, and how many devices you have on your network. There's no point in buying a router that's faster than your internet connection, nor do you need a tri-band router if you're a single person living in an apartment or condo, or even a small family with few Wi-Fi devices.