The 9 Best Routers for Under $50 in 2021

Find the perfect cheap and reliable router for your home

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Although you can find a lot of expensive high-performance routers on the market, our list of the best routers under $50 proves you don’t need to spend a lot of money if you're only looking to cover the basics in an apartment, condo, or medium-sized home. Of course, you'll make some compromises with a budget router, but even the most affordable ones still focus on what's important, which is delivering the best Wi-Fi performance for smaller living spaces. 

Even as newer Wi-Fi standards emerge, they remain fully backward-compatible, so older routers are never left completely behind. This means you can save a bundle by looking at prior models. Further, since manufacturers recognize that not everybody needs to cover a 5,000+ square foot home filled with dozens of connected devices, they tend to keep some of their more popular routers on the market for years. This means you can get a solid and reliable router at a very affordable price that still offers more than enough performance to handle even demanding activities like 4K Netflix streaming and busy Zoom and FaceTime calls. The best routers under $50 make great picks for single people, couples, and small families living in smaller spaces.

The Rundown
Delivers solid performance and advanced features like WPA3 security and VPN support at a really affordable price.
Best Single Band:
TP-Link TL-WR940N at Amazon
Offers solid performance and range for older 802.11n devices at a great price.
Provides ample range and performance for a small household to enjoy all that the modern internet has to offer.
Delivers a surprisingly strong signal with great range at an affordable price.
Looks nice enough to put in your living room, yet still delivers enough range and performance for a modest sized home.
Best for Travel:
TP-Link TL-WR902AC at Amazon
An affordable, pocket-size router that lets you set up a bubble of Wi-Fi wherever you go.
An incredibly affordable option for smaller spaces, such as a studio or small apartment.
Best for Small Business:
Asus RT-AC1200 at Walmart
Can handle two internet connections simultaneously so you’ll always have a backup ready to go.
Best for Home Office:
Asus RT-N12 at Amazon
Support for up to four separate Wi-Fi networks makes this ideal for home office networks.

Best Overall: TP-Link Archer A6/C6 AC1200 Dual-Band Wi-Fi Router

TP-Link Archer A6/C6 (V3)
What We Like
  • Great value for the price

  • MU-MIMO support

  • WPA3 security

What We Don't Like
  • No USB ports

TP-Link makes some of the most affordable routers on the market, and its Archer A6 (also known as the C6) may be one of the most inexpensive dual-band routers you can buy from any brand. With AC1200 specs, it offers surprisingly great performance for its price range, with up to 867Mbps on throughput on the 5GHz band, plus another 300Mpbs for lower-end 2.4GHz 802.11n Wi-Fi 4 devices. 

The result is a really inexpensive router that can easily handle streaming 4K in Netflix, keeping in touch with friends and colleagues on FaceTime and Zoom, and even light online gaming. Of course, like most budget routers you’re not going to get enough range to cover a large home, so you’ll need to keep your devices close by for the best performance. However, at this price you can also easily afford to add a Wi-Fi extender if you find you need an extra bit of reach.  

The Archer A6 also sports four Gigabit Ethernet ports around the back to hardwire in any devices that need more speed. Thanks to MU-MIMO support, however, you’ll probably only need that for older Wi-Fi 4 clients or devices without built in Wi-Fi. This budget router also packs in some impressive features for a device in its price range, including device-based QoS, basic parental controls, WPA3 security, and even an OpenVPN server. 

Wireless Spec: 802.11ac | Security: WPA3, OpenVPN, Guest Wi-Fi Secure Access | Standard/Speed: AC1200 | Bands: Dual-band | MU-MIMO: Yes | Beamforming: Yes | Wired Ports: 5

"With an MSRP of $50, the Archer A6 represents pretty decent value for the level of performance and the feature set it offers. You may want to step up to a more expensive unit if you have a big house or a lot of devices, and it is missing features like a USB port, but the Archer A6 is priced very well for what you get." — Jeremy Laukkonen, Product Tester

Best Single Band: TP-Link TL-WR940N N450 Wi-Fi Router

TP-Link TL-WR940N
What We Like
  • Solid 802.11n Wi-Fi performance

  • Can work as a range extender

  • Very affordable

What We Don't Like
  • Lacks Gigabit Ethernet ports

  • Single-band only

  • No USB port

TP-Link’s TL-WR940N is one of the most affordable routers you can buy. While you're cutting quite a few corners at this price, the solid 2.4GHz 802.11n WI-Fi 4 performance makes it a great choice for anybody who doesn’t need to worry about supporting 5GHz devices. 

Although this limits the TL-WR940N to speeds of only 450Mbps, that’s all you usually get on the 2.4GHz band with even more expensive dual-band routers. More importantly, it’s still more than enough for three or four devices to stream in 4K and make Zoom calls. Plus, it supports basic QoS features to let you control how much bandwidth each connected device can use, so you can ensure that your smart TVs and game consoles get maximum performance. 

The biggest downside here is that while you do get four Ethernet ports on the back, they’re only Fast Ethernet, so you’ll be limited to 100Mbps on your wired connections. This creates the rare scenario where you may actually get better performance using your devices over Wi-Fi than you would by plugging them in directly into the router.

Wireless Spec: 802.11n | Security: WPA2, Guest Wi-Fi Secure Access | Standard/Speed: N450 | Bands: Single-band | MU-MIMO: No | Beamforming: No | Wired Ports: 5

Best Value: Netgear R6080 Dual-Band AC1000 WiFi Router

Netgear R6080
What We Like
  • Compact size

  • Four Gigabit Ethernet ports

What We Don't Like
  • No USB port

  • Limited range

Despite its lower price tag, Netgear’s R6080 carries on the company’s reputation for solid and reliable routers, providing some of the best bang for your buck. While you shouldn’t expect this one to handle the needs of a large home or family, it offers more than enough range and performance for a small household to enjoy all that the modern internet has to offer. 

This dual-band AC1000 router offers up 700Mbps of throughput on the 5GHz band plus 300Mbps for 2.4GHz devices to share among up to 15 devices and enough range to fully cover 1,000 square feet of your living area. This makes it ideal for single users, couples, and small families in an apartment, bungalow, or condo, as it can deliver more than enough speed to stream from services like Netflix in full 4K quality and keep in touch with friends and family on FaceTime and Zoom—just as long as you don’t try to throw too many devices at it. 

Wireless Spec: 802.11ac | Security: WPA2, Guest Wi-Fi Secure Access | Standard/Speed: AC1000 | Bands: Dual-band | MU-MIMO: No | Beamforming: No | Wired Ports: 5

Best Range: TP-Link Archer C50 Dual Band Wi-Fi Router

TP-Link Archer C50
What We Like
  • Attractive design

  • Very affordable

  • Solid range

What We Don't Like
  • Middling speeds

  • Not great at handling multiple devices

TP-Link’s Archer C50 is an affordable router that excels at offering better range than most others in its class, with leading AC1200 Wi-Fi and enough range to deliver 1.2Gbps speeds throughout a typical three-bedroom home. 

The fixed antennas support beamforming and MU-MIMO to ensure that you get top speeds throughout your home, even when supporting multiple devices, and with 867Mbps of throughput on the 5GHz band, plus 300Mbps on the 2.4GHz side, it offers more than enough performance for 4K streaming and video calling. A simple device-based QoS feature also lets you prioritize specific devices like smart TVs or game consoles to ensure they get the best performance. 

While the specs are very similar to the Archer A6, which is easily the best budget router overall, if you don’t need VPN features or the capacity for high-speed wired devices, you can save a few more bucks by going with the C50, which only includes Fast Ethernet ports. As an added bonus, however, it does add the ability to act as a range extender, so it can be a great add-on to the Archer A6 as well. 

Wireless Spec: 802.11ac | Security: WPA2, Guest Wi-Fi Secure Access | Standard/Speed: AC1000 | Bands: Dual-band | MU-MIMO: Yes | Beamforming: Yes | Wired Ports: 5

"We were expecting the signal strength and range to be the weak point, but we were wrong." Bill Thomas, Product Tester

Best Design: Linksys E5350 Dual-Band AC1000 Wi-Fi Router

Linksys E5350 AC1000 Wi-Fi Router
What We Like
  • Attractive design

  • Offers basic parental controls

What We Don't Like
  • Lacks Gigabit Ethernet ports

  • No USB port

Linksys E5350 proves that you don’t need to pay a premium to get a router that looks nice enough to put in your living room. This AC1000 dual-band Wi-Fi router features a smooth and sleek top surface with only two round antennas, but it still delivers enough range and performance for an average-sized home.

With 1Gbps of combined throughput—700Mbps on the 5GHz band and 300Mbps on the 2.4GHz—you’ll have no problem streaming Netflix in 4K and keeping in touch with friends and family on FaceTime and Skype. Even better, the design allows you to more comfortably place it where you’ll get the best coverage for your smart TV or game console.

The E5350 also provides secure access for your guests, plus basic parental controls to keep your kids away from the darker corners of the internet. Unfortunately, the four Ethernet ports around back only support 100Mbps Fast Ethernet, so it’s not ideal for high-speed wired devices; in fact, you’ll get much better speeds from the 802.11ac Wi-Fi.

Wireless Spec: 802.11ac | Security: WPA2, Guest Wi-Fi Secure Access | Standard/Speed: AC1000 | Bands: Dual-band | MU-MIMO: No | Beamforming: No | Wired Ports: 5

Best for Travel: TP-Link TL-WR902AC AC750 Travel Router

TP-Link TL-WR902AC Portable Wireless Travel Router
What We Like
  • Dual Band Wi-Fi

  • Fast 802.11ac performance

  • Versatile wireless modes

What We Don't Like
  • Shorter range

  • Port layout isn't ideal

TP-Link's TL-WR902AC is one of the fastest pocket-sized routers you'll find, making it the best pick for users on the go. Measuring in at only 2.64x2.91x0.9 inches and 7.2 ounces, it's small enough to carry your own little bubble of Wi-Fi just about anywhere.

Don’t let its small size fool you, though. It offers AC750 dual-band Wi-Fi, with speeds of up to 733Mbps on the 5GHz band and 2.4GHz on the 2.4GHz side, so it’s plenty fast enough to meet all your streaming and video conferencing needs wherever you happen to land. It’s also really versatile, working not only as a traditional router or Wi-Fi access point, but also as a range extender, a private Wi-Fi hotspot for WISP networks, or as a client to provide Wi-Fi access to a wired-only device via its built-in Ethernet port.

Just keep in mind that you're not going to get a lot of range in a device this size, but that shouldn’t matter as this device is intended for personal use by one or two users while travelling. After all, if you’re using it to provide Wi-Fi access in a hotel room or while sitting in a coffee shop, you’re never going to be more than a few feet away from it anyway. 

Wireless Spec: 802.11ac | Security: WPA2, Guest Wi-Fi Secure Access | Standard/Speed: AC750 | Bands: Dual-band | MU-MIMO: No | Beamforming: No | Wired Ports: 1

"At only $45, the TP-Link TL-WR902AC is about as cheap as routers come, and is really quite a bargain considering its portability, ease of use, and remarkable versatility." — Andy Zahn, Product Tester

Best Price: TP-Link TL-WR841N Wi-Fi Router

TP-Link N300
What We Like
  • Extremely affordable

  • Easy to set up

  • Small footprint

What We Don't Like
  • No 5GHz support

  • No Gigabit Ethernet

  • No USB ports

TP-Link’s TL-WR841N is a ridiculously affordable router that’s ideal for single users, couples and small families in an apartment, condo, or bungalow. It’s a single-band router, which means everything runs on the 2.4GHz channel, but with speeds of up to 300Mbps, it offers more than enough performance for one or two people to enjoy streaming, video calling, and even some light online gaming.

Expecting great range at this price is likely too much to ask, but the TL-WR841N can still cover most one-storey two-bedroom homes or apartments without any issues, and at 5.1x1.3x7.60 inches 8.1 ounces it’s small enough to tuck away just about anywhere. 

You’ll have to give up a few other things at this price, of course; the TL-WR841N only includes four 100Mbps Fast Ethernet ports, and no USB ports at all, and the single band may be problem if you live in an area that’s prone to interference from other 2.4GHz devices like cordless phones, security cameras, or even your neighbours’ Wi-Fi routers. 

Wireless Spec: 802.11n | Security: WPA2, Guest Wi-Fi Secure Access | Standard/Speed: N300 | Bands: Single-band | MU-MIMO: No | Beamforming: No | Wired Ports: 5

Best for Small Business: Asus RT-AC1200 Dual-Band Wi-Fi Router

Asus RT-AC1200 Wireless Router
What We Like
  • Dual WAN support

  • QoS and traffic monitoring

  • Parental control features

What We Don't Like
  • Lacks MU-MIMO support

  • No USB ports

Asus’ RT-AC1200 has an interesting twist that makes it a great choice for small businesses that can’t afford any downtime. With dual WAN support, this router lets you connect to two separate internet connections at the same time, so you’ll always have a backup connection ready to go.

This dual-band Wi-Fi router otherwise offers the performance you’d expect from an AC1200 router, with 867Mbps on the 5GHz band, plus 300Mbps on the 2.4GHz side, providing ample speed for all the devices on your network. Four external beamforming antennas put out a powerful signal to cover a small office or modest sized home. 

The aforementioned dual WAN feature uses one of the four Gigabit Ethernet LAN ports to link up to a second broadband connection, which can either be set up to work in standby mode, failing over if the primary connection goes down, or to use both connections at the same time, load balancing your traffic across them for the fastest possible throughput. 

Wireless Spec: 802.11ac | Security: WPA2, RADIUS, Guest Wi-Fi Secure Access | Standard/Speed: AC1200 | Bands: Dual-band | MU-MIMO: No | Beamforming: Yes | Wired Ports: 5

Best for Home Office: Asus RT-N12 N300 Wi-Fi Router

ASUS
What We Like
  • Works as a router or repeater

  • Can set up multiple SSIDs

  • PPTP VPN support

What We Don't Like
  • No 5GHz

  • Limited range

  • Not suitable for very fast internet plans

The Asus RT-N12 allows you to configure up to four different Wi-Fi networks from the same router, making it an ideal choice for those with home offices or anyone else who wants to separate their Wi-Fi access for security and performance reasons. 

While it’s a single-band N300 router, which means you’ll only get 300Mbps of throughput on the 2.4GHz channel, it can still handle streaming, surfing, and video conferencing for a small number of users. Besides, it’s not going to matter much if your internet plan isn’t more than 300Mbps, as that’s the combined speed that’s available to all of your devices anyway. 

More significantly, however, you can set up different SSIDs with dynamic bandwidth management and different access restrictions, so you can keep your mission-critical devices on a priority SSID while limiting the amount of bandwidth your kids can use., and controlling where they can go. It's also versatile enough to be used as a range extender or wireless repeater.

Wireless Spec: 802.11n | Security: WPA2, Guest Wi-Fi Secure Access | Standard/Speed: N300 | Bands: Single-band | MU-MIMO: No | Beamforming: No | Wired Ports: 5

Final Verdict

TP-Link's Archer A6/C6 is an affordable router with modern Wi-Fi standards and great performance, although if you only need to support older 2.4GHz devices, you can save even more by going with TP-Link's ridiculously affordable TL-WR841N.

About Our Trusted Experts

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.

Jeremy Laukkonen is an experienced tech journalist with a background in automotive repair that has taught him the importance of breaking down complex technical subjects in understandable ways. He specializes in VPNs, antivirus, and home electronics, and manages his own automotive blog on the side.

Andy Zahn has been writing for Lifewire since April 2019. When he’s not obsessing over (and writing about) the latest gadgets and consumer technology, he can be found traveling and photographing the wild Cascade Mountains of the Pacific Northwest, or tending to a herd of obnoxious goats on a small farm in the shadow of Mt. St. Helens.

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.

FAQs

Is it okay to buy an older router?

When buying a router for a smaller home, you can save a lot of money by going with an older model. In fact, many manufacturers continue selling their previous models for exactly this reason, since not everybody needs the latest and greatest Wi-Fi technologies. While we normally recommend going with at least a dual-band router that offers 802.11ac Wi-Fi 5 support, if you’re a single user in a dorm or small apartment you can get some incredibly affordable 802.11n Wi-Fi 4 routers that will still give you more than enough performance for streaming your favourite movies and TV shows from services like Netflix.

Can an inexpensive router cover my entire home?

Most budget routers won’t give you more than 1,000–2,000 square feet of coverage, and you’ll probably find your speeds dropping off at the edges of that range. However, you can add an affordable Wi-Fi extender to boost your range for less than the cost of a long-range router, and many inexpensive routers can also double as range extenders or wireless access points

Should I buy a used Wi-Fi router?

We generally recommend against buying a used Wi-Fi router unless you know that the previous owner took good care of it. Since most people tend to ignore their Wi-Fi routers, often sticking them in a dusty corner or a closet, they’re much more prone to getting damaged from heat stress due to poor ventilation and dust building up around the vents, which can shorten their life span dramatically. 

What to Look For in a Budget Router

It's easy to spend a bundle on a Wi-Fi router—there are models now that cost upwards of several hundred dollars, especially if you're investing in a mesh Wi-Fi system, a long-range router, or a high-end gaming router—but the good news is that you don't have to spend a lot to get a good router that provides solid performance and enough coverage to meet the needs of all but the most demanding users.

Wi-Fi standards don't change all that often, and even when they do, every new Wi-Fi standard builds on the older ones, so your devices and routers will always be backward compatible. Since it's rarely necessary to live on the leading edge, this means that you can often save a lot of money by going with an older router, and many manufacturers are still releasing more affordable versions of their routers that are perfectly suited for smaller homes or those with fewer devices who don't need ultrafast performance.

TP-Link Archer A6/C6 Wi-Fi Router
Lifewire / Jeremy Laukkonen

What to Look for in a Budget Router

Although it can be tempting to go out and buy the fastest and most modern Wi-Fi router you can find, it's always a good idea to sit back and consider what your needs are, regardless of what you're willing to spend.

For example, serious gamers may prefer to look to a dedicated gaming router, but just because you play games that doesn't mean you need to go for the highest-end models, especially if you plan to hardwire in your PC or game console anyway, in which case Wi-Fi performance won't be all that critical.

As a rule, it's also important to keep in mind that the biggest, fastest, and most expensive routers are generally designed to handle the busiest homes. If you're a single person living in a condo or small bungalow, you don't need to spend a lot of money to get a Wi-Fi router that will get the job done. There are a lot of great inexpensive options available, so don't let flashy marketing or sophisticated spec sheets convince you that you need to buy a Cadillac when you can do everything you need with a Chevrolet.

Single, Dual, or Tri-Band? 

When trying to buy a router on a budget, it's even more important to understand the difference between Wi-Fi standards and wireless frequencies, since you can save a lot by not spending money on bands or frequencies that you won't use.

Single, dual, and tri-band refer to the number of distinct frequencies that a router can operate at, and by extension the Wi-Fi standards that they support.

Almost all single-band routers operate at 2.4GHz, the frequency that has been the base standard for Wi-Fi for over two decades. Modern single-band routers support the 802.11n standard, now known as "Wi-Fi 4," and usually offer maximum speeds of up to 600Mbps. They're also backward-compatible with the older 802.11b and 802.11g standards, which are much slower, peaking at 54Mbps. Chances are none of your user-facing devices like computers use these older standards anymore, but many smart home and internet-of-things devices still do, as they don't need anything faster.

The problem with the 2.4GHz frequency range is that it tends to be slower and more congested than higher frequencies. Many other things operate at 2.4GHz, including cordless phones, home security systems, and garage door openers, and even microwave ovens emit interference in this frequency range. 

So to deal with these interference problems and provide better Wi-Fi performance, the new 802.11ac Wi-Fi standard was developed (now known as "Wi-Fi 5") which uses the 5GHz frequency, opening up the potential for much faster speeds—a high-end 802.11ac router can offer multi-gigabit performance—as well as being free of most of the usual interference. There's a downside to 5GHz however: it doesn't travel as far, especially through walls and other solid objects.

As a result of the shorter range and the need to maintain backward compatibility with older Wi-Fi devices, all 802.11ac routers also support the 2.4GHz band, and are therefore referred to as dual-band routers.

So what about tri-band? These routers offer a second 5GHz frequency band to reduce congestion when you have a lot of 802.11ac Wi-Fi 5 devices in your home. However, since each of your devices can only connect to a single band at a time, there's no point in buying a tri-band router unless you have more than two or three 802.11ac 5GHz devices in your home that need peak performance. Also keep in mind that a tri-band router still only has a single 2.4GHz band, so it will do absolutely nothing to improve performance for your older Wi-Fi devices. 

TP-Link Archer C50
Lifewire

Range and Coverage

We're not going to mince words here; budget routers don't typically offer a lot of range, so while most will be more than fine for an apartment, condo, or even a small bungalow, if you're looking to cover every corner of a medium to large home, you're going to need more than most of these routers can give you, at least by themselves.

If you have a really large home, the best way to go is with a mesh Wi-Fi system. While these can be extremely pricey, some offer the ability to start out with a single base router and expand later as your needs dictate, but you'll still ultimately end up spending a few hundred dollars or more if you need to cover a large home.

If you're looking to do this on a budget, however, many inexpensive routers can also be used as simple wireless access points; this means that if you're willing to run Ethernet cables around your home or invest in a Powerline network adapter, you have a pretty inexpensive do-it-yourself means of covering your whole home. In fact, many budget routers are so affordable that you could buy three or four of them for less than the price of even a single mesh Wi-Fi node.

Just remember that simply because you have a larger living space doesn't mean you need to get strong Wi-Fi into every corner, so be sure to budget for the coverage you actually need.

Security & Encryption

While most budget routers won't include things like advanced parental controls or malware protection, that doesn't mean you have to do without security entirely. Make sure the router supports at least Wireless Protected Access 2 (WPA2) encryption, especially if you're purchasing an older model, as well as the ability to pass VPN connections through from your computers for additional security.

The nature of home internet routers means you'll get some natural defence against intruders thanks to Network Address Translation and private IP addresses which are fundamental features, so you don't necessarily need a complicated firewall to keep intruders from breaking in, but you'll still want to make sure that you install anti-malware software on your computers, and enable the other appropriate security features on tablets and smartphones to prevent them from running apps that might be punching holes through your firewall. 

Speed & Performance

When looking at routers you'll often see a performance rating that includes a letter and a number, such as AC1900 or N600. These refer to the highest Wi-Fi standard the router supports and the maximum total speed it's capable of handling. For example, an N600 router supports 802.11n speeds of up to 600Mbps, while an AC1900 router offers 802.11ac and can reach speeds of 1,900Mbps (or 1.9Gbps). In the case of multi-band routers, however, it's important to remember that these are combined speeds across all bands. For example, an AC1900 router may actually only offer 1.3Gbps performance on the 5GHz band, with the other 600Mbps on the 2.4GHz side. This is also why tri-band routers typically have much higher ratings like AC5300—that 5,300Mbps of bandwidth is actually shared across three bands. 

In practical terms, however, even if you have a dual-band router that offers AC1900 speeds and beyond, don't expect these kinds of speeds from a single device. Routers are designed to be able to handle multiple Wi-Fi devices, all of which will be sharing the total bandwidth that the router offers. 

However, to put this in perspective, streaming the highest-quality 4K UHD movies on Netflix only requires speeds of around 25Mbps, and you generally don't need more than that for online gaming either—low latency is actually far more important than raw speed. Ultra-fast routers are generally only necessary when you have a lot of devices competing for that bandwidth or if you're regularly downloading extremely large files.

Also remember that there's usually no need to buy a Wi-Fi router that's significantly faster than your home internet connection, since that's where your performance bottleneck is going to be anyway; if you've only got 25Mbps download speeds coming into your home, a higher-speed Wi-Fi router isn't going to do anything to improve that. 

TP-Link Archer C50
Lifewire 

Wired Connectivity

There are times when Wi-Fi connectivity may not be enough, and even most inexpensive routers provide at least a few Ethernet ports to let you hardwire in devices.

This is especially important for gamers, since as we mentioned before, there's more to gaming than just raw speed—your router also needs to provide low latency so you get lag-free gaming performance. After all, there's nothing worse than having your favourite first-person shooter freeze due to network lag just as you're about to make that critical kill shot. 

Most affordable routers won't offer the kind of low latency Wi-Fi performance that serious gamers need, so it's pretty much guaranteed that you'll need to jack in. Some budget routers offer Gigabit Ethernet ports, which are definitely a nice bonus, although again unless your internet connection is more than 100Mbps, you'll do just fine with the lower-end Fast Ethernet ports found on many of the older and more inexpensive routers. 

What about Wi-Fi 6?

As we explained earlier, there are a number of Wi-Fi standards that mostly relate to how fast a device can operate and which frequencies it operates on. While for the longest time these had relatively cryptic names like 802.11b and 802.11ac, the Wi-Fi Alliance, which is the industry organization that manages these standards, recently decided to go with names that not only sound less technical but also make the relationship between standards clear. So the older 802.11n standard became Wi-Fi 4 and the newer 802.11ac standard became Wi-Fi 5.

This all happened while the newest standard, Wi-Fi 6 (or 802.11ax) was being ratified. While Wi-Fi 6 is definitely the way forward in Wi-Fi technology, you're not going to find an affordable router that includes it yet, nor is it something that you even need to worry about unless you're willing to spend a lot of money to live on the leading edge of technology.

Wi-Fi 6 works across both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands, offers significantly faster performance, and works better on very busy and congested networks. To benefit from this, however, your computers, smartphones, and other devices must support Wi-Fi 6 too. Right now, those are pretty rare, with the only mainstream devices being the very latest smartphones, tablets, and laptops, and let's face it: how much faster do you really need your iPhone's network connection to be? 

So if you're looking for an inexpensive router, you're not going to find one with Wi-Fi 6 support, but there's a very good chance you don't need to worry about it anyway, as you likely don't have any devices in your home that will actually benefit from it. Save your money for when the Wi-Fi 6 standard becomes a bit more widespread, by which time Wi-Fi 6 routers will also be much more affordable. 

Top Brands

TP-Link

TP-Link has been in the router business for over two decades, and while the company does offer a few high-end models, as you can see from the entries on this list, it’s best known for its much wider array of inexpensive general purpose routers. In fact, TP-Link is one of the few companies that not only continues to sell and support a really wide range of older router models, but actually releases new versions of these classics every few years.

Asus

Although Asus is more typically known for its premium gaming routers, it has a few older models that it still sells and supports that offer some unique features like dual WAN support and multiple SSIDs—letting you set up several Wi-Fi networks from one router—and some handy security features. 

Netgear

Even years ago, Netgear was known for making some of the most powerful routers you could buy, with high-performance features like dual-band 2.4GHz Wi-Fi for older devices. Netgear has a large family of older routers that are still available and remain supported by the company, letting you pick up a pretty affordable router if you’re only looking to support 2.4GHz devices. 

TP-Link Archer C50
Lifewire

Conclusion

When you look at the routers on the shelves at your local electronics store, it’s easy to be fooled into thinking you need the kind of performance that a high-end router offers, but if you’re on a limited budget, it’s important to consider your actual requirements and not pay for more performance or range than you’ll actually use.

The fact is that most routers you can buy already exceed the speed of your home internet connection—sometimes by quite a bit. More expensive routers are designed to meet the needs of busy families and large homes with lots of devices, so they’re usually overkill if all you’re looking to do is surf the internet and watch Netflix in a small home or condo, and you’ll probably be amazed at how much an inexpensive router can actually do for you.

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