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Lifewire / Jeremy Laukkonen
Good value for the price
Easy to set up
No USB ports
TP-Link's Archer A6 is one of the most inexpensive dual-band routers you can buy, but it offers surprisingly good performance for its low price. AC1200 Wi-Fi specs give you up to 867Mbps of throughput on the 5GHz 802.11ac side, while lower-end 802.11n clients can still enjoy solid 300Mbps performance.
This makes it more than ample for handling 4K video as long as you keep them close by—like many budget routers it doesn't offer the kind of range that will cover a large home, and performance will fall off as you get farther away from the router. However, at this price you can also easily afford to add a Wi-Fi extender if you find you need that extra bit of coverage.
The Archer A6 also offers four Gigabit Ethernet ports so you can hardwire in any devices that need more speed, but thanks to MU-MIMO support we don't think many users will find that necessary unless you simply don't have the 802.11ac hardware on your clients to take advantage of the maximum speeds.
Flimsy build quality
Not great at handling multiple devices
Like its similar sibling on this list, TP-Link’s Archer C50 dual-band fast Ethernet router is a great choice under $50. With 802.11ac support, it supports the same modern Wi-Fi devices as far more expensive routers, plus of course it's still backward compatible with 802.11n and older standards. The Archer C50 features both a 2.4GHz band with speeds up to 300Mbps and a 5GHz band with potential speeds of up to 867Mbps. Realistically, you’ll have more than enough horsepower to stream Netflix in HD, as well as let the little ones play games online. Two high-quality dual-band antennas offer additional reach around the house—up to 2,000 square feet of coverage—and there are also four Fast Ethernet ports on the back, as well as a single USB port.
Although its design won’t knock your socks off overall, you’re not buying this router for its looks, but rather for its performance. Like most budget options on this list, you’ll find the best possible performance occurs in apartments and condos or smaller single-family homes with just a handful of users. You can also download TP-Link’s Android and iOS mobile apps and adjust your Wi-Fi settings from the comfort of your sofa. At 4.9x7.2x1.3 inches, the Archer C50 takes up very little room and can easily disappear on a bookshelf or table in the main office. As an added bonus, TP-Link provides a two-year warranty with free support, including setup assistance.
"We were expecting the signal strength and range to be the weak point, but we were wrong." — Bill Thomas, Product Tester
Works as a router or repeater
Can set up multiple SSIDs
PPTP VPN support
Not suitable for very fast internet plans
The Asus RT-N12 is designed specifically for small businesses and home office networks. What it lacks in advertised speed, it makes up for in coverage area. It accomplishes this through something called MIMO technology, which uses multiple transmit and receive antennas to optimize data transfers. It also includes two detachable high-gain antennas to extend the Wi-Fi area throughout your office environment, and it features the ability to set up four SSIDs with dynamic bandwidth management—ideal for office or commercial environments where guests are common, but also useful for parents who want more controlled access for their kids.
While the 300Mbps throughput isn't much compared with other routers in the same price range, keep in mind these advertised speeds are exactly that: advertised. In a speed test, the RT-N12 could end up besting other, faster routers thanks to its MIMO tech and 5dBi antennas. When it comes to internet speed, it’s all about efficiency.
Solid 2.4GHz performance
Four Ethernet ports
The Linksys E1200 is another straight-to-the-point wireless router, only this one services a slightly more demanding network arrangement. With Wireless-N (802.11n) specs and transfer rates of up to 300Mbps, it also features MIMO internal antenna technology, which helps boost Wi-Fi signal strength over an extended coverage area. It also has four Ethernet ports for wired connections, guest networks, and compatibility with Cisco Connect. However, it doesn't have USB, Gigabit Ethernet ports, or traffic prioritization, and like most other routers in its price range, it’s single-band.
That said, it’s a router that gets to the point—a modern option for folks who like to stream HD video and transfer large files over Wi-Fi, but who aren’t likely to host a LAN party or live stream to Twitch.
Good 802.11n Wi-Fi performance
Can work as a range extender
Lacks Gigabit Ethernet ports
If you don’t need to worry about supporting 5GHz 802.11ac devices, you can save some money by going with a single-band router, and TP-Link’s TL-WR940N is a really affordable solution that offers some of the best performance you can get for 802.11n clients.
You’ll get 450Mbps throughput on the 2.4Gbps band, along with three antennas that provide good coverage for a small home, condo, or cottage. The TL-WR940N also has a few other tricks up its sleeve, including the ability to control how much bandwidth each device is allowed to use, letting you reserve maximum throughput for those devices that need it. Plus, it can be used as a Wi-Fi range extender.
The biggest downside here is that while you get four Ethernet ports on the back, they’re only Fast Ethernet, so you’ll be limited to 100Mbps on your wired connections, creating the rare scenario where your Wi-Fi devices could actually get better performance.
No 5GHz support
Don’t let the low price on the TP-Link TL-WR841N fool you, this budget router is far more than meets the eye. Ideally, this router is designed for smaller spaces, such as a studio or small apartment—that’s where you’ll see the best results. Capable of download speeds of 300Mbps or less, the N300 is ideal for streaming video, web browsing, online gaming and more. Measuring 5.1x1.3x7.60 inches and weighing just 8.1 ounces, this is a small unit, but it feels sturdy, stays flat on a solid surface, and has holes on the underside in case you want to mount it on a wall.
There are some caveats at this price point, of course, such as surrendering support for Gigabit Ethernet. Instead, you’ll find four LAN ports and one WAN port for connection to a modem. The router also only offers single-band 802.11n Wi-Fi with a 2x2 dual-stream setup, which means you'll only be able to use it on the 2.4GHz band, which can get crowded in a home with a lot of Wi-Fi devices, with no access to the potentially faster 5GHz band. Simply stated, this is a basic router that gets the job done at a budget price. Setup is a snap and you should be up and running within a few minutes.
Dual Band Wi-Fi
Fast 802.11ac performance
Versatile wireless modes
Port layout isn't ideal
If you're looking for a router that you can take with you, TP-Link's TL-WR902AC is one of the fastest pocket-sized little routers that you'll find. It measures only 2.64x2.91x0.9 inches and weighs in at only 7.2 ounces, so it's small enough to take your own little bubble of Wi-Fi on the go with you.
It also offers dual-band Wi-Fi, so you can connect on either the 2.4GHz or the much faster and less crowded 5GHz band with speeds of up to 433Mbps, and it's pretty versatile too. Not only can it be used as a 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.
Since the antennas are all built-in, you're not going to get a lot of range here, but that's not really the point of this little router, which is primarily designed to let you set up your own Wi-Fi access in a hotel room or sitting in a coffee shop, where you likely won't be more than a few feet away from it anyway.
Dual Band 2.4GHz
Fast 802.11n speeds
Good 2.4GHz range
No 5GHz band
No Gigabit Ethernet
Netgear's WNDR3400 Rangemax is a classic router that provides excellent speeds for older 2.4GHz devices at an affordable price, thanks to its old-school dual-band Wi-Fi; unlike most dual-band routers, the WNDR3400 doesn't support the 802.11ac 5GHz band, but instead uses a pair of internal 2.4GHz antennas to double the bandwidth available to 802.11n devices, offering 300Mbps on each.
This makes the WNDR3400 a particularly good choice if you have a lot of internet of things smart home devices, as it can isolate traffic from those onto one of the two bands, freeing up the other for your more high-performance devices, and minimizing interference.
Four LAN ports on the back also provide the ability to hardwire in devices, but they're only Fast Ethernet, which means that in many cases you'll be better off staying wireless with this one.
If you're looking for an affordable router with modern Wi-Fi standards and solid performance, TP-Link's Archer C6 delivers, but if you only need to support older 2.4GHz devices, you can save more money by going with TP-Link's TL-WR940N.
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.
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 in many cases 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.
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 both what you need a Wi-Fi router to do in order to meet your needs 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 probably don't need to spend a lot of money to get a Wi-Fi router that will meet your needs. 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.
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 don't need.
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 faster performance.
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 and home security systems, and even microwave ovens emit interference in this frequency range.
So to deal with these interference issues 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 devices in your home. However, each of your devices can only connect to a single band at a time, so you're wasting your money buying a tri-band router unless you have more than two or three 802.11ac 5GHz devices in your home that need maximum 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.
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 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.
However, just remember that simply because you have a larger living space it doesn't necessarily mean you need to get strong Wi-Fi into every corner, so be sure to budget for the coverage you actually need.
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-through VPN connections 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.
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 4K 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.
Keep in mind as well that there's usually no need to buy a Wi-Fi router that's significantly faster than your home internet connection either, 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 high-speed Wi-Fi router isn't going to do anything to improve that.
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.
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 2.4GHz 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 inexpensive 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 Apple and Samsung's very latest smartphones, 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.
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 continues to sell and support a wide range of older router models.
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 multiple SSIDs—letting you set up several Wi-Fi networks from one router—and some handy security features.
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.
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.