Top Product: TP-Link Archer AX21 Wi-Fi 6 Router | $100 | Amazon
Most of us aren’t going back to our offices anytime soon, so if you’re still dealing with spotty or sub-standard Wi-Fi connectivity at home, it’s time to make an upgrade. A older router might be limiting the range within your space or keeping you from making the most of your internet connection. It’s 2021. You deserve to have strong Wi-Fi throughout your home.
Routers these days aren’t all the same, either. Some are still singular units that plug into your modem, while others are mesh systems that use multiple smaller nodes to blanket your place with connectivity. Meanwhile, newer Wi-Fi 6 routers are better primed to juggle connections from all of the myriad devices found in our increasingly smarter homes. But you don’t have to splash out on something fancy to get a solid router.
Here’s a look at the best routers you can plug into your modem today.
Best Wi-Fi 6 Router for Most People: TP-Link Archer AX21
If you can spare the cash, then it’s worth buying a Wi-Fi 6 router. The new wireless standard significantly boosts the speed ceiling, but even more importantly, it can handle numerous connections from things like phones, laptops, game consoles, tablets, smart TVs, connected home devices, and whatever else requires a connection in your home.
Some Wi-Fi 6 routers are pricey, but the TP-Link Archer AX21 is a great entry-level Wi-Fi 6 option that hits a sweet spot in terms of features and price. It’s a dual-band router that supports Wi-Fi speeds up to 1.8Gbps in total, and uses four high-gain antennas and beamforming tech to to deliver more targeted connections to your devices.
Best Premium Wi-Fi 6 Router: Asus RT-AX86U
Want an even more powerful Wi-Fi 6 router? Our friends at Gizmodo recommend the Asus RT-AX86U, which has plenty of customization options in the mix, although the interface isn’t the best of the best. It packs in four outgoing gigabit Ethernet ports, including one that’ll prioritize gaming traffic automatically, plus it has gigabit LAN, 2.5-gigabit LAN/WAN, and two USB 3.2 Gen 1 ports for network attached storage (NAS) via hard drive.
It’s not as simple and straightforward as the TP-Link option above, but power users will dig the added versatility and options. Reviewer Wes Davis wrote:
“Whether you just want lag-free gaming or you need something that can handle a heavy overall load, this router does it with aplomb. We are rapidly approaching the day when recommendations like this one aren’t just about future-proofing, but you will find in the RT-AX86U a router more than capable of meeting the unexpected demands put upon all of us this year. If you’ve got a smaller home that needs a lot of power and would prefer to check out mesh networking at a later date, this is absolutely the router for you.”
Best Mesh Router: Google Nest Wi-Fi
I use Google’s Nest Wi-Fi in my own two-story house, and it’s such an effortless, easy-to-use mesh system that ensures that every corner of my home—and even the basement and backyard—have speedy wireless internet available. Nest Wi-Fi is powered by a main router unit that plugs into your modem and can cover roughly 2,200 square feet with Wi-Fi, and then you can expand further with smaller nodes that plug into wall outlets around your home.
To borrow a phrase from Google’s chief rival Apple, it just works. The nodes sync up easily and I haven’t encountered odd drops or hitches in my months of using it, plus the smartphone app provides network controls, diagnostics, and other details. On top of that, each node doubles as a Google Assistant smart speaker … in case that’s a thing you want. Nest Wi-Fi does not support Wi-Fi 6 and it’s pricey, but it’s such a vast upgrade over my past single-router setup. It could be the same for you.
Best Budget Router: Linksys EA6350
Not looking to invest a bunch of cash in a new router right now? No worries: the Linksys EA6350 delivers strong speeds in a small footprint and is typically less than $75. If you’re using hardware that’s a few years old, it will almost certainly provide an upgrade, even if it doesn’t have Wi-Fi 6 capabilities and isn’t built for larger spaces.
The Linksys EA6350 is a dual-band, dual-antenna Wi-Fi router that can deliver speeds up to 867Mbps via 5GHz and 300Mbps via 2.4GHz, both of which are much higher than the average internet connection coming into American homes. Intended for spaces up to 1,000 square feet, this one’s a good pick for an apartment or smaller home and can still deliver 4K video streaming and speedy downloads.
Best Premium Wi-Fi 6 Mesh Router: Ubiquiti AmpliFi Alien Router
Gizmodo reviewer Wes Davis summed it up best right out of the gate: “The Ubiquiti AmpliFi Alien is an expensive black Wi-Fi 6 Internet tube that promises super-fast wifi and a unique, pleasant user experience that is as intuitive as these things can probably be.”
The distinctive cylindrical shape and on-device status display makes the Ubiquiti AmpliFi Alien a very unique router to bring into your home, and it’s packed with the latest and greatest tech. It has Wi-Fi 6 support and broad coverage with up to 8×8 MU-MIMO.
On the other hand, it’s very pricey at $380 for the base unit and $320 each for add-on mesh units. Still, if you want a cutting-edge mesh system that stands out, this is definitely it.
Best Wi-Fi 6 Mesh Router: Amazon Eero 6
If you’re set on buying future-ready Wi-Fi 6-compatible hardware and want a modest mesh system, Amazon’s new Eero 6 is right up your alley. It can’t handle gigabit speeds, but this dual-band system is reasonably priced, with Amazon claiming top speeds of about 500Mbps with the three-unit system (or 900Mbps with a single unit).
Gizmodo reviewer Florence Ion praised the helpful companion app, but lamented the lack of Ethernet ports on the extenders for plugging in gaming hardware and other devices:
“The Eero 6 is very much an entry-level product for those who haven’t yet adopted mesh networking. It’s also a good choice if you want something that supports new technologies rather than require an upgrade down the line. For full gigabit support, Amazon offers the Eero 6 Pro, which costs $100 more—more than $300 extra for the three-pack—and has the requisite tri-band that takes full advantage of the spec. Unfortunately, it doesn’t offer extra Ethernet jacks, so this isn’t a system for sophisticated setups either.”
Best for Long Range: Netgear Orbi
Got a very large property that you want to fill with seamless Wi-Fi coverage? Netgear’s Orbi mesh system is a fine alternative to Google’s Nest Wi-Fi, and Gizmodo recommends it as one of the very best smart home gadgets around. As Andrew Liszewski writes:
If you can get over the fact the nodes look like a collection of glowing automatic air fresheners, Netgear’s Orbi RBK50 provides one of the best whole home wifi solutions, covering even larger homes with an expansive, reliable network that minimizes the number of times your devices need to hop between access points.
Best Budget Mesh Router: TP-Link Deco S4
TP-Link’s Deco S4 delivers the same kind of specs as the above Linksys router, with up to 867Mbps via 5GHz and 300Mbps through 2.4GHz, but does so with a multi-unit mesh design that spreads a signal across a much larger footprint. The two-pack can cover up to 3,800 square feet, while the three-pack is rated for up to 5,500 square feet.
The Deco S4 system can’t hit quite as high of theoretical speed peaks as Nest Wi-Fi and these units won’t blend into your space as easily either, but it’s hard to argue with the price: typically $110 for the two-pack and $135 for the three-pack. Amazon customers seem to agree on that point, too, giving the TP-Link Deco S4 a 4.6-star rating. TP-Link offers more powerful versions of the Deco system with varying designs, too, in case you’re looking for something more robust.
Best Gaming Router: Netgear Nighthawk Pro Gaming XR1000
For the truly serious gaming fan who demands the best of the best, the brand new Netgear Nighthawk Pro Gaming XR1000 is one perk-packed Wi-Fi 6 option. This beastly router is powered by a triple-core 1.5 GHz processor and Netgear’s DumaOS 3.0, which provides power user features such as optimizing and allocating bandwidth for certain uses (such as live streaming) and geo-fencing to help you pick the best gaming servers to connect to.
Netgear sent me a sample that I’ve been using for the last few weeks in place of my usual Nest Wi-Fi setup, and even with a single access point, it has delivered speedy wireless access throughout my home. More pressingly, of course, gaming performance has been excellent whether notching headshots in Fortnite or nabbing glorious aerial goals in Rocket League. At $350, however, only the super-hardcore with money to burn need bother.
Best Gaming Router (Runner-Up): TP-Link Archer C5400X
Looking for another option for gaming? TP-Link’s Archer C5400X is an older router that doesn’t have the benefit of Wi-Fi 6 support, but Gizmodo staff reporter Joanna Nelius recommends it for gamers who want to maximize their speeds and maybe juggle Twitch streaming alongside their online gaming.
You’ll get an absolutely absurd number of gigabit LAN ports here with 8 to tap into, plus one 2.4Ghz (1000Mbps) and two 5Ghz (2167Mbps each) Wi-Fi networks to use. That’s more than enough capability for any home connection these days, and it’s cheaper than the Netgear router at $246 as of this writing.