What is a wireless router and how will I find the best one for me?
Finding a good router may seem like a simple task, but with the myriad of routers on the market it can be quite an ordeal to pick something that will be good for your needs. There are numerous factors to consider and these may seem really complicated to those who are not as tech savvy as a smaller portion of population who know exactly what they want. Judging which router is the best and which one you should actually buy is not too difficult, but it isn’t as simple as picking out a random one based on price or the vendor’s advice. Finding a great wireless router that will serve your needs has become even more tiresome because of the latest wave of 802.11 ac routers that are the newest addition to this specific market. When you combine all the factors you need to look into before you pull out your wallet, you may even feel a bit overwhelmed. In fact, you are probably better off knowing a thing or two about wireless routers before spending money to buy a random one that may be a complete disaster for your specific demands.
To keep it simple, we will explain what a wireless router is and what it is supposed to do. A wireless router is a device that delivers an internet connection to all the devices in the network by two means – wires and wireless. Basically, all the devices connected to the router either by the Ethernet cable or via the wireless will be able to connect to the internet. Some other features routers generally offer are USB connectivity which enables the user to, for example, connect a printer so that anyone on the network can use it, a firewall which is supposed to protect you from some internet threats, and, of course, services that enable you to stream multimedia content in your network such as UPnP and DLNA. Good routers offer even more and you will be able to, for instance, protect your children from seeing unsuitable content online, monitor which devices connect to your network, create user accounts for guests where you will disable them from seeing shared devices, you can prioritize the type of network traffic that you need the most, etc. There are a lot of features to consider before you potentially spend a couple of hundreds of dollars.
In order to make this as easy for you as possible, we have tested 40 routers and narrowed the selection down to only 4 routers which we consider to be the best options. We have done this by testing their range, signal strength, speed, data loss and numerous other factors we will discuss in depth in this review. We have done this testing over the stretch of four months in order to be able to compile the most accurate information you can find on the internet.
Some features you need to keep an eye out for when choosing a wireless router:
- Frequency bands – there are two frequencies at which the wireless router operates, the 2.4GHz and 5GHz frequencies. 2.4GHz offers more coverage but it also runs a higher risk of having connection drops and all sorts of interferences. 5GHz is newer and less saturated which means less interference and a better browsing experience. Ideal router is dual band and operates on both these frequencies.
- Wireless LAN protocols – wireless LAN protocols are basically telling you the transmit rates of your router, and you can logically assume that these influence your speed. The most common protocol is the 802.11n which allows for 450Mbps at maximum. 802.11ac is the latest one and it enables you an impressive transmit rate of 1.3Gbps, but it operates on the 5GHz frequency. If you get a dual band monitor, however, you will be able to use both as you can switch between protocols.
- Network coverage – your high end router will be useless if you can’t get the signal to all the places you need it in.
- Additional features such as additional RAM, additional storage space on the router, USB connectivity, parental controls, Quality of Service to prioritize the kind of traffic you prefer, Gigabit Ethernet ports for hyper fast internet over the Ethernet cable and many more features.
- Price – your budget will be the greatest determining factor in the end.
Table of Contents
Best Router – Asus RT-AC66U
Asus RT-AC66U is the best tested router on this list and now you will know exactly why. At a medium price, this router shows excellent performance in many areas and perhaps its most prominent feature is its great range which simply surpasses the ranges of other routers we tested. It is a dual band router which enables you to use both 5GHz and 2.4GHz frequencies to connect to the internet.
Asus RT-AC66U PROS:
The best thing about Asus RT-AC66U is its range which is excellent and which can be further increased by about 20% if you attach an external antenna to the router. You will most likely never need this, but the option is there. It has additional 256MB of RAM memory in order to process all the requests faster and more efficiently, and you can literally feel the difference between this router and the regular one without added RAM. The two USB ports are fantastic in case you want to connect devices like printers, consoles, blu-ray players and so on. This is a major positive as most routers have none or just one USB port, so if you want a shared printer, this is the router for you. Asus RT-AC66U also has a myriad of additional advanced features you can use, but you will probably never need them. Perhaps the best feature it offers that is useful out of all these additional options is the AiRadar which expands and optimizes your coverage inside a multi leveled building. If you need to cover several floors of a building, Asus RT-AC66U will do the job perfectly. Asus RT-AC66U also has a Gigabit Ethernet port which enables you to simply connect via a cable and enjoy the super fast and stable internet.
Asus RT-AC66U CONS:
During our testing, it happened a few times that we lost connectivity. However, these instances lasted too short and were too few and far between to be considered a major con. This is a high tech router and will seem a bit difficult to use at the first glance, but after that it is smooth sailing.
Asus RT-AC66U is a great router at a medium price and it is definitely worth the money. It’s the best router you can buy in case you need range and if you are in a multi level building as this router delivers the signal to every corner you need it in. It has additional RAM which makes it process requests even faster and is therefore fantastic for a bigger network. It is a bit technical, but you get used to it really fast.
Bestbuy Router – TRENDnet AC1750
TRENDnet AC1750 is a bit lower down in the price range than the Asus we reviewed. This does not make it worse at all, as this is our second recommendation in this review. TRENDnet AC1750 is a dual band wireless router and it offers excellent features which build a pretty long list of positives. At this price, this is one killer router that will definitely deliver the signal and speed where you need it and will make it very easy for you to set it up.
TRENDnet AC1750 PROS:
TRENDnet AC1750 is a dual band router that works on both 802.11n and 802.11ac protocols and enables you to switch between 2.4GHz and 5GHz frequencies easily. This immediately means good stable internet which is only better when you connect directly to the Gigabit Ethernet port on the router via an Ethernet cable. It has one USB sharing port, which means you can connect a printer or any other device that needs to be used by everyone on the network. A really cool feature of this router enables you to create a limited user account for a part of network users if you need to. The best feature of this router we rated fantastic is its throughput which simply overshadows some much more expensive and technical routers. Lastly, this killer router is extremely easy to set up and use, and that is a major advantage as not all of us are very tech savvy.
TRENDnet AC1750 CONS:
We have had some issues with slow switching between screens on the interface which was a bit annoying, but nothing major. Perhaps the biggest problem with this router is that it is wobbly and does not seem very stable in some orientations, which was something that should not have been overlooked during design and production, but isn’t a flaw that can ruin your user experience.
To summarize, TRENDnet AC1750 is a really good wireless dual band router with impressive throughput and good range. Its range is perhaps only a small nuance worse than that of the Asus RT-AC66U, but this should not be a big deal unless you really need or want the Asus RT-AC66U feature that enables you to send the signal to even the farthest corners of a multi leveled building. TRENDnet is also extremely easy to set up, and when we combine all the features we mentioned, its testing results and client feedback, we can be confident enough to mark TRENDnet AC1750 a best buy option.
Bestseller Router – Netgear N900 WNDR4500
Netgear N900 WNDR4500 is a bestselling wireless dual band router and it dons a really sleek look and incredible features for the price of about 100$. The reason this router is so popular is simple – it offers a lot of options for the tech savvy and is still a breeze to set up and use, which is an excellent reason to buy this wireless router.
Netgear N900 WNDR4500 PROS:
Netgear N900 WNDR4500 is a dual band router that operates on 2.4GHz and 5GHz frequencies and uses both 802.11n and 802.11ac protocols. The impressive thing about this router is its band throughput when it is using the 802.11ac and 5GHz. It offers stable connection and a decent range, and its band throughput at 2.4GHz is definitely not stellar, but above the average. This may not seem satisfactory, but it is important to know that it is competing with some high end and expensive routers that are built for the technologically demanding clients. It is extremely easy to set up, which is a major positive and a desirable thing for those who are not so tech savvy and hate complicated setup processes that are unnecessarily complex and time consuming. Netgear N900 WNDR4500’s setup is none of those. When it comes to some advanced options, the most interesting one that is definitely useful for a family is the parental control which enables you to limit access to certain areas on the net to your kids.
Netgear N900 WNDR4500 CONS:
This router is fantastic, but it does not come close to Asus RT-AC66U when it comes to range or the 2.4GHz throughput, which are still the main things to look for. Though it does have an USB port, this port is limited only to storage devices, which is a major disadvantage for those who want to add a printer, console, or any multimedia player to the network.
To summarize, Netgear N900 WNDR4500 does indeed have all the makings of a fantastic wireless dual band router, but it is not the best router out there. However, you will get everything you need from it if you are not as tech savvy. You will be impressed by its unprecedented 5GHz frequency throughput which is simply top notch. A price that is slightly down the ladder may attract you, and to be fair, for that money this router is a really good choice.
Cheapest Router – ZyXel MWR102
ZyXel MWR102 is the cheapest router we have listed here in this review and at about 30$, it offers quite a bit of nice features that may be enough for some. This is not a dual band router and it uses 802.11n protocol and the 2.4GHz frequency to operate. It is a solid affordable router that is praised by many, and its small compact size is a really good reason to love this device.
ZyXel MWR102 PROS:
A definitive first thing that is a great advantage is this router’s affordability. At the price of 30$, this router is accessible to just about anyone, and to be realistic, it is something that will perfectly suited to satisfy all the base needs and is a good buy for the non-tech savvy people who just want a good cheap router. It has a really astonishingly good throughput for a router of this price, and this is one of those things that will impress you from a device of this caliber.
ZyXel MWR102 CONS:
This router has the transfer rate of maximum 150Mbps and that is just not nearly enough for a larger network or for some demanding internet users. However, we cannot really expect much more from a cheap device, but we can guarantee that this is the best one out there that satisfies the base internet needs.
To summarize, ZyXel MWR102 is a solid cheap wireless router that can be used as a router, access point and a client bridge. It is really compact and small, so you can literally put it in your pocket and carry it around. This is also a good thing. ZyXel MWR102 has a very good throughput and is actually a really impressive device considering its specs and the price. For those who have only basic needs, this is a solid, hard to regret choice, but if you need more from a wireless router, consider any of the other three we have described.
Finding a good wireless router is not as easy as it sounds, and this is why we have spared you the troubles of extensive research and brought you this comprehensive review. This review is a product of a four month long research and the results presented to you are compiled with the intention of making your selection a breeze. To recap, we have mentioned four routers worth buying, and ranked them according to their features. In that respect, Asus RT-AC66U is definitely the best and offers pretty much most of the things a tech savvy person will need, and most importantly, an incredible range and throughput. Our second choice and the best buy option is a router that will give you the most in proportion to its cost, and that is Trendnet AC1750. Trendnet AC1750 is suitable for both the tech demanding clients and the base users, as it is very easy to set up. The dual band router that has great feedback and sells like fire is the Netgear N900 WNDR4500, and we have mentioned exactly why this is the case. However, sometimes your budget just can’t stretch that far or your needs are much less demanding than the most, and you just want a nice simple router that won’t really reflect on your wallet. If that is the case, you will do good to buy the ZyXel MWR102, which will cover all the basic grounds and cater to your needs perfectly.