An excellent wireless router is a vital aspect of tech life, whether you're building out a wise house or you just desire the best experience streaming music and video in your home. We pick the very best models here, because even those of us lucky adequate to have ethernet drops in every room have gadgets-- smart devices and tablets, for example-- that depend upon Wi-Fi to connect to the house network if not the web.
Today's hero might be tomorrow's has-been, as established brand names like Linksys and Netgear try to beguile each other while at the same time fending off new oppositions such as Eero and Luma. It's those oppositions who have actually innovated the most, starting with Eero, the very first maker to bring mesh networking to the consumer router market.
The house Wi-Fi router market can be divided into 2 broad classifications: standard routers designed to cover a whole house, in some cases with the help of wired access points or cordless range extenders, and whole-home Wi-Fi systems that consist of a base station with one or more satellite nodes. Our newest router protection has focused on the latter, so our preliminary picks will remain in that category. We'll circle back later on and make recommendations for conventional routers. Scroll down a bit and we'll discuss the features you ought to try to find in a cordless router and explanations of a few of the lingo you'll encounter when you purchase one.
Best Wi-Fi system: Netgear Orbi RBK50
The secret to the Orbi RBK50’s success is Netgear’s dedicated 4x4, 1,733Mbps radio used for data backhaul between the router and its satellites (the RBK50 comes with one satellite, which Netgear says is sufficient to blanket 5,000 square feet). We also like the fact that the Orbi router has a built-in three-port ethernet switch (the satellite has a four-port switch), because those ports provide so much flexibility in terms of connecting other devices to your network, be it a NAS box for media streaming and data backup, a network printer that doesn’t support Wi-Fi, or an older ethernet-only A/V receiver in your entertainment center.
The Orbi RBK50 is not the least-expensive solution at $400, though, and it’s overkill for smaller spaces. We’ll have reviews of the scaled-down Orbi RBK40 and RBK30 soon.
Runner-up Wi-Fi system: Linksys Velop
Like Netgear’s Orbi RBK50, the Linksys Velop is a tri-band router that dedicates one Wi-Fi channel to data backhaul, selecting the least-congested channel on the fly. Unlike the Orbi, however, the Velop's maximum per-channel bandwidth is 867Mbps (the Orbi uses a fixed channel for backhaul with 1,733Mbps of bandwidth). Two Velop nodes proved to be the sweet spot in blanketing our 2,800-square-foot test home with Wi-Fi, which would save us $50 over the cost of an Orbi RBK50.
Best budget Wi-Fi system: TP-Link Deco M5
TP-Link’s Deco M5 is a mesh Wi-Fi system, which makes it distinctly different from Netgear’s hub-and-spoke topology (scroll down for deeper explanations of those terms). All Deco M5 units are identical, but one gets configured as a router and the others as mesh nodes. If your client is close to the router, it will communicate with it directly. If the client is closer to a node, it will communicate with that and the data packets it sends and receives will hop from one node to the next until they reach the router. Since the same channel is used for data backhaul, a dual-band mesh network generally delivers less bandwidth than a hub-and-spoke system or a tri-band mesh router that has a dedicated backhaul channel.
Best Wi-Fi router for smart home enthusiasts
Securifi’s Almond 3 isn’t the fastest Wi-Fi router we’ve encountered, but it is one of the smartest. In addition to handling all of your web-browsing, media-serving, and other home-networking needs, the Almond 3 includes a ZigBee-based smart home hub that can control your home’s thermostat, lighting controls, smart door entry locks, and much more.