A Buyer’s Guide to the Best WiFi Routers of 2017
Whether you are looking to discount your internet bill by replacing your rented router or just looking to upgrade, choosing a new wireless router can often be daunting and time consuming. This guide is designed to provide you with the opportunity to make an informed decision without the hours of research and indecision that accompany the purchase of new equipment.
Whatever your reason may be, when considering a new wireless router many questions will arise. Understanding how it will be utilized is the best place to begin your journey to answering these questions.
First, you must envision how the internet will be used by the common devices on your network. Are there going to be many devices spread over a large area, or are you just equipping a small apartment with fast and reliable internet for one person? Blueprints are helpful, but even a simple estimation and hand drawn model can provide you with necessary information to progress to the next step.
The most precise way to assess your needs is to measure the perimeter of the building that will utilize the wireless signal. Then, find the central location, factoring in the number of levels and the building materials of each level. Load bearing materials and underground locations can often affect the wireless signal, so additional equipment may be needed if you intend on providing Wi-Fi to a highly-obstructed area.
Once the central location is found, you can then decide whether your primary area of usage is going to be near the router (within 15 ft.) or at farther distances (a maximum of 150 ft. indoors). Once you have established your usage area, you will need to answer 2 more questions to begin your equipment comparison shopping.
1. Will you need multiple bands?
2. Will you need a MU-MIMO enabled router?
If you haven’t already spent hours researching new router technology, you may be wondering, “what are multiple bands and MU-MIMO?” There is no need to worry because the following information will help you hone in on a precise answer to these questions.
What is a multi-band router?
Multi-band routers were designed to eliminate interference and provide dedicated pathways to your most active devices.
The traditional 2.4 GHz band is less affected by physical obstructions than the newer 5 GHz band, but the 2.4 GHz band is more susceptible to interference from radio signals and microwaves than the 5 GHz band. For this reason, dual band routers are becoming the standard for residential use. As well, additional bands can provide you with dedicated pathways to the internet for different devices, allowing for more control over which devices will receive the faster data streams.
Tri-band routers allow you to utilize both the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands, as well as provide a third dedicated pathway to your most important devices.
If you intend on using a diverse group of devices (computers, phones, tablets, smart TV’s, and more), you may want to consider a multi-band router. Using a multi-band router will allow you to separate these device categories and provide each group with its own band to increase the throughput to each device grouping.
The most commonly used structure is to dedicate each band to the following devices:
1. 2.4 GHz: Desktop and laptop computers
2. 5 GHz: Mobile devices (cell phones and tablets)
3. Third Band: Smart TV’s and Smart Speakers (Amazon Echo, Google Home, etc.)
What is a MU-MIMO enabled router?
MU-MIMO stands for ‘Multiple User, Multiple Input, Multiple Output.’ What this means is that a MU-MIMO enabled router acts like a separate router for each device on the network. Much like having multiple bands, MU-MIMO allows data to be dedicated to where it is needed the most. MU-MIMO differs from multiple bands by allowing the data stream to be divided per device instead of per band.
If you are going to be using multiple devices on a single band, you may want to consider a MU-MIMO enabled router.
Now that you know which features will be most helpful to your personal needs, it is time to begin comparing equipment.
Top 5 Routers for short to mid-range usage (700 ft2 – 2000 ft2 , light to no obstruction)
Coming in at number five is the NETGEAR Nighthawk X6 AC3200 Tri-Band Gigabit WiFi Router. This router comes with a sturdy, well made metal construction. It is also equipped with 6 powerful amplifying antennas that will allow for the use of many devices at once without lag.
Another feature that will allow for seamless usage between devices is Smart Connect. Smart Connect selects the best Wi-Fi for each device, optimizing the data stream to every device on your network. Run by a 1GHz dual core processor and three offload processors, Smart Connect will boost performance and speed all around.
The Nighthawk X6 also comes with both implicit and explicit beamforming+ technology. This will focus your Wi-Fi signal, allowing for a stronger connection to your mobile devices.
Storage features are another benefit to using the Nighthawk X6. The USB 3.0 port allows you a fast solution to your storage needs within your secured network. The readySHARE Vault app is included for free, and it creates an automatic backup for Windows PCs directly to any connected USB. This eliminates the need for the more traditional forms of back-up, as well as protects you from the less secure cloud backup that is widely used today.
The final feature that will make your life easier is the NetGear Genie application. Included for free, it allows you to remotely access your network and monitor, repair, and control everything through a simple dashboard.
Overall, the Nighthawk X6 comes in just above its closest competitors due to the improved apps and features provided at a competitive price point.
The number four, short-range router is the Linksys AC5400 Tri-Band Wireless Router. With 8 gigabit ports, the wired speeds are 10 times that of the traditional ethernet connection. This allows for fast download and upload speeds for any device connected to the router directly, making it my recommendation for people who primarily use a wired connection to their router.
The AC5400 also includes a feature known as Max-Stream. When combined with a range extender, Max-Stream will automatically switch to the strongest signal available when using your mobile devices while moving around your residence.
This router is also backed by a 3 year warranty with tech support. Although it may not include many of the features of similar routers, the long-term warranty paired with the extremely high throughput make this router a good purchase.
The Synology RT2600AC Wi-Fi AC 2600 Gigabit Router comes in at number three because of its improved features. As a dual band router with MU-MIMO enabled and a high throughput, it allows for excelled usage with multiple devices.
The RT2600 also has Smart Connect, which allows for easy transitions between speed and range. This alone makes the RT2600 a great purchase for anyone planning on using multiple mobile devices on their network at once.
Coming in second place is the TP-Link AC3150 Wireless Wi-Fi Router. It is a dual band, MU-MIMO enabled router, allowing for simultaneous use of multiple devices on each band without lag.
The AC3150 also has Smart Connect, optimizing the data stream to every device being used. As well, it is capable of sending a directed Wi-Fi signal without beamforming, allowing you to choose which device receives the majority of the data stream.
A dual-core CPU and 2 co-processors makes the AC3150 the top choice for streaming 4k video and online gaming.
The best all around router currently on the market is the ASUS RT-AC5300 Wireless Router. What makes this router the best is its Tri-Band, MU-MIMO design combined with an extremely high throughput and state of the art features.
The RT-AC5300 comes with built in access to the WTFast Gamers Private Network. This allows for low,stable ping times when gaming online, meaning less lagging and glitching during your favorite online games.
As well, the RT-AC5300 comes with Smart Connect, allowing you the fastest available connection at any time on any device.
One feature that makes this router truly stand out is its AiProtection. AiProtection provides multiple stage protection at all times. This includes everything from vulnerability detection to data protection, making this router extremely secure as well.
The final factor that puts the RT-AC5300 on top is that ASUS has the ‘highest customer satisfaction rating with routers in the U.S.’ according to JD Power. If the past is an indicator of future potential, then ASUS will continue to put out amazing, top of the line routers for years to come.
If these routers all seem too expensive, here are some cost effective options. You may not receive the features and reliability that comes with the aforementioned routers, but the lower price point will allow you to customize your features by adding on equipment that provides you with exactly what you are looking for.
NETGEAR AC1200 Dual Band Wi-Fi Router – $48.95
A simple, yet moderately fast dual band router for under $50 is what one might call ‘a steal.’ Especially since the AC1200 also comes with Netgear Genie for easy installation and network management.
Buffalo AirStation HighPower N600 Gigabit Dual Band Open Source DD-WRT Wireless Router – $82.99
The Buffalo Airstation N600 is your standard dual band router. It is capable of high power output, and ideal for any person who is willing to take a risk on a less known brand.
TP-Link Archer C7 Wireless Dual Band Gigabit Router – $89.99
The Archer C7 is a great middle of the pack router. It was labeled ‘the best router for most people’ by The New York Times. With IP based bandwidth control, this router allows you to direct the amount of data received by individual devices. If you are looking for a router under $100, this is the one to buy.
The final recommendation to consider when purchasing a new router is to check compatibility with your ISP and modem before completing a purchase. This can be done by contacting the customer service department of your Internet Service Provider and requesting a list of compatible routers, or directly asking if your desired router is compatible. Many ISPs will also have this list openly available on their website, as it is a very common inquiry.