How to Choose a Router (2023): Tips, Technical Terms, and Advice
Everyone wants reliable and fast internet, and a good router can help. The trick is to work out how the complicated mess of standards, confusing acronyms, and sci-fi-sounding features translate to better Wi-Fi in your home. Join us as we tear back the curtain to reveal the pertinent facts about Wi-Fi, routers, mesh systems, and other jargon. Hopefully, you’ll be better equipped to buy a router by the end.
Updated April 2023: We added information on Ethernet, Wi-Fi 6E, and Wi-Fi 7, updated the latest broadband speeds, upgraded our minimum recommendations, and added an explanation of SSID.
Table of Contents
- Who Is Your Internet Service Provider?
- What Kind of Router Do You Need?
- Alternatives to a New Router
- What Speed Do You Need?
- Wi-Fi Standards Explained
- Wi-Fi Bands and Channels
- Check for Ports
- Consider Security Standards
- Check Out the App
- QoS and Device Prioritization
- Common Terms Explained
- Final Takeaways
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Who Is Your Internet Service Provider?
Internet service providers (ISPs) connect your home to the internet, and they usually send you a modem and router (sometimes in a single device). The modem connects your home to the broader internet, the router hooks up to the modem, and you connect all your gadgets—with wires or wirelessly—to the router to access that connectivity. ISPs often charge you a rental fee for this equipment, and their routers are usually basic in terms of performance and features. The good news is that ISPs are by law no longer allowed to force you to use their equipment or charge you to use your own hardware, though you may still have to return their stuff to avoid charges.
We’re largely looking at using your own router in this guide and using your ISP’s modem. By using your own, you can potentially save money in the long term, but you can also enjoy faster Wi-Fi, better coverage, easier configuration, and extra features like parental controls and guest Wi-Fi networks. We will run through your router options, but whatever system you decide to go with, check compatibility with your ISP before buying. You can also search your ISP’s forums to find posts where people discuss using different routers and modems. A little research before you shop can save you a big headache down the line.
What Kind of Router Do You Need?
There are various ways to make your Wi-Fi faster, and buying a new router is one of the most obvious. To help you decide on the type of router to go for, calculate the rough square footage of your home before you begin.
The simplest solution for most people is to choose a single router or a router and modem combo. Bear in mind that this device will have to plug into your existing socket or modem via Ethernet cable, which restricts where you can place it. The Wi-Fi signal will be strongest near the router and will gradually drop off and slow down the further away you get. If you’re able to, place your router centrally in your home and leave it out in the open.
Routers should always state square footage for coverage, but certain types of construction—thick walls, insulation, and other devices—can interfere with Wi-Fi signals, so don’t expect to enjoy full-speed Wi-Fi at longer distances. Powerful routers with wide coverage are often large devices with multiple external antennas, but they’re usually very expensive.
If you have a large home and want solid coverage in your garden, or you have thick walls and specific dead spots with your current setup, then mesh Wi-Fi could be the answer. Mesh systems consist of a central hub, which connects just like a single router, as well as additional satellites or nodes you can place around the home.
Devices connect to the internet through the nearest node, so you can achieve wider Wi-Fi coverage and a more reliable connection in different areas by adding a node. Just bear in mind that each node will need a power outlet. Mesh systems are typically more expensive than single-router setups (though not always), but they enhance coverage and reliability, and they often boast additional features and control options. They also tend to be smaller than regular routers and are typically designed to blend in with your decor.
Most mesh systems are expandable, and some manufacturers allow you to link individual routers to create a mesh, so you can start with a single router and add more as required. Just make sure you understand which devices are compatible. For example, any Asus router that supports AiMesh can work as part of a mesh system, but TP-Link’s OneMesh technology only allows you to add compatible Wi-Fi extenders—you can’t link routers together.
Alternatives to a New Router
Photograph: Eskay Lim/Getty Images
If your issue is more about coverage and you have a single problem room where you want to improve Wi-Fi, or a particular device that needs a faster connection, you might not need to buy a new router. Try one of these alternatives. They each have their own technical challenges and potential issues. Even when successfully deployed, they won’t come close to matching the convenience of a good mesh system, but they are all much cheaper.
Before Wi-Fi was ubiquitous, we relied on Ethernet cables to connect computers and other devices to routers. Ethernet connections are much faster, more stable, and more secure than Wi-Fi (or any other option we suggest here). The drawback is that the device you want to connect needs to have an Ethernet port, and you have to run cable from your router to the device. If you need to run Ethernet cables to multiple spots, use an Ethernet switch. With a switch you can plug one cable in from your router and run several cables out to various devices. Anyone looking to get the best performance from a mesh system should also consider running Ethernet cables between the main router and nodes to create a wired backhaul that leaves the Wi-Fi bands free for your devices to connect to.
Power Line Adapters
Sold in pairs, power line adapters pass an internet signal through your electrical wiring. You plug one into a power outlet near your router and connect it with an Ethernet cable, while the other power line adapter plugs into a power outlet in the room where you want faster internet. They can be a good solution if you have a console or smart TV in your living room at the back of the house, but your router is in the front hall, for example. Unfortunately, effectiveness depends heavily on your electrical wiring.
MoCA (Multimedia over Coax Alliance)
If your home already has coaxial cables installed (perhaps for cable TV), you can use them to create a reliable wired network that offers high speeds and low latency compared to Wi-Fi. You can buy routers, network adapters, or Wi-Fi extenders that support the MoCA standard. Much like power line adapters, this can be a great way to pass an internet signal to a smart TV, game console, or desktop that doesn’t get a strong Wi-Fi signal.
You can use Wi-Fi repeaters to spread the Wi-Fi from a single router a bit further and potentially boost the signal in a dead spot. These devices are a good solution for some people, but they can be inefficient, prone to interference, and often create a secondary network with a different name from your regular Wi-Fi.
If you don’t mind a challenge and have a spare old router lying around, you can look into configuring it as an access point or using it as a Wi-Fi extender. This can be particularly effective if you’re able to connect it to your main router via cabling, but configuration can prove tricky.
What Speed Do You Need?
Photograph: Getty Images
There’s plenty to consider when you’re trying to decide how fast your router should be. The maximum speed of your internet is determined by your ISP. Internet speeds are stated in Mbps (megabits per second). The median global fixed broadband speed is 79 Mbps for downloads and 34 Mbps for uploads, according to Ookla’s Speedtest. Most ISPs will state up to a certain speed or give you a range—like 300 Mbps download and 30 Mbps upload—but what you actually get is often lower than the maximum (especially upload speeds), and it must be shared between all of your connected devices.
10 Best Wi-Fi Routers (2023): Budget, Gaming Routers, Large Homes, Mesh
We have tested some other routers we like and have several more in the queue. These aren’t as great as the picks above but could be worth considering for some folks.
TP-Link Archer AX5400 Pro for $200: This dual-band Wi-Fi 6 router is almost identical to the Archer AX73, except for the 2.5 Gbps WAN port. It delivered relatively fast speeds on the 2.4-GHz and 5-GHz bands, and boasts 160-MHz channel width on 5-GHz. The range is good, easily covering my home and garden, but performance was inconsistent. It was also relatively slow moving files locally. There’s support for TP-Link OneMesh, VPN, and QoS, but you only get basic parental controls and network security unless you subscribe to HomeShield Pro.
MSi RadiX AXE6600 for $287: This Wi-Fi 6E tri-band gaming router has that familiar red and black Sith spider look, though you can customize the lighting. It proved very fast in most of my tests, coming close to the top of the table at short range on the 6-GHz band and offering average performance on the 5-GHz and 2.4-GHz bands. But the mobile app had limited options, a confusing layout, and was buggy (it crashed on me more than once). The web interface was better, with more options, including open VPN, simple parental controls, guest network, and QoS optimization for gaming. Unfortunately, performance was inconsistent, and I suffered random drops twice in a week of testing.
Linksys Hydra Pro 6E for $280: One of the first Wi-Fi 6E tri-band routers (2.4 GHz, 5 GHz, and 6 GHz) to hit the market, the price has dropped significantly since release. It proved easy to set up, and has a very straightforward app, though it was often slow to load. It has a 5-Gbps WAN port and four gigabit LAN ports. Performance proved reliable, and it’s possible to get lightning fast speeds at close range if you have a device that supports Wi-Fi 6E. Coverage and speeds at mid and long range were average. There are free basic parental controls enabling you to block sites and schedule downtime, but only on a per device basis (no profile creation or age restrictions filters). You can split bands if you want to, and prioritize three devices. There’s also a guest network option and easy Wi-Fi share. Another positive is that this router works with any other Linksys Intelligent Mesh router (including the Velop mesh range).
Linksys Hydra 6 for $125: Specs-wise, this compact router is similar to our top pick (TP-Link Archer AX55). It’s a dual-band Wi-Fi 6 router with a gigabit WAN and four gigabit LAN ports. Setup was easy, and it uses the same Linksys app as the Pro 6E above, so you get free parental controls, guest network, prioritization, and band splitting. It proved speedy at close range and not bad at mid-range, but if your home is larger than 1,600 square feet, it may struggle. However, as an Intelligent Mesh router, it can mix and match with other Linksys routers or its Velop mesh system. Linksys suggests a limit of 25 connected devices. Although it managed more than 40 without issues in my testing, busy households will likely want something more powerful.
Firewalla Purple for $329: This quirky portable device (8/10, WIRED recommends) is perfect for people who worry about security and privacy. It offers comprehensive tools for monitoring all traffic in and out of your house, robust and detailed parental controls, ad-blocking, and enhanced security with a built-in firewall and VPN option. It serves as a router, but you will want to pair another router in access point mode for Wi-Fi in your home. It’s expensive and may prove intimidating for inexperienced folks, but it offers deep insight into your network and an impressive depth of security features without an additional subscription.
Reyee RG-E5 for $150: Based purely on performance, this dual-band, Wi-Fi 6 router impressed me. It offered great coverage, very fast speeds on the 5-GHz band, and solid stability. It can also form a mesh with other Reyee routers, and the app boasts free parental controls. On the downside, security is lacking (no WPA3, no 2FA, no anti-malware), you have to create a Ruijie Cloud account (Ruijie is the Chinese parent company), and the poorly translated app is slightly confusing.
The Best Mesh Routers to Improve WiFi Coverage
As with everything, there is no single solution, but in our opinion this is a great solution. It is form n or flooded the house with a lot of cables to ensure proper access to all computers in the rooms, as well as to devices such as smartphones, tablets and other devices that are at home.
What is a Wi-Fi mesh network?
A mesh network is a group of devices that act as a single Wi-Fi network, meaning you will have multiple Wi-Fi sources in your home rather than a single router. These additional Wi-Fi sources are called Wi-Fi hotspots.
Everything for the user will be transferred to single WiFi network so you only need to remember your name and password. These devices Work automatically and intelligently, this is the WiFi Mesh network itself, which determines which element is best used to achieve optimal coverage, adapting to different spaces in the house. This is a great option for those who live in high-rise buildings.
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The most important thing is to turn on WiFi Mesh
Coverage and speed
The first thing to note is that the set you bought offers coverage which fits the house you are in . Usually it is indicated in square meters, and therefore it is easy to understand whether this is a good solution. What is the transfer rate achieved when using WiFi Mesh, this is a minimum of 200 Mbps to ensure that the use of multimedia content and online games is performed with more than adequate quality.
Layout and configuration options
Another interesting detail is that indicates the number of devices that can be connected at the same time without the degradation of connection quality and Internet access provided by the new WiFi mesh. A minimum of 20, as more and more devices need it to work with the highest possible parameters. Therefore, it is not a trifle.
Other things that are also important
One of the things we think should always be present is having an application to control all access options, such as blocking ports or expelling detected intruders. In addition, it would be nice to check the health of the assembly. Tri-band type so that the transmission operation is optimal.
In addition, it is positive that Ethernet ports are included in some of the elements that make up a WiFi mesh to use cable in case at some point the wireless option doesn’t work properly or just isn’t optimal.
To make it much easier for you, we decided to compile a list of purchase options that are interesting for building a WiFi mesh network at home. In this way, you can solve the coverage problems that can occur without the use of cables.
Another model that attracts attention with its square shape, which allows you to place it almost anywhere and is not without an information LED. It includes two Ethernet ports, making it a complete solution, and the maximum speed when using a WiFi Mesh network is 867 Mbps.
TP-Link Deco M4
If you have a very large house, this model is one solution you should consider as it covers up to 370 square meters… a very considerable distance. With a different look and everything you need to be a great solution for your home, it’s amazing that it allows you to use up to 100 devices in parallel.
HUAWEI Wi-Fi Q2 Pro
This set includes three items, so there is no problem with coverage and transmission speed that reaches 200Mbps without problems. It allows up to 64 devices and has an app to manage all of its settings.
One of the best features offered by this model is the use of TrueMesh technology, which allows you to optimally manage the connection of various counting devices. Thanks to a very simple configuration, thanks to the use of the application, an area of 460 square meters is covered with a set of three elements.
There is nothing in this set that allows you to close the WiFi Mesh network very simply and efficiently. With a coverage of up to 300 square meters, it allows you to enjoy 4K content seamlessly and is a model that allows you to use the 5GHz frequency. It doesn’t lack Alexa support.
Tenda Mw6 Nova
If there’s one thing that stands out about this model, it’s how attractive its design is. It consists of three elements, so its coverage is quite wide, and its striking detail is that it is compatible with Alexa. It supports up to ninety devices running at the same time, making it a very complete model.
This equipment is quite productive, as it can operate at 2.4 and 5 GHz frequencies. It has multiple ethernet ports, so we’re talking about a fairly complete set, and thanks to it going at 1000 Mbps, it has no problem with the most demanding content, like 4K quality. .
WAVLINK Mesh System
The maximum transfer rate this model allows when using a WiFi Mesh network is 900 Mbps, so there is no problem when accessing the Internet, for example, for a game. Fortnite. It supports up to nine satellites, so its coverage can be really wide and aesthetically pleasing.
Nokia Wi-Fi Beacon 1
A complete model that has no flaws and consists of three elements in a package that is sold. It includes an iOS and Android compatible control app, so it’s really easy to set up. This allows you to use the two frequencies most commonly used today in various devices.
Netgear Orbi RBK13
With this product, you can cover up to 200 square meters… so there will be no problem when it comes to a complete solution for multi-storey buildings. It achieves an operating speed of 1.2 Gbps, which is a remarkable figure that will surely be a suitable solution for the vast majority.
Home Wi-Fi Mesh Network Routers
Standard routers are great if you want to be in those parts of the house where the signal is strong. However, if you want to be able to work on your laptop, record on TikTok, or play multiplayer games anywhere in the house, there’s a good chance that a regular router will let you down at some point.
Mesh routers offer a more reliable way to set up Wi-Fi in your home. Instead of using a single wireless point to broadcast throughout your home, mesh networks allow you to use additional nodes that extend your Wi-Fi coverage to areas where your main router’s signal simply can’t reach. Whether you want to listen to Spotify on speakers in your backyard, upload files to servers in your basement, or record TikTok videos on your rooftop, a mesh router is your best way to keep all those places running smoothly.
Items for inventors Link to the store.
These are the best Wi-Fi mesh routers, delivering a strong signal to every corner of your home.
If you have an Internet connection of 500 Mbps or less, this affordable Eero 6 model should be more than enough for your needs, allowing you to cover your home with Wi-Fi at no extra cost. If you don’t like fiddling with a lot of router settings, you’ll love this mesh system’s easy setup to get everything up and running in no time. It’s as simple as a router: the system seemingly always works well, complete with automatic updates, so it keeps the firmware up to date without any intervention. And if you run into any issues, you can easily keep an eye on what’s going on via the remote app (yes, you can check your home router even at work).
DIY electronics in Chinese shop.
Performance is good at short to medium range from the main router, although you will notice some drop in throughput when connecting from either of the two nodes. It’s not much, but if you monitor the exact bandwidth, you’ll notice a difference, although most people probably won’t even feel it since everything still loads very quickly. Because Eero is an Amazon company, they can also use some Echo speakers as a Wi-Fi extender (you can check supported models on their website), which is great if you have Echo speakers at home.
TP-Link Deco W7200
Seems like this mesh router should be more expensive than it is. It has Wi-Fi 6, WPA3 security, and even dual 5GHz bands, allowing you to use one of them as a dedicated backhaul between your main router and hosts. Performance is impressive, with throughput remaining mostly stable on short, medium, and long range connections, though the drop in throughput from near to far is significant, as you can lose around 200Mbps on fast connections. However, loss of velocity with distance is not uncommon among honeycomb satellites, although some options on this list definitely keep the difference much closer. However, for most people, the difference between getting 500Mbps and 300Mbps isn’t that noticeable as all of your Netflix videos still load without any buffer, and it maintains a fairly constant speed with no sudden slowdowns even on busy networks. However, as we said, the best part of this model is the price, as you get Wi-Fi 6, tri-band design, and consistent performance for the price you usually see in mesh routers with latest generation technology.
Netgear Orbi AX4200 RBK752
makes a lot of mesh routers that look the same and even have similar names, making it hard to decide which one you should get. We particularly like this model, which boasts Wi-Fi 6, support for faster than gigabit speeds up to 2Gbps, and an impressive 230 square meters of coverage per module. Setup isn’t as easy as the other mesh routers on this list, so it’s probably not the kind of system you want to gift your mom. However, once you fire it up, the coverage and speed are impressive, with a slight drop in throughput between the main router and the satellite node. Seriously, why can’t all mesh networks be so consistent? While it’s not the fastest device we’ve tested, we do appreciate the fact that it provides more or less the same speed for every connection on the network. The coverage is also impressive, allowing you to cover a large house with just two satellite nodes (three if it is very large). With that said, we really wish they could improve the setup and application as none of them match what other leading companies in the category offer.
Google Nest Wi-Fi Pro
If you value simplicity above all else and are willing to spend a little more for more convenience, Google’s latest mesh router might be your ideal option. The setup is the easiest we’ve seen, you just need to scan the QR codes and follow the instructions to get the best signal. That’s all. It boasts Wi-Fi 6E, which should be twice as fast as Wi-Fi 6, and a tri-band configuration that uses the 6Hz band as a backhaul, so it doesn’t interfere with the other two bands at all. using for your connections.
Performance is actually pretty good on its own. Bandwidth is fast throughout the coverage area and more importantly very consistent with no sudden drops or crashes. However, compared to other leading routers, it just falls short of the mark, regularly falling behind in speed measurements. Basically, it doesn’t provide the highest Wi-Fi performance, but it arguably provides the best balance of speed, consistency, and ease of use. For some, this may be more important. Plus, it will support the upcoming universal Matter standard, so it’s a good investment router if you’re planning on installing more smart home devices throughout your home throughout the year.
Asus ZenWi-Fi AX XT8
If you’re paying for a gigabit connection, you need a mesh router that maximizes all that bandwidth. This model from Asus does just that, complete with a 2.5 Gigabit Ethernet port, delivering incredibly fast performance and distributing it very well to every corner of your home. We love the simple router setup that you can easily do from the mobile app, allowing you to get it all up and running in minutes.
Each mesh module offers three Ethernet ports, so you can plug in wired connections if you like, although wireless performance is what you pay for here. It supports Wi-Fi 6 with all the advanced technologies, providing faster and more stable transmission even when dozens of devices are transmitting at the same time.