Top Product: TP-Link Archer AX21 Wi-Fi 6 Router | $90 | Amazon
If you’re still bearing with spotty Wi-Fi in your home in 2021, then it’s time to make an upgrade. Assuming the connection coming into your house is solid, then a newer, more advanced router might be the missing piece of the equation in ensuring steady, wide-ranging wireless internet throughout your home.
Routers come in all shapes and sizes, and lately they even come in duos, trios, and more: mesh systems have rapidly gained popularity for their ability to blanket your space in Wi-Fi, but not every space needs the added hardware and expense. Likewise, the recent Wi-Fi 6 standard brings perks, and the even newer Wi-Fi 6E standard is even better... but very pricey.
Still, you might do just fine with sometime cheaper and more modest. Here’s a look at the best routers you can buy today across a variety of needs.
Best Wi-Fi 6 Router for Most People: TP-Link Archer AX21
If you’re buying a new router today, it’s a pretty good idea to opt for a Wi-Fi 6 device if you can. The updated wireless standard significantly boosts the top maximum speed, but is perhaps more importantly better suited to deal with numerous devices at a time—good news for those of us with phones, laptops, tablets, consoles, smart TVs, smart home gadgets, and more in the mix.
Some Wi-Fi 6 routers will cost you hundreds of dollars, but TP-Link’s Archer AX21 is a great option that hits a sweet spot in terms of functionality and price. This dual-band router supports Wi-Fi speeds up to 1.8Gbps and delivers powerful performance thanks to its four high-gain antennas and beamforming technology to provide better, more targeted connections with 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
Google’s Nest Wi-Fi mesh system is what I use in my own two-story house, and it’s an effortless and easy-to-use way to blast coverage all across your home. With a base unit that plugs into your modem and one or more mesh units, you can drape your entire space with speedy Wi-Fi. In my case, the basement, the upstairs bedrooms, and even my large backyard are covered.
In a very Apple-esque way, it just works. The nodes sync up with ease and the connection is steady as a rock in every corner of my space, while the mobile app handles any technical nitty-gritty stuff if you need it (I rarely ever do). Also, the nodes double as Google Assistant smart speakers, which is handy. You won’t get Wi-Fi 6 with the Nest Wi-Fi, plus it’s a pricey system compared to some budget rivals. But it’s excellent and can be an enormous upgrade over an old single-router setup.
Best Budget Router: TP-Link Archer A6
Not looking to invest a bunch of cash in a new router right now? No worries: the TP-Link Archer A6 delivers solid speeds in a small footprint and can be found for $50 or less. If you’re using hardware that’s at least a few years old, it should almost certainly provide an upgrade, even if it doesn’t have Wi-Fi 6 capabilities and isn’t built for larger spaces.
The TP-Link Archer A6 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. This one’s a good pick for an apartment or smaller home and can still deliver 4K video streaming and speedy downloads.
Best Wi-Fi 6E Router: Netgear Nighthawk RAXE500
What’s this? Wi-Fi 6E? Yes, there’s an even newer standard than plain ol’ Wi-Fi 6, as Wi-Fi 6E opens up the 6Ghz band for even faster top speeds. It’s purely for early adopters right now, as the initial Wi-Fi 6E routers are very expensive.
Still, if you’re keen on riding the Wi-Fi 6E wave, Gizmodo has picked the Netgear Nighthawk RAXE500 as the best of the early bunch. In a head-to-head showdown between multiple Wi-Fi 6E routers, it prevailed as the best overall option. As Wes Davis writes:
“Its staggeringly high-bandwidth throughput, stability, and range, combined with easy-to-use software, robust security, and slick appearance, gave it the edge over the others in this face-off. As things stand now, it felt the most complete, and I feel it will probably stand up well against the others as they add features and performance tweaks over in the coming months.”
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 8x8 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 $130 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
If you’re serious about gaming and want a router that promises the best-possible experience, the recently-released Netgear Nighthawk Pro Gaming XR1000 is a feature-rich Wi-Fi 6 model. Powered by a triple-core 1.5 GHz processor and DumaOS 3.0, this beast of a router lets you optimize and allocate bandwidth for certain needs (including live streaming to Twitch) and has geo-fencing features to help you select the best servers to use.
Netgear mailed me a sample to try out for a few weeks in place of my usual Nest Wi-Fi setup, and even with just the single access point, it provided speedy wireless access throughout my entire house. Gaming performance was stellar across the board, whether in Rocket League or Fortnite, but it’s not cheap: the list price is $350, but Amazon is offering it for just $297 as of this writing. Only the truly hardcore need apply.