Update: Need a router with a 5-minute setup time, an easy-to-use app and seamless customer support? We’ve added Starry Station high on the list in place of Linksys's EA9500 Max-Stream AC5400. Read on to see why.
Every household sporting broadband internet needs a wireless router. Without it, accessing the web on a mobile device will require either a pesky (and quite limited) mobile data plan or a complex workaround. Even older routers are due for an upgrade after a handful of years, thanks to the advent of new technologies such as Netgear's dead spot-deterring Orbi Wi-Fi system and Wi-FI CERTIFIED ac spec improvements.
If you have an existing router, it may be getting to the point where it's a bit long in the tooth, that it doesn't have the latest hardware or support the latest 802.11ac networking standard, which exhibits faster speeds and range, courtesy of directional beamforming. This equates to less time-consuming downloads and nippy web browsing. Plus, today's top-end best wireless routers are blisteringly quick, thanks to a technology called NitroQAM.
You may even be enticed by the benefits of the new software produced by router companies, which make it easier to administer to your home network for necessities like parental controls and even basic maintenance. In most situations, you'll even get to take advantage of USB ports for over-the-air storage or to share printers throughout the house.
We've rounded up ten of the best wireless routers to give your home an 802.11ac a boost.
The idea behind the six antennas on the Archer AC3200 is triple wireless networks for a situation where you might have dozens of computers and mobile gadgets all needing access to wireless resources. It has two 5GHz bands supporting 802.11ac, so when a large transfer is gobbling up all the space on one channel, you can keep other devices running at full speed on the other one. It's all done through TP-Link's Smart Wi-Fi tech that automatically picks the most suitable frequency band to assign to your various devices based on network traffic. The C3200 also brings a clean and simple management interface that provides the usual basic settings page alongside advanced pages for each Wi-Fi band. On the router itself you can initiate WPS, disable LED lights and switch Wi-Fi on and off.
The Starry Station is not like most routers in its price range. Instead of chasing after the fastest speeds and longest range, it’s all about two things: convenience and aesthetic. The triangular design and curious LCD display make the Starry Station a welcome addition to your home whether it’s sitting atop your desk or on a coffee table in your living room. Sure, it’s expensive for what it is, considering it offers little performance advantage over your ISP’s stock router, but what the Starry Station lacks it more than makes up for in style and ease-of-use. Just be sure that your source connection isn't in, say, your closet.
Read the full review: Starry Station
The Asus RT-AC88U justifies its above-average pricing with unrivalled record-breaking next-generation 802.11ac wireless performance. With four antennas and NitroQAM technology, which pushes speeds further still, this router enables wireless performance that can break the 1GB/sec limit. There's a minor catch - you'll need to invest in a NitroQAM wireless adapter, such as the Asus PCE-AC88, to see those faster speeds. It's worth it though. Coupled with comprehensive built-in software, a generous array of eight external LAN ports and 100MB/sec performance from its USB 3 port, this router is a champion.
Netgear's D7800 wireless router also has four antennas and can deliver much faster speeds than a standard 802.11ac router, which again, depends on using a compatible adapter or bridge. It comes with two USB ports and an eSATA connector for a huge amount of connectivity, and a VDSL 2 modem built-in. The software is pretty good too, with a simple Dynamic QOS system to make it easier to manage a home network with a massive amount of devices.
With three wireless streams, the Linksys WRT1900ACS is a less expensive proposition than the above quad-stream 802.11ac routers, and while it doesn't offer the same blistering performance, it still packs performance and great software. Its internals are very powerful. A dual-core 1.6 GHz processor and 512MB of memory drives a great-looking software interface that makes it a doddle to set up and customise a home network, with a built-in VPN, great wireless range as well as fast external connectivity via USB.
With four wide antennas that look like solar panels, the orange DIR-869 is a mid-range router from D-Link that uses the company's flat, angular design. It doesn't do anything particularly clever, but is still fast enough to work with the vast majority of all wireless hardware on the market at maximum capacity. It's a dual-band model with a dual-core processor, driving a minimalist but slick software interface. 2.4GHz up to 450Mbps and and 5GHz up to 1300 Mbps is covered.
Asus makes great routers with particularly good on-board software, but if your budget can't stretch to the all-singing RT-AC88U, the firm's slightly older RT-AC68U is still rather nifty. It's a more traditional 3x3 802.11ac model, but with the same software as used on all other Asus networking kit, which is a very good thing. So many small details are covered, from a notification system to simplified updates, that it puts Asus in front of nearly every other manufacturers by some distance. And with still-excellent wireless performance and range, this older model can now be found for under £150 too.
Read the full review: Asus RT-AC68U
If you've used a Synology NAS, you'll be familiar with the company's Linux-based software interface that presents a Windows-like environment, with icons, folders and so on with all the settings to configure your hardware. Synology has gone with the same software design with the Synology Router Manager on the RT1900ac, its first wireless router. Hardware-wise it offers the same sort of thing as other 802.11ac routers, with 1300 Mbps 802.11ac and 600 Mbps 802.11n. Unsurprisingly, there's also great support for shared storage, with well-designed iOS and Android apps to access files. Uniquely, there's also an SD card slot joining the single USB 3 port for shared external storage.
Although the Archer C9 is relatively inexpensive, there's very little lacking from its specification list. It supports 1300Mbps 802.11ac wireless speeds that will deliver maximum performance for just about all laptops currently on the market. It has good software, powerful internals and a bright white, inoffensive look that wont look garish in the middle of your living room. Although the built-in modem only supports DSL, rather than VDSL 2, very little else has been left out, making this a solid value option.
AVM's more high-end 802.11ac routers support built-in VOIP hardware and act as a base station for DECT cordless phones, un addition to router and DSL functions. But the Fritz!Box 3490 leaves all those extras behind in favour of affordability and simplicity. Sporting an unusual red and silver appearance, the recently updated 6.50 software has some features that more technical users will love. It gives you plenty of control over your home network, such as the ability to scan for local wireless networks that may cause interference, and extensive logging to see exactly how much bandwidth each of your computers is consuming.
Read the full review: AVM Fritz!Box 3490
Gabe Carey has also contributed to this article