A good Wi-Fi router is essential for any solid home network. The best ones get great range and can serve all of the computers in your home, offer tons of management features so you can control your network, focus on speedy communication, and others even have advanced features like NAS support, printer sharing, traffic shaping, and more. This week, we’re looking at five of the best on the market right now.
Earlier in the week, we asked you which Wi-Fi routers you thought were the best. If this post looks familiar at all, it’s because we’ve updated it with your top five from this week, booting out the older routers from several years ago. We figured it was time to take a fresh look! Some of the old standbys that made the list last time are either no longer available, painfully old, or at the very least, have been eclipsed by superior options, now that 802.11ac is available in more phones and computers than before.
You offered a great selection—more than we have room to highlight—including some hacker-friendly routers and crowdfunded models that aren’t on the market just yet, but here are the five that rose above the rest:
The ASUS RT-AC66U is the successor to some of the RT models that made the roundup last time we looked at the best routers. This one comes to the market packing 802.11ac, incredible range and signal power, and performance that can punch through walls and other obstacles to connect devices around your home. The antennae on the back are adjustable and detachable in case you want to add bigger ones or signal boosters, and the RT-AC66U packs NVIDIA’s GameStream technology for gamers who use NVIDIA products and GPUs. The router also packs four gigabit Ethernet ports for wired connections, two built-in USB ports for printer or drive sharing with your network (not to mention remote management, remote downloading, and other devices you may want to be always on and always connected), and dual-band transmitters to help balance out tons of devices or connect ones that may be farther from the router. If you’re interested, it’ll set you back about $ 180 from Amazon.
Those of you who praised the RT-AC66U noted that it’s super-easy to set up, with a built-in connection wizard that’s easy enough to configure and will have you and your devices connected in minutes. You also noted that the router’s built-in software, while not perfect, does pack a lot of management tools and advanced configuration options so you can monitor your traffic, prioritize applications and devices, and secure everything. Speaking of security, the router has a built-in VPN, so you can connect securely anywhere. Oh, and did we mention that it gracefully supports the DD-WRT and Tomato custom firmwares if you want to install them? You can read more about it—and its Wireless-N predecessor, the ASUS RT-N66U ($ 125 at Amazon)—in the nominations thread here.
The Netgear AC1900 kind of looks like a stealth fighter, which may or may not be an awesome thing to you. Its design is actually supposed to boost signal, and the three external antennae are adjustable and designed to help deliver 802.11ac wireless signal to all corners of your home, connecting all of your devices. The Nighthawk is a dual-band router, perfect for connecting lots of devices or devices with varying ranges, and is heavily marketed to gamers, thanks in no small part to support for NVIDIA’s GameStream technology. It also packs four gigabit Ethernet ports for wired connectivity, two USB ports (one of which is USB 3.0) for device sharing, including always-on downloading, printer sharing, NAS or hard drive sharing, and more. The router even supports Apple AirPlay and Time Machine backups right to connected drives. The Nighthawk packs a built-in VPN, guest networking, parental controls, and more security and configuration features that you probably need, and can also handle useful network management tasks like QoS, traffic shaping, and application prioritization. If you’re interested in one, you can pick it up for $ 190 at Amazon.
Those of you who nominated the Nighthawk praised its sleek design and appearance, incredible range, and its reliability, noting that 802.11ac is amazing when you have devices to support it, and the Nighthawk is a rock once it’s set up and configured. Best of all, it’s DD-WRT compatible, and easy to customize on your own if you want total and complete control over its features and power. Even if you don’t, you noted that it’s easy enough to set up that anyone can do it. Read more in its nomination thread here.
Apple’s Airport Extreme and Airport Time Capsule both pack 802.11ac wireless into small routers that can fit just about anywhere, set up easily, and can be remotely managed by iOS devices if you have one. Both devices support printer and hard drive sharing, and the ability to connect other devices via USB and share them with other computers, or to share a printer wirelessly with everything on your network. Both models also feature three gigabit Ethernet ports for wired connections. While the Airport Time Capsule is essentially a NAS and router combination, the Airport Extreme is more of a pure router – although the TIme Capsule is pretty much an Airport Extreme with drives and drive management features. They’re both pricey though—the Airport Extreme will set you back $ 199, and the Airport Time Capsule will set you back $ 299 or $ 399, depending on whether you want the model that offers 2TB or 3TB.
Those of you who nominated both devices—and there were enough of you to make each of them their own separate nominee, to be sure—praised the fact that both devices are essentially plug in and walk away—setup so simple that you won’t need to spend more than a few minutes getting your network configured and all of your devices connected. In addition to ease-of-use, those of you who nominated them noted their solid performance if you’re vested in the OS X and iOS ecosystems, despite their high price tags—if the price tags get you down, you noted the Airport Express is a $ 99 802.11n base station that can also get the job done. Read more in the nominations threads here and here.
Its name may be a mouthful, but the Buffalo N600 comes in a couple of flavors—the one we’re highlighting, and the one you nominated, is the one that ships with DD-WRT already on-board, offering you unprecedented control over the router’s features, the ability to get under the hood and really manage your router and your network and set everything up the way you like, and more. Of course, the router itself is no slouch—it’s a dual-band 802.11n router with great range and signal strength, so if you’re not looking for 802.11ac like some of the other models in the roundup, but you are looking for DD-WRT compatibility, this one might be a good option. It packs four gigabit Ethernet ports in the back and a single USB port for connected devices and device sharing, extendable antennae from the chassis for a little signal boost, and it can be configured as an access point or as a wireless bridge that can extend your current network’s reach. They’re pretty affordable, too—it’ll only set you back $ 87 at Amazon if you want one.
Those of you who nominated the N600 praised Buffalo’s DD-WRT support and compatibility, and the router’s own reliability. A number of you pointed to it as a logical upgrade from the old Linksys WRT54G, especially one that won’t break the bank if you’re looking for a cheap network upgrade without giving up control over your network or dealing with a UI you don’t like or admin tools that don’t give you the options you want. You also praised the N600 for handling all of the great things that DD-WRT can do, including built-in VPN via OpenVPN, Dynamic DNS, traffic shaping and QoS, NAS and wireless printing support, device sharing, and more. Check out the nomination thread to read more.
The ASUS RT-56U earned more than a few nominations of its own, even considering its higher-end Wireless-N sibling, the N66U was mentioned along with its Wireless-AC successor, the RT-AC66U, both earlier in the roundup. Still, there was a lot of love for the RT-N56U, especially from those of you who wanted a fast, flexible router with internal anntennae that could be mounted anywhere, was powerful enough to serve an entire household with great signal, packed dual-band 802.11n so you could connect all of your devices, and still packed in features like NVIDIA’s GameStream, twin USB 2.0 ports on the back for device sharing, wireless printing, and more, and the four wired gigabit ethernet ports that the router offers. It’s a snap to set up, it looks great, and it’s rock solid—a great router for someone who wants a device to connect to the internet, not necessarily manage a network. If you want one, $ 88 will get you one at Amazon, although if you shop around, you can probably find it for less than that.
Those of you who nominated the RT-N56U praised its reliability and performance, noting that many of you have had one for years and they’re rock solid. You noted that you can’t really ask for 5GHz, dual band performance and gigabit Ethernet in a consumer router at such a low price point, and almost all of you who commented on it noted that it’s one of the few routers you can own and completely forget its there—you don’t have to reboot it every few days. You can read more in the nominations thread here.
Now that you’ve seen the top five, it’s time to put them to an all-out vote to determine the winner.
Honorable mentions this week go out to the venerable Linksys WRT54G, which earned a place in the top five the last time we looked at the best routers, but is positively ancient by comparison to almost everything else on the market today. It’s an incredible router—rock solid and built like a truck, a router that in many cases simply hasn’t needed to be upgraded in the 10-plus years since it was introduced. It’s the gold standard for customizable, hackable, and reconfigurable routers, and supports both the DD-WRT and Tomato custom firmwares easily. It is, however, showing its age, supporting only 802.11a/b/g networking while the rest of the world has moved on to dual band networking, Wireless-N and now AC, and more advanced connectivity needs.
Its spiritual successor, the upcoming Linksys WRT1900AC seeks to reclaim some of the WRT54Gs former glory by packing in Wireless-AC, quad antennae, amazing cooling, open-source firmware, DD-WRT compatibility, tons of advanced networking features, the same customizability we all remember, and much much more. When it’s out, it’ll be interesting, to say the least. It’s scheduled for release in April 2014 for $ 299. This video from Tekzilla will help you get excited for it.
Want to make the case for your personal favorite, even if it wasn’t included in the list? Remember, the top five are based on your most popular nominations from the call for contenders thread from earlier in the week. Don’t just complain about the top five, let us know what your preferred alternative is—and make your case for it—in the discussions below.
The Hive Five is based on reader nominations. As with most Hive Five posts, if your favorite was left out, it didn’t get the nominations required in the call for contenders post to make the top five. We understand it’s a bit of a popularity contest. Have a suggestion for the Hive Five? Send us an email at [email protected]!
Photo by Danny Choo.