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December 1, 2017

The best wireless router (for most people)

by John_A

By Jim Salter

This post was done in partnership with Wirecutter, reviews for the real world. When readers choose to buy Wirecutter’s independently chosen editorial picks, it may earn affiliate commissions that support its work. Read the full article here.

After spending over 100 hours testing 18 routers, we think the Netgear R7000P is the best wireless router for most people. It’s fast and reliable at both short and long ranges, it balances the demands of connected devices automatically to avoid congestion, and it works well right out of the box, with no arcane tweaking required.

Who this is for

If you’re happy with your Wi-Fi, you don’t need a new router—it’s as simple as that. If you’re having problems with range, speed, or reliability, though, it might be time for an upgrade. Any of our picks will easily outperform any router you got from your Internet service provider, or any router more than a few years old. These routers are a good fit for apartments or small-to-medium houses with three or four people on the network. If you have a larger family, or a large house—more than 2,000 square feet, or more than one floor—you should probably look at our mesh-networking guide instead.

How we picked and tested

Photo: Michael Hession

When considering routers, we looked for dual- and tri-band routers under $300, with a strong preference for those under $200. We also looked for these four qualities:

  • Good throughput and speed on both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands.
  • Good range on both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands.
  • Band steering to help users make use of all bands available. All 802.11ac routers come with at least two wireless radios, and the router should be able to use all of them without requiring you to manually connect to separate networks.
  • A fast processor. No matter how good your radios are, the slow single-core processors found in most cheap routers can still slow things down.

We made a major update to our testing methodology this year: Instead of testing maximum throughput from a single laptop, we used four laptops, spaced around 1,800 square feet of single-story suburban home. Because this configuration models real-world traffic and was affected by external variables like competing signals and walls, it better simulates real-world performance. To read about our testing procedures in detail, please see our full guide to Wi-Fi routers.

Our pick: Netgear R7000P

Photo: Michael Hession

The Netgear R7000P Nighthawk is the best router for most people because it offers solid performance for multiple devices without a lot of hassle. It has good range and speed and working out-of-the-box band steering, so you don’t need to juggle multiple network names. Though it doesn’t have the absolute best performance for individual devices at either short or long range, it has the best mix of good range, high throughput, useful features, and easy setup of all the routers we tested.

The R7000P really shines under busy network conditions. Its load-balancing band steering automatically shifted the devices around to give work to both radios. Along with its long range and good performance on both 5 GHz and 2.4 GHz, this translates into a good user experience even when the network’s busy.

The biggest shortcoming of the R7000P compared with some other routers in its price range is its lack of a third band. Though three bands won’t make any single device go faster, the more bands you have available, the less fighting your devices do with one another to get to the Internet. This won’t be a huge issue in a suburban home, but in a crowded apartment complex or a dorm, it might be more of a problem.

Runner-up: Asus RT-AC3200

Photo: Michael Hession

The Asus RT-AC3200 features three bands (two 5 GHz, and one 2.4 GHz), each of which has the best long-range performance of any of the devices we tested. It has built-in bandwidth management graphics that provide fast, easy-to-read information about who’s using the most bandwidth on your network, and what they’re doing with it. It will even let you plug an LTE modem into its USB port to use if your home Internet goes down.

With better performance all around, more features, and a third radio at the same price as our main pick, the RT-AC3200 should be our pick. Unfortunately, out of the box you’ll have to connect to the RT-AC3200’s bands via three separate SSIDs. Band steering is difficult enough to get working right that you should probably get an honorary degree if you manage it, so the R7000P is a better router for people who just want to make the Internet go and get on with their lives. The hardcore enthusiast or the person who needs really long range will probably love the RT-AC3200 once they configure it to their liking.

Budget pick: Netgear R6700

Photo: Michael Hession

The Netgear R6700 is currently about half the price of our main pick. So, what gives? Routers are getting more expensive as manufacturers add features to deal with the faster Internet speeds offered nowadays and the greater number of devices people want to get connected. To be fair, they’re worth it—in particular, band steering makes day-to-day life with a lot of devices easier and less frustrating. We think it’s the only feature you’re likely to miss by getting the R6700 instead of our top pick, though the R6700 does have a noticeably shorter range. It’s still a good router, but our main pick gives you more room to grow as you add smart gadgets and other devices to your network over the next few years. But if you live in a smaller home, don’t have tons of devices fighting to use your network at once, or don’t have $200 to spend on a router, the R6700 is a great choice.

This guide may have been updated by Wirecutter. To see the current recommendation, please go here.

Note from Wirecutter: When readers choose to buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn affiliate commissions that support our work.

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