If you haven’t bought a new router recently, you’re missing out on the latest hardware advancements, including support for the 802.11ac networking standard. Wireless routers have undergone few dramatic changes over the last few years, so while the need to upgrade may not be urgent, it can’t be overlooked.
One development we’ve seen in some newer routers is directional beamforming, which allows wireless-transmitting devices to experience faster speeds and greater range than ever before. Unfortunately, even as routers on the whole have seen improvements, it hasn’t stopped hackers from tapping into some of Netgear’s most beloved models.
Luckily, as far as we know (and we’ve done our research), all the routers on this list are safe to use out of the box. With that in mind, we’ve rounded up 10 of the best wireless routers to give your home an 802.11ac boost.
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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.
If you’ve got a large house where the Wi-Fi strains to reach every corner, and your home is filled with people using various devices to access the internet, then the Asus RT-AC5300 Tri-band gigabit router is the router for you.
It comes with eight aerials and three bands – two 5GHz ones for fast multi-user performance and a 2.4GHz band as well for older devices. It features an excellent QoS system that detects what sort of network traffic it’s handling and sets its priorities accordingly – so streaming 4K Netflix will be given more bandwidth than simple tasks such as moving a file to your NAS.
The design won’t be for everyone, but its performance can’t be downplayed – this is an extremely fast and feature-rich router.
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, and more affordable than the Asus RT-AC5300 Tri-band gigabit router we mention above.
If routers had a fashion contest, Netgear’s D7800 would be among the top contenders. Its solid black finish is complemented by a quartet of antennas. Bolstering speeds faster than a vanilla 802.11ac, this router promises an alluring 1,733Mbps over its 5GHz band and a still-remarkable 800Mbps over a 2.4GHz connection.
The Nighthawk X4S is is bettered by its inclusion of a duo of USB ports paired with an eSATA connector, thereby offering plenty of room for expanded connectivity. The real centerpiece, though, is the VDSL 2 modem built into the Nighthawk X4S D7800, negating the need to buy or lease one separately. The outfitted software isn’t too shoddy either; a simple Dynamic QOS system makes it a breeze to govern a multitude of devices on a single home network.
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.
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.
[Editor’s Note: This product is only available in the UK and other European territories.]
Read the full review: AVM Fritz!Box 3490
Gabe Carey has also contributed to this article