Wi-Fi Routers: Comprehensive buyer’s guide

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Setting up a wireless network to access the internet is crucial for communication, productivity, education, entertainment, just to name a few. The need for a wireless network, either at home or the office—has been fueled by the fact that every device is going untethered; hence the popularity of Wi-Fi routers.

Obviously, having a stable Wi-Fi connection needs a robust wireless router, specially made to deliver the best surfing experience. There are so many brands and makes to choose from, and if you went shopping right now, you’d be spoilt for choice. However, to truly get the best performance, you need to understand what makes for a good wireless router. In this post, we will take an in-depth look at how to find the perfect router.

Buying the perfect router

Here are the basics to help you get a wireless router that fits your needs.

Wi-Fi standards

First, you have to understand the wireless network alphabet soup of standards. All wireless networks categorized under Wi-Fi follow the 802.11 standard—a set of specifications provided by IEEE, to guide the implementation of wireless networks by different manufacturers. This is why all Wi-Fi routers, regardless of brand, work with all our devices.

Now, back to the wireless network alphabet soup of standards. The ones you have to know are the a, b, g, n, and ac. These are used to denote the 802.11 version being used by a router. They are usually labeled on routers as 802.11a, 802.11b, 802.11g, 802.11n, and 802.11ac.

The first generation of routers used the a/b/g standards, while the newest routers use n and ac standards. Below is a summary of these standards, highlighting their frequency, bandwidth, and the release year.

802.11 ProtocolRelease YearFrequency (GHz)Bandwidht (MHz)
aSep 1999520
bSep 19992.422
gJun 20032.420
nOct 20192.5/520/40
acDec 2017520/40/80/160

Other standards such as 802.11 ad/ah/aj/ax/ay/az are still in development.

In the contemporary consumer market, you will only find n and ac Wi-Fi routers, given that the first generation standards are outdated and less efficient compared to the latter two.

If you are buying a router in 2017 or later, we recommend that you get one that is ac compatible, given that in a few years to come—the n standard will be obsolete.

Single-band vs. dual-band

Currently, wireless communication is implemented in two frequency bands—2.4GHz and 5GHz. A single-band router uses the 2.4GHz band, while a dual-band router uses both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands. All 802.11 a/b routers are single-band, and their g/n/ac counterparts come either as a single or dual band.

Types of dual-band routers

There are two types of dual-band routers, namely Selectable and Simultaneous dual-band.

  • Selectable dual-band: This is a dual-band router that supports both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands, but can only use one band at a time. The user chooses the band to use.
  • Simultaneous dual-band: A simultaneous dual-band router supports both 2.4 and 5GHz frequency bands, and avails them simultaneously. This means that both 2.4GHz and 5GHz devices can connect to the network at the same time.

Which one should you get?

We advise that you buy a simultaneous dual-band router, and here’s why. Most wireless devices, for example, microwave ovens, cellular phones, and Bluetooth devices, use the 2.4GHz frequency. Given that this band has only three non-overlapping transmission channels, it is easily interfered with, substantially affecting the signal and connection quality.

The second reason is that newer devices, particularly smartphones and laptops are moving towards the 5GHz band. With a simultaneous dual-band router, you get backward compatibility with legacy devices. So even if you get a smartphone that uses the 5GHz band, you will still be able to connect your old laptop that uses the 2.4GHz band with a single router.

Note: While all 802.11n devces support both frequencies, most 802.11ac devices have built in support for 2.4GHz devices, make sure that you check for this before buying ac routers.

Speed

Several factors will determine the speed of your connection to the internet. The primary factor is the peed offered by your ISP (Internet Service Provider). More on this later.

The speed of a router depends on the standard being used. The slowest one is 802.11 b, with a top speed of 11Mbps. Below is a summary of the theoretical speeds for each standard.

802.11b802.11a802.11g802.11n802.11ac
Up to 11MbpsUp to 54MbpsUp to 54MbpsUp to 300MbpsUp to 1,000Mbps

As aforementioned, the primary determinant of how fast your internet connection is your ISP. If you are on a 50Mbps subscription, then that is the maximum speed that your router will achieve. With the introduction is fiber optic cables, Internet companies have started supplying gigabit internet (1000Mbps), one more reason to invest in a dual band AC router.

Range

The range of a wireless signal depends on the frequency it is being transmitted on. A 2.4GHz signal will travel further compared to a 5GHz. This is because electromagnetic waves attenuate faster at higher frequencies.

The typical range of a 2.4GHz wireless connection is 150 feet (46 m) indoors and 300 feet (92 m) outdoors—a 5GHz signal will cover approximately half of this. Therefore, if you are looking to cover a wider area, then you better get a 2.4GHz router, that is if you are willing to sacrifice the benefits of the 5GHz frequency.

However, there are solutions to extend a 5 GHz WI-Fi signal, e.g through power line networking or using a Wi-Fi range extender. A range extender is a device that repeats a given signal, hence extending its range. With a 5GHz router and a range extender, the signal can cover the same distance as a 2.4GHz signal. Powerline networking uses the electrical wiring of your home or building to transmit data—read about it here.

Security

Security is a very sensitive matter when it comes to wireless networking. There are three security protocols used; WEP, WPA, and WPA2. WEP is less secure compared to the other two. The best choice is to go for a router that supports WPA2—good news is that all modern routers already do that.



Other security features such as user access control (UAC), Speed throttling, and Multiple SSID are important—and depend on the manufacturer’s implementation. When choosing a router, always watch out for these secondary security measures.

Number of simultaneous connection

Even with a concurrent connection, the number of devices that can be connected at the same time, vary from router to router. N routers support up to 30 simultaneous connections, while ac supporting up to 100 connections.

Wired connectivity

Albeit having so many advancemwi-fi routersents, wireless networks are still inferior compared to wired networks. There are some devices that take advantage of wired connections, so make sure that your router has a port to connect these devices. Also, some old computers might lack wireless network cards, hence the need to conned them via LAN cable.

Conclusion

By now you should know what kind of router works best for you. Our recommendation is to go for the newest simultaneous dual-band ac routers so as to future-proof your network—and still be able to provide backward compatibility with older devices.

Here are out top ten Wi-Fi router recommendations that are guaranteed to provide you with the perfect connectivity.

Top 10 best Wi-Fi routers

ASUS RT-AC3200 Wireless-AC3200 Tri-Band Wireless Gigabit Router, AiProtection with Trend Micro for Complete Network Security

Features

  • Smart Connect automatically selects the fastest band for all devices individually, based on their demands and capabilities
  • Built-in USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 ports for up to 10-times faster data transfers to USB storage devices1, printer sharing, and 3G/4G dongle support
  • ASUSWRT graphical user interface for easy, CD-free 30-second setup and hassle-free advanced network control
  • Protection with Trend Micro with triple-strength total network security, plus robust parental controls and privacy protection
  • ASUS AiCloud 2.0 lets you access, sync, share and stream your files anywhere, on any internet-connected device

ASUS RT-AC88U Wireless-AC3100 Dual Band Gigabit Router

Features

  • 1024-QAM technology - 80% faster 5 GHz at up to 2100 Mbps, 66% faster 2.4 GHz at up to 1000 Mbps
  • 33% greater 2.4 GHz coverage with a 4-transmit, 4-receive (4T4R) antenna design, able to reach our widest-ever coverage up to 5000 square feet
  • Expansive Connectivity Options: with exclusively has 8 x Gigabit LAN ports for up to eight Ethernet-compatible devices to connect simultaneously
  • Powerful 1.4 GHz dual-core processor, Faster USB data transfers enjoy up to over 100 MB/s speed and the router download/upload speed (WAN-LAN throughput) up to 1.8 Gbps
  • Smart Connect- Automatically chooses the best band available for you

NETGEAR Nighthawk AC1750 Smart Dual Band WiFi Router (R6700)

Features

  • AC1750 Wi-Fi-450+1300 Mbps speeds and high-power external antennas. Ideal for homes with 12 or more Wi-Fi devices
  • Beamforming+ improves range, boosts speed and performance for both 2.4 and 5GHz devices
  • NETGEAR genie App - Enjoy more of your connected home. Now with remote access
  • One USB 3.0 Port
  • Beamforming+ focuses Wi-Fi signals from the wireless router to Wi-Fi devices

D-Link AC3200 Ultra Tri-Band Wi-Fi Router With 6 High Performance Beamforming Antennas (DIR-890L/R)

Features

  • Ultimate Wi-Fi performance with AC3200 Tri-Band speeds (1 x 600 Mbps in 2.4GHz + 2 x 1300 Mbps in 5GHz) to support more connected Wi-Fi devices to your high speed home network
  • Enjoy 4K/HD video and online gaming simultaneously with 3 x 3 data streams and 6 high-performance antennas
  • The 1GHz Dual Core processor gives you powerful wired and wireless speeds
  • Advanced SmartConnect allocates the best possible band for maximal Wi-Fi performance
  • Advanced AC SmartBeam tracks your connected devices for enhanced Wi-Fi speed and range throughout your home

Linksys WRT AC3200 Dual-Band Gigabit Smart Wireless Router with MU-MIMO, Tri-Stream 160 (WRT3200ACM)

Features

  • Tri-Stream 160 technology doubles bandwidth and the fastest dual-band of any router*
  • MU-MIMO technology provides blazing-fast Wi-Fi speeds to multiple devices all at the same time, same speed
  • Open-source ready with OpenWrt and DD-WRT® for complete flexibility and customization
  • Updated Smart Wi-Fi app to manage and monitor your home Wi-Fi from your device, anytime, anywhere
  • 256MB Flash and 512MB of RAM Memory delivers improved data transfer speeds allowing you to do more at faster rates

Amped Wireless ATHENA-R2 High Power AC2600 Wi-Fi Router with MU-MIMO (RTA2600-R2)

Features

  • High Power technology delivers whole-home Wi-Fi coverage, that's a combination of 16 powerful amplifiers and 4 high gain antennas
  • Unmatched AC2600 Wi-Fi Speeds and Multi-User MIMO make for better performance and more speed for everyone
  • A powerful Dual-Core Processor handles heavy traffic with ease, so you can game without lag and stream HD and 4K media without buffering
  • File sharing with a USB 3.0 and 2.0 port, as well as 4 additional Gigabit ports for network devices like smart TVs, gaming consoles and PCs
  • Advanced security features like coverage control, website blocking and SPI Firewall - all backed by Elite Support, Amped Wireless' free, US based, in-house, technical support

Apple AirPort Extreme Base Station (ME918LL/A)

Features

  • Ultrafast 802.11ac Wi-Fi; Reach data rates of up to 1.3 Gbps. compatible with devices using the 802.11a, 802.11b, 802.11g, 802.11n, and 802.11ac specifications.
  • Simultaneous dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi support; New 6.6-inch height with smaller 3.85-inch base
  • 6 antennas located at the top allows for a faster and more powerful connection. NAT, DHCP, PPPoE, VPN Passthrough (IPSec, PPTP and L2TP), DNS Proxy, IPv6 (6to4 and manual tunnels)
  • Easy setup with Macs and iOS devices. Please note: This product is a Router ONLY and requires a modem to operate
  • NOTE: Check User Manual in Technical Specification before use

TP-Link AC1900 Wireless Wi-Fi Router -Dual Band, Gigabit (Archer C9)

Features

  • Wireless AC1900 WiFi. Supports 802.11ac, the next generation of Wi-Fi
  • Stream 4K Ultra HD video and game online without lag over a clear 5GHz band while using the 2.4GHz band for everyday tasks
  • Simultaneous dual band networks, 2.4GHz (600Mbps) and 5GHz (1300Mbps)
  • 3 detachable high performance antennas for maximum wireless coverage and reliability
  • Beamforming technology locates wireless devices to create a stronger connection

Linksys AC1750 Dual-Band Smart Wireless Router with MU-MIMO

Features

  • Next-Gen AC Wi-Fi - Multi-User MIMO technology
  • Combined dual-band speeds up to 1.7 Gbps for powerful Wi-Fi performance
  • Beamforming technology focuses Wi-Fi signal to each device on your network
  • Featuring a new look, Smart Wi-Fi app provides parental controls, guest passwords and much more to fully manage your home Wi-Fi from a mobile device anytime, anywhere

Synology Router (RT1900ac)

Features

  • Simultaneous dual-band at 2.4GHz & 5GHz for up to 1900Mbps
  • Robust coverage with Beamforming Support
  • Application layer Quality of Service (QoS) allows total control of your network environment
  • Intuitive Parental Control with built-in DNS-based web filter
  • Revolutionary interface - Synology Router Manager (SRM) & DS router

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