Just about any household with broadband internet will have a wireless router supplied by the service provider – but there are plenty of good reasons to buy a newer, more powerful model.
Your existing router may be a bit long in the tooth, and that means it doesn't have the latest hardware, or support all the modern wireless networking standards, such as 802.11ac, which can deliver much better network speeds and range thanks to directional beamforming, meaning faster downloads and quicker web browsing.
Latest and greatest
The majority of new laptops, tablets and smartphones now support 802.11ac, so if you're still using a router from five years ago, you could be missing out.
You may also be tempted by some of the other recent advances in router technology. Most routers now have powerful software which makes it much easier to manage a home network, for example to accomplish tasks such as creating rules for parental controls, or simply carrying out maintenance tasks. They also come with USB ports to share storage like a NAS, or share printers to any computer in your house.
If you fancy upgrading, then here are the best 10 wireless routers you can purchase.
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1. AVM Fritz! Box 3490
Speed: ADSL/VDSL modem, 1300 Mbit/sec 802.11ac, 450 Mbit/sec 802.11n | Connectivity: 4 x gigabit Ethernet ports, 1 x gigabit Ethernet WAN port, 2 x USB 3.0 port
The Fritz! Box range from German engineering wizard AVM is known for two things – rock solid reliability and superb software to adjust your network and internet connection settings. While the 3490 may lack the support for DECT cordless phones and the landline telephony functions found in the high-end 7000-series Fritz! models, it's a lot more affordable while still offering good performance and plenty of useful features.
With its built-in VDSL modem, the 3490 works with cable, fibre and DSL internet connections, with triple-stream 802.11ac support for wireless speeds of up to 1300 Mbit/sec. It has two USB 3.0 ports for the best possible transfer speeds from any storage device you connect to it, with NAS-like management functions built into the software.
Read the full review: AVM Fritz! Box 3490
2. Asus RT-AC87U
Router touts impressive Wi-Fi performance
Speed: 1733 Mbit/sec 802.11ac, 600 Mbit/sec 802.11n | Connectivity: 4 x gigabit Ethernet ports, 1 x gigabit Ethernet WAN port, 1 x USB 3.0 port, 1 x USB 2.0 port, DD-WRT compatible
Although it's not the most affordable router on the market, the Asus RT-AC87U is one of the best, as it offers ultra-fast 4x4 802.11ac wireless speeds, with the potential for record-breaking performance.
In our tests we found it to be capable of some of the fastest speeds we'd ever seen over a wireless connection, with additional support for up to 600 Mbit/sec 5GHz 802.11n speeds (although this depends on your client adaptor, as with other routers).
But it's the software that really makes the RT-AC87U stand out. It's easy to use, and packed with features for both novices and users with advanced networking knowledge. Among its many features are a comprehensive QoS (Quality of Service) system and parental controls that are a doddle to set up, along with a download manager and cloud file backup.
Read the full review: Asus RT-AC87U
3. Linksys XAC1900
Feature-packed router is nice... for a price
Speed: ADSL modem, 1300 Mbit/sec 802.11ac, 600 Mbit/sec 802.11n | Connectivity: 4 x gigabit Ethernet ports, 1 x gigabit Ethernet WAN port, 1 x USB 3.0 port, 1 x USB 2.0 port
The software in the Linksys XAC1900 is perhaps the most straightforward to use of any router, with a really clear layout to take you around its various functions. It allows you to control the router remotely, so you can connect to your home network from any other location, anywhere in the world.
The XAC1900 comes with a DSL modem built into the power supply, keeping cables neatly out of the way. Its wireless performance is adequate, with simultaneous dual-band 2.4GHz/5GHz wireless support for 1300 Mbit/sec 802.11ac and all other standards, including 802.11n/g/b/a. There's also the usual four gigabit Ethernet ports, with a USB 2.0 port and a USB 3.0 port.
Read the full review: Linksys XAC1900
4. TP-Link Archer D9 ADSL modem router
Long-range router can hook up to your phone line
Speed: 1300 Mbit/sec 802.11ac, 600 Mbit/sec 802.11n | Connectivity: 4 x gigabit Ethernet ports, 1 x gigabit Ethernet WAN port, 1 x USB 3.0 port, DD-WRT compatible
TP-Link's routers are usually some of the most affordable around, providing a straightforward upgrade path to fast 802.11ac wireless speeds. Although the Archer D9 isn't quite as affordable as its predecessors, it adds a few extra features that make this model one of TP-Link's flagship products.
The Archer D9 comes with a built-in ADSL modem, which means you can connect it directly to your telephone line, replacing whatever hardware your ISP provides. There's also a USB 3.0 port at the back for shared storage or printers, along with the standard array of ports.
It supports 3x3 802.11ac wireless for speeds of up to 1300 Mbit/sec and 600 Mbit/sec 802.11n, and it was a great performer in our tests, especially at range. The software isn't quite as polished as some of the efforts on the really high-end models in this list, but it has plenty of features and is easy to use. Overall, this is a router that works superbly well.
Read the full review: TP-Link Archer D9
5. Buffalo AirStation Extreme AC1900
Affordable router was king a few years ago
Speed: 1300 Mbit/sec 802.11ac, 600 Mbit/sec 802.11n | Connectivity: 4 x gigabit Ethernet ports, 1 x gigabit Ethernet WAN port, 1 x USB 3.0 port, 1 x USB 2.0 port, DD-WRT compatible
Buffalo's triple antenna AirStation Extreme AC1900 is capable of 1300 Mbit/sec 802.11ac speeds, with support for 600 Mbit/sec TurboQAM over 802.11n as well. It supports dual-frequency wireless with simultaneous 2.4GHz/5GHz. There's a USB 3.0 and a USB 2.0 port, joining the standard four gigabit Ethernet LAN ports and single WAN port.
The software is well featured too, with web filtering and parental controls fed with data from anti-virus experts Symantec, and a Priority Control QoS (Quality of Service) system.
Read the full review: Buffalo AirStation Extreme AC1900
6. Trendnet TEW-818DRU
User-friendly model is also environment-friendly
Speed: 867 Mbit/sec 802.11ac, 300 Mbit/sec 802.11n | Connectivity: 4 x gigabit Ethernet ports, 1 x gigabit Ethernet WAN port, 1 x USB 3.0 port, 1 x USB 2.0 port, DD-WRT compatible
Trendnet's book-shaped TEW-818DRU offers excellent performance with 1300 Mbit/sec 3x3 802.11ac wireless and 600 Mbit/sec 802.11n TurboQAM. It has the usual array of Ethernet ports, with USB 3.0 and USB 2.0 ports for shared storage, and a small master power button to cut energy consumption when it's not in use.
It's a doddle to set up too, with some fairly comprehensive software that includes parental controls, QoS (Quality of Service) management and Dynamic DNS support. Although if you don't like Trendnet's software, the TEW-818DRU is compatible with the open-source DD-WRT firmware.
Read the full review: Trendnet TEW-818DRU
7. Belkin AC1200DB Wi-Fi Dual-Band AC+ Gigabit
Where affordability meets performance
Speed: 867 Mbit/sec 802.11ac, 300 Mbit/sec 802.11n | 4 x gigabit Ethernet ports, 1 x gigabit Ethernet WAN port, 2 x USB 3.0 ports
If you're put off by the high prices of 802.11ac hardware, Belkin's more affordable AC1200DB router might be for you. It may only be capable of 2x2 MIMO 802.11ac for 867 Mbit/sec speeds, but currently, the overwhelming majority of 802.11ac wireless adaptors in Windows laptops can only handle that speed anyway.
And in every other respect, it's a solid router. It supports older standards just fine, with dual-band 2.4GHz/5GHz support for 802.11n/g/b/a devices, and it has a pair of USB 3.0 ports at the back for storage or printer sharing. Unless you're desperate for the very fastest wireless speeds, you're unlikely to be disappointed.
Read the full review: Belkin AC1200DB
8. Netgear Nighthawk X4 R7500
Tri-band router benefits from an upgraded interface
Speed: 1733 Mbit/sec 802.11ac, 600 Mbit/sec 802.11n | Connectivity: 4 x gigabit Ethernet ports, 1 x gigabit Ethernet WAN port, 2 x USB 3.0 ports, 1 x eSATA port
Shaped like a stealth bomber, Netgear's flagship Nighthawk X4 is one of the most powerful routers we've ever tested. Like the Asus RT-AC87U, it has four antennas, so it supports 1733 Mbit/sec 4x4 MIMO 802.11ac for the fastest possible performance, although it similarly requires a compatible wireless adapter or client to enjoy those speeds.
This router also has plenty of support for external storage, with both a pair of USB 3.0 ports and an eSATA port. Although the software doesn't look quite as modern as you find on other routers, there are still plenty of useful functions within it, rounding off a solid networking product.
9. D-Link DIR-890-L Wireless AC3200
The king of speed works with Windows and OS X
Speed: Up tp 3200Mbps (600N on 2.4GHz + 1300Mbps + 1300mbps on 5GHz | Connectivity: 4x gigabit ethernet ports, 1x gigabit ethernet WAN port, 2x USB 3 port, DD-WRT compatible
With six antennas on the outside, and a red tent-like body, the DIR-890-L is possibly the weirdest looking router ever made. The six antennas allows for three concurrent wireless networks, two 5GHz 1300 Mbit/sec 802.11ac networks with a third for 600 Mbit/sec 802.11n speeds , brought together into one SSID with the SmartConnect feature. Behind the scenes, this lets the router work out the rough positioning of a device that's connected to it, then allocate the best speeds depending on its distance.
D-Link has recently upgraded its software interface with a more intuitive design too, with a few extra features thrown in. It can be set up via a mobile app without needing to go through the hassle of logging in at a computer, and allows for remote monitoring via mydlink Cloud, along with media sharing directly from any connected storage too.
10. Apple Airport Extreme
Works without fuss on Macs
Speed: 1300 Mbit/sec 802.11ac, 450 Mbit/sec 802.11n | Connectivity: 3 x gigabit Ethernet ports, 1 x gigabit Ethernet WAN port, 1 x USB 2.0 port
Apple's Airport Extreme router works with both PCs and Macs, but it's better suited to OS X users thanks to a nifty program bundled with every Mac called Airport Utility. Instead of having to go through on-board software via a web browser, you can set up and configure the Airport Extreme using this program, and on Macs at least, it works fantastically well.
The AirPort Extreme is also a powerful piece of networking hardware. The latest 6th-generation model supports 1300 Mbit/sec 802.11ac, along with simultaneous 2.4GHz and 5GHz support for 802.11n/g/b/a. It has three gigabit Ethernet ports, a WAN port and a USB 2.0 port to share printers or external storage.
Apple also sells a variant with a built-in hard disk for over-the-air Time Machine backups. Called the AirPort Time Capsule, it offers all the same networking features as the AirPort Extreme, but with the addition of either a 2TB or 3TB hard disk, you'll be able to back up and restore your Mac's system files remotely.
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