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Your wireless router is responsible for handling all of the data that flows into and out of your house through your internet service provider.
The best wireless routers in Consumer Reports' ratings will cover your whole house in a fast WiFi network, rushing data where it needs to go to keep Netflix movies and web pages humming along without a glitch.
But not every router performs that well.
“If I’m paying for a 200-megabit internet connection, can I actually get that fast with my wireless router?” says Richard Fisco, who oversees electronics testing for Consumer Reports. If you experience problems with dead spots or slow connections, he says, it could be time to go shopping.
Wireless routers today can broadly be broken up into two categories: single and mesh routers.
A single unit is a traditional wireless router that plugs into your modem.
Mesh routers consist of one device plugged into the modem plus a few satellite units stationed throughout the rest of your home. The units talk to each other, creating a "mesh" WiFi network.
A single router is fine for many apartments and modest-sized houses. But if you happen to live in a larger home, you may do better with a mesh router.
Your home's size isn't the only factor, however. Thick concrete walls and even the water in fish tanks can interfere with WiFi signals. Mesh routers are handy because you can move them around until your wireless network reaches every corner.
Whether or not you own a single or mesh router, it's important to update the firmware periodically to make sure you have the latest security patches. Getting updates used to be a bit of a hassle, but now many routers, including those listed below, can do it automatically.
As of December 2019, there are nearly 40 wireless routers in our ratings, ranging from high-end models designed for the most demanding consumers to more modest options that will reliably spread WiFi throughout your house without breaking the bank. And while we now have a new WiFi standard—better known as WiFi 6—we have yet to see many router models that support it.
Here are some of the best wireless routers available, based on a range of criteria, including, yes, how well they perform, but also how well they protect your privacy and security.
Netgear Orbi AC3000
Our testers give this Orbi model, which comes with one base station and two satellite units, mostly high marks, noting strong performance across a range of distances, easy setup using a mobile app, and one built-in USB port for connecting a device like a printer.
The router does not provide automatic software updates, though, which means you’ll need to manually check for security patches.
Eero Pro Tri-band Mesh Network
This Eero option—also comprised of one base station and two satellites—was for a time the highest-scoring mesh router in our ratings. It offers effective WiFi coverage, even in large homes, but is not quite as fast as Netgear’s Orbi AC3000. It does, however, support automatic software updates, and Orbi does not.
Though Eero is a strong all-around performer, it lacks a USB port, which means you won’t be able to plug in a hard drive or printer to share with the other computers on your network.
TP-Link Deco Whole Home
This TP-Link model is a CR Best Buy, which means it not only scores well in our tests, but it's also quite affordable compared with other options in this category. Available for around $160, it consists of a main base unit and two satellite units. And, while it doesn’t have any USB ports, it does offer six Ethernet ports that provide a wired internet connection for products such as a smart home hub or bridge, for example.
Our testers do note that you’ll have to manually update the firmware, however.
Synology may not be as well known to consumers as other wireless router manufacturers, but the RT2600ac is a clear standout in our ratings. It delivers strong performance at a range of distances; has two built-in USB ports, so you can plug in and share peripherals like printers; and supports easy setup using a mobile app. If you have a truly large home, you can even link several units together to create a mesh network.
Our testers also like that the RT2600ac supports automatic software updates, which means the router will routinely run the most secure software without you having to lift a finger.
TP-Link Archer C3150 V2
Another CR Best Buy, this TP-Link model does very well in terms of pure performance—you’ll be hard pressed to find a faster, more consistent router. It scored OK in terms of privacy and security, too, though you’ll have to manually update the firmware to keep up with the latest security patches.
Another bonus: There are two built-in USB ports for connecting peripherals.
Netgear Nighthawk X10 (AD7200)
This Netgear model combines strong performance across a range of distances with useful features such as automatic software updates and a handful of USB ports for sharing peripherals.
As with many routers nowadays, it supports setup via a handy mobile app in addition to a traditional web interface. Other benefits include the advanced parental controls of Disney’s Circle and support for the Plex Media Server, an app that lets you play videos that you download on your main computer on a smartphone, tablet, or smart TV, as well.
Home WiFi Mesh Networks
Can’t get a decent wireless internet connection in your home? On the "Consumer 101" TV show, Consumer Reports’ expert Nicholas De Leon explains to show host Jack Rico how mesh networks provide faster speeds and better coverage.
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