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. Today’s top-end models are blisteringly quick, thanks to a technology called NitroQAM.
Make sense of what’s happening to Wi-Fi
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.
We’ve rounded up ten of the best modern 802.11ac routers to give your home wireless network a boost.
1. TP Link Archer AC3200 Wireless Tri-Band Gigabit Router
Six antennas for three wireless networks
Speed: 802.11ac: 2x 1300 Mbps, 802.11n: 600 Mbps | Connectivity: 5x Gigabit Ethernet, 1x USB 3.0, 1x USB 2.0 | Features: Dual 802.11ac networks, 1GHz Dual-core processor with three co-processors, Smart Connect
Dual wireless networks Plenty of internal processing power No faster for single connections than a traditional 802.11ac router No built-in modem
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 Connect 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.
2. Linksys EA9500 Max-Stream AC5400
A multi-antenna monster
Speed: 802.11ac: up to 5.3Gbps | Connectivity: 1 x Gigabit WAN port, 8 x Gigabit LAN ports, 1 x USB 3.0, 1 x USB 2.0 | Features: Easy setup, Tri-band Wi-Fi technology, MU-MIMO, Seamless Roaming
5.3Gbps bandwidth MU-MIMO compatible Takes up a lot of space
Looking like a giant mechanical spider, this router is primed for anything from gaming to professional work. The AC5400 is outfitted with a single 2.4GHz band that can reach up to 1000 Mbps, in addition to two 5GHz radios that max out at 2,167Mbps. Together, it adds up to a whopping 5.3Gbps.
This router brings a plethora of features incuding MU-MIMO, a dual-core CPU, beamforming and eight adjustable antennas. Its coolest feature is “Smart Connect”, which lets you assign separate SSIDs for the two 5GHz bands, allowing you to have one network purely for your gaming desktop PC, and another for media streaming or professional work, without the two getting in the way.
3. Asus RT-AC88U
4×4 and 1024-QAM deliver the best possible wireless performance
Speed: 802.11ac: 2167Mbps 802.11n: 1000 Mbps | Connectivity: 9x Gigabit Ethernet, 1x USB 2.0 1x USB 3.0 | Features: 1024-QAM, MU-MIMO, WTFast Gamers Private Network, Asus AiProtection, AsusWRT Software
Fastest possible wireless speeds Comprehensive software interface Expensive Requires special hardware to use fastest speeds
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.
4. Netgear Nighthawk X4S VDSL/ADSL Modem Router D7800
Built-in VDSL modem and 4×4 wireless speeds make this a great all-rounder
Speed: 802.11ac: 1733Mbps, 802.11n: 800 Mbps | Connectivity: 5x Gigabit Ethernet, 2x USB 3.0, 1x eSATA | Features: VDSL 2 modem
4×4 wireless up to 1733 Mbps for great wireless performance VDSL 2 modem Lacks 1024-QAM Requires special hardware to use fastest speeds
Netgear’s D7800 wireless router also has four antennas and can deliver much faster speeds than a standard 802.11ac router, which again, depends on using a compatible adapter or bridge.
It comes with two USB ports and an eSATA connector for a huge amount of connectivity, and a VDSL 2 modem built-in. The software is pretty good too, with a simple Dynamic QOS system to make it easier to manage a home network with a massive amount of devices.
5. Linksys WRT1900ACS
This bright blue box from Linksys is rather impressive
Speed: 802.11ac: 1300 Mbps, 802.11n: 600 Mbps | Connectivity: 5x Gigabit Ethernet, 1x USB 2.0, 1x USB 3.0, eSATA | Features: OpenWRT compatible, LinkSys Smart Wi-Fi support
Slick, comprehensive software Great range and performance with fast USB shared storage Lacks the nifty 4×4 antenna speeds of some routers Relatively pricey
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.
6. D Link EXO AC1750 WiFi Router DIR-869
A no-frills option from D-Link that will certainly work well
Speed: 802.11ac: 1300 Mbps, 802.11n: 450 Mbps | Connectivity: 5x Gigabit Ethernet | Features: Dual-core processor
Offers 3×3 802.11ac wireless, compatible with all current laptops and hardware Slim design No shared storage Few other frills, such as a built-in modem
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.
7. Asus RT-AC68U
Asus’ older performance champion is still a winner
Speed: 802.11ac: 1300 Mbps, 802.11n: 600 Mbps | Connectivity: 5x Gigabit Ethernet, 1x USB 3.0, 1x USB 2.0 | Features: Asus AiProtection, AsusWRT Software
Great software Great performance and range Not as fast as its RT-AC88U cousin No built-in DSL modem
Asus makes great routers with particularly good on-board software, but if your budget can’t stretch to the all-singing RT-AC88U, the firm’s slightly older RT-AC68U is still rather nifty.
It’s a more traditional 3×3 802.11ac model, but with the same software as used on all other Asus networking kit, which is a very good thing. So many small details are covered, from a notification system to simplified updates, that it puts Asus in front of nearly every other manufacturers by some distance.
And with still-excellent wireless performance and range, this older model can now be found for under £150 too.
Read the full review: Asus RT-AC68U
8. Synology Router RT1900ac
Synology’s first router meets high expectations
Speed: 802.11ac: 1300 Mbps, 802.11n: 600 Mbps | Connectivity: 5x Gigabit Ethernet, 1x USB 3.0, 1x USB 2.0 | Features: Synology Router Manager software
Familiar, spectacular software design SD-card slot is a great idea Only one USB port No modem
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.
9. TP-Link Archer C9
Inexpensive but powerful 802.11ac router
Speed: 802.11ac: 1300 Mbps, 802.11n: 600 Mbps | Connectivity: 5x Gigabit Ethernet, 1x USB 3.0, 1x USB 2.0 | Features:
Great value Full range of features Middling USB performance Not the best range
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.
10. AVM Fritz!Box 3490
Advanced software features and good performance
Speed: 802.11ac: 1300 Mbps, 802.11n: 450 Mbps | Connectivity: 4x Gigabit Ethernet, 2x USB 3.0 | Features: VDSL 2 modem
Dual USB 3 ports Advanced software configuration features Why only 4 ethernet ports? Features a little sparse compared with some alternatives
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.