An Asus RT-AX88U Wi-Fi router on a stylized golden background.
ASUS
Update, 9/21/21: We’ve reviewed our recommendations and are confident these are still the best routers you can buy.

How to Shop For a Router in 2021

We think Wi-Fi 6 is extremely important when picking a Wi-Fi router for 2021. If you’re buying a new router, you want it to be future-proof for a few years, and you can get very reasonably priced Wi-Fi 6 routers. Gigabit internet is becoming more common, too—and if you want the best router for gigabit internet, you want Wi-Fi 6.

However, we’ve also included a few router models that don’t have Wi-Fi 6, but they offer compelling features like a highly affordable price or best-in-class VPN configuration.

We don’t think there’s a best router for Xfinity, Spectrum, Verizon FIOS, or any other internet service provider. We recommend you pick whichever router fits your needs. The only thing that is ISP-specific is your modem, so this only matters if you’re choosing a combined router-modem unit. For most people, we recommend a separate router and modem, which will give you more choices.

Beyond that, it all comes down to how much money you want to spend, which features you’re looking for, and how much bleeding-edge technology you want in your wireless router.

Best Wi-Fi Router: Asus AX6000 (RT-AX88U)

Asus AX6000 on pink and yellow background
ASUS

Pros

  • Wi-Fi 6 and future-proof hardware
  • Packed with features
  • 6000 Mbps speeds

Cons

  • No Tri-Band
  • Not the fastest Wi-Fi 6 Router
  • Not the cheapest Wi-Fi 6 router

If you’re looking for the best Wi-Fi router for a home, take a look at the Asus AX6000. It’s not the most expensive Wi-Fi 6 router you can buy—nowhere near it—but it’s not the cheapest, either.

This router comes with future-proof Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax), WPA3 security, 6000 Mbps maximum speed, dual-band technology, built-in VPN support, QoS (quality of service) for prioritizing certain types of network traffic, free built-in parental controls, and security features for blocking malware. For example, it has built-in VPN client support for the OpenVPN, PPTP, and L2TP protocols, enabling the router to connect to a VPN and route all your internet traffic through that VPN.

Wi-Fi 6 isn’t just about speed. Thanks to OFDMA technology, this dual-band router is excellent for keeping a strong signal at longer ranges with Wi-Fi 6 services compared to the previous 802.11ac technology, also known as Wi-Fi 5.

On the back of the router, you’ll find a whopping eight gigabit Ethernet ports for connecting wired devices. It’s also compatible with Asus AiMesh, which helps you set up a mesh network by adding extra Asus routers—although we recommend a dedicated mesh system if you’re thinking about a mesh network.

Realistically, any solid router, including this one, is a good option for streaming from services like Netflix, Hulu, and YouTube. As long as your streaming devices have a strong Wi-Fi signal on a powerful Wi-Fi 6 router, you’re in business. (For coverage over a wider area, consider a mesh Wi-Fi system.)

Our Top Pick

Asus AX6000 (RT-AX88U)

Our favorite Wi-Fi 6 router offers 6000 Mbps speeds and is packed with features. It's a good middle ground between a budget router and a more expensive model packed with bleeding-edge technologies.

Best Budget Router: TP-Link Archer AX3000 (AX50)

TP Link AX3000 next to computer
TP-Link

Pros

  • Wi-Fi 6 on a budget
  • Solid and reliable

Cons

  • Only 3000 Mbps speeds
  • No WPA3 security
  • Fewer features

Not everyone needs an expensive router. Whether you only need to cover a small area with a few devices or you want to save some cash, we recommend the TP-Link Archer AX3000, also called the Archer AX50. This modern router comes with Wi-Fi 6, and it’s substantially cheaper than our pick for the best Wi-Fi router.

If you don’t want to splurge for our top pick, it is hard to go wrong with the TP-Link Archer AX50.

TP-Link’s AX3000 has to cut some technological corners, of course. While the Asus model we recommend tops out at 6000 Mbps throughput, this TP-Link model maxes out at 3000 Mbps. TP-Link has not included WPA3 security with this router. It also features only four gigabit LAN ports for wired Ethernet devices instead of eight.

Without a feature like AiMesh, you can’t add extra routers to create a seamless mesh network later. It has a built-in VPN server you can use to remotely connect to your home network from the internet, but it can’t function as a VPN client that routes all your internet traffic through a VPN.

If that all sounds fine to you, you’d be surprised how many high-end features you can get at this lower price point. Of course, the router features Wi-Fi 6 with OFDMA for boosting range when connecting to Wi-Fi 6 devices. You get dual-band technology and free built-in parental controls, too.

We don’t recommend spending less than this on a router if you can help it. With Wi-Fi 6 hardware this affordable, it’s an excellent opportunity to future-proof your network. If you spend less, you’ll either get a solid Wi-Fi 5 router or a particularly slow Wi-Fi 6 router.

Wi-Fi 6 on a Budget

TP-Link Archer AX3000 (AX50)

A rock-solid Wi-Fi 6 router at a very reasonable price, but it's slower and omits some features.

Best Gaming Router: Asus ROG Rapture GT-AX11000

Asus ROG GT-AX11000 on dark grey background
ASUS

Pros

  • 11000 Mbps speeds
  • Tri-band Wi-Fi
  • Packed with cutting-edge features

Cons

  • It's pricey

Gaming routers aren’t just for gaming. High-end routers with the latest features are generally branded “gaming routers.” If you want bleeding-edge technology, take a look at gaming routers—even if you never play games.

Gaming routers are a category of their own, promising impressive hardware packed with all the latest features. Our top router pick is also a gaming router, but if you’re looking for the best gaming router with the most features, you’ll want to spend a bit more.

The Asus ROG Rapture GT-AX11000 is an absolute monster of a router with the latest cutting-edge technology. It’s an upgrade over Asus’s RT-AX88U with all of that router’s features, such as tri-band support with 11000 Mbps maximum speed. This Asus route has some seriously high-speed Wi-Fi.

That tri-band support means you can isolate your gaming devices—-PC, Xbox, PlayStation, Nintendo Switch, or anything else—on their own band of Wi-Fi, ensuring other devices on your home aren’t competing for wireless traffic on your gaming Wi-Fi network.

While the router has aggressive gamer styling, it’s not just about how the hardware looks. This router Asus ROG (Republic of Gamers)-themed right down to easy control over the router’s features in Asus’s ROG Gaming Center interface.

This router also features an innovative feature called VPN Fusion, which lets you manually assign specific devices to go through different connections at the router level. Using the router’s interface, you could have your laptop go through a work VPN, your personal computer go through a different VPN for privacy, and your gaming console connects directly to the internet and bypass the VPN.

Best Gaming Router

Asus GT-AX11000 Tri-Band Router

A monster of a router for gamers and anyone else who wants the fastest speed and more bleeding-edge features.

Best Mesh Router: Asus ZenWiFi AX6600 (XT8)

Asus ZenWifi on pink background
ASUS

Pros

  • Wi-Fi 6
  • 5500 square feet of coverage
  • QoS for traffic prioritization

Cons

  • More expensive than mesh systems without Wi-Fi 6
  • Not as simple to configure as Google Nest Wifi

A mesh Wi-Fi system combines a router with one or more extenders. You place these units throughout an area—for example, in different rooms throughout your home—and get a stronger signal throughout a much larger area than a single router unit could cover. They’re an excellent solution for coverage throughout large homes, pushing your signal out into the yard, or boosting coverage anywhere you have a weak signal or dead zones.

Compared to a traditional wireless range extender, a mesh network system is much more seamless. Range extenders generally create their own separate network with its own name, forcing your device to connect to the main router or the extended network. A mesh networking system has a single Wi-Fi network name, and all the devices are aware of each other and can work together intelligently and seamlessly. It’s more simple to set up than configuring a traditional range extender, too.

We like the Asus ZenWiFi AX6600 (XT8) because, unlike many other mesh Wi-Fi systems, it supports Wi-Fi 6. It comes with two units and promises coverage for a total area of up to 5500 square feet. This is the best Wi-Fi 6 mesh router, thanks to features like QoS (quality of service) support for prioritizing traffic and optional anti-malware and parental control features.

Netgear’s Orbi 6 is also a strong contender, but it’s even more expensive than the Asus ZenWiFi hardware we recommend, and it lacks some of ZenWifi’s features.

Want more coverage? You can buy additional satellites separately and add them to your AiMesh network. The best router for a large house is a mesh system with however many satellites you need.

If you’re looking for the best long-range router, choose a mesh Wi-Fi system. It will give you robust and consistent coverage throughout your home (or business). If you want to extend your Wi-Fi network out into the yard, consider placing one of the satellites at the edge of your home.

Best Mesh Wi-Fi

ASUS ZenWiFi AX6600 (XT8) (2 Pack)

A powerful mesh Wi-Fi system with Wi-Fi 6 and Quality of Service (QoS) traffic prioritization.

Best Budget Mesh Router: Google Nest Wifi

Google Mesh Wifi on table
Google

Pros

  • Mesh Wi-Fi on a budget
  • Simple configuration

Cons

  • No Wi-Fi 6

Google’s Nest Wifi is a user-friendly mesh Wi-Fi system that’s been given excellent reviews all over the web. It’s not just a budget mesh system: It’s many people’s top pick for a simple, easy-to-set-up Wi-Fi network with a stylish design.

Where other routers offer a complicated web interface, Google offers simple configuration through the Google Home app. You can also control your wireless network by talking to Google Assistant—for example, you can tell it to reboot your router or turn off the Wi-Fi to specific devices. Nest Wifi points even have built-in smart speakers with Google Assistant.

We can’t recommend Nest Wifi as our top pick for one big reason: Google doesn’t yet offer Wi-Fi 6 support, and that’s too important a feature when upgrading your router in 2021. You’ll get 802.11ac, also known as Wi-Fi 5.

That said, if Wi-Fi 6 isn’t necessary for you or you want to save some cash on a solid mesh system, it’s hard to go wrong with Google Nest Wifi. A two-pack is cheaper than the Asus ZenWiFi AX (XT8), and Google promises 4400 square feet of coverage. Or, pick a three-pack to cover up to 6600 square feet.

You can even purchase a single Nest Wifi device if the convenience of Google’s software appeals to you, if 2200 square feet is good enough, and you don’t need to cover a large area.

Mesh on a Budget

Google Nest Wifi (2 Pack)

An inexpensive mesh Wi-Fi system with a simple setup process.

Best Modem Router Combo: NETGEAR Nighthawk CAX80

Netgear Nighthawk on blue and purple background
NETGEAR

Pros

  • Wi-Fi 6
  • Gigabit-capable DOCSIS 3.1 modem

Cons

  • Fewer features
  • A combo unit is a worse value

Let’s be clear: You don’t need a combined modem router combo unit. You can buy any of the routers here and connect it to your ISP’s modem, or you can buy your own modem (like the Motorola MB8600, which is ready for gigabit internet) and connect any of the routers in this list to that. You have many more options when you pick a router and modem separately.

But some people want that combo unit. After all, it’s just one device instead of two—there’s a sleek simplicity in that. (If that doesn’t sound important to you, a modem router combo is almost certainly not for you!)

If you’re looking for a modem router combo that works with Cox, Spectrum, Xfinity, we like the NETGEAR Nighthawk CAX80 here. It’s one of the few modem router combo units that supports Wi-Fi 6. It also features a built-in DOCSIS 3.1 modem, meaning it can work with gigabit internet connections.

Beyond the modem, you have a solid high-end Netgear Nighthawk dual-band Wi-Fi 6 router with 6000 Mbps maximum speeds and OFDMA for long-range Wi-Fi 6 connections.

Unfortunately, it can’t match all the features of our top picks: This router doesn’t support WPA3 security. There’s no QoS (quality of service) support for prioritizing traffic. You cannot configure the router as a VPN client to route all your internet traffic through the VPN, as you can with our top overall router and top gaming router picks from Asus.

While Asus and TP-Link offer free lifetime subscriptions to their router’s security services, NETGEAR only provides a free 30-day trial, after which you’ll have to pay for additional time if you want to use it.

Overall, we think it makes sense to get both a router and a modem separately. But, if you want a single unit, this is the one to buy.

Best Modem Router Combo

NETGEAR Nighthawk CAX80

A combo unit with a Wi-Fi 6 router and a gigabit-capable DOCSIS 3.1 modem.

Best VPN Router: Linksys WRT3200ACM

Linksys route on pink background
Linksys

Pros

  • Use a VPN for your entire network
  • Custom router firmware from ExpressVPN for easy configuration

Cons

  • No Wi-Fi 6
  • 2600 Mbps speeds

Some routers come with built-in VPN support. The router connects your VPN, and all devices on the network that connects through the router will automatically connect to the VPN. This is useful if you have to connect to a business network or if you want to route all your online traffic through a VPN for privacy.

If you’re looking for a router with a VPN client, consider looking at the Asus AX6000 (RT-AX88U), our top router pick overall. It includes built-in support for connecting to VPNs as well as modern Wi-Fi 6 technology. You can download OpenVPN configuration files and upload them to the router’s interface to configure the VPN client.

For even more control, take a look at the Asus GT-AX11000, our pick for best gaming router, which has a “VPN Fusion” feature that lets you configure your network to send only traffic from specific devices over the VPN.

However, typical routers don’t offer the most user-friendly method of connecting to a VPN, especially if you want to change settings. Our pick for the best VPN router works very well with ExpressVPN, which is our favorite VPN. ExpressVPN offers a custom router firmware you can install on this router, which will give you a user-friendly interface for connecting to ExpressVPN and customizing the VPN settings on your router.

There’s just one downside: You can’t yet get a router that supports ExpressVPN’s custom router firmware (or firmware like OpenWrt and DD-WRT) and Wi-Fi 6. But, we think that if VPN support is your main concern, it could be worth holding off on Wi-Fi 6 for now.

We recommend the Linksys WRT3200ACM open-source router, which is ExpressVPN’s recommendation for the most powerful router the company’s software supports. Yes, it’s just an 802.11ac (Wi-Fi 5) router, but it supports speeds of up to 2600 Mbps, and its MU-MIMO technology will provide better performance with multiple devices than the alternative models supported by ExpressVPN. For a cheaper model that ExpressVPN also supports, try the Netgear R6700, which offers speeds of up to 1750 Mbps.

After purchasing the router, you can quickly and easily upgrade it with custom firmware. You’re free to roll back the router to its original firmware at any time, too.

Custom VPN Firmware

Linksys WRT3200ACM

With a custom router firmware created by ExpressVPN, you can easily configure a VPN for your entire network.

Best Cheap Router Under $100: TP-Link Archer AC1750 (A7)

TP-Link Archer on green and blue background
TP-Link

Pros

  • A solid router at a low price

Cons

  • No Wi-Fi 6
  • 1750 Mbps speeds

If you’re looking for an even cheaper home router than our top budget pick, try the TP-Link Archer AC1750, also known as the Archer A7. It’s older and doesn’t have Wi-Fi 6—only Wi-Fi 5. We recommend stepping it up and getting a Wi-Fi 6 router if you can afford it, however. If you choose a router without Wi-Fi 6, you might feel compelled to upgrade again very soon.

But, if you have a small area to cover and don’t have too many devices, you’ll likely be pretty pleased with this hardware.

This router delivers speeds of up to 1750 Mbps, compared to 3000 Mbps for our top budget pick and 6000 Mbps for our overall top router. You can still connect Wi-Fi 6 devices, but they’ll run at slower Wi-Fi 5 speeds. Wireless performance will suffer at longer distances and with more devices. But, for a small house or apartment with just a few devices, you could be satisfied with this hardware.

We don’t recommend spending less than this for a router—or even trying to get Wi-Fi 6 at this price range. For example, TP-Link itself offers a similarly priced router with Wi-Fi 6, the TP-Link AX1500. Despite that Wi-Fi 6 promise, the router is slower than this Wi-Fi 5 router, topping out at 1500 Mbps. For now, if this is your price range, we recommend you stick with a reliable Wi-Fi 5 router.

Excellent Value

TP-Link Archer AC1750 (A7)

A rock-solid router at a low price. However, it's slower, and you don't get Wi-Fi 6.

Best Travel Router: TP-Link AC750

TP-Link AC750 in bag
TP-Link

Pros

  • Turn any Ethernet port into a Wi-Fi hotspot
  • Better than hotel Wi-Fi
  • Inexpensive

Cons

  • Slower than home routers (but faster than hotel Wi-Fi)

A travel router is a must-have for anyone who’s sick of dealing with hotel Wi-Fi. More than that, it’s a must-have for setting up your own solid little Wi-Fi network anywhere you have access to a wired Ethernet connection.

Hotel Wi-Fi is rough. The speeds are often very slow, and you may only be able to connect a few devices. You’ll have to manually connect to the network and type a password on each device you use. But, generally, there’s an Ethernet port right in your room.

A travel router is a small, portable device that you can connect to Ethernet ports like this. It will quickly create your own personal Wi-Fi bubble using that wired network. You can connect all your devices without typing a new password—they’ll remember your travel network credentials—and you won’t be dependent on the hotel’s slow Wi-Fi.

The TP-Link AC750 is an excellent travel router. It doesn’t have Wi-Fi 6, but let’s be honest: neither do most hotel Wi-Fi networks. It’s a wireless AC (Wi-Fi 5) router that can deliver speeds of up to 733 Mbps—a lot faster than what typical hotel Wi-Fi will provide—and it’s very inexpensive and compact.

This device is also created by TP-Link, a trusted manufacturer with an excellent reputation that makes our top budget and cheap router picks.

Better Than Hotel Wi-Fi

TP-Link AC750

An inexpensive way to get better Wi-Fi in hotels (and elsewhere) while traveling.

Best Wi-Fi 6E Router: Asus ROG Rapture GT-AXE11000

Asus GT AXE11000 on yellow background
ASUS

Pros

  • Bleeding-edge Wi-Fi 6E
  • Our top gaming router, upgraded

Cons

  • Few devices have Wi-Fi 6E
  • It's pricey

Now that Wi-Fi 6 is standard on new devices, the industry has already moved on to hyping up Wi-Fi 6E. Wi-Fi 6E is Wi-Fi 6, but it can also run on the 6GHz band instead of just the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands that Wi-Fi 6 and previous versions of Wi-Fi use. It could reduce wireless congestion and speed things up in areas where many devices are communicating wirelessly.

Wi-Fi 6E is the hot new thing router companies are pushing, but you don’t need it quite. Very few devices support it right. Samsung released the world’s first smartphone with Wi-Fi 6E, the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, in January 2021.

Still, if you’ve got one of those rare Wi-Fi 6E devices or you want to be future-proof with the most powerful technology possible, you might want to get a router that supports Wi-FI 6E. This is a new, bleeding-edge technology, so routers that support it will be even more expensive than our other top picks.

If Wi-FI 6E is important to you, check out the Asus ROG Rapture GT-AXE11000. This is the same router as our top gaming router pick with an updated design and Wi-Fi 6E support. You get all of its powerful, bleeding-edge features—plus Wi-Fi 6E.

Consider it a step up for those who want the best, most future-proof hardware they can get their hands on.

Best Wi-Fi 6E Router

Asus ROG Rapture GT-AXE11000

All the powerful features in our top gaming router pick, plus Wi-Fi 6E.

Chris Hoffman Chris Hoffman
Chris Hoffman is Editor-in-Chief of How-To Geek. He's written about technology for over a decade and was a PCWorld columnist for two years. Chris has written for The New York Times, been interviewed as a technology expert on TV stations like Miami's NBC 6, and had his work covered by news outlets like the BBC. Since 2011, Chris has written over 2,000 articles that have been read nearly one billion times---and that's just here at How-To Geek.
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