Home Wi-Fi Router Reviews: Wireless Wonders

WiFi remains one of the most popular protocols for home automation, due in no small part to the fact that just about everyone has some sort of WiFi router in their homes to handle their internet connection and ensure that their smartphones can access Facebook.

Although WiFi protocols theoretically support thousands of unique IP addresses and therefore devices, in practice most low-end home routers are going to choke when too much traffic is sent through them.

If you are still using the router that your service provider gave away for free or a very cheap one, you’ll probably want to upgrade to something better before you start adding lots of WiFi-enabled smart devices to your home.

Here I have taken the best-selling routers and evaluated them as an alternative to cheap OEM routers and low end devices that saturate homes all over the world. I have put the ones that have impressed me most at the top of the pile and the rest of the reviews are in no particular order.

Best Overall: Netgear AC1750 Smart Wi-Fi Router

Netgear is a pretty well-known name in the network hardware world and their reputation is not bad by half. This sexy little number from the company definitely has a nice futuristic and angular look to it.

You get 450 Mbps of 2.4Ghz bandwidth and 1300 Mbps of 5Ghz WiFi. This router has been designed for those who need range, speed, and multiple WiFi devices.

Unlike many other, cheaper routers, this Netgear unit has two processor cores. What this means is that it has double the processing power available to handle network routing tasks. Simply put, this means devices don’t have to wait in line for as long in order to send information. There are also two USB ports; one is USB3 and the other USB2. They allow for the attachment of storage devices so that files may be shared across the home network.

The Netgear uses a method known as beamforming to improve range and signal quality and apparently it works pretty well, if you listen to the people who own one.

What’s also really nice about the Netgear is the fact that it comes with a user-friendly app that lets you access the router’s functions without having to resort to dialing in via a web browser and a raw IP address.

Most importantly, it lets you access the router even if you are away from home, something that is mighty useful in practice.

Although the AC1750 is somewhat pricey, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a more powerful and versatile device in this price class. This is almost the perfect choice for small to medium home automation projects.

Ultimate Home Automation Pick: Eero Home WiFi System

You know that phrase “and now for something completely different”? Well, that perfectly describes these weird eero things. The result of a new startup, it’s hard to tell what the eero system is supposed to be just at a glance. Are they range extenders? Are they routers? Why are there three?

These are all good questions and the simple answer is that it’s complicated. You see, these are sort of range extenders that also do the routing. All three eeros are in sync with each other but are also an independent device. Each unit can cover 1000 square feet by itself, so that means this five hundred dollar three-pack is good for 3000 square feet. Yes indeed, cheap this is not. So I can’t really recommend it as a top pick since the appeal will only be for particularly well-heeled people, but I think the way the eero is designed fits very well with the distributed internet of things ethos behind home automation. You sort of spread these around the place and blanket your home or business in a cloud of data.

One eero plugs into your internet modem. The rest just need power, they can be set up from the internet-connected one. These are gigabit ethernet routers, so we are talking high speed WiFi over every inch of your home.

These are no slouches either, every eero is dual core with half a gig of RAM. It’s got the security and control options you need and more and it still has support for 2.4Ghz gear and Bluetooth Smart! This is basically a home automator’s dream. There is also a mobile app, which is unsurprising.

Looking through feedback from people who have invested in eeros it seems they have had the same idea. The eeros are being used to string together things like WiFi cameras and garage door openers.

This first generation mesh network for the home is not perfect and the creators are fixing bugs in the firmware as they crop up, but there is no doubt that affordable and fast wireless meshes like these are the future if smart homes and the single-router approach can’t keep going on. It is expensive, but if you can afford it I highly recommend the eeros.

Almost Ultimate Pick: TP-LINK OnHub AC1900 Wireless Wi-Fi Router – Google

Here’s another wacky one for you. We’ve had spaceships and dull looking plastic boxes with everything else in between, but this is something else. This is an OnHub.

The design and specifications of the OnHub comes from Google, but this one is made by TP-Link.There is another model that is made by Asus.

Both are cylindrical, but have subtle design differences. That round body hides a lot of advanced tech. The OnHub has been designed with modern home automation in mind. It can handle more than 100 devices at the same time. It has thirteen antennas that can cover 2500 square feet. It comes with peerless tech support and has a very long two-year warranty; yet I am more convinced by the eeros system about what the future of home WiFi looks like than I am by this.

Don’t get me wrong, this is a great product, and if you don’t have the money for the eeros system you certainly will not be disappointed. But the eeros remains my favorite between these two models.

Best Budget Pick: TP-LINK AC1200

As the name suggests, this is an 802.11ac router from TP-Link. A very well-priced one, I might add. This may very well be one of the most affordable products featuring the latest and greatest WiFi technology.

Being less expensive than most, the AC1200 only provides 300Mbps on the 2.4Ghz band. No matter though, that’s enough for most smart WiFi devices, which usually don’t need much bandwidth, especially if your high bandwidth devices are using the 5Ghz band. This router also has a USB port that allows for the attachment of storage devices.

The majority of people who have used this are stoked about the speed and range of the device, but a small number of people have reported WiFi problems with specific devices such as some Amazon Kindles. Some people also seems to have frequent router crashes requiring a manual restart. Not a good thing, but all fixable via a firmware update.

The good price, high speed, extended range, and robust feature set make this a compelling
choice.

The Advanced Pick: Linksys WRT1900ACS Dual-Band Smart Wi-Fi Gigabit Router

I was honestly surprised not to see more products from Linksys on the best selling lists for routers. I think the most likely explanation for this is the generally higher price of Linksys gear, but then again Linksys is a more premium brand. So it all evens out.

This is another AC1900 device that delivers more bandwidth than you are likely to need for a long time, including 600Mbps of bandwidth on the older 2.4 Ghz band.

I has four external antennas that are suitable for an office environment as well as a home with multiple floors. This is another fast dual core router, which means that it should excel in situations where it has to serve multiple devices at the same time – exactly what you want in a home automation scenario. To support the CPU the device has a whopping 512MB of RAM. This means that high bandwidth tasks such as large file transfers will happen much faster.

It comes with remote smart WiFi apps that you can use to monitor and control your network, with clear visual maps of what’s going on.

It has the expected USB 3 and 2 ports, but adds eSata for more high-speed storage options.

The really surprising thing is the official support, or at least encouragement, from Linksys when it comes to custom open source firmware. The company says openly that its router is ready for this option for advanced users.

As usual there are complaints about bugs in certain versions of the firmware and instructions that are not super simple, but in the right hands this is a virtually bulletproof choice.

AFOUNDRY 300Mbps Wireless Router

The Afoundry router looks more like a car audio amplifier than a WiFi router, but Afoundry says that this helps with cooling and adds that the all-metal looks “more high-end and can improve your taste”. While that claim may be debatable I think that it looks OK, especially since most people don’t showcase their WiFi routers, so really it doesn’t matter all that much.

The claim that better cooling will provide a more stable network connection is also pretty dubious as I doubt any modern router chipsets require special cooling considerations to work as advertised.

No fewer than five antenna suggest that the Afoundry means business, but there is almost no information on how it actually performs and it seems as if the firmware is in written Chinese.

For these reasons I would probably avoid this particular product.

TP-LINK Archer C7 AC1750

Ah, yes. Good old TP-Link. These guys are one of the largest manufacturers of network gear in the world, focusing a bit more on quantity over quality. The upside of this is that their stuff, even the good stuff, is significantly cheaper than comparable products from other brands. In my personal experience I have found TP-Link products to be a hit and miss. Sometimes you get a good, reliable product and other times it is a driverless, tech support devoid mess.

So which is the Archer?

In terms of specifications this router is the boss at this price. It has 1.75 Gbps of total bandwidth split between 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz networks. Since so many home automation products still use 2.4Ghz WiFi it means there is 450 Mbps of bandwidth open to those devices that doesn’t have to be shared with your shiny new 802.11ac devices that use the 5Ghz band.

There are also two USB ports that allow for storage devices to be attached so that you can share files to everyone on the network.

There are also other very useful features such as per-IP bandwidth limitation and guest network access. There are also three additional internal antennas.

TP-Link offers 24/7 technical support too, which is a big step up from the last time I had to deal with their stuff.

It turns out, though, that although the general consensus is positive some customers have chronic reliability problems with some firmware revisions. For some people switching to an open third-party firmware such as OpenWRT changes the Archer from a solid to rock-solid device.

I have to admit, I’m surprised to feel so positive about a TP-Link product, but the hardware in the Archer seems pretty darn good. It’s also priced very well for the specifications. This seems like a good contender for the budget home automator.

ASUS RT-AC68U WiFi

I have already expressed my dislike for this vertical style of router, but the carbon black finish goes a long way to making me feel better about the whole thing. You can get it in white too, but I wouldn’t personally. Asus is now particularly known for routers, but they are a giant in the computer hardware world, so I have no doubt that they at least know how to make one.

This is another router that provides 600Mbps of 2.4Ghz speed and 1300Mbps for the 5Ghz band. This Asus unit is clearly a physically different unit, but its feature set is suspiciously similar to that of the Archer C9. It also uses beamforming (with Asus branding, obviously) and the same USB support for storage and printing. In this case the app is known as AIcloud and the router software is ASUSWRT.

There is very little to say about this router that’s negative. The minor bugs that have been reported are already fixed in the latest firmware, so if you like the design and want a top-notch dual core monster home router then this is a great choice.

NETGEAR Nighthawk AC1900 Review

The Nighthawk is the AC1750’s older, cooler brother who smokes and rides a motorcycle. Consequently it is sixty-six percent more expensive and this is not even close to the top-end of the Nighthawk range. The AC1900 offers more bandwidth on the 2.4Ghz band, which is where most home automation stuff still lives. In total there is 1.9 Gbps of bandwidth available.Like the AC1750, the Nighthawk is a dual-core system with beamforming technology and all the same user-friendly software, including remote access apps. You also still have the USB ports and cloud-sharing functions. Essentially this is the same feature set, just with quite a bit more speed. The problem is that, unless you are going to be running high bandwidth applications on the .24Ghz band, the extra 150Mbps is not really going to benefit anyone.

The AC1900 is a pretty good router, but the price premium over the AC1750 just isn’t worth it in my opinion.

TP-LINK N300 Review

Say what you want about the N300, but you have to admit this is one of the cheapest routers you could possibly buy today. At just a shade over twenty bucks this is right at the bottom of the range, a place where the mega-manufacturer TP-Link can really flex its muscle.

This router is understandably not equipped with the latest 802.11ac at this price, but for home automation we mostly don’t care about that just yet. Even at this price you get two antennas, which means for a small apartment environment there should be more than enough signal strength and reliability.

Unfortunately, it turns out that consumers are finding this to be a laughably unreliable product, with plenty of people citing failure within the first week of use. This is one to avoid, I think.

Netgear N300

The Netgear N300 uses a vertical form factor, which makes it easy to integrate in a neat way with the rest of your hardware. It would look nice on a bookshelf or next to a home entertainment system, for example.

This is an 802.11n unit and of course it is more than just a router. This is primarily sold as a router and cable modem combo. This is nice because it is an all-in-one solution. The N300 has a USB port in order to share a portable hard drive over the network, which is a feature I personally really enjoy. It is doubly useful since this router also provides DLNA streaming services.

Despite the lack of external antennas the N300 is rated for medium sized homes, which means that apartment-dwellers should have nothing to worry about. You can set up guest access and enable parental controls to stop your kids from visiting the naughty sites on the net.

One of the nice things about this product is the inclusion of a user-friendly mobile app called Netgear Genie. Setting it up is a simple case of scanning a QR code and it lets you do neat things like play media files, transfer files between devices much more quickly, and make any printer AirPrint compatible for all the Apple fans out there.

Now for the bad news, it seems as if the N300 suffers from slow WiFi speeds and that the USB drive sharing feature is more than a bit unreliable. Specifically, this router has problems when multiple devices are connected to it, which is exactly what we want to do in a home automation scenario. This means you should avoid this one like the plague.

TP-LINK Archer C9

I’m a little split on the styling and design of the Archer C9. I mean, it is not ugly or anything, but whenever I have seen some of these vertical kickstand designs I have always wondered what the point is. There are plenty of routers that are designed to stand flat or to stand upright, but these designs make it look as if the designer changed their mind halfway through.

The Archer C9 is an 802.11ac router that provides 1900Mbps of total bandwidth, 600 of which is dedicated to the 2.4 Ghz band, which most home automation gear uses.

The three dual-band antennas are actually removable if you have limited space and don’t need the extra range, or simply don’t want to broadcast your connection to all your neighbouring apartment dwellers.

The Archer C9 uses the same beamforming technology as the rest of the range and also sports USB ports for external storage.

Problem is that there are only two things that set this router apart from its cheaper cousins and competition – the looks and the speed. So if you need the speed (sorry) and like the way it all looks then I can’t say this is a bad choice.

Securifi Almond

Now what is this? Why does this router have screens on its side? What’s this strange looking thing?

It’s a work of genius, that’s what it is. This is a router that does not need another device like a computer, tablet, or smartphone in order to access its functions. Usually you have to enter an IP address in order to set up a router or change settings. Not so for the Almond, that has a touchscreen right on the side that allows you to set it up and everything else you can normally do through a browser.

What is really crazy is that the Almond is not that expensive, clocking in at well below a hundred bucks. You can also use the Almond as a straight-up range extender rather than a primary router, but this feels like a waste of its potential.

The real pity is that this is a plain old 300 Mbps Wireless N router, which now seems rather slow compared to Wireless AC routers. In truth however, most people don’t need that much bandwidth.

Is this router suitable for home automation? Well, I can’t really get an indication of whether it can handle many devices or if it has a multicore processor. When I look at customer feedback, however, I really get the sense that this is a reliable and capable product. It also really fits the whole home automation style with the design and touchscreen. Easy controls, good range, and info feedback. This is what modern devices should be like. Quick and simple to use. If you are already invested in high speed AC devices then this is not really an option, but I hope we see a more up-to-date successor to the Almond. This is an idea that should not die.

NETGEAR Nighthawk X6 AC3200 Tri-Band Gigabit Wi-Fi Router

Stand back, ladies and gentlemen! The mothership is landing! Wow, just look at this six-antenna beast. This is the router that Bruce Wayne installed in the Bat Cave. It’s the one that provides internet in supercar factories. It’s all Lamborghini curves and carbon fiber styling. I have no idea who Netgear is targeting with the looks of this thing, but I have a feeling it is aimed at my inner ten-year-old.

You think that AC1900 with its combined 1.9Gbps is pretty fancy right? How about 3.2Gbps? Can you handle that? Can you smell what the Rock is cooking?

Sorry, sorry. It’s just too hardcore. I got swept up in the moment.

Look, something like the Nighthawk X6 is pretty easy to make fun of. It’s expensive, it’s technically overkill for just about anyone, and if I saw one in your home I would probably think you were compensating for something. Despite this, secretly, I immediately wanted one the moment I saw it. I won’t actually buy one because I’m not quite insane yet, but I might put a poster of one up on my wall.

So, this is a tri-band router with the aforementioned 3.2 Gbps combines bandwidth. It has a 1Ghz dual core CPU, which is normal, but then it adds another three offloading CPUs to add extra oomph. The smart connect software also automatically selects the best type of WiFi for every connected device, which helps keep your 2.4Ghz band clear from high speed devices that really should be on other bands.

We still have beamforming, of course and the USB 3 port for high-speed network storage; there is app-based remote access and monitoring.

I can’t make this one of my top picks, despite how much I would like to. The reason is that although the X6 can handle a bazillion devices and would be great for home automation, it is taking the technology in the wrong direction. The eeros have convinced me that distributed WiFi mesh networks are a far better and more reliable solution to the problem of home automation than a single router, even if that single router is the most badass router ever made.

Fastest Route Selected

If there is one thing I have learned while writing this particular page is that router technology has reached the point where it is pretty difficult to find a product that is so bad that it will not do what you need it to. At the same time, there is still no such thing as a perfect router. They all still have bugs, they all still fall over eventually, and they all irritate from time to time.

It’s a pity, because this is an area of technology that can do with rock-solid maturity. Still, many of these products come pretty close and I can’t remember a time when I had to struggle this much in order to choose what was good and what was merely OK. There are a lot of special and valuable devices here, so make sure to read the whole thing in case you skipped over some of the reviews here.

Should it happen that you can’t find what you are looking for among all the routers that I so painstakingly selected for appraisal here, you can go check out another product of my efforts – a buyer’s guide for WiFi routers. Even if you are looking for one of these and need to simply make sense of the jargon, the buyer’s guide(LINK) will help you out.