The wireless router is a key piece of equipment for home or office networks. For top performance of the wireless network connecting your laptops, tablets and often some desktop computers, you have to get one of the best wireless routers available.
If you have old computers and a slow Internet connection, you can get an inexpensive router and it will perform adequately. If you have fast broadband and newer computers, an older router might actually slow down your Internet access. PCMag has an overview of top wireless routers and CNET reviews some of them in detail. There are two major new developments in wireless networking and it makes sense to spend a bit more now for the top models to avoid having to replace a less expensive router in a year or two.
Wireless networking operates according to the IEEE 802.11 standard. The IEEE has published many versions of the standard, since wireless networking became common, but the two latest are the “n” and the “ac” versions. Both are much faster than the older “b” and “g” versions and the top routers all use these new versions to get very high transfer speeds.
The 802.11n routers support speeds of up to 900 Mbps and the best wireless routers of this class have the ability to transmit both on the older 2.4 GHz band and the new, less congested 5 GHz band. The advantage of these routers is that you can be sure the network is not the bottleneck for browsing the Internet.
The 802.11ac standard is even faster, supporting Gbps speeds. The problem with this newest standard is that as of February, 2013, the IEEE has not yet approved it. The standard is still officially a draft and there may be changes. If you buy one of these routers, you will have the latest technology, but may have to undertake updates if the IEEE approves the draft with major changes.
Internet addresses are in the process of transitioning from the present IPv4 to the future IPv6. There are few IPv4 addresses left and IPv6 addresses are already being assigned. At the moment, both systems work together, but at some time in the future, IPv4 addresses will work less and less well. You may not be able to access some IPv4 websites in a few years if the transition happens quickly. For long-term planning, a router with IPv6 capability is preferable.
Best Wireless Routers on Amazon
Buying wireless routers can be daunting, even if you know the basics about wireless standards and IP addresses. Amazon lists a huge number of routers and many get good or excellent reviews. The best wireless routers have to include “n” or “ac” technology, dual band capability, and IPv6 compatibility. You may be able to do without one of these features, if there are other good reasons to buy the router, but these are the most important for long-term value and immediate top performance.
This router is a good all-round model with dual-band wireless “n” capability, good speed and four wired ports, along with IPv6 compatibility. It also has a USB 2.0 port for network attached storage if you want to have access to storage directly on the network. It needs a connection to Cisco to access all the features and settings, which makes it more customizable, but slightly more work than units you can just set up and forget about.
The Netgear router has all the features of the Linksys EA 4500, but has a setup wizard that you run and forget about. In real-world tests, it had the fastest performance of the best wireless-n routers.
This Buffalo router gives you the four wired ports, USB port and IPv6 compatibility of the “n” routers, but delivers a higher speed, whether it is performing on the “n” specification or the new “ac” draft version. You can set it up with a CD, using the included guide, or manually by connecting a computer via one of the wired ports. You need “ac” capable computers to get the full benefit.
This N900 router is great value from a lesser-known router manufacturer. It features seven wired ports and two USB ports as well as dual-band capability and IPv6 compatibility. If you want to connect more than four desktop computers in wired Ethernet configuration in addition to your wireless network, this model allows you to connect up to seven. Its other outstanding feature is its range.
This wireless “ac” router is one of Cisco’s top routers and it delivers among the fastest performances with an easy setup. You have a choice of managing the router locally or from Cisco’s cloud connection. For the latter, you have to open a Cisco account. The range is not as good as some of the other routers, however.
You can buy any of these five routers on Amazon and get exceptional performance. Your main decision is whether to go for an “ac” router now or to get the current “n” standard. A Cisco cloud connection account offers some advantages, but others may find it to be an added complication. Make sure you get enough wired ports or you may have to get a hub later. This list of the best wireless routers should help you satisfy your wireless networking needs for many years.