With the proliferation of smartphones, tablets, streaming boxes, smart TVs and more, the need for a capable wireless router at home is undeniable. Streaming services and online gaming can put a lot of strain on your local network and router, and if you’re sticking with the free option you get as part of your ISP deal, you might notice your connection slowing to a crawl when multiple devices are fighting for bandwidth.

A good setup should offer enough throughput and range performance to provide robust wireless coverage everywhere you need it, and with our picks we aim to help you achieve just that. We've gone through hundreds of expert reviews and long-term usage impressions from actual owners to bring you the best routers you can buy in five distinct categories.

Best Router for Enthusiasts

Asus RT-AC88U AC3100 Dual Band Gigabit Router

Great | Differentiating Features
Excellent wireless speeds and range, MU-MIMO support, eight gigabit LAN ports with Link Aggregation and dual-WAN support.

Good | Most Have It
Powerful home networking features, great user interface.

Average | Competitors May Be Better
Unless you have at least two MU-MIMO enabled devices, you'll be paying a premium for a feature you won't take advantage of yet.

Asus’ latest dual-band 802.11ac router is easily its best to date, with excellent performance and a ton of features. It's expensive for sure but if you must stay on the beeding edge, the RT-AC88U delivers. It's the first home router with a whopping eight Gigabit LAN ports and notably one of the first to offer 4x4 MU-MIMO (Multiple User, Multiple-Input, Multiple-Output) -- which allows it to transmit data with up to four devices simultaneously instead of them taking turns.

The RT-AC88U uses the Broadcom NitroQAM chipset, which is the same chipset used in current AC5300 routers, and can deliver up to 3,167Mbps of combined (theoretical) throughput -- 1,000Mbps on the 2.4GHz band and 2,167Mbps on the 5GHz band. It turned in consistently solid speeds at both close proximity and longer range in tests run by PCMag, CNET, and SmallNetBuilder.

The feature set is similar as you've seen on Asus' previous routers, offering a wealth of management options in a thoughtfully designed user interface. You have AiProtection, Adaptive QoS (quality of service), multiple guest networks, VPN server, plus other bells and whistles that you don’t normally find in a consumer-class router like Link Aggregation and Dual-WAN (one of the LAN ports can be converted into a WAN port). It can also combine both 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz bands into one SSID and intelligently connect devices according to their compatibility.

The addition of 4x4 MU-MIMO is an interesting one as it allows up to four devices to get their own dedicated full-speed Wi-Fi connection simultaneously without slowing down the network. But there are a few caveats to keep in mind before you shell out $300 on this. Primarily the fact that there are only few laptops and smartphones that have MU-MIMO-ready wireless receivers right now, and you need at least a couple of capable devices in your home to start taking advantage of this technology. Also, because of the way that MU-MIMO streams work on a directional basis, unless the devices are in different locations around the house you won’t get any extra benefits over a high end SU-MIMO (Single User Multiple In Multiple Out) router, so make sure it's the right pick for you if you are primarily interested in this next-gen functionality.

Also Great: Netgear Nighthawk X6 AC3200 Tri-Band Router

For packed households or co-working spaces with multiple devices, the Netgear Nighthawk X6 AC3200 Tri-Band Router promises to provide better throughput utilization by separating "slow" and "fast" devices. It does this by running two 5GHz Wi-Fi networks simultaneously, allowing you to use 5GHz 802.11n, at the same time with 802.11ac, without bottlenecking the AC devices.

With the Smart Connect feature turned on you will see only one SSID for both 5GHz networks, in addition to the 2.4Ghz network, and the router will automatically select which band is best for each device. As you would expect from a $300 router you get plenty of advanced network management features and flagship wireless performance. If you have intense networking needs -- think more than half a dozen devices transferring lots of data wirelessly at the same time -- a tri-band router would make sense and you're more likely to make the most of it with the devices you own today.

Best Router for Most People

Asus RT-AC68U AC1900 802.11ac Router

Great | Differentiating Features
Excellent wireless speeds and range, easy-to-navigate user interface, dual-WAN support, removable antennas.

Good | Most Have It
Powerful home networking features, simple setup.

Average | Competitors May Be Better
Not wall-mountable, can only be placed standing upright. Takes advantage of all current-gen technologies, misses the bleeding edge features of more expensive counterparts.

Asus has consistently delivered some of the best routers in the market over the last few years and the RT-AC68U Dual-band AC1900 Gigabit Router is no exception. Even though it’s already a couple of years old, it’s packed with useful features, has a refreshingly simple user interface, and is an excellent performer when it comes to speed and range.

The RT-AC68U can deliver up to 1.3Gbps speed on the 5GHz frequency band and up to 600Mbps on the 2.4GHz band. Speed tests by Tom’s Guide, ExpertReviews, PC Magazine, TrustedReviews and more, consistently put Asus’ router among the top performers of the market in various scenarios and at up to a 20 - 25 feet distance.

It's also got a solid set of features for advanced users or small businesses. USB support, for example, is quite versatile with support for external storage for NAS-like applications, printers and even cellular dongles. Other noteworthy features include easy traffic management, multiple wireless SSIDs, dual-WAN support for separate ISPs, secure VPN access, and replaceable antennas -- so you can swap in a more powerful one or even hook up an extension cable to get better signal in that hard to reach area of your house.

At around $160 this is not the most affordable option but the RT-AC68U is a proven router that actually offers a good value overall -- and it's now $20 cheaper than the last time we recommended it.

Its features and performance are on par with more expensive Tri-Band routers like the NetGear R8000 Nighthawk X6 AC3200 in scenarios where you don't have 10+ devices fighting for bandwidth, yet it costs almost half as much. While aesthetics may not be too high up in your list of priorities when choosing a new wireless router, it doesn't hurt that the Asus RT-AC68U has the looks with its textured black finish.

Best Value Performance

TP-Link Archer C7 V2 AC1750 Dual Band Wireless Gigabit Router

Great | Differentiating Features
Very good wireless coverage, detachable antennas, excellent price for 802.11ac and dual 2.4GHz 450Mbps / 5GHz 1300Mbps connections.

Good | Most Have It
Gigabit Ethernet ports, USB for storage and sharing.

Average | Competitors May Be Better
USB is only 2.0, upstream speeds are a little weak.

If you want a router that will deliver top speeds without too many bells and whistles you might not end up using, the TP-Link Archer C7 AC1750 has you covered -- pardon the pun. Priced between $90 and $100, this overachiever offers great wireless performance and range, on par or even surpassing its more expensive competition according to reviews from TechRadar and SmallNetBuilder. It supports both 2.4GHz and 5GHz signals rated for up to 450Mbps and 1.3Gbps speeds respectively, which not many routers in this price range offer.

It’s a great value overall and has all the basic features the majority of people will actually use, and then some. That includes Gigabit Ethernet, a couple of USB 2.0 ports for basic NAS capabilities, parental controls, guest networks, and a utilitarian (read: not the prettiest, but gets the job done) web interface.

If we're naming this the top pick for most people that don’t need advanced features, it’s worth taking a look at what actual owners think of it. Out of a whopping 4,300 reviews on Amazon, the Archer C7 scores 4.2, with as many as 77% of reviewers giving it either 4 or 5 stars. Since we last looked at it the C7 has received an updated firmware and a bump in its internal memory from 8MB to 16MB.

If USB 3.0 is important to you the step up Archer C8 has this for an extra ~$20, which also gets you a more powerful dual core processor as compared to a single core processor, but its wireless performance is largely the same.

Best Budget Option

TP-Link TL-WR841N

Great | Differentiating Features
Extremely cheap.

Good | Most Have It
Limited configuration options and feature set, good wireless performance and coverage for this price point.

Average | Competitors May Be Better
No USB or Gigabit Ethernet (10/100 only), bandwidth decreases dramatically at 15-20m.

If you are on a limited budget and have less than $30 to spare, the TP-LINK TL-WR841N is decent option in this price range. This 802.11n router only operates on the 2.4GHz band which is often more congested in modern homes compared to the 5Ghz band, and has a theoretical throughput of 300Mbit/s, but compared with similarly priced alternatives, performance is acceptable at close range. In a performance test by ExpertReviews, the TL-WR841N was able to deliver transfer speeds of up to 33.1Mbps at 10 meters distance, dropping to 5.3Mbps at 25 meters.

Decent wireless performance is all you can hope for in a router this cheap. Elsewhere you'll have to make do without Gigabit Ethernet (the four LAN ports only run at 10/100 speed, as does the WAN port), no USB support, and very basic configuration options -- port forwarding, dynamic DNS, IP, domain and MAC address filtering options are all there, but features like Quality of Service (QoS) are missing which means bandwidth heavy applications will have an impact on the speed of other applications and users.

For the price this router gets the job done. Our alternative pick is the Linksys E1200, which is also $30 and has very good coverage/performance for small appartments using a single 2.4Ghz band. It's a close call between this and the TL-WR841N, but ultimately the latter ranks a bit higher in customer reviews, and we think long-term usage impressions can be as important as expert reviews.

Budget Upgrade to Dual Band

If you can spend a little more we recommend upgrading to the $60 TP-LINK TL-WDR3600 Wireless N600 Dual Band Router instead. It performs well and provides all the basic features that less demanding home users are likely to need at a competitive price. Compared to our main budget pick, you get faster gigabit ports as well as both 2.4GHz and 5GHz wireless bands, though at this price point you are still missing many current-gen features such as USB 3.0, QoS or 802.11ac wireless.

Best Wi-Fi Extender

Netgear Nighthawk AC1900 EX7000 Wi-Fi Extender

Great | Differentiating Features
Five Gigabit Ethernet ports, excellent long-range performance, USB 3.0 port for using the extender as a media server.

Good | Most Have It
Friendly user interface, can work as a wired access point, can connect to the router on one band and output a signal on the other.

Average | Competitors May Be Better
Expensive, not as portable as other (less powerful) extenders.

If you already have a good router at home but don’t get a good enough Wi-Fi signal everywhere you need it -- and running an Ethernet cable to an access point isn’t an option -- a Wi-Fi extender can give you the needed signal boost without much effort. The Netgear Nighthawk AC1900 EX7000 is universally praised as a top performer in this category.

Based on a 1GHz Broadcom BCM 4708 dual-core processor, it supports 802.11ac Wi-Fi and is capable of speeds of up to 1,900Mbps -- 600Mbps on the 2.4GHz band and 1,300Mbps on the 5GHz band. Needless to say, you should make sure your main router is at least as fast, otherwise getting this extender would be overkill.

Aside from speed, the other key ingredient that makes the Nighthawk EX7000 a top choice is long-range performance. And according to tests by PCMag, TomsGuide, and others, the EX7000 really shines here, managing an average throughput of 179Mbps over the 5Ghz band in close proximity, 105Mbps at 50 feet and 31.1Mbps at 75 feet -- blowing away all competition. Over the 2.4Ghz band it netted 50Mbps on the close proximity test and dropped to 26.9 Mbps at 75 feet.

The EX7000 has three different modes which you can choose from. Dual Connect links to your router’s 2.4GHz and 5GHz networks and extends both signals, and two different “FastLane” modes will either talk to your router on the 2.4GHz band and output a 5GHz network for your devices, or the other way around. This lets you optimize for your particular needs at home whether it's reaching farther distances and if the devices connecting to the extended network can use the faster 5GHz signal or not.

Other notable features include five Gigabit Ethernet ports, a USB 3.0 port that can be used for sharing data from hard drives or sharing a printer, and a friendly UI. It’s definitely pricey but if range and bandwidth matter it’s the best you can get.

Alternatively you could save about $50 by getting the Netgear AC1200 Desktop Wi-Fi Range Extender (EX6200) instead. The differences between the two models are marginal and their range is similar. Aside from the maximum link speeds at 5 GHz (1300 Mbps vs 867 Mbps), the EX7000 has 3x3 stream support while the EX6200 can only accommodate 2x2 stream devices -- which may or may not be important to you depending on the devices you own. Also, the EX7000 can be used as a wired access point whereas the EX6200 must be used wirelessly to communicate with your router.

Honorable mentions

If you just want a basic Wi-Fi connection for simpler devices or bandwidth needs, you can buy a cheap extender like Amazon’s best-selling Netgear N300 ($30) or AC750 ($50). Both devices are single-band, which means they’ll connect to the router and output a signal using the same band and this can often lead to performance loss. But they are convenient, cheap, and can get the job done depending on your needs.

Another super user-friendly alternative that prioritizes simplicity above all is the Securifi Almond ($80 on Amazon). It can work as a basic router, range extender, wireless bridge or access point. Thanks to its built-in touchscreen display it doesn’t even need a computer or web browser to setup. Kind of what you’d want for your parent’s home network.

Masthead router image by AlexLMX for Shutterstock.