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

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' dual-band RT-AC88U offers excellent performance and a ton of features. It's expensive but if you must stay on the bleeding edge, the RT-AC88U delivers, with a whopping eight Gigabit LAN ports and offering 4x4 MU-MIMO -- a cool feature that is more about future-proofing than something you'll be able to take advantage of immediately.

If you are unfamiliar with MU-MIMO (Multiple User, Multiple-Input, Multiple-Output), it essentially allows your to transmit data with multiple devices simultaneously instead of them taking turns, to enable faster and more stable wireless connections. The RT-AC88U uses the Broadcom NitroQAM chipset, which is the same chipset used in many 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 other high-end Asus 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 routers 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.

Overkill Upgrade

For about $400, there is a consumer-grade router that tops the aforementioned RT-AC88U. The Linksys EA9500 AC5400 tri-band router also offers eight Gigabit LAN ports which is somewhat of a rarity, supports MU-MIMO and seamless roaming with a companion extender.

As a tri-band router, the EA9500 broadcasts one 2.4 GHz signal and two separate 5 GHz signals. This won't necessarily make your wireless network faster but depending on how you use your Wi-Fi and the number of connected devices, you may benefit down the line.

With eight adjustable antennas, the EA9500 is very bulky, but its peak Wi-Fi performance is better than Asus' offering. All in all, we stand by our Asus recommendation for enthusiasts, but if money is no object the Linksys is an even more extreme router with a price fetching a larger premium as well.

Also Great: Synology RT2600AC

The Synology RT2600AC is a quad-stream (4x4) router with top speeds of up to 1,733 megabits per seconds on the 5GHz band and up to 800Mbps on the 2.4GHZ band. Like the Asus RT-AC88U, it supports MU-MIMO with up to 4 streams and is packed with advanced features you’d expect from a high end wireless router priced at $240, including auto band selection, dual WAN support, and more.

It performed well in tests by CNET and SmallNetBuilder, with sustained speeds of 715Mbps at close range and about 450 Mbps at 75 feet which is still impressive. But beyond offering good wireless speeds and range, where the Synology RT2600AC truly shines is in software — if you’re familiar with the company’s NAS devices you’ll know they excel in this department. Synology’s SRM (Synology Router Manager) software is intuitive, packed with features, and expandable through additional packages for VPN, DNS, several file sharing services and more.

Best Router for Most People

Netgear R6400 AC1750 Smart WiFi Router

Great | Differentiating Features
Excellent wireless speeds and range, packs many advanced features not usually found at this price point, including VLAN and WAN bridging, a built-in VPN server, and more.

Good | Most Have It
Simple setup, easy-to-navigate user interface.

Average | Competitors May Be Better
Non removable antennas.

The Netgear AC1750 R6400 is the successor to the company’s original 802.11ac router released back in 2013, the R6300, and a sort of cross breed with the popular R7000 Nighthawk. While it isn't part of the Nighthawk family, it shares the same design as the R7000 and many of the same features, too, including a USB 2.0 port in the rear and a USB 3.0 port in front so you can share a printer and a USB storage device over the network.

There's one WAN port and four Gigabit Ethernet LAN ports on the back, Wi-Fi and WPS buttons on the front, along a complete array of wireless and wired LAN link / activity indicators, which can be shut off if desired. The three external dual-band dipole antennas are permanently affixed to the enclosure and are therefore not replaceable or upgradeable like the Nighthawk’s, but this won’t be a problem for most people.

In terms of features the R6400 offers a lot for the price. Among the highlights is a built-in VPN server for advanced users who would like to setup an encrypted connection to their home router whenever they’re using public Wi-Fi — if you don’t have or want to pay for a third-party VPN service. There’s also a QoS feature to prioritize your network’s traffic, ReadyShare Vault backup software, iTunes streaming, and Time Machine backup support, OpenDNS-based parental controls, and more.

Its management interface is easy to work with and Netgear's Genie app lets users monitor and control their home network from a mobile device, with useful features like a built-in speed test and a network analysis tool, which tells you which channel you’d be best off using for the wireless signal

The R6400 comes with a Broadcom BCM4708 dual core 800Mhz processor, 256MB RAM and 128MB flash. You can usually find it for around $100 to $110 and at this price it offers an excellent price-to-performance ratio delivering top speeds, solid range and enough features for advances users.

Also Great

If you want a router that will deliver top speeds without too many bells and whistles, the TP-Link Archer C7 AC1750 is another solid alternative. Priced between $80 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.

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) web interface.

Best Mesh Networking Kit

Eero Home Wi-Fi System

Great | Differentiating Features
Virtually unlimited expandability to cover large homes, unobtrusive size and looks.

Good | Most Have It
Very simple setup and management, good throughput and range.

Average | Competitors May Be Better
Not as fast as Netgear’s bulkier Orbi, limited routing features.

Mesh networking is becoming a popular option for people that need to cover a large area and don’t want to deal with the nuances of setting up different devices — routers, extenders and access points — to blanket their homes with Wi-Fi. These mesh networking kits come in bundles and offer a more limited routing feature set compared to the top routers on the market, but are designed to work together reliably while being dead simple to setup and maintain.

Our top pick, the Eero, is a pioneer in this space and just recently dropped its price to $399 for a 3-pack or $299 for a 2-pack amid increased competition from Google Wi-Fi and Netgear Orbi — the latter of which doesn’t really do true mesh networking but is packaged as a similar solution.

The idea behind this kit is that satellites can talk to one another instead of having to talk to a central base and you can easily add units as you need them to cover areas in a large home. You can add as many satellites as needed and you’ll only see a single network, with your devices switching seamlessly from one satellite to another depending on where they get the strongest signal.

Eero units are designed to sit on a table or shelf with each box being about 5-inches square and just over an inch high. Each of them is a dual-band, dual-stream AC1200 router that features two Gigabit Ethernet ports you can use to connect client devices or to connect the Eero units together.

In terms of performance the Eero won’t match today’s best wireless routers but it still offers good throughput and range with virtually unlimited expandability. According to CNET’s testing, as a single router at 10 feet, it registered sustained Wi-Fi speeds of 447 megabytes per second, while at 75 feet distance it averaged 182 Mbps. There’s a drop in performance when connecting additional units — which is the whole point of getting into mesh networking — but you can still get sustained speeds above 100 Mbps while covering an area of about 4,000 square feet with three units.

The setup process happens entirely on the Eero mobile app for iOS or Android, so all you need to get started is an internet-connected mobile device — you can't set up the system using a computer web browser as there’s no local web interface. This cloud dependence is what makes the system so approachable to non-technical users as everything is handled automatically by Eero — from updates, to traffic management, and so on — but it’s also its greatest weakness given that if you lose internet connection, you also might lose local wireless connectivity, too.

Aside from setting up the network, the app is designed to provide some status information and configure a limited set of features. You can essentially change the network’s name and password, and setup Family Profiles, which enables to assign different devices to them and halt internet access to them with the press of a button — to get kids off the internet after a certain time, for example.

The Eero isn’t for everyone but it’s worth considering if you are looking for something that “just works” and can cover a large, difficult-to-cover area with decent speeds.

Advanced features, faster performance, not as expandable

Netgear’s Orbi is also easy to set up and it provides good coverage. It’s more expensive per unit — $230 for one unit, $399 for two — but it's faster and it’s not nearly as limited feature-wise. In fact, it comes with a complete web interface containing all the same features as Netgear’s Nighthawk routers, including static routing, advanced port mapping, firewall rules, backups, and it even has MU-MIMO support for the devices designed for it. It’s also bulkier when compared to the Eero.

The Orbi consists of a base and satellite device and isn’t currently capable of multi-hop topology — you can add more units but each will need to connect with the base. In other words, it’s not true mesh networking but unless you need to cover a very large home this might not be a problem. If you want to cover a large area up to 4,000 square feet the Orbi delivers performance and ease of use without giving up any of the features you’re used to from more techie-oriented routers.

A Serviceable $30 Router

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 serviceable 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. ExpertReviews saw transfer speeds of up to 33.1Mbps at 10 meters distance, dropping to 5.3Mbps at 25 meters -- not great but decent enough for a household with a basic Internet connection.

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 apartments using a single 2.4Ghz band. It's a close call between these two, but the TP-Link 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 the $30 router, 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

TP-Link AC1750 Wi-Fi Range Extender RE450

Great | Differentiating Features
Class-leading combination of range, speed, portability.

Good | Most Have It
One Gigabit Ethernet port to connect a wired device, simple setup, access control features (whitelisting, blacklisting, schedules).

Average | Competitors May Be Better
No pass-through outlet, large body.

If you already have a good router at home but don’t get a good Wi-Fi signal everywhere you need it, a Wi-Fi extender can give you that needed signal boost without much effort. The TP-Link AC1750 Wi-Fi Range Extender is a solid contender in this category that stands out due to its compact design, performance and price.

This dual-band range extender offers support for 802.11ac, n, g and b wireless networking standards and delivers a maximum theoretical bandwidth of 450 Mbps on the 2.4 GHz band and 1300Mbps on the 5 GHz band. In tests by PCMag, it was able to keep up with or outperform more expensive devices like the Netgear Nighthawk EX7000 — our previous pick — in close proximity as well as long range tests.

The TP-Link AC1750 is very simple to setup — it’s designed to plug directly into a wall outlet and pairing with your wireless router can be done in a few simple steps. A companion Tether app by TP-Link makes it easy to manage your WiFi extender from an Android or iOS device.

Compared to our previous pick, it’s lighter in the features department. It has a single Gigabit Ethernet port and pretty standard options within its easy to use management interface, including the ability to setup security protocols, access controls through white- or blacklisting devices, a system log and a firmware upgrade option. However, it's a better all-around performer that costs $20 less, covers all the basics you need from an extender and its sufficiently compact to install anywhere.

Upgrade Pick: Netgear Nighthawk AC1900 EX7000

The $99 Netgear Nighthawk AC1900 EX7000 is still a great pick if you need more Gigabit Ethernet ports or something that can be used as a wired access point. 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.

This extender 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.

Budget, No Frills Alternatives

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 ($25) or AC750 ($30). 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.

Masthead router image by AlexLMX for Shutterstock.