After more than 250 total hours of research and testing, we recommend the TP-Link Archer C7 (v2) router for most people. We’ve tested it against nearly 30 other routers over the past two years, and it’s still our favorite. This dual-band, three-stream 802.11ac (wireless-ac) router wasn’t the fastest on all of our tests, but it has an amazing range and delivers great performance for its low price. It’s an unbeatable value.
The Archer C7 usually costs between $80 and $100, but it’s faster and capable of covering a larger area than some routers that cost two to three times as much. It also supports the fastest wireless speeds of almost every device we tried. No other router does all this and costs as little as the Archer C7. Make sure you’re getting a v2 or v3 version, though, as the router’s v1 version stank.1
Our pick’s wireless performance is excellent for its price, and it comes with a good assortment of basic features, including Gigabit Ethernet ports, USB file sharing and media streaming, parental controls, and guest networks. Though it’s missing some advanced features such as Quality of Service controls, an iTunes server, jumbo frames, and a VPN server, most people don’t use those. Its user interface is uglier than that of the competition, but the initial setup process is straightforward.
Note: This router has a severe security flaw that can let someone take control of your router if you click a malicious URL. Netgear has issued a firmware update that fixes the problem, and we’ve updated our router with the patch.
The AC1750 Netgear R6400 costs a little more than our primary pick but provides (mostly) better performance and a much better array of features. Among them are a built-in VPN server for advanced users who want to secure their remote coffee-shop browsing, a QoS feature to prioritize your network’s traffic (to get better video-streaming performance, for instance), and support for Time Machine backups (which makes this model a good choice for Apple households). The R6400 also has better parental controls and faster USB ports than the Archer C7.
In the unlikely event that both the TP-Link Archer C7 and Netgear R6400 are out of stock and you need a router right away, two previous picks should provide almost as good performance for a slightly lower price. You can read about the TP-Link Archer C8 and Netgear’s R7000 in our competition section below. But stock shortages of our top picks rarely last long, and we suggest waiting if you can.
I spent more than two years immersed in wireless-networking testing and analysis for The Wirecutter. I also tested everything from computer cases to network-attached storage in my decade-plus career as a tech journalist for Maximum PC (formerly an associate editor), PCWorld (formerly a contributing editor), Computer Shopper, PCMag, Laptop Magazine, Tom’s Hardware, PC Gamer, IGN, and HotHardware, to name a few. I was also a business analyst for Stanford University. Taking a ton of data and transforming it into recommendations is what I do best.
For this guide I relied on the expert opinions of reviewers from CNET, PCMag, PCWorld, SmallNetBuilder, and TrustedReviews. I also went through Amazon comments and best-seller lists to find reliable and popular routers. Then, for the most recent update, I spent a week testing nine routers on both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz Wi-Fi bands across four locations in my house. In total, I’ve spent hundreds of hours testing close to 30 different routers for our guides.
If you’re tired of being unable to use your Wi-Fi in the dead zones in your house or apartment, you need a new router. Our pick, the Archer C7, lets you access both the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz Wi-Fi bands, improving your performance and giving you a way to escape interference from your neighbors’ Wi-Fi networks. Unlike an older wireless-n or wireless-g router, our 802.11ac pick supports the fastest Wi-Fi connections of almost any device you can buy, and its Gigabit Ethernet ports give your wired devices plenty of bandwidth for streaming HD video—even 4K—around your home.
Recent routers like our pick have faster processors, better antennas, and more memory, which can provide better performance and longer Wi-Fi range than an older router can offer, even if you’re using older devices. You won’t see as much of an improvement if you’re merely surfing the Web or downloading files while sitting close to the router, but you will be able to maintain a better connection across longer distances—especially if you also own wireless-ac devices.
If you already have a router and you’re happy with its range and speed, you don’t need to buy a new one. If you want or need more-advanced features such as QoS, a VPN server, or support for Time Machine backups, you should get our upgrade pick, which lets you do more than our primary pick and is a lot easier to configure. Google’s OnHub offers dead-simple setup and management, if those are priorities for you, but sacrifices the power, features, and flexibility of our top picks.
Avoid expensive tri-band or MU-MIMO routers. They’re overkill for almost everyone, and you shouldn’t buy any of them—not even as a way to future-proof your network. You should get a router that fits the devices you already own or are planning to buy soon, not one that works best with devices you might buy a year or two from now. By the time you have enough devices that can make use of these advanced routers’ full capabilities, you’ll be able to buy an even better (or cheaper) router.
If you live in a larger home and keep finding Wi-Fi dead spots, consider a mesh network.
We’ve kept our eye on the development of mesh networking and mesh networking devices as more have become available over the past year or so, and now have a guide to this emerging category. These systems won’t be faster than our router pick in smaller homes, but if your place is larger than 2,000 square feet and you keep finding Wi-Fi dead spots, a mesh networking kit might be a better solution than our router pick and a range extender. If you’re frustrated with the setup process of typical routers, mesh systems also tend to have more user-friendly controls. But keep in mind that you’ll be paying a premium with any of these options.
Wireless-ac, or IEEE 802.11ac, is the latest mainstream Wi-Fi version. It’s the standard in most laptops, smartphones, and tablets from 2013 and later, including many products that we recommend in other guides such as current MacBooks and high-end Windows laptops plus flagship smartphones from Apple, Samsung, Motorola, LG, and HTC.
Your next gadget with Wi-Fi will have wireless-ac; so should your router. You’ll get better wireless performance and range for your wireless-ac devices than if you used a wireless-n router, and your network will be ready for any future devices you buy over the next few years. Wireless-ac could mean—at the extremes of the router’s range—the difference between a frustrating, stuttering Netflix stream and smooth, 1080p loveliness.
A great router has to be dual-band, which means it supports both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz signals. Because so many things transmit in the 2.4 GHz range, wireless interference from other Wi-Fi routers and Bluetooth devices, and even microwaves and cordless phones, can affect your wireless performance. Jumping to the 5 GHz band (which both wireless-n and wireless-ac use) can alleviate this problem and increase your wireless performance, but that option has worse range than the 2.4 GHz band—and not every device supports it.
A router should also support at least two spatial streams (also called data streams) on each band. The vast majority of laptops, phones, and tablets support one or two streams; high-end laptops such as the MacBook Pro support three. You’ll get the best performance when your router supports at least as many streams as your devices. Our pick will give any device you own the fastest connection it can handle.2
We’ve previously used router reviews and performance rankings from CNET, PCMag, PCWorld, SmallNetBuilder, and TrustedReviews to generate our lists of contenders. We still look at those, but we now try to test all major AC1750/AC1900 routers ourselves, too. We’re pickier about four-stream MU-MIMO routers or tri-band routers—they’re too expensive and overkill for most people right now.
About router labeling
Spatial streams also factor into the confusing world of router labeling. Don’t get fooled by the “AC” numbering system: A router with a higher AC number won’t necessarily perform better or have a greater range than one with a lower number.
Each router’s “class” consists of its Wi-Fi version (“n” or “ac”) plus the total data rate of all spatial streams on each band. Wireless-n routers typically have a top rate of 150 megabits per second per spatial stream on the 2.4 GHz or 5 GHz band, and wireless-ac routers typically have a top rate of 150 Mbps per stream on the 2.4 GHz band and 433 Mbps per stream on the 5 GHz band. (You’ll find exceptions, but routers that have slightly faster streams use networking technology that most devices don’t support—in other words, most people won’t see a speedier connection from them.)
For example, an N600 router has two wireless-n streams on the 2.4 GHz band (150+150) and two on the 5 GHz band (150+150), for a total of 600. An AC1750 router has three 2.4 GHz streams (150+150+150) and three 5 GHz wireless-ac streams (433+433+433)—add them and round up, and you get 1,750. An AC1900 router still has only three streams on each band, but it uses a proprietary technology called TurboQAM to boost the maximum speeds of its 2.4 GHz streams by about 150 Mbps. If your device doesn’t support TurboQAM, though, you won’t get the extra boost.
We’ve evaluated routers in a variety of test configurations over the past two years, but the basic testing concept has remained the same: short- and long-range tests of performance on both the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands.
Our most recent testing environment included four client-testing locations in a 2,577-square-foot, one-story house. Two spots (at 11 feet and 43 feet) were within sight of the router, and the other two (at 13 feet and 43 feet) were blocked by walls, furniture, and other objects.
We didn’t disable our house’s existing wireless network when testing, but we did change its broadcast channels so that it wouldn’t interfere with our router’s signals. This approach allowed us to see how the routers would handle nearby wireless networks—as you’re likely to have in an apartment complex or even a suburban neighborhood—without overwhelming them with interference.
We tested the routers using iPerf3, a network monitoring and measuring tool, to evaluate data transfers between a desktop PC (connected to each router via Gigabit Ethernet) and an Asus ZenBook UX305LA (which uses two-stream wireless-ac). We forced each router to use 20 MHz channels on the 2.4 GHz band—your router should use those instead of 40 MHz channels when it detects competing Wi-Fi networks—and we set each router’s 5 GHz network to channel 161 (or the closest we could get) to avoid interference. For the test, we started iPerf3, which then attempted to transfer as much data as possible from the test laptop to the desktop PC (via a single TCP connection) and recorded the average transfer speed across 60 one-second intervals. We ran each test multiple times for each router, on each band, at each test location.
Because we were testing in the real world, external variables (competing signals, walls, network traffic) affected our results—just as they’ll likely affect yours. The purpose of our testing was not to choose a router that’s slightly faster than another; it was to see which routers could deliver consistently strong performance without major issues. We also used our picks for months to test their reliability, and we looked at Amazon reviews to see if a lot of people were having issues with a particular router.
The TP-Link Archer C7 (v2) is the best router for most people because it’s a great value. We’ve tested the Archer C7 against dozens of routers at different times, using different setups, for nearly two years. Though it hasn’t been the fastest router in every test, the Archer C7’s combination of solid long-range performance and a low price has given it a clear advantage over every other router we’ve tested.
However, if you choose to buy this router, confirm that you’re getting the right version of it: The C7 v1 had a number of connection issues. You’ll want to check the model number on the bottom of the router to confirm that you have a newer v2 or v3 unit. If not, return it and make sure that wherever you bought it from gives you the right version.
We always test routers in large batches, and the Archer C7 has performed well in each of its groupings over the past two years. Here are some highlights from our previous testing:
For our most-recent tests—the results shown in the charts below—we switched to an Asus ZenBook UX305LA with a two-stream wireless-ac Wi-Fi card. Though the Archer C7 wasn’t the fastest router on any single test, it had the best overall price-to-performance ratio of any wireless-ac router. (TP-Link’s cheaper wireless-n TL-WDR3600 had an even better ratio, but it performed worse than the Archer C7 on every test.)
We were most impressed with the Archer C7’s wireless-ac performance on our most difficult test: long range, with walls and furniture between the client and router. Only the C7 and Netgear’s ultra-expensive R8500 gave us more than 35 Mbps, and some routers couldn’t even push past 10 Mbps—if they could connect at all. The Archer C7 reached 71.3 Mbps, which is more than enough for 4K video streaming and speedy file transfers.
A router’s performance can vary depending on what you’re testing it with, what firmware it’s using, and what other external factors are in play, such as your neighbors’ Wi-Fi networks. In addition, in our two years of testing we haven’t found one router that outperforms all the others on every test: Some routers excel on some tests, some do well on others, and the results for each model usually vary a bit across tests. The Archer C7 is compelling because it gives you a lot of wireless-ac speed, at both short and long ranges, for a fantastic price. Even when other routers outperform the Archer C7, that extra performance isn’t proportional to the higher cost of those models.
As for features, the Archer C7 covers the basics well. It has four Gigabit Ethernet ports (which will give you the best possible performance with most recent Ethernet-equipped devices), along with two USB 2.0 ports for sharing storage devices and printers with other networked devices. If you don’t want certain people to be able to access files on connected drives, you can even restrict access with (rudimentary) user accounts. A built-in DLNA media server lets you stream media directly from USB-connected storage to your set-top boxes, gaming consoles, and televisions.
The Archer C7 supports one guest network per wireless band.3 You can control the times these guest networks are active (for added security), and you can limit the total bandwidth that guests eat up (so they don’t kill your party’s Netflix stream, for example). The C7 also has parental controls, but they’re limited. You’re better off using some kind of software on your child’s computer to control what they can see or, at the very least, using the OpenDNS-based parental controls that Netgear has in its routers. OpenDNS-based controls are a lot easier to set up and will catch new sites without your having to blacklist specific things (or keywords) your child shouldn’t see.
Our pick’s chief flaw is the poor configuration interface, especially when it comes to tweaking the router’s advanced features. (As with most routers, you access the user interface via your browser.) It’s easy to set up the router for basic use, but the rest of the Archer C7’s menus are text-heavy and confusing. Competing routers, such as our upgrade pick, are much easier to configure.
You could try installing third-party firmware such as DD-WRT or OpenWRT to get a simpler interface—and to add support for missing features such as Quality of Service and VPN—but doing so would void your warranty. Additionally, TP-Link says it will not allow you to install third-party firmware on routers manufactured after June 2, 2016. We’ll have to wait and see just how serious the company is about that.
We wish the Archer C7 came with USB 3.0 ports so that we could get faster file transfers for USB storage. Unlike other routers, the Archer C7 lacks a QoS feature for keeping high-bandwidth applications such as BitTorrent from ruining video streaming or online gaming. The C7 also doesn’t have an iTunes server, whereas a number of other models do, and it doesn’t support jumbo frames, which allow for faster file transfers between wired devices on your home network.
SmallNetBuilder ranks the Archer C7 third on its AC1750-router performance charts, just behind TP-Link’s more expensive Archer C8 (which was slower on our tests) and Asus’s RT-AC66U (slower on our tests and a lot more expensive). Reviewer Tim Higgins writes that the Archer C7 “isn’t a bad way to get your feet wet in AC class wireless networking for small to mid-sized locations.”
PCMag.com’s Samara Lynn writes that the Archer C7 is pretty sparse in features but a lot cheaper than competing routers with more. Though not blown away by the Archer C7’s test performance, Lynn does praise its range: “When testing in the 2.4GHz band, the C7’s throughput slowed by 10 percent as I moved from 5 to 30 feet away. At 5GHz, the throughput dropped only about 8 percent. This is very good; even with very high performing routers I often see drops of 15 percent and more.”
The Archer C7 is the best-selling router on Amazon, and at the moment it has a 4.1-star rating out of five, with 76 percent of 5,528 total reviewers assigning it a four- or five-star rating. TP-Link does get some low scores and bad reviews, but judging from our reading of those reviews, we don’t think they indicate any reliability issues beyond the scattered problems that buyers of any router tend to report, namely connection loss, poor signal strength, lousy range, and so on. Some of these complaints also relate to the router’s inferior v1 edition, which Amazon lumps into the general Archer C7 product listing.
Regardless of the router you’re using, you need to do a few things to maintain a secure, reliable wireless connection:
Note: This router has a severe security flaw that can let someone take control of your router if you click a malicious URL. Netgear has issued a firmware update that fixes the problem, and we’ve updated our router with the patch.
If you’re willing to pay a little more for a router that has a lot more features, an easier-to-understand interface, and a price-to-performance ratio that’s almost as good as our pick’s, we recommend the Netgear R6400. The Archer C7 is the best value if you want simple, great Wi-Fi for a low price, but the R6400 is better if you know that you need both good wireless-ac performance and killer features.
The R6400 performed about as well as the Archer C7 on our 2.4 GHz tests, and it was faster on all our 5 GHz tests except at our hardest long-range test location (with rooms, furniture, and other objects between our laptop and the router). The R6400 also had one of the top price-to-performance ratios among the routers we tested—the routers that outperformed it aren’t worth the extra cost. (The Archer C7 posted the best price-to-performance ratio. And the Netgear R8500 outperformed the R6400 on almost every test, but its speeds aren’t better enough to be worth an extra $200.)
We wish the R6400 had consistent, excellent long-range performance, but it did meet or exceed the Archer C7’s speeds on every one of our other tests. Its performance is good for its price; it just isn’t as good as the Archer C7 in price-to-performance.
The R6400’s array of features, however, is much better. CNET’s Dong Ngo writes that the R6400’s predecessor, Netgear’s R7000, “offers quite a lot for the price,” including ReadyShare Vault backup software, iTunes streaming support, a built-in OpenVPN server, and support for Time Machine backups—none of which are available on the Archer C7, and all of which are present in the cheaper R6400. (We’ve gotten some reports from readers about Time Machine not working properly on the R6400, which we’re investigating.) Unlike the R7000, the R6400 can’t function as a wireless repeater, but most people won’t miss that feature.
We especially like the R6400’s OpenVPN server, which gives you an encrypted connection to your home router whenever you’re using public Wi-Fi (such as at your favorite coffee shop)—a function that normally requires a third-party VPN service with a monthly fee.
As of this update, the R6400 has a 4.6-star rating (out of five) on Amazon across 2,520 total reviews. Netgear offers a limited one-year hardware warranty for the router.
Although the Apple AirPort Extreme isn’t the fastest router we’ve tested, it’s still a pretty good buy for Apple users because of its unrivaled ease of use and its support for Apple-device-focused features. It looks good on the shelf, and it does a great job handling the basic features you need from a Wi-Fi network. It’s also the easiest router to pair with an existing AirPort Extreme or Express—say, to extend the network. But know that this version of Apple’s AirPort, first made available in June 2013, is likely the last router the company will make fully in-house. By November 2016, Apple had quietly reassigned its router team to other departments. Though there was no formal announcement, this move makes it almost impossible to imagine we’ll see a new version of the AirPort.
Apple’s AirPort Utility, which is baked into macOS, uses clear, plain language and graphics to help you establish a new Wi-Fi network or extend your existing AirPort network. You can also configure the router using Apple’s AirPort Utility app for iOS, which is much better than trying to navigate the Web-based configuration of the Netgear R6400—our Apple-friendly upgrade pick—on a smartphone.
Though the AirPort Extreme covers the basics about as well as the R6400, it lacks some of the R6400’s advanced features, such as OpenDNS-based parental controls, QoS, Dynamic DNS (for easier remote access to a home FTP server), OpenVPN, remote router management, and a traffic monitor to see how close you’re coming to your ISP’s monthly data cap.
It’s easy to configure macOS’s Time Machine to back up your Mac to a USB drive connected to either the AirPort Extreme or the R6400; however, the R6400’s much faster USB 3.0 port means that those backups will be quicker. Netgear’s router also comes with a separate ReadyShare Vault application that Windows users can install to automate backups.
You can configure either router as an access point—the best way to get a great Wi-Fi signal in an area that needs it. Apple’s router also can act as a Wi-Fi extender, but only for other Apple routers. Netgear’s R6400 can’t extend an existing wireless signal, but it can create a wireless bridge to connect wired devices to an existing wireless network.
Both the AirPort Extreme and the R6400 automatically check for new firmware when you initially set them up. They don’t update themselves, but they do make downloading and installing updates easy. (Apple’s AirPort Utility for macOS also lets you know when a new firmware update is available down the line.)
The AirPort Extreme supports only the HFS+ and FAT16/32 file systems for connected USB drives. This isn’t an issue for Apple-only households, but it is a big pain for Windows users because Windows doesn’t support HFS+, and FAT32 can’t store files larger than 4 GB. (Netgear’s R6400 and TP-Link’s Archer C7 both support FAT32 and NTFS.)
The AirPort Extreme also falls short in performance. We tested it using a wireless-ac Acer S7-393 laptop. In our close-range tests, the AirPort Extreme outperformed our top pick, the TP-Link Archer C7, but failed to match the speed of our upgrade pick, the Netgear R6400. At our most difficult testing location—long-range, with walls, furniture, and other objects between our client laptop and the router—we couldn’t even connect to the AirPort Extreme’s 5 GHz network. Our primary pick and upgrade pick will let you stay on your wireless-ac connection for longer and get better speeds across a greater distance.
In part because of the range issues, the AirPort Extreme had the worst average price-to-performance ratio (0.68 Mbps for every dollar spent), in contrast to the Archer C7 (1.54 Mbps per dollar) and the R6400 (1.08 Mbps per dollar).
If you don’t mind trading speed for convenience, the AirPort Extreme is an okay option for an all-Apple household. But the technology inside is about three years old. If you need great Wi-Fi range or better compatability with Windows laptops, or if you plan to use advanced features such as router-based parental controls, OpenVPN servers, or FTP servers, the Netgear R6400 is a stronger choice. It can do almost everything Apple’s router can do (and a lot that Apple’s router cannot). Though the R6400 is not as easy to configure as an AirPort Extreme (assuming you have a Mac or an iOS device), its UI is a lot better than that of most routers. And if you’re just looking for an easier UI, you’ll be better off with one of our mesh router picks.
Google’s OnHub, the company’s first router, is an AC1900 device that’s half as fast at long distance as routers half its price. In addition, its current features are very limited compared with those of the competition—and even some of the features Google advertises don’t work well (or at all). As with Google’s Chromecast, we see a lot of potential for Google to update the OnHub and pack it full of amazing features. But those features don’t exist now, so you shouldn’t buy it now.
We tested the TP-Link OnHub; since then Google has added a second OnHub, made by Asus. The OnHub we tested was the slowest router on our easiest test—short-range, with a line of sight between the client laptop and the router—and it couldn’t give us a working 5 GHz signal on our hardest test. Though we did get a 2.4 GHz connection on that test, it was half the speed of the 5 GHz connection we were able to obtain from the Archer C7 and the Netgear R7000; it was even slower than the R7000’s 2.4 GHz connection.
The OnHub is very user-friendly: It’s easy to set up via the Google On app, it updates its firmware automatically, and it has a useful management system for letting your techie friends and family members fix your router when you can’t. However, other features that Google promotes either don’t work yet (Bluetooth 4.0, support for some smart-home protocols, a USB 3.0 connection) or don’t work at all (continuous channel optimization).
You have only one Gigabit Ethernet port on the OnHub, and if Google’s smart router loses its Internet connection, it gets dumb. At that point, the router won’t give you information about any other connected devices, you can’t edit your Wi-Fi network’s name or password, and you lose access to all of the OnHub’s advanced settings (except for changing your WAN configuration). You can’t even restart the OnHub via the Google On app. And unlike most routers, you get no Web-based UI—you need a smartphone or tablet to access the OnHub’s settings.
Note: OnHub is compatible with the forthcoming Google Wi-Fi mesh kit, so if you have an OnHub, it can work as a mesh node in that system. We haven’t tested Google Wi-Fi yet, but we will for the next round of our mesh networking coverage.
Four-stream MU-MIMO routers, tri-band routers, and routers that can do both four-stream MU-MIMO and tri-band are now available, but you probably don’t need one. Next to our picks, their range and performance aren’t sufficiently better to justify their high prices, and you’ll find very few four-stream or MU-MIMO devices that could take advantage of their new features.
Today’s AC3200 routers (also known as tri-band routers) run two different 5 GHz Wi-Fi networks at the same time, assigning clients to one or the other based on how much bandwidth each client uses. AC3200 is a big number, but these routers won’t always give you better speed and range than a strong AC1750 or AC1900 router. They’re designed for situations where 10 or more devices of varying wireless configurations are all fighting for bandwidth, such as in an especially geeky household or a coworking space. For most people with simpler needs, AC3200 routers aren’t worth the extra $150 or $200.
Four-stream AC2350 routers will be faster than our three-stream pick if you use a four-stream device or multiple devices that support MU-MIMO, but neither kind is common yet. Most of today’s routers are SU-MIMO. (With SU-MIMO, devices have to wait their turn to talk to the router; MU-MIMO routers let them all talk at once.) In comparison with SU-MIMO routers such as our primary pick, this technology should boost the wireless performance of connected clients, but there are plenty of caveats to keep in mind. For starters, a MU-MIMO router doesn’t necessarily have better range. On top of that, MU-MIMO works only if all your devices support it, and very few devices do.
At the CES 2016 trade show, we saw laptops, smartphones, and routers that support the brand-new wireless networking technology 802.11ad (formerly known as WiGig). One problem: 802.11ad boosts transfer speeds into the multigigabit range, which would be overkill even for today’s fiber Internet services (if you’re a subscriber). Another problem is that these 802.11ad networks use the 60 GHz band, which means they have a lot of trouble passing through physical objects such as walls. We also don’t know how 802.11ad will affect other important aspects of your devices, like battery life, nor how much an 802.11ad router will cost (likely a lot).
We’ve recommended T-Mobile’s Personal CellSpot—a rebranded Asus RT-AC68U with different firmware—for a few years, because it’s a powerful $200 router that the carrier’s subscribers can get for a $25 refundable deposit (which the carrier sometimes waives) or a payment of $100 outright. But these days we no longer think the CellSpot is worth getting—even for free—because T-Mobile is too lax about keeping the router updated with security updates and patches.
Specifically, at the time we published this update in April 2016, the most-recent firmware update T-Mobile had available (version TM-AC1900_22.214.171.124.376_3108) dated back to July 2015. Between July 2015 and April 2016, meanwhile, Asus released six firmware updates that corrected a variety of bugs and security issues with its version of the router. Given this negligence on T-Mobile’s part, we don’t believe the carrier will suddenly release a grand, cumulative firmware update, so we don’t think you should get the Personal CellSpot. (Thanks to Wirecutter reader Tyler N for bringing this issue to our attention.)
The TP-Link TL-WDR3600 was our runner-up pick when we completed our last round of testing. It was a great fit for a smaller space such as a one-bedroom apartment, a small house, or a garage. It’s only 802.11n (so no wireless-ac), but it performed better at long range than other similarly priced routers we tested, and its Wi-Fi speeds were more consistent. But TP-Link has discontinued the model, and you can’t find remaining stock for cheaper than our top pick, so we can no longer recommend it.
In our most recent testing, Amped Wireless’s RTA1750 had a slightly higher price-to-performance ratio than our upgrade pick, but only when it was on sale for around $100. It’s currently much higher. More important, the RTA1750 couldn’t give us a working 5 GHz signal at our hardest long-range test point.
Arris’s SURFboard SBR-AC1750 performed as well as our primary pick on the 2.4 GHz band, but it was less than half as fast as the TP-Link Archer C7 at our toughest long-range test point. Its price-to-performance ratio also wasn’t as good as our upgrade pick’s.
The TP-Link Touch P5 matched our upgrade pick’s performance on most tests, but its price-to-performance ratio was worse than that of our primary pick and our upgrade pick.
Linksys’s WRT1900ACS costs more than twice as much as the Archer C7. In our tests, its close-range performance was great but not good enough to justify its higher price. It outperformed the Archer C7 on the 5 GHz band at long distance when our test laptop could see the router; it was 93 percent slower otherwise.
The Amped Wireless TAP-R3 costs more than our primary pick and upgrade pick, and on almost all our tests it was slower than both. Its touchscreen is useful for setting the router up, but we’d rather have better speed and range.
We found that Netgear’s R8500, an AC5300 router, had the best performance on our hardest long-range tests and the best overall 5 GHz performance. Unfortunately, it had the worst price-to-performance ratio. (If you need lots of Wi-Fi coverage, you’re better off buying two of our upgrade picks and pocketing the extra $100.)
Netgear’s R7000, an AC1900 router, was our previous upgrade pick, and it’s still a great router. It frequently ranked among the top-performing routers on our many tests, and it has great features that are easy to access via its simple user interface. Netgear’s AC1750 version, the R6400, is a slightly better value given its lower cost and similar features. (You don’t need an AC1900 router.)5
Our previous runner-up, the TP-Link Archer C8, has a configuration interface that’s much improved over the interface of our pick, and it comes with USB 3.0 ports. But the Archer C7 was faster than the Archer C8 in most of our tests. (In speed and range, though, the Archer C8 still beats many other routers that are much more expensive.)
Asus’s RT-AC87U performed well on a number of our older tests, but its long-range performance wasn’t good enough to justify its high cost, which is almost twice that of TP-Link’s Archer C7.
Although the TP-Link Archer C9 did pretty well on our testing, we struggled to connect to it on the 5 GHz band at our toughest test location, and when we did, the C9’s speeds were very slow.
Netgear’s R8000 was twice as fast as TP-Link’s Archer C7 on our long-distance, line-of-sight, multiclient testing, but it wasn’t as good as our pick once our laptop lost sight of the router. The Archer C7 was generally better on our 2.4 GHz tests, and it’s less than half the price.
The TRENDnet TEW-828DRU, an AC3200 router, outperformed the TP-Link Archer C7 on the 5 GHz band when our laptop could see the router, but our pick was better when it couldn’t (and our pick had better 2.4 GHz performance.) Though the TEW-828DRU was generally faster than our pick on most of our 5 GHz tests, that performance difference isn’t worth the extra cost.
Netgear’s R7500 is more than twice the price of our pick, but our pick outperformed it on most of our tests. For similar features and better speeds, you’re better off with the Netgear R6400.
The D-Link DIR-890L/R, another AC3200 router, wasn’t as fast as the TP-Link Archer C7 on our 2.4 GHz tests. Even though it did outperform our pick on the 5 GHz band—doubling its speed in our long-range, line-of-sight multiclient test—this model is still incredibly expensive for the extra speed it offers. You’d get better coverage by buying two of our upgrade picks.
D-Link’s DIR-859 was anywhere from one-fourth to one-half slower than our primary pick on almost every benchmark we tested.
Of the seven budget routers we tested, we cut the Netgear WNR2500 after it delivered the worst close-range performance on the 2.4 GHz band. (It also has no 5 GHz Wi-Fi support at all.) We eliminated the Linksys EA6100 due to its poor price-to-performance ratio at our fourth test location.
The Linksys EA3500 performed the worst on our 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz tests at our farthest test location. The TP-Link Archer C2 did slightly better on both bands, but we saw faster results from three routers: the TP-Link TL-WDR3600, the TP-Link TL-WDR3500, and the Edimax BR-6478AC (our runner-up pick for a budget router, as it costs more than the TL-WDR3600 for performance that isn’t as good).
We ended up cutting the TL-WDR3500, as it was the only one of our three finalist routers that couldn’t deliver a working 5 GHz signal to our laptop at our longest-range test location. We preferred the newer TL-WDR3600, which had good, consistent speed on both bands. The TL-WDR3500 also doesn’t have Gigabit Ethernet ports, so it isn’t ideal for people who use wired Ethernet.