Best Routers 2017/2018: Wi-Fi Router Reviews

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Your buying guide for the best routers of 2017

There are two types of routers, those with built-in modems and those without. Although we still call them wireless routers, there’s no need as there aren’t any ‘wired’ routers any more: all have built-in Wi-Fi. That’s what makes them wireless.

Actually, there’s now a third type of router – mesh Wi-Fi network systems. These comprise two or more Wi-Fi routers which work together to deliver a Wi-Fi network that can cover even the largest of homes.

The type of router you need will depend on how your broadband is supplied. If it’s via your phone line, you’ll need a router with an ADSL or VSDL modem.

ADSL is more common, but VSDL is used for faster connections which involve fibre, such as BT Infinity. In most cases the fibre optic cable doesn’t come to your house, but the nearest cabinet in your road (or an adjacent one). This is why it’s called FTTC – fibre to the cabinet.

There’s also FTTP – fibre to the premises. This is much less common (and typically only available in new-build properties) but it means you can sign up for much faster broadband packages. 

If you have FTTP or ‘cable’ broadband (from Virgin for example) you need a ‘cable’ router, i.e. one without a built-in modem. Sometimes you can use one with a modem, but in most cases it needs to specifically support the broadband service from the fibre provider and have an RJ45 WAN port so you can connect it to your provider’s wall box. 

What if I just want better Wi-Fi in my home?

We’ve written a guide on how to improve Wi-Fi in the home, which includes some great tips on getting better speed and coverage from your existing router.

But if they don’t work for you, there’s a new generation of so-called mesh networks, which replace the Wi-Fi that your router provides.

These typically come in a set of two or three units, and you place them around your home to get good Wi-Fi speed and coverage throughout. 

Examples include Google Wifi, BT Whole Whole Wi-Fi, and Devolo Gigagate. They’re more expensive than a single router, but each is effectively an 802.11ac router.

However, if you need better Wi-Fi in just one room, you’ll be better off buying a set of powerline network adaptors with built-in Wi-Fi.

If you do upgrade your router, then you might be able to use the old one as a repeater to boost Wi-Fi.

Do I need an 802.11ac router?

802.11ac is better than every version of Wi-Fi before it. The principle benefits of 11ac are increased throughput and longer range.

In other words, data can be sent much quicker, and you’re more likely to maintain a usefully fast connection when you’re further away – even several rooms or floors removed from your wireless router.

One way the latest wireless version been optimised is by using multiple aerials, as we’ve already seen with 11n Wi-Fi. But 11ac raises the speed again.

These days it makes sense to buy an 802.11ac router (as opposed to 802.11n) because many wireless devices now support this standard. 

What about MU-MIMO?

Some of the latest routers support MU-MIMO, which means the router can communicate with multiple devices at the same time rather than having to quickly send data to different devices in turn, which is how all non-MU-MIMO routers do it. We explain this more fully in What is MU-MIMO?

What features should I look for in a router?

Once you know the type of router you need, it’s then a case of deciding how much to spend and the features you want.

For best results, look for an 11ac wireless router with at least three aerials – although, in some cases, these will be mounted discreetly inside, so check the specs or our expert reviews to be sure what you’re getting.

For the router’s hardware design, you may prefer something that looks less like GCHQ’s Bude listening station, and more like something you’d want in your lounge. Our extensive lab testing suggests that internally mounted antennas can be just as effective as routers that rock the stealth bomber look.

With many homes still finding a need for wired ethernet connections, it makes sense to have a good number of ethernet LAN ports.

Be sure there are at least gigabit spec, and four ports seems to be standard issue, with the exception of the Apple AirPort range which settles for just three.

Even a limited array can be easily and cheaply extended though with a gigabit switch at any time, although that creates more wires and boxes and power supplies to hide.

If you want to share a hard drive without going the whole hog and buying a NAS drive, then get a router with a USB port which supports storage. Many also let you share a USB printer this way.

Synology’s RT1900ac router combines the software from its NAS drives with router hardware, so you can simply add your own external storage.

Some routers offer a ‘guest’ network that lets friends get online without being able to access the computers and other gadgets on your home network. This won’t be high on your list of priorities, but it could be invaluable if you’re running a small business like a B&B. 

Some brands are now touting ‘smart routers’, which can allow access to the router’s setup admin interface by people outside of your home network. Given the number of security vulnerabilities already included in most domestic routers, we would not encourage additional ways to compromise your home than is necessary.

The routers reviewed below are a mixture of those with modems and those without, so check before buying whether you need a modem or not. 

Best routers 2017 UK – best router reviews

2. Synology RT2600ac

3. TP-Link VR2600

TP-Link VR2600

4. Asus DSL-AC88U

Asus DSL-AC88U

5. Asus RT-AC87U

Asus RT-AC87U

6. AVM Fritz!Box 3490

AVM Fritz!Box 3490

7. Synology RT1900ac

Synology RT1900ac

8. BT Smart Hub

BT Smart Hub

10. Linksys EA9500

Linksys EA9500

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