Best WiFi Routers of 2021

A good WiFi connection is very nice if you spend a lot of time working or go to school from home due to the pandemic and have more than one connected device at the same time. Wi-Fi 6, first introduced a few years ago, is the latest generation of Wi-Fi and boasts faster, more efficient home network performance. Now the growing number of new, second-gen mesh router options is also worth paying attention to — especially since so many of them are so much less expensive than the router combo systems that preceded them.

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Between mesh and Wi-Fi 6, you’ll find some interesting new options if you’re currently looking to upgrade. Whether you are interested in gaming routers, mesh systems, Wi-Fi 6 routers — or if you just want something decent that won’t break the bank — we’re here to point you in the right direction. And watch this space, because we expect to see new wifi 6E routers able to access newly opened bandwidth in soon the 6GHz band, including multiple routers that were plagued at this year’s fully virtual CES tech showcase. Only don’t expect those Wi-Fi 6E routers to be cheap.

Expect regular updates to this post as we continue our internet speed tests on new devices like this one. When we find a new router that deserves strong consideration, we add it to this list of the best Wi-Fi routers with links to our most recent test data.

Read more: Best Internet Service Providers for 2021

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Available for $100 or less (starting in mid-November for $75 on Amazon), the TP-Link Archer AX21 is an entry-level dual-band Wi-Fi 6 router that supports top speeds of up to 1.201 Mbps (1.2 Gbps ) on the 5GHz band. It’s nothing fancy, but it offered near-pristine performance for small-to-medium-sized homes in our testing, and it’s a cinch to set up and use thanks to TP-Link’s Tether app.

Best of all, when tested with other similar routers from names like Asus and Netgear, the AX21 stood its ground with faster download speeds, better range, and also low latency. Add a functional band steering mode that automatically sends you between the 2.4 and 5 GHz bands on a single network, plus guest network controls, and even a quality of service engine for prioritizing traffic to the most important devices on your network , and you’re looking at a solid home network upgrade that’s as simple and affordable as it gets.

Read our TP-Link Archer AX21 review.

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For the best performance from your mesh router, you’ll want to get one with Wi-Fi 6 support, plus a tri-band design with three separate traffic bands: the usual 2.4 and 5 GHz bands, plus an extra 5 GHz band that the system can use as a dedicated wireless backhaul for transmissions between the router and its satellites. Most mesh routers cost at least $300 or even $400, but the TP-Link Deco W7200 will get you there for just $229.

That’s the best deal I’ve seen for a tri-band mesh router with Wi-Fi 6 support — sure enough, it’s an excellent performer too. In fact, the only system that outperforms it in my home speed tests is the AX6000 version of Netgear Orbi, which costs more than three times as much (read on to learn more about that). Plus, TP-Link makes installation as easy as it gets, with satellite extenders that are automatically added to the mesh as soon as you plug them in.

That makes the Deco W7200 an excellent value, and the first mesh router I would point most people to when they need something new.

Read our TP-Link Deco W7200 review.

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It’s not as fully featured as systems that cost more, and it doesn’t support Wi-Fi 6 – but other than that it’s budget-friendly Netgear Orbi AC1200 system stands out as a clear value choice in the mesh category. Currently down to just $115 for a three-device setup with the Wi-Fi router and two satellite extenders, it’s about as cheap as a mesh network gets, and it kept up with both Nest Wifi and the Wi-Fi 5 version. of Amazon’s Eero mesh router in our speed tests.

Of those three systems, Netgear Orbi even clocked in with the fastest average top speed at close range — and when we put that range to the test with smart devices in the CNET Smart Home, it pulled those two Wi-Fi systems out again with a faster router speed. I even like the design, with clever contours on top that dissipate heat in style.

Read our Netgear Orbi review.

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Starting at $700 for the two-piece setup seen here, the AX6000 version of the Netgear Orbi is much more expensive than the dual-band version mentioned above, but it’s also a lot more powerful. With a second 5GHz band that acts as a dedicated backhaul for system transmissions between the router and its satellites and full support for Wi-Fi 6, the system is still our best-tested mesh router, scoring best in both our lab-based top speed tests and our home network coverage tests.

In the latest round of testing at my home, where my fiber internet connection reached 300Mbps, the Orbi AX600 delivered average speeds of 289Mbps on Wi-Fi 5 devices and 367Mbps on Wi-Fi 6 devices, including speeds at the furthest point from the router that was 95% faster than connecting up close. That’s a near-perfect result and one that no other mesh system I’ve tested can match.

Is that kind of fast performance worth $700? I think most will find more value with something less expensive – and you have a growing number of solid options to fit the bill. But if you buy now and you want elite mesh performance, the price is damn, this is the system to get.

Read our Netgear Orbi 6 review.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Gaming routers promise high performance and low latency for die-hard gamers, and it’s not uncommon for them to sell for $300 or even $400. At around $250, the Asus RT-AX86U dual-band router isn’t cheap either, but it’s a strong value compared to routers like that – and the performance it delivers is nothing short of amazing.

Most notable is the router’s latency management. In fact, it leads all routers I’ve ever tested, gaming or otherwise, with the lowest average latency in all of my tests, which online gamers will surely appreciate. Something else you’ll love: an excellent mix of app-based controls and features, including a mobile boost mode, which allows you to prioritize game traffic to your phone at the touch of a button.

Aside from gaming features, the RT-AX86U fully supports Wi-Fi 6, with strong, stable speeds and good range. If you need extra range, you can add other Asus “AIMesh” devices to your home network to make it the center of a mesh.

That ticks all the boxes most people want from a good gaming router, and it gets you there at a price that isn’t too painful for us to recommend. Even if you’re not a gamer, this is still one of the best Wi-Fi 6 routers you can buy right now.

Read our list of the best gaming routers.

Router FAQs

I’ll post the answers to frequently asked questions about routers below — if you have any others, feel free to reach out on Twitter (@rycrist), or by clicking the little envelope icon on my CNET profile page. If you do this, you can send a message directly to my inbox.

What does a WiFi router do?

You must be connected to your modem to send and receive data from the Internet. Your router allows you to do that without the need for a cable. It’s basically a big, nice antenna for your modem that you can connect to it wirelessly, over Wi-Fi. You can also use that local Wi-Fi network to connect to other devices at home, such as printers or external storage servers.

How much should I spend on a router?

It depends on what you need and how many people and devices need to connect, but a small-to-medium-sized house or apartment can probably get by with a well-tested dual-band router in the $100 range. If your house is larger, it’s probably worth spending more on a mesh system that can spread more consistent speeds from room to room. And if you’re working from home, gaming online, or sharing bandwidth with multiple roommates or family members, upgrading to something like a high-speed tri-band router is probably a good investment too.

How do I set up a WiFi router?

The old-fashioned way is to plug it in and connect it to your modem via an Ethernet cable, then type the IP address into a browser’s URL bar to start the installation. The easier, more modern way is to use the router’s app, which typically walks you through the setup in about 5-10 minutes. Once installed, you can use either method to access the router’s settings or change your Wi-Fi password.

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