Sometimes, all the tips and tricks in the Wi-Fi world can’t help you. You might be experiencing symptoms such as dropped connections outside your home, the need to turn off your media streaming box when you want to play an online game, or worse yet, slow surfing even while you’re sitting just a few rooms away from your router. If your router is more than a couple of years old and is struggling in more places than not, a new router or a mesh-networking kit will improve your Wi-Fi’s range, stability, and speed all over your home.
Over the past three years, we’ve tested and evaluated 60 routers over 320 hours, and we’ve determined that the best router for wirelessly connecting your laptops, your smart devices, and anything else your daily life depends on is the TP-Link Archer AX50.
TP-Link Archer AX50
In our tests the TP-Link Archer AX50 created a speedy, responsive network even from across a medium house. You have to spend a lot more on a router—or a mesh kit if you have a very large home—to get anything even a little better. It’s our first WI-Fi 6 (802.11ax) router pick.
The TP-Link Archer AX50 is reasonably priced, yet it can handle a growing selection of laptops and smart devices while surpassing the performance of routers that cost twice as much. It’s generally speedy and able to reach long range, it has little lag even when the network is busy, and it’s a great choice if you have a high-performance internet service plan. It’s compatible with Wi-Fi 6, the latest wireless standard, and it comes with built-in security in the form of a lifetime subscription to updates.
TP-Link Archer AX20
The Archer AX20 offers fewer features than our pick for a slightly lower price, but in most cases it can keep up in throughput, responsiveness, and ease of setup.
If our pick is out of stock or its price is more than $30 higher, you should consider the TP-Link Archer AX20 instead. The AX20 looks like the AX50 and offers a strong, responsive network that’s nearly as good, especially if your house isn’t larger than our 2,300-square-foot-test home. But it’s not quite as fast at longer ranges, and TP-Link sacrifices a few advanced features and settings in its administration interface to meet the lower price.
If you have gigabit internet service or want to dig into the settings to fine-tune your network, the RT-AX88U’s extra features and improved speed and range are worth the higher cost. But it’s overkill in most homes.
The Asus RT-AX88U had close to the least lag of any router we tested, and it was faster overall than our top picks, but you pay twice the price for what constitutes a small improvement for most people. We think the upgrade is worth the expense if you’ve already invested in gigabit internet service and need a powerful router to work with all that bandwidth. This model is also a prime choice for your geekier side—if you want to spend an hour or five over the weekend tweaking your router settings to optimize a new smart device or your videoconferencing performance, this Asus model provides more options for customization than our other picks.
TP-Link Archer A8
The TP-Link Archer A8 is relatively inexpensive and still performs better at close range than pricier models. It’s a reliable option for a small home or an apartment with a few people and their devices.
If you’re looking to save money, or if you have modest needs, the TP-Link Archer A8 can still provide a solid network for a small home or a multi-room apartment. At longer distances, it’s measurably slower than our more expensive picks, so it’s not well suited for multi-story houses, and the connection may stutter if it isn’t centrally located in an apartment or home with more than two bedrooms. But over shorter distances in our tests, the Archer A8 was still able to outperform some routers that cost over $150. The Archer A8 also has modern features like WPA3 and compatibility with TP-Link’s OneMesh extenders, eclipsing our last budget pick, the Archer A7, in that regard.