Dependable wireless connectivity at home is as important to me as having running water and air conditioning in the summer (Mind you, I live in Arizona) – I just won’t be able to live without it. No, it’s not because I’m a social media junkie, or a 200-pound loser that gorges on Cheetos and plays Call of Duty all day. I basically put food on the table and fund my totally reasonable lifestyle through a whole lot of online freelance writing. This of course necessitates that I am online most of the day to coordinate with contractors, whether it’s via chat, e-mail exchanges, or video call.
That being said, my wireless setup at the office a.k.a. my home needs to consistently be on point and not stunt the speed I’m paying for, without costing me an arm and a leg. Then again, most people will only ever have to buy one router to last them at least a year before they even consider upgrading, so maybe busting a couple hundred bucks on a beast of a router will be totally worth it.
Personally, I’ve switched from one router to another, trying to find which one worked best given my provider and daily needs. If you want to know what I’ve learned so far about each of them, keep reading. I’ve arranged these short reviews from the cheapest to the most expensive, but keep in mind that a price tag does not determine performance. Enjoy!
Apple AirPort Express Base Station
Pro: Affordable, compact, pretty, easy to setup
Con: Streaming gets wonky
When I was first looking for a router, I was focused more on not breaking the bank and just getting online ASAP. My clients were waiting for me! Being the basic girl that I was, I went for old faithful – something by Apple. Picked up this pretty little thing for $99 (seriously, Apple’s main selling point for everything is aesthetic value) and I found myself online in no-time. Setup was a breeze, and signal strength and speed throughout my one-bedroom apartment was surprisingly strong and fairly fast for something that’s about the same size as my palm.
NETGEAR N300 Wi-Fi Range Extender, Essentials Edition (EX2700)
Pro: Super cheap, practically plug-and-play setup
Con: Speed goes down as signal is boosted
I know I said I’d write these products up starting from the cheapest and work my way up, but don’t be confused just because I sneaked a $39.99 Wi-Fi range extender in here. You’ll encounter another one further down the list, but I just felt it’s important to make it easier to immediately show what other budget-friendly thing you can get to boost your already budget-friendly router’s performance – which is what I did, when I first picked up my Apple router.
With a featherweight price tag, you can’t really go wrong with this NETGEAR extender. It works with all kinds of routers and sets up ridiculously easy, practically only requiring you to plug it in a wall socket. Only issue I noticed was whenever I connected to the extender, my internet was not as fast. This isn’t an isolated negative, however, as speed really is compromised when it comes to range extenders. It’ll just depend on how much the built-in technology succeeds at preserving most of the speed.
Tenda Router (AC15)
Pro: Affordable midrange router, easy setup, decent 5GHz performance
Con: Butt ugly
Right off the bat, you will behold this router’s lack of aesthetic impact. That being said, I was able to take this product for a spin because my roommate had it with her when she moved in. Curious to see if it would perform better than my then Apple router setup, I got it running. Overall, I did not notice any difference in performance and speed, although this router streamed media a bit more reliably. Still, it was too annoying to look at, and I immediately reverted to my original setup.
I’m such a girl about it, fine. You’ll argue I’m too critical for something that only costs $129, but I’ll argue right back that it does not significantly improve your internet experience, but it will significantly decrease your pad’s style.
Pro: Easy setup, crazy range without decreasing speed
Con: Non-discreet for something that plugs into the wall
When I began feeling dissatisfied with the slow speeds I would get with the NETGEAR N300 range extender, I decided to up my game to this piece. For a Wi-Fi extender, maybe you’ll feel $149 is a bit pricey, but I assure you it’s worth it. Setup was fairly easy, and I would get crazy full strength signal even several feet outside my apartment. I was also really giddy about it maintaining the network’s base speed. Even if it does dip every now and then, it’s hardly noticeable and takes only a few minutes to bounce right back. Also expect that you will encounter a few bugs in performance after some firmware updates, but I think the latest updates have sorted those out. Overall, this is a great addition to your home network, if you don’t mind that it’s look screams “I’M HERE”, that is.
ASUS (RT-AC68U) Wireless-AC1900 Dual-Band Gigabit Router
Pro: Monster performance
Con: Not wall mountable, expensive, will need a high-end provider to be maximized
This router means business, from its price tag of $199 to its overall, ultra-modern look. Setup is still as easy as most routers go, and you will feel like a super villain in a high-tech evil lair with this device’s speed, signal strength and reliability. However, if you do not need much from the internet and if you insist on sticking with a totally standard internet package, busting a couple hundred bucks on this router will be unnecessary. It is expensive because it assumes you can also afford a high-end internet service provider, so you can launch your plans to dominate the world.
ASRock Gaming Router (GAMING ROUTER G10)
Pro: Sleek, glossy look, monster performance
Con: Expensive, an advanced router maximized only by gamers
I know I said I wasn’t a 200-pound loser who pounds bags of Cheetos while playing Call of Duty all the live-long day, but, I will admit that I put in several hours of gaming on my Playstaton 4 a week. I was given a chance to test this router out thanks to one of my good friends, who is an avid gamer. He brought it over for a week to let me absolutely lose my mind over impeccably lag-free gaming. I had no idea I could max out my console’s video settings while on my midrange internet service provider and still achieve smooth gameplay. If you’re all about that gaming life, this router is hands down, the best your $289 can get you.
Ubiquiti Networks UniFi AP Enterprise WiFi System UAP-3
Pro: Router and range extenders all-in-one, easy wall mountability, compact
Con: Phone support, buggy connectivity
I did not exactly purchase this Wi-Fi system, but I was there the first few weeks my friend had them installed and running throughout his new bed and breakfast. This system, for $299, is a router and extender package, ideal for a business that takes up considerable space, say a motel, warehouse, series of offices, etc. Their round, compact design is easy on the eyes, so even if you scatter them across your property to keep the Wi-Fi signal up, they don’t draw attention to themselves. For the bundled price, they provide okay signal strengths and speeds, but I would suggest a periodic restart to avoid annoying users with its sometimes spotty connection. I wouldn’t bank on phone support either, as my friend nearly punched a wall trying to get someone to help him troubleshoot installation.