There are two main types of routers, those with built-in modems and those without. In the UK, most people use the first type because the most common type of broadband is ADSL (and VDSL) which require a modem. The second type is for people with cable broadband, such as Virgin.
Actually, there's now a third type of router - mesh Wi-Fi kits. 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. And they're not as expensive as you might think, so if you were planning to buy a new router because your current one doesn't bathe your whole home with Wi-Fi, then take a good look at a mesh system as it will connect to your existing router and should provide a much better signal.
In fact, you might not need to spend anything at all: we've written a guide on how to improve Wi-Fi in your home, which includes some great tips on getting better speed and coverage from your existing router.
However, if you need better Wi-Fi in just one room, you could be better off buying a set of powerline network adaptors with built-in Wi-Fi.
Do I need an 802.11ac router?
802.11ac is the prevalent standard at the moment, so chances are that any reasonably priced router you look at will support this standard. The latest routers have so-called Wi-Fi 6, which is supposed to be even better when you have many Wi-Fi devices trying to access the internet at the same time. It's early days for Wi-Fi 6, though, and almost no phones and laptops support it.
What features should I look for in a router?
Once you know the type of router you need, it's 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. Sometimes these will be mounted inside, so check the specs or our expert reviews to be sure what you’re getting. Our extensive lab testing suggests that internally mounted antennas can be just as effective as routers that rock the stealth bomber look, so you don't have to have something that looks like an inverted robot spider to get good performance.
With many homes still finding a need for wired ethernet connections, it makes sense to have a good number of LAN ports - check out our guide to the best ethernet cables if you want to maximise speeds in a wired network.
Look for Gigabit ports, as these run up to 10 times faster than the older 10/100 Ethernet ports.
Don't worry too much about the number of ports, as these can be easily and cheaply extended using a Gigabit switch such as the TP-Link SG1005D although that creates more wires and power supplies to hide away
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 RT2600ac 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 such as a B&B.
The routers reviewed below are a mixture of those with modems and those without, so do make sure you know what you need before buying one.
Best Wi-Fi routers 2020
- Reviewed on: 8 January 2020
The D-Link DIR-2660 EXO AC2600 is a strong improvement routers provided by UK ISPs, providing better range and faster overall speeds thanks to 802.11ac Wave 2 Wi-Fi with MU-MIMO tech, and comes with a whole host of family-focused features to keep the little ones safe when browsing the web.
Bundle that with router-level McAfee protection a budget-friendly price-tag, and there's not a lot to complain about.
Read our D-Link EXO AC2600 review.
- Reviewed on: 3 September 2015
Don't be fooled by thinking that because it was released a few years back the AC68U isn't a good buy today. At this price it's a good deal and if you don't need a modem, get the RT-AC68U version instead of the DSL.
Read our Asus DSL-AC68U review.
- Reviewed on: 11 August 2016
We hope MU-MIMO performance can also be improved further and 2.4 GHz performance at a distance was middling. Aside from these caveats we were impressed with the TP-Link Archer VR2600. If you can stick with 5 GHz channels all the better but if not, you’ll still have a very strong all-round performer. If you’re looking for a one-box solution to replace a BT Home Hub we’d recommend the Archer VR2600.
Read our TP-Link VR2600 review.
- Reviewed on: 3 May 2018
As gaming routers go, this is a spectacular one. The DumaOS brings the XR500 into line with the operating system flexibility that you’d expect from a Synology NAS. This OS is focused on effective network management rather than providing network services, though.
We’d like it to be cheaper, but that is so true of many of the most desirable devices.
Read our Netgear XR500 Nighthawk Pro review.
- Reviewed on: 3 July 2017
The Asus DSL-AC88U manages to deliver the key Wi-Fi, LAN and broadband connectivity in a highly effective one-size-fits-all package. It’s far superior to the typical router that broadband suppliers provide, and ideal for any household that uses Wi-Fi extensively.
Just watch out for the RT-AC88U version when buying: this is an identical-looking router but it lacks the ADSL modem necessary for most UK broadband packages.
Read our Asus DSL-AC88U review.
- Reviewed on: 21 September 2018
A router by name, yet so much more in reality. The AVM FRITZ!Box 7590 makes other router makers just look like they’ve not been trying.
However, it's expensive and you'll need to use the extra features on offer to make it worth the relatively high price.
Read our AVM FRITZ!Box 7590 review.
- Reviewed on: 9 August 2016
A cable router that offers great performance, especially over 5GHz. It also has a smart design and plenty of features which are easily accessed in the simple-to-use interface.
Read our Asus RT-AC87U review.
- Reviewed on: 28 January 2019
The Fritz!Box 7530 is a good option if you're looking to upgrade an old router with one that offers good performance at a reasonable price.
We're pleased with the amount of additional features including VOIP support and network media streaming if that's what you're after.
The main issue is that the software is sub-par compared to rivals, where iOS doesn't get the same experience found on Android. In this respect, it's more suited to advanced users.
Read our AVM Fritz Box 7530 review.
- Reviewed on: 5 July 2017
Synology has approached the router with the same design ethic as their excellent NAS range, and the RT2600ac is the stunning result. Where other router makers talk-the-talk of security, flexibility and performance, the RT2600ac unequivocally delivers on those words.
Read our Synology RT2600ac review.
- Reviewed on: 29 July 2019
The Netgear Nighthawk AX4 is a decent router with a slick design, handy features such as being able to connect a hard drive for backup and extremely fast performance.
It's an affordable entry to 11ax Wi-Fi 6, but you probably don't need to go beyond 11ac unless you want to future-proof. One of the main features of this newer standard is being able to handle loads of devices at once, but this is unlikely to be necessary in most homes - especially with a lack of devices out that are compatible.
This is an easy router to set up and use, but the app is a little basic with no advanced parental controls.
Read our Netgear Nighthawk AX4 review.