Routers are the unsung heros among all the gadgets in your home. Like your electricity or gas supply, they provide an essential service to your home: the internet that's required by so many devices.
But before you buy a new router, make sure you know which type you need. First, work out if you need one with a modem built in or not.
In the UK, most people need a 'modem router' because the most common type of broadband is ADSL or VDSL, both of which require a modem. Other type is for people with cable broadband, such as Virgin, or any other service that provides a separate box to which a router would connect.
The next decision is whether a single router is going to be enough for you. These days you can buy what's called mesh Wi-Fi, which is complementary to your existing router.
A mesh Wi-Fi system is essentially made up of two or more wireless routers which talk to each other and deliver a Wi-Fi network that can cover even the largest of homes. Your phone or other mobile device will switch seamlessly between these as you move around your home.
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 plug in to your existing router.
- See the best mesh Wi-Fi systems.
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. They may work for you, but if you've already done everything we suggest, an upgrade may well be the answer.
The latest standard is Wi-Fi 6 and as long as you have a phone, laptop or other device which also supports it, you can also get a faster connection by buying a Wi-Fi 6 router. Phone manufacturer Honor launched a super cheap option for £79.99 in the UK, one of the cheapest around.
However, if you reason for reading this is because you need better Wi-Fi in just one room, you could be better off buying a set of powerline network adapters with built-in Wi-Fi.
So, there are quite a few options open to you, but if you want to keep things simple and replace your old router with a new one, then here's what we recommend you buy.
Best Wi-Fi routers 2020: Reviews
1. D-Link EXO AC2600 - Best Overall
- No modem
The D-Link DIR-2660 EXO AC2600 is a big improvement on routers provided by most ISPs. It delivers better range and faster 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.
Five years of McAfee protection (at router level) is bundled and really adds value.
Bear in mind this router does not include a modem, so is best for those who have cable broadband rather than ADSL / VDSL from BT, TalkTalk and others.
Read our full D-Link EXO AC2600 review
2. Asus DSL-AC68U - Best Performer
3. Tenda AC10U - Best Value
- No modem
If you're after a router to replace your standard ISP offering, the Tenda AC10U is an inexpensive way to do so. It's easy to set up and use and has a useful companion app for managing the router from your phone.
Don’t expect it to match expensive routers for performance, though. Speed is fine but not the best you can get.
Ultimately, if you can afford to spend more you can get better Wi-Fi speed and range.
Read our full Tenda AC10U review
4. AVM Fritz!Box 7590 - Best For Enthusiasts
- Built-in ADSL/VDSL modem
A router by name, yet so much more in reality. The AVM Fritz!Box 7590 makes other router makers just look like they’re just not trying.
However, it's expensive and you'll need to use the extra features on offer to make it worth spending the extra money.
One of those features is the ability to use with the Fritz!Repeater 3000 to form a mesh Wi-Fi network.
Read our full AVM FRITZ!Box 7590 review
5. Netgear Nighthawk AX4 - Supports Wi-Fi 6
The Netgear Nighthawk AX4 is a decent router with a slick design and handy features such as being able to connect a hard drive for backup.
It also offers extremely fast performance.
It's an affordable way to get the latest Wi-Fi 6 standard, but you probably don't need to go beyond 802.11ac (Wi-Fi 5) unless you want the most future-proof router you can get.
One of the main features of this new standard is being able to handle loads of devices at once, but this is unlikely to be necessary in most homes - especially because there aren't many phones, tablets and laptops which support Wi-Fi 6 yet.
Read our full Netgear Nighthawk AX4 review
6. Netgear XR500 Nighthawk Pro - Best For Gamers
- No modem
As gaming routers go, this is a spectacular one. The DumaOS gives the XR500 the sort of operating system flexibility that you get from a Synology NAS. The operating system 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. If you can afford it, you won't be disappointed.
Read our full Netgear XR500 Nighthawk Pro review
7. AVM Fritz!Box 7530 - VOIP Support
The Fritz!Box 7530 is a much cheaper alternative to the 7590 yet still offers a lot of the additional features of that model including VOIP support and network media streaming.
More importantly, thanks to the latest software update, you can use the 7530 as part of a mesh Wi-Fi network in conjunction with Fritz!Repeater 3000 or, indeed, the 7590.
It's a fine option if you're looking to upgrade an old router with one that offers good performance at a reasonable price. But it is best suited to more tech-savvy users who will get the most out of it.
Read our full AVM Fritz Box 7530 review
8. Synology RT2600ac - Best For Attaching Storage
Synology has approached its router range with the same design ethic as its excellent NAS range and the RT2600ac is the stunning result.
Where some router manufacturers merely talk about security, flexibility and performance, the RT2600ac unequivocally delivers on all three counts.
It's also pretty handy if you don't already own a NAS drive, as you can attach a hard drive to this router and it'll basically become one.
Read our full Synology RT2600ac review
Wi-Fi router buying advice
Do I need an 802.11ac or Wi-Fi 6 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 hub such as the TP-Link SG1005D although that creates more wires and power supplies to hide away. (Here are the best Ethernet hubs.)
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.