What's behind our wireless router Ratings?

Experts at our National Testing and Research Center tested 14 models in wireless routers to see which ones perform best.
We look for:
  • Overall score
    This is based on throughput performance at varying distances, ease of setup, security and versatility. The displayed score is out of a total of 100 points.
  • Throughput near
    The throughput (speed) of the communications measured very near to the router in a "typical" house with no other wireless interference. For our house this was 8 feet away from the router in the same room. Performance will vary based on size and construction of the house or apartment as well as how many floors, walls, doors and other obstructions are between the router and receiving device. The test result is only the actual data being sent and received and not the associated overhead that is sent along with it.
  • Throughput mid-range
    The throughput (speed) of the communications measured further away from the router but still in our "typical" house with no other wireless interference. For our house this was 28 feet away from the router in an adjacent room. Performance will vary based on size and construction of the house or apartment as well as how many floors, walls, doors and other obstructions are between the router and receiving device. The router and test system are in different rooms of the house. The test result is only the actual data being sent and received and not the associated overhead that is sent along with it.
  • Throughput far
    The throughput (speed) of the communications measured far away from the router using a "typical" house with no other wireless interference. For our house this was an average of results at 44 feet and 100 feet away from the router with both measurements being outside of the house. Performance will vary based on size and construction of the house or apartment as well as how many floors, walls, doors and other obstructions are between the router and receiving device. The test system is outside the house so walls, floors and the outside wall of our typical house have to be negotiated for the signal to connect. The test result is only the actual data being sent and received and not the associated overhead that is sent along with it.
  • Ease of setup
    A rating of setup features such as a smartphone app based setup feature, web browser based setup feature with a wizard, status LEDs, Wi-Fi protected setup, and guest network presence and setup.
  • Security
    A rating of security features such as encryption, remote administration default settings and filtering and firewall compatibility.
  • Versatility
    Includes hardware features such as orientation choices (if router can be wall mounted), number of LAN ports, QoS, parental controls, number and type of USB ports, tech support and warranty provisions. It also includes how a user manages the router through a web browser and/or a smartphone app.
  • Protocol
    The specific type of wireless networking standard. 802.11n is backward compatible with 802.11b and 802.11g. 802.11a adds wireless communications in the 5GHz frequency band. 802.11ac is the latest standard and is not backwards compatible with previous generations. Instead, manufacturers add an 802.11n radio to the router.

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Recommended wireless routers

Recommended wireless routers are standout choices with high scores. They include CR Best Buys, which offer exceptional value. When narrowing your choices, weigh features, price, and attributes that matter to you.
  • Buying Guide
  • Price & Shop
Wireless routers are devices that perform the functions of a router but also include the functions of a wireless access point. Wireless routers are commonly used to provide access to the Internet or a computer network. If you're looking for information about wireless routers, Consumer Reports is your best resource. Consumer Reports’ wireless router reviews will give you honest buying advice that you can trust. Use our wireless routers buying guide to discover which features are most important to consider. We also provide unbiased ratings and wireless router reviews to help you choose the best wireless router for your needs.

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Home WiFi System (Individual)
An 802.11ac wireless router with one Gigabit Ethernet port and 1 USB port. Includes an Ethernet cable.

Wireless router buying guide

A router lets you distribute the Internet connection in your home to a variety of devices, including desktop computers, laptops, smart phones, tablets, Internet-capable TV sets, and streaming media boxes. If your Internet service provider (ISP) is your cable company, then your router will plug into a cable modem, which provides your link to the Internet. For other types of service, such as Verizon FIOS, the router may in some cases be combined with a broadband modem in a single box that your provider supplies when you sign up. If you don't want to buy or rent a router from your service provider, you can still get one on your own.

A router typically includes both wired and wireless capability. Wired, or Ethernet, connections are better because they're faster and more secure than wireless. They're also less prone to interference from other devices in the home, such as cordless phones and microwave ovens. Of course, you're better off with a wireless connection if you're using a laptop or other mobile device. Wireless also eliminates the clutter that cables bring.

Besides the obvious reason that your router is broken, you might want to consider a new model because:

  • You already have a broadband modem directly connected to a single computer, but want to go online with multiple devices.
  • Your router has only wired connectivity, but you want to go online with wireless devices, such as a laptop or tablet.
  • Your existing router is too slow or its wireless range is too short to reach important places in your home.

The size and layout of your home will affect the performance of your router. So before you go shopping, do a quick assessment of your house or apartment. Do you live in a large house with many rooms and more than one floor? You'll want a router with a long range and strong data throughput at a distance. You should place the router in as central a location as possible. In our Ratings, look for a model with excellent or very good throughput in "far" situations.

Do you have a small apartment, where the router will be just a room away, or even in the same room? Distance won't play as big a role, but you'll still want speedy throughput capabilities. In our Ratings, look for a router that performs with excellent or very good throughput in both "near" and "typical" situations. Remember to activate the router's security features, especially if you live in close proximity to others, such as an apartment building or a crowded urban area.

Other aspects of your home might also interfere with your router's performance. Drywall, plaster, hollow doors, and uninsulated doors and floors cause some signal degradation. But the biggest offenders are aluminum studs (found in office buildings and modern apartments); insulated walls and floors; glass; and solid brick and stone. And of course the more floors, walls, and windows of any kind in the way, the worse for the signal. Throughput will be slower because of the weaker signal strength. With enough obstruction, the signal could eventually drop altogether.

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