Best Mesh WiFi Router Systems for $250 or Less
These budget-friendly models can improve your home WiFi network without straining your wallet, CR's testers say
Bratton McGregor was tired of dealing with crummy WiFi.
A small business owner who lives just outside Mobile, Ala., he merely wanted to stream Netflix and play the occasional video game on the family iPad. But it wasn’t until he upgraded to a mesh router that he was able to do so.
“Mesh has been a lifesaver for my entire house,” he said in a recent interview. “I would have spent the money on it years ago if I knew about it.”
Still relatively new, the technology uses several router units (often sold in packs of three) that wirelessly work together to spread WiFi deeper and more evenly through your home than a traditional single-unit router.
Netgear Orbi AC1200
This three pack (one base station and two satellite units) performed well in our tests, but it doesn’t rate quite as high as other mesh routers in this roundup when it comes to speed at midrange and far distances.
Given the low price, though, there’s a lot to like here, including an easy app-based setup, a single built-in Ethernet port (useful for connecting a device such as a printer or game console), and automatic firmware updates, which protect you from hackers, malware, and other security vulnerabilities.
The model supports WiFi 5, the WiFi standard that debuted in 2013. It was superseded in 2020 by WiFi 6 (which offers better performance as you add more connected devices to your network). So the Orbi AC1200 doesn't feature the very latest technology, but it's still a good option even for the near future.
Eero Home WiFi (2nd Gen.)
Eero, which is owned by Amazon, helped popularize the very idea of mesh networking. And while the manufacturer does make more powerful models (see the Pro), this one is a fine choice for most consumers.
We tested the previous-generation model, not the one introduced in November 2020, and it offers fast signal speeds, convenient app-based setup, automatic firmware updates, two built-in Ethernet ports, and support for both 2.4GHz and 5GHz networks using WiFi 5. The newer Eero models support WiFi 6.
Why would you spring for Eero’s more expensive models? They may provide faster speeds in larger homes.
Netgear Nighthawk AX1800
This three-pack performed well in all three throughput tests, making it a great pick for consumers who need fast, reliable speed in a large home. It supports many of the useful features you’d expect to see in a top-rated router, including an app-based setup, automatic firmware updating, and support for both 2.4GHz and 5GHz networks.
It's also compatible with the WiFi 6 standard. That’s somewhat rare among the mesh routers in our ratings, so you're future-proofing yourself here.
WiFi 6 is designed for people who have a large number of devices—smartphones, laptops, tablets, smart speakers, etc.—connected to their home WiFi networks.
Our testers did note, however, that the model doesn’t have any built-in USB ports, which means you won’t be able to plug in a printer, game console, or external hard drive.