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

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Testing mesh routers Photo: John Walsh/Consumer Reports

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 says. “I would have spent the money on it years ago if I knew about it.”

Mesh uses several router units (often sold in packs of two or three) that wirelessly work together to spread WiFi deeper and more evenly through your home than a traditional single-unit router.

More on WiFi

The base station plugs directly into the modem that connects your home to the internet. The other units, referred to as satellites or beacons, can be shifted around until you find a setup that eliminates the dead spots, say, in your bedroom or home office.

You can always add more satellites as needed.

“Mesh is pretty close to the magic bullet,” says Richard Fisco, who oversees electronics testing for Consumer Reports.

Of course, all sorts of things can have an impact on your wireless router’s performance, from the materials used in the construction of your home (metal pipes and plaster can interfere with a WiFi signal) to the presence of large appliances or even a fish tank (water is a hindrance, too). But with well-placed mesh router units, you can often direct the signal over or around such obstacles.

And while mesh routers can get quite expensive—two models in our ratings cost north of $1,000 and several others exceed $500—you can now find a range of smart choices priced below $200.

So if you’re tired of pulling your hair out because your Zoom calls keep dropping or because “The Mandalorian” won’t stop bufffffering, these budget-friendly mesh routers may be the answer.

Netgear Orbi AC1200

This three-pack (one base station and two satellite units) performed well in our tests, offering speedy performance at a low price.

You’ll find smartphone 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.

This model supports WiFi 5, which was superseded by WiFi 6 in 2020, but can still provide years of good service if you’re not the sort to fill your home with state-of-the-art gadgets designed to maximize the benefits of WiFi 6 technology.

Netgear Nighthawk AX1800

This three-pack performed well in all three throughput tests and supports many of the useful features you’d expect to see in a top-rated router, including an app-based setup, and automatic firmware updating.

It’s also compatible with the WiFi 6 standard, which may be useful as you add devices that fully take advantage of the new tech to your home network.

Eero 6

Eero, which is owned by Amazon, helped popularize the very idea of mesh networking. And while the manufacturer does make a more powerful Eero Pro version, this one is a fine choice for most consumers.

As you might expect, it offers fast performance, convenient smartphone app-based setup and management, automatic firmware updates, and two built-in Ethernet ports. The model adds WiFi 6 support, which the earlier Eero Home lacked.

Google WiFi

Google currently makes two wireless routers: this model, known simply as Google WiFi, and a higher-end (and more expensive) model that carries the Nest branding. Both are good, but Google WiFi offers better value for the money.

The option we purchased is a three-pack, though Google also sells single units. That might be useful if you only want two or you wish to add more to expand the size of your network later on. The model scored well in our distance tests, and features smartphone-based setup and management and automatic firmware updates.

While there are two built-in Ethernet ports, there aren’t any built-in USB ports.

Headshot image of Electronics editor Nicholas Deleon

Nicholas De Leon

I've been covering consumer electronics for more than 10 years for publications like TechCrunch, The Daily (R.I.P.), and Motherboard. When I'm not researching or writing about laptops or headphones I can likely be found obsessively consuming news about FC Barcelona, replaying old Super Nintendo games for the hundredth time, or chasing my pet corgi Winston to put his harness on so we can go for a walk. Follow me on Twitter (@nicholasadeleon).