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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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.

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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.

When testing mesh routers, we measure the throughput (or speed that data travels) at three distances (near, midrange, and far) to simulate a typical home environment.

The near measurement is the speed of the router at 8 feet and midrange at 28 feet. The far-range figure is an average of the speed at 44 and 100 feet. The long-distance tests are measured from outside our test house, simulating what it might be like to work on your laptop while sitting on your back patio.

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 have tended to be significantly more expensive than their non-mesh counterparts—one high-scoring option in our ratings sells for $500—you can now find a range of smart choices priced below $250.

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, ordered by price, may be the answer.

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.

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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).