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If your laptop, smartphone, or tablet uses the latest wireless-AC networking technology and you’re shopping for a new router, you should get the Netgear R6250. The benefits of wireless-ac are great: super-fast performance that can be stronger at longer distances than wireless-n routers. More than 100 hours of combined testing and research led us to the $150 R6250, which boasts the best combination of speed, price, and features of any router in its price range, and unlike more expensive and newer routers, has technology your most modern gear can actually take advantage of.
How we decided on the R6250
Our pick supports two data streams for wireless-n and three for wireless-ac. Our research indicates that two-stream wireless-N and -AC technology are the most common connection types for laptops, tablets, and smartphones, while three-stream wireless-ac is what you'll find on new top-of-the-line laptops like the latest MacBook Pro.
How did we pick this price point? Basically, a $200 router can be faster than our main pick, but only if your devices can take advantage of it—most things we own today can’t. On the other hand, paying less than $100 for a wireless-ac router means sacrificing speed and/or range, and you might also lose a number of useful features, like media streaming, parental controls, and remote access.
Our router finalists for speed and features, based on a lot of research and interviewing with the best wireless gear testers, were the Netgear R6250 ($150), Asus RT-AC56U ($112), Asus RT-AC66U ($170), and TP-Link Archer C7 ($99). We tested them by running performance benchmarks at four different testing stations inside a 2,700 square-foot, one-story house.
In our tests, Netgear’s R6250 delivered great performance for its price. Its features are comprehensive, it's reliable, and it looks good. It’s easy to set up, with both a basic mode and an advanced mode to give networking gurus extra control. Wireless networking expert Tim Higgins, of SmallNetBuilder, also puts the R6250 ahead of its peers.
The Runner Up
If for some reason the R6250 is unavailable, or too expensive, we recommend the Asus RT-AC56U. It’s as good as the R6250 in terms of speed and range and was a strong runner up. But we, and some people who bought it, encountered occasional stability issues when connecting to its 2.4GHz wireless band. Asus hasn’t updated the router since we tested it, and some Amazon reviewers are still seeing performance issues on the latest firmware. Caveat emptor.
If you have a $100 limit
If you prefer to spend less than $100, get the $99 TP-Link Archer C7. It has excellent speed and range, but its interface is harder to use. Some features, like parental controls and USB file sharing, are implemented poorly. Others, like Quality of Service settings, are missing entirely. The C7 also ignores wireless coexistence rules, so it may interfere with your neighbors' Wi-Fi. The Netgear R6250 is better for most people because its interface is more comprehensive and intuitive. There’s more you can do, and it’s easier to do it.
Even better, but not worth it for most
There are many routers around $200 with more features and faster performance, but they’re not worth it for most people. The Netgear Nighthawk R7000 ($192) is among the most popular. It has features our main pick doesn't, like support for Time Machine, VPN and iTunes, and advanced Quality of Service (QoS) settings. It supports a new technology called TurboQAM that can give wireless devices more bandwidth, but to use TurboQAM right now, you need a $100 Wi-Fi adapter that only works in desktop PCs, so it's not yet worth paying extra for. The R7000's three-stream wireless-ac speeds are significantly faster than the R6250's, so if you have lots of three-stream devices, like a room full of new MacBook Pros, the R7000 is a good upgrade. But most people don't, so there's little reason to spend this much money on a router.
We think the $150 R6250 is the best all-around wireless-ac router for most people, but you’re going to want to make sure it’s the best router for your home or apartment setup.
This guide may have been updated. To see the current recommendation please go to The Wirecutter.com