Although gamers have always preferred cabled connections, we too could use reliable Wi-Fi around our homes. It’s handy to stream gameplay to the couch or to your phone, or to get consoles up and running without running extra wires. But where to start looking for your next router? Today, we’re looking at some of the best routers in 2021, specifically those that let you game and stream around the house freely.
We love the Nighthawk X6. Coming from one of the most well-known producers of cheap routers, Netgear has a firm grasp on what makes high-end networking technology work. The Nighthawk X6 is the perfect blend of price and performance. Nearly any consumer level setup will hit top speeds with the X6. Tri-Band Wi-Fi and six antennae make the X6 a formidable piece of tech.
The six antennae mean that you can comfortable connect over a dozen devices to the X6 without suffering a loss of speed. The coverage is also particularly broad for this model. Most modern two-story homes will easily have full signal throughout the house and even a bit outside as long as the house isn’t constructed from signal blocking material. If range is an issue, you can easily solve that using the Netgear Mesh technology. Mesh easily connects to other Netgear products in seconds and can turn an older (Or newer!) Netgear router into a signal extender for areas needing less signal strength. There’s a lot to love about the X6.
The X6 doesn’t shy away from gaming either. Rather the X6 offers one our favorite router technologies, QoS (All routers we selected have some form of this tech). QoS or Quality of service allows you to pick and choose where bandwidth is allocated down to the program. Whether it’s gaming, streaming, or other forms of internet usage. With QoS it’s easy to prioritize gaming. QoS varies widely from router to router. Netgear offers great dynamic QoS meaning it’ll change to work with your devices accordingly.
The benefit to this is that with the correct setup, programs won’t download in the background sucking out bandwidth while you play or streaming from others in the house won’t steal the precious data going to your console. All QoS systems are a little different but they’re an amazing additional step in making your gaming experience smooth. Overall, it’s a sleek, modern, powerful router. Netgear equipped the X6 with enough RAM and a strong enough processor to handle all the devices that connect. This is an oft-overlooked breaking point on cheaper routers. So, what’s the downside?
The only con to the X6 is that it isn’t the best technology on the market. In fact, a superior model, the X6S is available and has a lot more oomph under the hood. There is also the X8 and X10. The reality though is that this model will do everything most users need at a level of excellence that exceeds other products. And it’ll do that at a cheaper price.
So, while other upgraded models exist and are important to consider, most will find a minor difference at a much higher price. That’s why we selected the X6 over newer models with shiny features but a hefty price tag. It does what you need as a gamer quite well. Some users will want a more specific focus for streaming or other usages though. In that case we’d recommend some of the following router options.
Not only is it an amazing router. When it comes to router technology, the X6 is the best cheap gaming router you’ll find. Going significantly cheaper cuts quality down dramatically and makes the upgrade from standard router to gaming router moot.
Linksys is well-known for creating the iconic router. Nearly any small business or home at some point has had the old WRT54G model sitting around. The WRT AC3200 expands upon this design but keeps that familiar reliable aesthetic. Typically, many businesses employ a variety of Linksys routers because they work hard, take minimal effort to set up, and have serious power at a low cost.
Despite the similar look though the WRT AC3200 has much more strength than the old school Linksys model. The WRT AC3200 is a solid router at a price point that won’t break the bank while offering features found on the best routers around. Where the WRT AC3200 shines most is in customizability. This is the perfect router for the networking junky, those who want a bit more adaptability in a router and want a unique device that they can tinker around with.
Before we jump to that though, some of you might be terrified of dealing with the old Linksys software. It must be mentioned that Linksys greatly improved the classic onboard router software. It’s no longer slow, clunky, and obnoxious to use. Rather, Linksys has adapted to modern routing trends by producing an excellent Wi-Fi portal and mobile app. This is a huge boon to those who hate dealing with the old finicky router sites of yesterday. Despite all the effort to fix the old software, Linksys is absolutely ok with others adding in unique router software!
Where Linksys stands apart from the competition is making the WRT AC3200 very open-source friendly. That means techies who want to tinker and push networking gear to the edge can install open-source programs like OpenWRT and DD-WRT. For techies and network professionals, usability can skyrocket, and new firmware opens all sorts of unique avenues for success. For instance, one can change the strength of a signal by boosting it, use unique security configurations such as VPN’s, and even overclock the router. For a power user, the WRT AC3200 gives a playground of possibilities.
The biggest con of the WRT AC3200 is simply that there are routers that can overpower this pretty quickly. That’s not to say the WRT AC3200 isn’t a beast in its own right (In fact it’s probably the most powerful dual-band router around). It’s just that this router isn’t as powerful as the more high-end models. It might struggle once you start adding over a dozen devices and the dual-band set up leaves something to desire for a gaming router. Yet the WRT AC3200 is still one of the cheapest gaming routers around though and definitely worth a look for gamers and networking pros.
The AC5300 is one of the most well-known Gaming Routers on the market. While often mocked for its upside down spider style, the AC5300 is one of those legendary pieces of gear that you’ll hear about years from now. That’s because the AC5300 offers cutting-edge technology with an ease of use few networking products have.
For instance, unlike most in-home routers, the AC5300 offers amazingly intuitive sleek router software. ASUS went even further by offering a beautiful App chock full of features. That means you can change router settings anywhere in the house and do that on the fly. You can even monitor traffic and make sure pesky neighbors (Or relatives) aren’t stealing free bandwidth. It’s not just software though. The ASUS AC5300 has some killer parts inside.
Obviously the most important aspect of a gaming router is how it actually performs. The bandwidth of the AC5300 is extremely high meaning that you’ll never clog this router even when streaming high-cost content such as 4K UHD video — although it doesn’t do justice compared to the X10 at 4K.
With MU-MIMO and eight antennae you can expect this router to perform comfortably with sixteen or more devices. That means this device is great for house-parties and homes with many devices.
The AC5300 doesn’t sacrifice range either for all that power. Most houses can centralize this bad boy and cover the entire property and then some. That means no more lag-spikes when gaming on the go, a boon to those who use laptops or get down on Nintendo 3DS. Obviously, walls made from dense materials can block Wi-Fi waves so results vary but the average house will be just fine. The AC5300 is part of the current strategy at ASUS to use AiMesh. Basically, an easy to use and intuitive form of Wi-Fi Mesh software, ASUS makes it simple to connect any ASUS device with another ASUS device for use as a node or separate router.
If you already have a cheap ASUS router lying around, you don’t have to discard it, rather you can turn it into a toned down signal extender as long as it’s AiMesh compatible. A lot of the features that sell this are software, but it has top-notch parts as well with one of the highest overall Data Transfer Rates on the market. You’ll love this router the moment you start it up.
There is one aspect that consumers should be aware of with the AC5300. The AC5300 has eight antennas and takes up a pretty large footprint for a router. We mean huge. It’s large enough that you’ll want to consider where it’ll go before picking one up. The antennae do detach for unique setups that require a slightly smaller footprint, but you basically have to dedicate a UPS box sized space for the AC5300. We really urge you to consider the size before a purchase. Eyeballing this router doesn’t do justice to its goliath proportions. Routers generally aren’t show-pieces though so most homes will have enough room.
Nighthawk makes our list multiple times because they have done a phenomenal job with gaming routers. Netgear really sets a high bar and produces a wide range of solid, easy to use, purposeful devices. Whether you want top-notch quality or a decent mid-range router, the Nighthawk series by Netgear is overall a fantastic collection of networking hardware. The X6S in no exception.
Following on the heels of the widely beloved X6 (Our favorite Gaming Router this year) the X6S innovates with a much-improved processor, higher bandwidth speeds, and overall better quality. Capable of keeping fifteen devices running smoothly, the X6S is faster and stronger than its little brother. The processor is pretty powerful too meaning that you don’t feel the lag and drag that most routers give when making changes to settings. It’s another simple touch that makes this experience better and better.
Like all of the recent Nighthawk models, the X6S is stunningly simple to set up in a mesh configuration and quite user-friendly. The X6S also shares the same simple App that Netgear has continued to improve upon. That means you can make any compatible router into a wifi extender in a matter of minutes.
This is a huge boon to those with complex setups needing multiple routers or stringing connections across a large building. Chances are most won’t have to worry about that at all as the X6S possesses immense range for a home router. As an added note, we also love the size. Some routers on this list are so large they basically need a dedicated closet, but the X6S has a tiny footprint for all the power it packs.
So, what’s negative about the X6S? It’s a beast of a router and those with the cash to spend will find this an amazing investment. The negative to this is that the X6 is cheaper and the improvement isn’t such a huge revolution that a majority of setups will know the difference (Although if you expect more than a dozen devices, this is a go-to winner). It’s simply a return on investment issue. The X6S is obviously superior but those power users who need more strength from a router are the ones likely to get the most out of this router.
Just a few years ago, gaming routers were relatively unknown. Routers were merely designed for business applications, while gaming took a backseat. Routers were known simply as boring office rectangles. D-Link realized this though and made a sleek, modern, powerful router that boldly showed gamers that routers can be different.
D-Link decided to release one of the boldest and best routers on the market in an eye-popping Cherry Red. While we admit the bold color choice isn’t for everyone, the DIR-890 is a solid gaming router that offers all the modern features such as QoS, killer range, and six antennae. It still goes head-to-head with many modern pieces of tech and comes out on top.
The DIR-890 is not only colorful and bold, it was absolutely designed with gamers in mind. This is seen in the intuitive software as well as the very simple, yet powerful QoS options that are offered. The DIR-890 QoS system lists four different categories of focus, and you select the priority.
That means you can put Gaming in the front seat and web browsing in the backseat. With two bands you have the ability to keep a short-range network for all your gaming devices and a more open long-range 2.4 GHz signal for guests and friends. D-Link poured a lot of work into this router meaning it’s rated for 4K streaming and intensive tasks. You can’t go wrong with this item.
The largest drawback and that would have to be age. The router is nearing three years old and newer models do exist. This can be an advantage though as some cheaper models occasionally hit the market. It also lacks a third band which is fine but some users will want an additional wireless band for separating out devices. Still, the DIR-890 was released to instant acclaim. That still holds true, especially for those who want some legendary gear in Cherry Red.
The RT-AC88U is simple in design but mighty. Despite having only four antennae and an inconspicuous design, the AC88U has one of the largest square foot coverage of any router on the market. At 5000 square feet you get enough coverage for nearly any home with just one router. That’s a pretty amazing accomplishment. Like all coverage estimates, a wise setup will make sure you get the most out that range, but it’s near impossible to get a bad signal with this router. It’s all about coverage with this model. You can find other routers with more features or powerful hardware but the RT-AC88U is simply unbeatable in range.
We love the power of the RT-AC88U. And despite being quite powerful for its size the AC-88U runs for a long time with numerous devices without getting too hot due to some great internal components. As we’ve pointed out before, ASUS makes setting up a home network particularly easy by use of the AiMesh. This feature helps mix various ASUS routers together to expand the coverage in a home. Instead of spending hours trying to get two different routers to play nicely together, you can simply connect to them and use them in seconds. No more tossing out old routers, just add more to the collection. This also uses the same router app we covered in our AC5300 review meaning that you can make changes to the router particularly easy.
The biggest con of the AC-88U is simply the lack of antennae. Despite a huge range, the Achilles tendon of the AC-88U is that a simple change could have made this router shine so much more. The more antennae, the less a signal needs to split as one antenna can beam to multiple devices. So that means you can use eight devices before experiences the first start of symptoms from splitting. Even at twelve devices it’ll run fine but eventually you’ll start to feel the lack of speed. This is fine for most routers but additional antennae would have pushed this router even further toward greatness.
While it’s a bit more expensive, the RT-AC5300 improves upon the AC88U in many ways. It’s also got fantastic coverage and can handle far more devices if you’re willing to pay a bit more.
Consoles have some unique set up situations so we selected these routers as our favorites for those who love to play a variety of console games.
Not only is the X6 our favorite router but it wins for console-setup because of the Tri-Band feature. With three wi-fi bands you can dedicate one to a specific console (Or split up multiple consoles into multiple bands). This is very useful for multi-console households that may be running a Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, and PS4 in the same space. You’ll easily be able to dedicate your gaming to a specific band while simultaneously keeping a band open for computers and another band for Smartphones.
Coverage is huge for console gamers because it’s common that your router is in an office or closet situated far from the living room or bedroom with a console. So coverage matters! The RT-AC88U is our favorite for large homes that have console gaming, especially with mobile consoles such as the Switch. You’ll never feel chained to a specific location in order to play your games.
Netgear keeps popping up on our list because they really have been killing it with the NightHawk series. Unlike most of the other routers on this list that are dedicated to gaming, streamers may need a little more strength from a router. The X10 is perfect for streamers who plan on using a ton of bandwidth. Whether receiving or sending a 4K signal, the X10 is designed to take heavy loads and remain stable as well as uses all the other features we love from a gaming router.
Powerful QoS software helps the X10 stay competitive and allow you to control your bandwidth well. We also love the additional DFS channels on the X10. Basically having extra DFS options allows the router to maintain optimum performance without being interrupted by neighbors Wi-Fi signals. This is very useful for those who live in a city setting and don’t want to be sharing signals with 10-20 neighbors.
The Media Server feature is unique in that you can actually use a USB or NAS drive to stream media around your house. This is useful for those who want to watch a movie or send information around to multiple devices. The only negative to this router is that it is pricier. It lacks the six to eight antennae of some of our favorite devices for multiple users but this isn’t a huge deal as the extra antennae are more than made up for with the insane speeds of the X10.
A little cheaper than the X10. This beast of a router is perfect for streamers and those who need a strong device and very consistent signal. We keep recommending the RT-AC5300 for those who have a little more in the budget for router technology.