Our top picks for blazing fast wireless action
We know what you’re thinking, “Best router for gaming? Any serious gamer is on a hard-wired connection!” We hear you, but everyone still needs WiFi in their home in order to survive. Thankfully, with the arrival of 80211.ac you can actually game over a modern router connection if you’re dealing with cable routing issues or another barrier that prevents you from using a wired connection. Plus, the newest wireless protocol (80211.ac) is much faster than its predecessor, 80211.n, and is faster thanks to new performance-boosting features such as beamforming and MU-MIMO. This is sweet news for people who might have wanted to try some wireless gaming in the past but gave up due to insufficient bandwidth.
To help figure out which is the best wireless router for gaming, we rounded up five of the top models currently available and tested them at both close and long range. We also took a look at their gaming features (if they had any, as not all of them do), and arrived at a conclusion based on both objective and subjective testing. Based on our test results, there were several excellent options but one clear winner:
Netgear Nighthawk X4S (R7800)
The Nighthawk X4s was the fastest dual-band router we tested at 5GHz, and also sports gaming-specific Quality of Service that can prioritize gaming packets “intelligently,” making it our top choice. As icing on the cake Netgear also offers a decent mobile app, and it supports MU-MIMO for faster wireless transfers to multiple clients. Its UI looks a bit outdated and its legacy 80211.n performance was sluggish, but we think its 5G performance is more important anyway, so we’re willing to cut it some slack. Overall we think it offers the best blend of speed and features at a reasonable price.
The Linksys WRT3200ACM is a dual-band router that really wants you to use an open source firmware on it, hence the WRT in its name. Of course you can run open source firmware on a lot of routers these days, so the WRT 3200ACM isn’t that unique, but it’s still a cool feature for power users. It was almost our top pick but lost out by a razor thin margin to the Netgear router because it wasn’t quite as fast in our tests, and also because to achieve its rated speed of AC3200 you’ll need special hardware, which isn’t available yet. It’s still a very strong package though with fast 5G performance and superb software on both desktop and mobile.
Asus RT-AC88U AC3100
This is Asus’ top-shelf dual-band router, and thanks to a bit of fancy tech baked in named NitroQAM it can offer up to 25 percent more bandwidth than other AC1900 routers when using a compatible adapter. In our tests its 5GHz band delivered decent throughput but it landed about mid-pack amongst the routers we tested. On the 2.4GHz band however, it was the fastest of all the routers by a wide margin. It also boasts the ability to prioritize devices as well as types of traffic, and has extremely slick software for both desktop and mobile, making it an excellent and well-rounded package.
D-Link DIR-890L/R AC3200
The D-Link DIR-890L/R was one of the first routers to really break the mold when it comes to how a router should look. It was also one of the first tri-band AC routers, as it broadcasts two 5GHz networks, and one 2.4GHz network, making it suitable for environments with 15+ devices connected. Though it’s not a “wave 2” device and therefore lacks features such as MU-MIMO, it’s still a great router with decent performance, polished software, and the ability to prioritize devices on your network.