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An older router that doesn’t support 802.11ac, has a weak CPU, or doesn’t have Gigabit Ethernet ports, can hold you back significantly. Any of our picks will easily outperform any router you got from your Internet service provider, or any router more than a few years old.These routers are a good fit for apartments or small-to-medium houses with three or four people on the network.If you’re happy with your Wi-Fi, you don’t need a new router—it’s as simple as that.If you’re having problems with range, speed, or reliability, though, it might be time for an upgrade.What you don’t want to do is blindly buy either the cheapest or the most expensive router you can find.Quality doesn’t necessarily scale with price, and a router with a bigger number on it may not actually solve your Wi-Fi problems.
You’ll have to manage its 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz radios separately, but you’ll still get solid performance and plenty of useful features. If you live in a small apartment or single-story home, or you just can’t spend the extra money, the Netgear R6700 will give you great throughput throughout your space for half the price of our main pick.
Band steering—specifically load-balancing band steering—lets you use a single network name for all your Wi-Fi bands, and lets the router decide which devices go on 2.4 GHz and which on 5 GHz, based on where they are in your house and how much bandwidth they’re using.
Band steering is essential for mesh networks, which have multiple access points and multiple bands to deal with, but it’s important even in stand-alone routers, because if you aren’t using all the radios in your router, you aren’t getting all the performance you paid for.
We tested this feature very carefully—unfortunately, some theoretically band-steering routers have the misguided idea that they should connect your device to the “strongest” signal, which ends up cramming everything onto a single 5 GHz band again. Tri-band routers have an extra 5 GHz band in addition to the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands of a dual-band router.
This allows more devices to connect and be busy at once without slowing the network down so much.