TP-Link

Setting up a home or small office network can be a daunting challenge, so it certainly makes sense to leave well enough alone once things are up and running. The truth is, however, that a lot has changed in terms of Internet use over the past few years. If you have high-bandwidth requirements, such as 4K streaming, FaceTime, Skype, or game streaming, and your current hardware is more than a couple years old, it's probably time for an upgrade. There's plenty of new networking technology to take advantage of, and the latest products have advanced by leaps and bounds both in terms of performance and features.

    For the Summer 2019 edition of this guide, we have several great low-cost alternatives, as well as a number of awesome high-end solutions for users looking to maximize performance. To help you select the right product, we've grouped the various products into three distinct categories, as described below:

    1. Routers and Mesh Systems: these form the backbone of your home network, and we profile a basic 802.11ac 1200Mbps model for around $50, all the way up to the fastest multi-node mesh system available.
    2. Adapters: this is how your PC connects to the network, and we have recommendations for both USB (external) and PCIe (internal) models.
    3. Optional Components: here we include an extender that boosts the range of existing systems, a powerline wired networking alternative, and our pick for the best cable modem for cable subscribers who want to ditch their montly rental fee!

    Orbi

    If you're looking for a high-end solution, we offer two distinct choices. You can either go with an AC5400 router, like the big TP-Link Archer C5400 pictured above, which provides blistering throughput at shorter distances, or you can go with a "mesh networking" system, like Netgear's sleek Orbi RBK50, pictured here, which offers a bit less flat-out speed over short distances, but nearly infinite range. That's because in a mesh system, WiFi is no longer confined to a single router - an entire constellation of routers is at your disposal, providing a blanket of coverage to your home. And to make setup easy, manufacturers have ditched the clunky browser-based control panels for sleek smartphone apps, which also provide enhanced levels of control and safety. Mesh systems are most definitely the future - it's only a matter of time before we're all using them!

    One quick note for those who need to be on the bleeding-edge: the next-gen WiFi standard, 802.11ax, has been released. The powers that be have finally realized it might make sense to start using consumer-friendly names, so the marketing name is WiFi 6 (with the previous five generations being 802.11a, 802.11b, 802.11g, 802.11n, and 802.11ac). We don't think it's quite time to invest in a WiFi 6 router, as no client devices support it, and for the price, we think most users would be better off with a high-end mesh system like the Orbi. But if you just can't wait for WiFi 6 capability, pick up the Netgear RAX120

    Note that we utilize Amazon's real-time pricing engine, so prices displayed in this guide are always up-to-date. If you decide to purchase any of the products we list, please support this guide by using the links we provide. If you'd like to learn more about the various 802.11 standards and how their performance matches up with real-world needs, feel free to check out our Introduction to Wireless Networking article.

    The Wireless Networking Buyer's Guide - Summer 2019

    Routers

      The Basic 802.11ac Router:

      TP-LINK Archer AC1200

      The Archer AC1200 serves as a great introduction to 802.11ac networking. With a standard 802.11n 300Mbps radio as well as a dual-stream 867Mbps 802.11ac radio, it will provide maximum throughput to just about any typical device. It also has gigabit networking and dual USB 2.0 ports, which is amazing given its ultra-low pricepoint.

      The Guru's Tip:

      Note that nearly all current 802.11ac clients (as in smartphones, tablets, and laptops) use single- or dual-stream 802.11ac networking, which translates to 433Mbps or 867Mbps. The Archer is the perfect match for such devices.

      The Mainstream 802.11ac Router:

      TP-Link Archer C9 AC1900

      If you want to be on the cutting edge, you want to step up to a triple-stream AC router. With more and more devices coming with 802.11ac networking built in, paying more for a high-powered AC router is finally starting to make a lot of sense. In our testing, the 802.11ac band provides up to 2x the speed of the best 802.11n routers. And TP-Link offers one of the best prices on an AC1900-rated model.

      The Guru's Tip:

      We've tested this router and found it to match the speed of the "big name" manufacturers without much difficulty. The only thing it was truly missing was a robust file server system for attached data drives.

      The Mid-Range Whole-Home System:

      TP-Link Deco M5

      Back in 2016, a few small players entered the WiFi market with a unique solution: bundling multiple routers into a single, sleek package, branded as "wireless mesh networking." Recently, the big players have moved in, offering top-notch hardware backed by a refined user experience. This model from TP-Link will provide access across your entire home (3 nodes are good enough for 4,500 sq. ft), allow you to manage your whole home's network via your smartphone, and set limits on individual users (i.e., kids!) by device, so all their connected products are cut off at dinner time or bed time. To learn more about the Deco M5, see our full review!

      The Guru's Tip:

      A lot of readers have asked us about Google's WiFi mesh product. In a word, it's totally first-gen despite a decidedly "next-gen" price, and should absolutely be skipped. It operates at an extraordinarily slow 433MHz. It was released in late-2016 when no other big names were in the mesh business, and yet Google is still raking in the bucks on this backwards-looking product.

      The Multi-User 802.11ac Router:

      TP-Link Archer AC5400

      If you want the ultimate router, the flagship model from TP-Link is definitely the one! Dual 4x4 802.11ac radios with massive 2166Mbps throughput plus a high-powered 802.11n 2.4GHz 1000Mbps radio combine with MU-MIMO dedicated connections for a jaw-dropping 5334Mbps of theoretical throughput. With two separate 5GHz networks, this router is great for scenarios where you have many devices running concurrently. Learn more about it in our hands-on review!

      The Guru's Tip:

      One quick note for those who need to be on the bleeding-edge: the next-gen WiFi standard, 802.11ax (also known as WiFi 6), has been released. We don't think it's quite time to invest in a WiFi 6 router, as no client devices support it, but if you just can't wait for WiFi 6 capability, pick up the Netgear RAX120

      The High-End Whole-Home System:

      Netgear Orbi RBK50

      No, it's not cheap, but if you want the ultimate in speed, functionality, and ease-of-use, the Orbi RBK50 is the system to buy. With independent backhaul to provide seamless roaming without the halving of bandwidth that traditional extenders and even lower-cost mesh systems impose, it's the best wireless system on the planet.

      The Guru's Tip:

      This powerful system is rated to cover up to 5,000 sq ft., and can be expanded to 6,000 sq ft and beyond with additional nodes. It can even be controlled via Amazon's Echo, allowing you to turn on and off services with a single voice command. That's perfect for parents who need to kick kids off the 'net!

    Adapters

      The Bargain 802.11ac USB Adapter:

      TP-LINK Archer T4U V3

      Have a laptop that's stuck on old wireless technology, or a desktop that you'd like to easily connect to your 802.11ac router without popping open the case? Then the T4U AC1200 is a strong contender for your next wireless adapter. It features dual-band operation, giving you the option of using the faster 5GHz AC band for modern devices, and its USB 3.0 interface will make the most of that capability!

      The Guru's Tip:

      We've found that wireless adapters that use only internal antennas typically don't have quite the same range as adapters with external antennas, but they're much more convenient to use with a laptop.

      Wireless Card:

      TP-LINK Archer T6E AC1300

      Offering even better performance than the T4U above, the T6E is the perfect choice for owners of desktop PCs who are comfortable installing expansion cards inside their PCs. Offering dual-stream 802.11ac networking on the 5GHz band, plus legacy 2.4GHz networking on 802.11n, it offers tremendous performance for the price.

      The Guru's Tip:

      Need Bluetooth too? Then check out the option below!

      The 802.11ac/Bluetooth Combo Card:

      Asus PCE-AC55BT

      Representing an absolutely amazing value among add-in cards, this device may not have a catchy name, but it has specs that make it a winning pick! Featuring both 2.4GHz and 5GHz radios, the latter supporting the 802.11ac protocol, along with a Bluetooth 4.2 radio, this adapter packs in a whole lot of goodness for the price. The only drawback - it's got a lot of wires!

      The Guru's Tip:

      Given how many of our readers are looking for a combined Wireless/Bluetooth solution for their desktop PCs, we're surprised that Asus is among the very few companies with a solution to meet this need.

      The High-End 802.11ac PCIe Adapter:

      Asus PCE-AC68 AC1900 PCIe Adapter

      Featuring triple-stream 802.11ac networking good for a 1300Mbps rating, this add-in card offers truly high-end performance. And given that it installs internally and has an attached antenna array, it's also pretty sleek as adapters go.

      The Guru's Tip:

      The T9E proved to be ultra-fast in our wireless adapter shootout! If your motherboard is more than 5 years old, however, make sure it has PCIe slots by checking your user's manual. If it doesn't, you should go with a USB-based model.

      The Ultra-High-End 802.11ac PCIe Adapter:

      Asus PCE-AC88 AC3100 PCIe Adapter

      Want the very fastest wireless adapter on the market? This is the one! Featuring a robust controller card with an external quad-antenna array, this adapter has the power to truly deliver on its AC3100 rating (including 2100Mbps over 802.11ac and 1000Mbps on 802.11n). Yes, it's harder to install than a USB-based device, but no other product on the market will even come close to this adapter, which is the only four-transmit, four-receive (4x4) 802.11ac adapter available!

      The Guru's Tip:

      We haven't tested this model, but every other Asus adapter we've used has beaten the competition, so we're confident this adapter will get the job done... fast!

    Optional Components

      The Media Bridge/Range Extender:

      Netgear EX6200 802.11ac Wi-Fi Range Extender

      This is the ideal product for pairing with a high-end dual-band 802.11ac router to provide high-speed wired "bridge" connections to up to four devices in a remote location, such as a home theater setup or separate office, while also extending your wireless network beyond the reach of your router. It operates at 867Mbps on the 5GHz AC band and 300Mbps on the 2.4GHz N band.

      The Guru's Tip:

      After a recent price cut, this extender is a true bargain, especially once you consider that the EX6200 is actually taking the place of the wireless adapter for four devices and enhancing your wireless network!

      The Powerline/Extender Combo:

      TP-Link AV1300 Powerline WiFi Extender

      Whether it's the distance between the router and your PC, interference from other electronic equipment, or just plain bad luck, there will be times when wireless networking isn't going to work as well as you want it to. Enter the Powerline standard, which provides wired networking over a home's electrical system. If you have an outlet in your room, you can have a hard-wired network connection. Powerline is incredibly easy to set up - just plug one adapter into a socket near your router, and another near your PC, attach an ethernet cable to each one, and you're done. And with the newest Powerline kits, like this high-end AV1300 model, not only do you get speeds above 1Gbps, but you also get a built-in WiFi extender, allowing you to use your wireless devices off of your expanded wired network!

      The Guru's Tip:

      Note that you cannot plug Powerline adapters into surge protectors - they'll scramble the signal.

      Cable Modem:

      Netgear CM700 Docsis 3.0

      If you're on cable Internet (like the vast majority of people who have truly high-speed service), then do yourself a favor and stop paying your cable provider a monthly rental fee for an old modem! Buy yourself one with the latest upgrades and start saving money! This model uses the fastest iteration of Docsis 3.0, 32x8, which will be able to keep up with plans up to 500 Mbps.

      The Guru's Tip:

      If you're one of the lucky ones with access to true Gigabit cable service, then go for Netgear's CM1000 Docsis 3.1 model.

    1. The Basic 802.11ac Router TP-LINK Archer AC1200 ($40.00)
    2. The Mainstream 802.11ac Router TP-Link Archer C9 AC1900 ($100.00)
    3. The Mid-Range Whole-Home System TP-Link Deco M5 ($179.00)
    4. The Multi-User 802.11ac Router TP-Link Archer AC5400 ($212.00)
    5. The High-End Whole-Home System Netgear Orbi RBK50 ($280.00)
    6. The Bargain 802.11ac USB Adapter TP-LINK Archer T4U V3 ($29.00)
    7. Wireless Card TP-LINK Archer T6E AC1300 ($35.00)
    8. The 802.11ac/Bluetooth Combo Card Asus PCE-AC55BT ($35.00)
    9. The High-End 802.11ac PCIe Adapter Asus PCE-AC68 AC1900 PCIe Adapter ($87.00)
    10. The Ultra-High-End 802.11ac PCIe Adapter Asus PCE-AC88 AC3100 PCIe Adapter ($105.00)
    11. The Media Bridge/Range Extender Netgear EX6200 802.11ac Wi-Fi Range Extender ($70.00)
    12. The Powerline/Extender Combo TP-Link AV1300 Powerline WiFi Extender ($107.00)
    13. Cable Modem Netgear CM700 Docsis 3.0 ($88.00)