There are two types of routers, those with built-in modems and those without. Although we still call them wireless routers, there's no need as there aren't any 'wired' routers any more: all have built-in Wi-Fi. That's what makes them wireless.
The type of router you need will depend on how your broadband is supplied. If it's via your phone line, you'll need a router with an ADSL or VSDL modem. ADSL is more common, but VSDL is used for faster connections which involve fibre, such as BT Infinity. The fibre optic cable doesn't come to your house, but the nearest cabinet in your road (or an adjacent one). This is why it's called FTTC - fibre to the cabinet.
If you have 'cable' broadband, from Virgin for example, you need a 'cable' router, i.e. one without a built-in modem. Sometimes you can use one with a modem, but it needs to specifically support cable broadband and have an RJ45 WAN port so you can connect it to your provider's box.
Once you know the type of router you need, it's then a case of deciding how much to spend and the technology you want. These days it makes sense to buy an 802.11ac router (as opposed to 802.11n) because in future devices will support this standard. You will save money, though, if you go for an older 802.11n model. However, that's unlikely to be any better than the router you got with your broadband package, unless you've had it for several years.
The routers reviewed below are a mixture of those with modems and those without. All bar the Apple Airport Express are 802.11ac models, and range in price from £45 for the BT Home Hub 5 (that's the price for BT customers, incidentally) up to around £200.
We also have more detailed router buying advice.
Best wireless routers 2016
- Reviewed on: 27 July 12
- RRP: £79 inc VAT
The move to the new Apple TV case makes the 2012 AirPort Express cute as well as compact, while dual-band capability expands the usefulness of this most easy-to-use wireless routers.
- Reviewed on: 18 September 15
- RRP: £45 inc VAT
The Home Hub 5 may look almost identical to the previous model (it's still compact and stylish) but a number of features make this a good upgrade for BT Broadband customers. It's one of the cheapest 11ac routers we've seen and it comes with performance to match its value and good features.
Read our BT Home Hub 5 review.
- Reviewed on: 1 April 14
- RRP: £245 inc VAT
The FRITZ!Box 7490 is a hugely flexible and fast router. It provides a host of features that are easy to use. It's expensive but in value-for-moeny terms this device could be a bargain at £245 for a business or power users that needs all its telephony functions too. If you only require good 802.11ac coverage without the bells and whistles there are cheaper options.
Read our AVM FRITZ!Box 7490 review.
- Reviewed on: 21 October 13
- RRP: £101
Respectable wireless performance and full list of features makes the Archer C7 a truly worthy purchase, especially if you don’t want to spend too much to try 802.11ac for yourself.
Read our TP-Link Archer C7 review.
- Reviewed on: 18 August 14
- RRP: £173 inc. VAT
The D-Link DIR-880L is an easy-to-configure wireless router with enough advanced features to also keep some power users happy. Its nearby wireless performance with 11ac was the best on test, and it also worked well at range, approaching one-third of 11ac's rated three-stream speed in the 10 m test. The DIR-880L's official price is £173 but at the £130 some shops are selling it, it earns a recommendation.
Read our D-Link DIR-880L review.
- Reviewed on: 3 September 15
- RRP: £129.99 inc VAT
The Asus DSL-AC68U is a great 802.11ac modem router, with excellent software and decent performance at a reasonable price.
Read our Asus DSL-AC68U review.
- Reviewed on: 23 September 15
- RRP: £135 inc VAT
Put it all together and the AVM Fritz!Box 3490 is a very strong offering. Great performance, great software, a good range of features and plenty of room for expansion with external storage. A winning combination.
Read our AVM Fritz!Box 3490 review.
- Reviewed on: 21 September 15
- RRP: £139.99 inc VAT
Since the software is good and the performance is truly excellent, we wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the Archer VR900. TP-Link has come a long way in a short time.
Read our TP-Link Archer VR900 review.
- Reviewed on: 12 August 14
- RRP: £165 inc. VAT
Netgear was one of the first companies to launch a draft 802.11ac wireless router in 2012, with the well-regarded R6300. Almost two years later, the fledgling Wi-Fi technology has only inched along but Netgear's statement in noir seems to make good use of available components from its Broadcom supplier. Faster routers are available for 802.11n, but from every 802.11ac wireless router we've tested to date, the Netgear sets the benchmark of what is currently possible with the draft technology.
Read our Netgear Nighthawk R7000 review.
- Reviewed on: 13 August 14
- RRP: £169 inc. VAT
The AirPort Extreme is superbly built from the outside and meticulously engineered on the inside, a solid-feeling piece of wireless router hardware that has the least router-like appearance of any such appliance. It lacks some of the more arcane setup options found in other flagship designs, trading these for simpler and more accessible options for the wider audience of non-network specialists. Its performance on 11n in particular is outstanding even if its 11ac speed was behind the current leaders of the pack. If you have a Mac or even just iPhone or iPad, it's a doddle to set up and use, and is well supported with essential firmware and software updates.
Read our Apple AirPort Extreme 802.11ac review.