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: 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.
- 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.
3. BT Smart Hub
- Reviewed on: 8 July 16
- RRP: £129.99 inc VAT (Free for new or recontracting customers)
Upgrading to the Smart Hub is a no brainer, especially if you're out of contract and aren't planning to move to another broadband provider as it's free. While it may struggle to provide a strong Wi-Fi signal in the largest houses with thick stone walls, it will fix Wi-Fi blackspots in the majority of normal-sized homes without having to resort to Wi-Fi range extenders or power line adapters. It's still easy to recommend at £50 for BT customers already in a contract.
Read our BT Smart Hub 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: 11 August 16
- RRP: £174.99 inc VAT
We hope MU-MIMO performance can also be improved further and 2.4 GHz performance at a distance was middling. Aside from these caveats we were impressed with the TP-Link Archer VR2600. If you can stick with 5 GHz channels all the better but if not, you’ll still have a very strong all-round performer. If you’re looking for a one-box solution to replace a BT Home Hub we’d recommend the Archer VR2600.
Read our TP-Link VR2600 review.
- Reviewed on: 3 September 15
- RRP: £199.99
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: 10 August 16
- RRP: £329.99
If you have many devices currently attached to your network and need a more powerful router the Linksys EA9500 will fit the bill – but we just can’t recommend it at the price. It’s very impressive is certain areas – more clearly with four devices at once, but most people’s needs will be covered by much more reasonably priced alternatives.
Read our Linksys EA9500 review.
- Reviewed on: 9 August 16
- RRP: £159.99 inc VAT
The Asus RT-AC87U combines smart design with a simple to use but featured-packed interface. Performance impresses, especially over 5GHz and also at distance. From our tests the MU-MIMO feature currently only offers a small speed increase but as a package, for the money, this router is an excellent buy.
Read our Asus RT-AC87U 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.