How to Choose a Router

Easton Smith
Nov 14, 2023
Icon Time To Read7 min read

Every home internet connection requires a few essential pieces of equipment. One of them is a router, which allows all of your devices to connect to your home network via Wi-Fi or cables. A reliable and efficient router is essential for ensuring a seamless online experience, including everyday activities like streaming, gaming, and Zooming into a conference call. 

So, you’re asking, which router do I buy? We’ve got a few specific suggestions for you below. But more importantly, we’ll help you understand what to look for in a router so that you can get the perfect piece of equipment, whether you’re a hyper-connected work-from-homer or a rural farmer using satellite internet to check if there’s a hard freeze coming.

Best for most people
Router type:
Tri-band Wi-Fi 6E router
up to 5,400Mbps
Best performance
Router type:
Tri-band 4x4 160MHz Wi-Fi router
up to 6,600Mbps
Best budget pick
Router type:
Dual-band cable/modem combo
up to 300Mbps

Each of these routers has its strengths for different kinds of internet users.

The TP-Link AXE5400 is a solid all-around pick for most users. It uses the latest technology standards, including tri-Band Wi-Fi 6E, and can easily handle speeds up to 5,000Mbps. But it’s still an affordable option that costs less than $200. TP-Link is a trusted brand that delivers reliable products with good warranties and customer service.

For those who want even higher performance (and are willing to pay extra for it), there is the Synology RT6600ax. This router comes equipped with a quad-core 1.8 GHz processor, which makes it more powerful than some laptop computers. It uses Wi-Fi 6E, but also sports a plethora of ports for direct connection and utilizes 2x2 and 4x4 MIMO antennas for increased range. There are multiple additional bells and whistles here, like parental controls and 2.5 gigabit Ethernet (GbE) port support. It’s the perfect option for gamers, hackers, and everyone else who is very online.

If you just need a router that’s simple and good enough, there’s the NETGEAR C6250. This is actually a modem/router combo, which means you can get all of your internet equipment in one product for under $100. It doesn’t use the newest technology, but it can easily handle cable internet speeds up to 300Mbps, making it great for casual internet users.

Top internet router comparison chart
Security standard
Special features
TP-Link AXE5400$179.99Compatible with all modern modems and devicesWPA3Alexa compatible, parental controls802.11n, 802.11ax, 802.11b, 802.11ac, 802.11g
Synology RT6600ax$299.99Compatible with all modern modems and devicesWPA2Parental controls, web filtering, traffic control, and VPN capability 802.11n, 802.11ax, 802.11a, 802.11ac
NETGEAR C6250 $95.99Compatible with all modern modems and devicesWPA2Parental controls802.11ac

We think these three routers represent the best options on the market, but there are dozens of other great options out there. Read on to learn everything you need to know about internet routers so that you can pick the perfect product for your household.

Routers vs. modems

Routers and modems are both essential components of any home internet connection, but they serve different functions.

A modem is the device responsible for connecting your home network to your internet service provider (ISP). It essentially acts as a bridge between your home network and the internet, translating digital data from your devices into the analog signals that run through cable, DSL, or fiber cables. Without a modem, you cannot connect to the internet.

On the other hand, an internet router is a device that serves as the central hub of your home network. Its primary function is to route data from your modem to your different devices, like computers, cell phones, gaming platforms, and smart appliances.

Many modern routers combine the functions of a router and a modem into a single device, often referred to as a gateway or modem/router combo. These integrated devices can simplify your home network setup and most casual users will want to opt for this option. However, combo devices tend to offer fewer customization options compared to standalone router and modem setups.

Router and modem compatibility

Modems have come a long way from the noisy old devices that we used in the 90s. While some modems will still connect to a phone line, most new modems are designed to plug into cable or fiber internet networks. It’s vital that you get a modem that works with your particular ISP. Check with your provider to get a list of approved devices.

Routers are, luckily, much less fussy. Any router that you buy should work with almost every internet service provider. This is because your router doesn't actually connect to the ISP’s cables. Instead, it connects to your modem.

What’s more important for router compatibility is the Wi-Fi technology and ports that you will use to connect to your home devices. Most newish routers can easily connect to all modern devices via Wi-Fi or an Ethernet cable, but if you’re trying to connect an older computer or cell phone, then you may need to check the Wi-Fi bands and/or ports on the router to make sure they match.

Be aware that some providers, like those that offer 5G home internet, may provide their own specific gateway devices that act as a modem/router combo. Be sure to check with your provider before you invest in a router to make sure that it’s necessary.

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Router security

Performance, speed, and price are important factors when choosing a router, but don’t forget about the security of your digital fortress.

There are several router security features to consider, including firewall capabilities to protect against external threats (such as distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks), intrusion detection and prevention systems, content filtering technologies, and the ability to set up secure Wi-Fi encryption using protocols like WPA3.

You will also want to make sure that your router is compatible with modem security features, like DOCSIS, which stands for Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification. (Say that ten times fast.) DOCSIS is a set of international standards that govern the communication between your cable modem and your ISP's network. When choosing a router, particularly if you're opting for a cable internet connection, it's crucial to check for DOCSIS compliance. 

Wi-Fi designation: Wi-Fi 6 or Wi-Fi 6E?

Wi-Fi technology is constantly advancing, allowing for more device connections and faster speeds. These days, the main Wi-Fi technologies used in most routers are Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 6E. What’s the difference between these two standards? 

The main distinction between Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 6E lies in the spectrum they use for wireless communication. Wi-Fi 6 operates in the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands, which are already crowded with various devices and networks. In contrast, Wi-Fi 6E introduces a new, uncongested 6 GHz band, offering significantly more available channels. In plain English: Wi-Fi 6E can give you faster and more reliable connection speeds. 

That said, most internet users will be just fine with a Wi-Fi 6 router (or even a Wi-Fi 5 router). Only the most dedicated gamers or Twitch streamers will need the 6 GHz band. 

Should I get a dual-band, tri-band, or quad-band router?

The number of bands on your router signifies how many different wireless frequencies are available for connection. A tri-band connection, for example, offers 2.4, 5, and 6 GHz frequencies, which means there will be less wireless congestion in your house, and you can reach higher data speeds.

What’s the difference between 2.5 GHz and 5GHz frequencies?

The 2.4 GHz band offers better coverage and penetration through walls, making it suitable for larger houses and older devices. However, it can be more susceptible to interference from other devices like microwaves and cordless phones.

On the other hand, the 5 GHz band provides faster speeds and is less crowded (meaning less interference). It's ideal for high-bandwidth activities like streaming, online gaming, and video conferencing.

Put simply, a quad-band router gives you better performance than a dual-band router. But most users honestly won’t need more than two bands.

For instance, if you’re in a rural area and you’re using satellite internet, like HughesNet or Viasat, then you probably don’t need to worry as much about congestion and will do fine with a dual-band router. Or, if you live in an apartment in an urban area and have a 300Mbps cable internet connection, then you simply won’t need additional frequencies to handle your bandwidth. 

One good way to gauge what kind of router you need is to do a speed test. If your internet speeds are under 300Mbps already, then a tri- or quad-band router is probably overkill.

What about setting up a router for guests?

Setting up a separate Wi-Fi network for guests can offer several benefits, including:

  • Security: Isolating your guest network from your primary network enhances the security of your personal data and devices. Guests won't have access to your shared files, printers, or sensitive information.
  • Bandwidth management: You can allocate a portion of your internet bandwidth to the guest network, ensuring that your primary network's performance remains unaffected even when multiple guests are connected.
  • Privacy: Guests won't need your main network's password, reducing the chances of unauthorized access to your network and its connected devices.
  • Ease of access: You can change the guest network password without affecting your main network, making it more convenient to control access.

To set up a guest network, you typically don't need a separate router. Many modern routers offer a built-in guest network feature that allows you to create a separate, isolated network for guests. This can usually be configured through the router's settings.

If you do need a separate router for a guest network, we recommend getting a cheap and simple model that still maintains essential security features, such as the $80 NETGEAR R6700AXS.


We strive to write the most accurate, helpful, and easy-to-digest articles on the internet, so that you can find out what you need to know and get on with your life. That’s why each of our articles begins with a rigorous research process.

For this router buying guide, we started by doing a deep dive into the features that make some routers better than others. We looked at everything from Wi-Fi frequencies and DOCSIS security protocols to antenna range and processor technology. Then we evaluated dozens of different, popular routers that are available for purchase, and narrowed it down to our top three.

At the end of the day, we want our readers to make the best decision for their own lifestyle. That’s why we didn't just say what our favorite routers are. We also broke down the most important factors that go into making a decision about what internet router to buy. We hope that we helped you find the perfect device!

How to Choose a Router FAQ

What router should I buy?

Most internet users who have a DSL, cable, or fiber-optic connection will probably want to buy a modem/router combo device, rather than just a router. Buying a single device is cheaper and can make setting up much easier. 

There are many options and you should compare routers yourself before buying, but we think that the NETGEAR C6250 is a great option for cable internet subscribers who don’t need speeds over 300 Mbps.

Should I buy my own router or rent one from my ISP?

There are some benefits to renting an internet modem and/or router from your ISP. You can save money (in the short run), and you may be able to switch out your equipment when it becomes outdated without having to buy a new device. 

That said, there are even more benefits to buying your own router and/or modem. First of all, can purchase faster, more secure, and more reliable routers than those provided by most ISPs. Secondly, you can take your equipment with you if you change providers. And finally, you’ll save money in the long run. If you’re paying $10 a month to rent equipment from your provider, that quickly eclipses the cost of a decent combo router/modem. 

How can I expand the range of my Wi-Fi network?

There are several tricks for extending the range of your Wi-Fi network. The easiest and cheapest thing to do is make sure that your Wi-Fi router is centrally placed in your house, near to where your devices are being used. 

But there are limits to any single Wi-Fi router, which is why you might want to buy a Wi-Fi range extending device, like the ones we’ve featured in our Wi-Fi guide. Also, most modern Wi-Fi routers will allow you to create a mesh network. This is when you buy multiple routers and connect them together to create a large and seamless network throughout a large area. 

Easton Smith
Written by
Easton Smith