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Avoid getting lost in Router Research Land of Doom with this beginner-friendly buyer's guide
Mar 30, 2019
You can build the best gaming PC build on the planet, but if you play online and experience lag it's a waste. Few things in modern life is more frustrating than slow, unreliable internet, and especially so as a gamer. Losing that hard-fought winning streak in your game of choice due to a connection slowdown could be caused by various factors, but a bad router may very well be the culprit (especially if it's old). But when you do decide it's time to upgrade to the best gaming router you can afford, it's easy to get lost in the vast sea of oftentimes-confusing models and specs.
Routers are notoriously confusing beasts to buy, and choosing the right model for your needs and budget can be a frustrating lesson in patience if you don't know what to look for and what the specs mean. If you're not that tech savvy, as you browse the endless range of different (and oftentimes confusingly-similar) types of routers on the market it's not uncommon to have 100 million billion questions swirling in your head such as:
Then there's the sometimes straight-up complicated specs and features that wireless products are notorious for. For example, the speed of a router (AC1900 for example) is a bit misleading, as it represents the total combined speed of all the router's bands (and not the maximum speed you could actually get on a single band which is what actually matters).
But buying the best router for your needs doesn't have to be hard if you simply put in a little time upfront to understand the basics of what to look for in a good gaming router and what the important specs mean (and whether they apply to you; not all specs are as crucial as one another).
In this comprehensive yet simplified beginner-friendly guide we'll cover ALL of the above in plain English, along with everything else you'd ever need to know about these strange, alien devices, so you can hopefully more easily and confidently choose the right one for your budget and needs and get back to fragging friends and foes sooner rather than later with your new faster, stronger, more-stable connection.
As well as explaining the features that matter and what to look for in the best router for gaming minus the marketing hype, we list our carefully-selected picks of the current best gaming routers in 2019 in different price points that would make a safe-bet buy as a gamer this year.
See Also: The Best Modem Router Combos in 2019
If you're strapped for time and just want to know the best gaming routers right now here we'll cover our top recommended models for 2019 first before then diving into the nitty gritty details of the specs and what to look for when choosing a router for gaming.
These recommendations are simply our own humble opinion on what the best router for gaming is for different budgets/uses after extensively and objectively analyzing and comparing all the top gaming routers out there on the market (as well as studying professional and amateur reviews carefully) and narrowing it down to our top favorites that we can comfortably recommend to gamers and power users wanting a top quality, reliable router that'll (hopefully) last.
In other words, the following models are simply what we would personally buy as a gamer in either the US, Canada, UK and Australia for different price categories. Your router is an important investment not just for gaming but for all other online experiences, and is a device that ideally will last you years and years. Therefore, don't just buy the first router you see and think through which model you need for your particular home needs, and don't just take our word for it and do your own research as to whether or not one of the top recommended gaming routers below (IMHO) is suited for your particular home and needs.
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|Category:||Best Extreme||Best High-End||Best Value||Best Cheap||Best Mesh System|
|Model:||Asus ROG Rapture GT-AX11000||Asus RT-AX88U AX6000||Netgear Nighthawk Pro Gaming XR500||TP-Link Archer C9||Asus AiMesh AX6100|
||AX11000 (1148 + 4804 + 4804 Mbps)||AX6000 (1148 + 4804 Mbps)||AC2600 (800 + 1733 Mbps)||AC1900 (600 + 1300 Mbps)||AX6100 (400 + 867 + 4804 Mbps)|
||8||4||4||3||2 (internal) + 4 (external)|
||1.8GHz Quad Core||1.8GHz Quad Core||1.7GHz Dual Core||1GHz Dual Core||-|
||2 x USB 3.1||2 x USB 3.1||2 x USB 3.0||1 x USB 3.0 + 1 x USB 2.0||1 x USB 3.1 + 1 x USB 2.0|
If you're a pro or aspiring pro gamer wanting the absolute top model on the market as of mid 2019, the Asus ROG Rapture GT-AX11000 wins this battle fair and square with its impressive, seemingly-endless list of features that'll please even the most hardcore user. The best QoS tools to prioritize gaming traffic, extreme 5GHz speeds, detailed gaming dashboard, long range, MU-MIMO - this one has it all and then some.
Most notably though, it's one of the very first routers with support for the next-gen AX technology which is the future of wireless, making this one a solid long-term investment for when AX becomes mainstream and all your devices start using it.
The downside to getting the very best router for gaming on the market is of course the hefty price tag, and it'll cost you an arm and leg compared to most other routers.
Overkill for most gamers, but if you have the highest standards for your router AND you have a home full of devices (to take advantage of the three bands) it could be well worth it over the long run.
See All the Best Extreme Gaming Routers:
The next best thing to an extreme tri-band router like the GT-AX11000 is a great dual-band model, and for that, if you're still willing to fork out the extra dough to get in early on the new WiFi 6 (802.11ax) wireless standard, look no further than the recently-released RT-AX88U from Asus.
Hands down the best dual band router for gaming on the market right now that boasts a whopping 8 LAN ports (even more than our above extreme gaming router pick) with link aggregation support as well, and every top feature you'd expect from one of the very best routers for gaming including Adaptive QoS tools, the WTFast GPN private gaming-only network, blazing fast 5GHz speeds upto 4804 Mbps, a beasty quad-core built-in processor, and solid range with 4 quality external antennas.
If you don't have the need to be an early adopter of the new AX WiFi 6 technology, which btw isn't necessary when buying a router in 2019 as explained in the FAQ at the end of this guide, you'll find great value in the best AC gaming routers of yesteryear (as in, 802.11ac routers) like the Nighthawk Pro XR500 from ever-reliable Netgear.
This slick-looking device (although some find it ugly; I disagree) has stood the test of time in the wider gaming community as a very fast and reliable choice, and still has all the features you need for flawless gaming and streaming. For most people there's honestly no real need getting anything better than the XR500 unless you're absolutely sure that you'd benefit from the extra features of the more extreme/high-end gaming routers like the ones we've recommended above.
For reliable networking products on a budget, look no further than TP-Link. If you don't need anything fancy whatsoever and just want a decent, fast, reliable router for smooth gaming, and you don't have a crazy-ton amount of devices, their TP-Link Archer C9 is a cheap gaming router well worth considering, costing considerably less than the top-rated gaming routers out there. Don't expect any gaming-enhancing special features though, so we can't recommend it to pro gamers wanting the absolute strongest possible connection in 2019, but for more casual gamers it's really all you need.
The AC1900 wireless isn't too shabby and allows for very solid WiFi speeds of up to 600 Mbps on the 2.4Ghz band and up to a plentiful 1300 Mbps on the 5Ghz one, and it has 4 Gigabit-capable LAN ports so you're not going to miss out on a nice amount of standard wired gaming connections by settling for this model.
But if you have an extreme internet plan with your ISP and you're a serious gamer, it might not be enough. Same thing for real large homes, as the range on this one is okay but not the best. For casual gamers, there's likely no need to look further than a basic model like though, assuming that the maximum AC1900 WiFi speeds its capable of doesn't limit you (it won't for achieving flawless online gaming), and it should serve you well as a very cost-effective yet reliable, good-quality router.
If instead of a normal router you want a mesh system for extra reach in very big houses or homes where you get deadspots in certain areas (basement, top floor of multi-story home, etc), the very best mesh router you can get right now is the new Asus AiMesh AX6100 kit which comes with two mini routers that are like small versions of the big Asus gaming routers.
These haven't been released in the US at the time of writing (available in Australia now though) but from what we know so far they'll be the fastest, most feature-rich pack of mesh routers for gamers yet. Sporting the new AX standard, these mesh routers also have adaptive QoS which sets them apart from other mesh systems.
You may wish to wait for their release and the reviews to follow, so including it here as our current top mesh router for gaming is a bit of a gamble, but we trust Asus ROG products as the pinnacle of quality as they've never let us down before.
Note: Currently only available for purchase in Australia (see product link in table above)
These dual routers are very pricey though due to their next-gen AX technology and wealth of features, and we most definitely can't recommend them to everyone, but they're worth considering if you want the very best mesh router system for a very large home (or unusually shaped one) that's also optimized for gaming, and that's also the most future proof option of all the mesh routers out there.
Are gaming routers worth the extra money? Is a gaming router actually different than a normal router? Very fair questions, because it is true in the gaming world that certain products/accessories/gear are marketed as special "gaming" products and take advantage of those who don't know any better by slapping the term "gaming" in the model, over-exaggerating benefits that any standard model would probably cover anyway, perhaps adding nicer aesthetics, and charging a premium. Because, well...gaming! But with routers, there is such a thing as a gaming router, which can indeed be different than a standard, traditional router that's not designed for gaming.
The main difference between a gaming router and normal router? Features that prioritize gaming traffic. In other words: Quality of Service (QoS) tools/utilities, of which there are different types that vary from router to router, but the best gaming routers include QoS features designed specifically for online gaming.
What these QoS features do is give you more control over your wireless traffic, and they focus on sending your gaming data exactly where it needs to go and gives it priority over other types of traffic in your network. Other non-gaming routers can have QoS features too, but they're not specifically designed to prioritize gaming traffic, which the top gaming routers on the market do very well.
By prioritizng your gaming traffic you ensure the fastest performance and lowest latency during gameplay, and is most helpful when other devices are on your network at the same time as you're gaming. You don't want a family member or friend who's watching say a 4K video on YouTube to interrupt your gaming session now do you?
Besides QoS features that prioritize gaming traffic, gaming routers also usually boast other additional features that may not be found in a normal router such as:
Perhaps, but like most things in life; it depends. Serious gamers who want to fully maximize their online gaming connection and minimize ping/latency and dropouts, and who are willing to invest a bit more money to achieve that, may very well be able to justify buying one of the best routers for gaming on the market.
If your current setup is average at best, once you use a high-performance gaming router you'll never want to go back to a cheap router ever again. Kinda like going from 1080p to 1440p resolution, or from 60Hz to 144Hz refresh rate - taking a humble step back from those upgrades is a near-impossible feat for a mere mortal human. First world problems.
One of the first decisions to make when choosing the best router for gaming is whether to buy a dual-band or tri-band router, which are the two most common types (don't ever get anything less than a dual-band model in 2019). Most of the very best gaming routers in 2019 are tri-band, and tri-band models are typically more expensive, but do you really need a tri-band router for gaming? No, but they can be real handy depending on your home usage. Let's discuss, but first let's look at the difference dual vs tri band routers.
A dual band router can project its WiFi signal using two different radio frequencies, either one at a time if you're just using one band, or both simultaneously if you're using multiple devices at the same time. It'll send the signal using either a 2.4GHz radio frequency or a 5GHz frequency.
The 2.4GHz band is the longer-range frequency, but at a speed cost, while the 5Ghz band allows for much faster speeds but only within shorter ranges. A tri band router also uses the 2.4GHz frequency for one of its bands, but it also uses an additional 5GHz band making for a total of 2 available 5GHz bands that you can use at the same time. Also note that some tri-band routers will use the rarer 60GHz frequency as its third band instead of a second 5GHz band.
If you don't use many devices in your home or office setup, either a dual or tri band router will do. But if you have a ton of devices being used at the same time, the extra band of a tri-band model could come in handy as it allows you to spread the wireless signal more evenly across the 3 bands, as well as being able to allocate an entire 5GHz band for gaming only.
For example, you could password-protect one of the 5GHz bands for gaming use only, and use the other 2 bands for all other internet usage. This means that if someone else on your network decides to stream some 4K video whilst you're in the middle of a firefight, your connection won't be affected. Good tri-band gaming routers are typically more expensive than dual-band models, but not always as there are some really high-end and high-quality dual-band models as not everyone needs so many bands.
While using a wired Ethernet connection is still the absolute ideal as a gamer for the fastest, most reliable, most lag-free connection, these days wireless technology can come close in terms of speed, stability, and reliability. But if you do decide to use the wireless signal for your online gaming, your router matters quite a bit and you want a model that won't let you down in the heat of battle.
The more important gaming and streaming is to you, the more this applies, and competitive eSports gamers, pro streamers, etc, would be wise to avoid bad routers like the plague and do everything they can to invest in a fast, stable, good-quality wireless router from a trusted networking manufacturer (and that is well-reviewed and has the rubber stamp of approval from the gaming community).
However, whilst a good gaming router is indeed important as an avid gamer, that's not to say everyone needs to fork out a few hundred dollars on a high-end or extreme gaming router that comes with all the bells and whistles, and you might actually be just fine getting a good cheap gaming router.
For example, you don't need crazy-high internet speeds for a flawless online gaming experience, and there are indeed much more taxing applications (WiFi-wise) than online gaming. For example, a mid-range internet plan coupled with a cheaper or mid-range gaming router may be enough for lag-free gaming.
First of all, you want to buy a router that won't limit the internet plan you currently have with your Internet Service Provider. If you're paying for an extreme plan with super-high bandwidth/speeds, you don't want to get a slow router that will hold you back. Same goes for any wireless adapters for your desktops or laptops; make sure they are fast enough for your connection and router so they don't become a bottleneck either.
However, for a flawless online gaming experience without lag, it's not just about speed. A certain amount of speed is all you need, and that minimum is probably lower than you'd expect. So, what Mbps do you need for gaming then?
A consistent 5-10 Mbps (megabits per second) should be enough for most games, but a 10-20 Mbps connection or faster is ideal and gives you plenty of wiggle room.
You'll notice these speeds are possible with practically any half-decent modern router and internet plan, so you don't need the super-high raw speeds you see advertised by the top gaming routers from a pure gaming standpoint. The high bandwidth/speeds of top routers do come in handy for speeding-up big downloads, faster game patches and updates, smoother streaming, and more leeway/wiggle room to maintaining a fast gaming connection when other people are using your network.
But you could get all the speed you need for smooth online gaming from a cheap gaming router, such as one with an AC1900 speed rating (or even lower), especially if you're not using many if any other devices on the network. That's good news for those buying a router on a budget, but here's the thing:
Speed is just one piece of the puzzle, and what's just as important (if not more) as the raw download speed of your router is the speed and stability of the connection to the game server. Enter latency.
What is latency? Also known as ping, the latency of an internet connection measures the time it takes a signal to transmit from your PC or console to the game server (or the other way around: from your game server to computer). The lower the latency the better, as higher ping can introduce some lag.
Upgrading to a good router may help to lower your latency/ping, but it depends on how much of an upgrade it is over your current setup, but when it comes to getting low latency there are other factors at play besides your router such as your ISP, location, the particular game server, etc. But in general, if you're using an old or lower-quality router and having latency/ping issues, buying a new gaming router definitely has the potential to improve latency (ie reduce it).
So if you don't need much speed for gaming, any decent AC router will do. Wireless speeds are listed using the AC naming convention, such as AC1900 or AC2600. AC is simply short for the 802.11ac wireless standard, which is the most common in 2019, and will stay that way for a while until the newer AX standard becomes more popular.
But remember that the number listed after the "AC" (or after "AX") is the total combined maximum speed of all the router's bands. So if you see a "AC1900" router, it means the total speed of all the bands is theoretically 1900 Mbps. Here's what the most popular AC ratings actually mean for the potential speed on each individual band: (and remember that they're theoretical max speeds and in reality you won't actually get to these speeds).
AC600: 150 Mbps (on 2.4 Ghz) + 433 Mbps (on 5 Ghz)
AC1000: 300 Mbps (on 2.4 Ghz) + 650 Mbps (on 5 Ghz)
AC1200: 300 Mbps (on 2.4 Ghz) + 867 Mbps (on 5 Ghz)
AC1900: 600 Mbps (on 2.4 Ghz) + 1300 Mbps (on 5 Ghz)
AC2600: (800 Mbps + 1733 Mbps) 800 Mbps (on 2.4 Ghz) + 1733 Mbps (on 5 Ghz)
AC3100: 1000 Mbps (on 2.4 Ghz) + 2100 Mbps (on 5 Ghz)
AC5300 (Tri-Band): 1000 Mbps (on 2.4 Ghz) + 2167 Mbps (on 5 Ghz) + 2167 Mbps (on second 5 Ghz band)
WiFi 6 (technically 802.11ax) is the very latest wireless standard that brings about speed and other improvements over WiFi 5, but it's only in its very early days with only a small handful of WiFi 6 routers available so far in mid 2019 (including some of our top recommended gaming routers above).
WiFi 5 (802.11ac) is still the most popular standard right now, and will still be for a while to come, as it'll take a while for WiFi 6/AX to catch on to the mainstream as AX-compatible devices (phones, wireless adapters, laptops, etc) haven't been released yet.
So which should you buy? WiFi 6 (AX) or WiFi 5 (AC)?
Well, if you have the money to invest in a shiny new AX gaming router (or you're the early-adopter type) then that's going to be the most future proof option as you'll be ready for the new standard when the rest of the world catches up (and AX routers are backwards compatible with AC devices so you can continue using your current devices without issues until new devices come out).
But it's definitely not necessary as AC WiFi will still be relevant for a long time, and is still really fast. Buying an AC gaming router is the best value choice and can save you quite a bit of cash as the early AX routers are quite expensive. Another advantage to sticking with the tried and true AC wireless standard is the limited choice of AX routers on the market so far, and the AX routers of the near future may become better buys.
Mesh router systems have been around for a long time for commercial use, it's only recently that they've been popping up in the conversion for home networking. They're similar to using a standard router coupled with a WiFi range extender, but instead of using an extender you actually buy and setup 2-3 routers that you "mesh" together using software for a very far-reaching network that can effectively cover a large area (and avoid deadspots).
We suggest a normal gaming router for most people, but if you have a very large space to cover, or you have a unique layout where deadspots in your WiFi coverage may occur such as in a lower-level basement or on the third floor of a townhouse, a mesh router/system may be worth it.
The thing with mesh routers though is that they don't include the special gaming-priority features that a good standard gaming router has, however all-new mesh systems are starting to break that mould such as the Asus AiMesh AX6100 mesh router that we recommend above which includes adaptive QoS tools like any other of the best routers for gaming out there.
Choosing one of the best wireless routers for gaming means you'll have plenty of LAN ports to connect multiple computers as the top models will always come with 4 ports or more, although even a decent cheap gaming router may have 3 or 4 ports these days. The very best extreme models will have 6 or even 8 LAN ports, but you may not need so many unless you have a fair few devices you want to connect via a cable or you're hosting small to medium LAN parties. If you ever need more ports though, you can always buy and hook up a network switch/hub like the one pictured.
In general, yes. Whether you're gaming on PC, PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, or any other console, a good router for gaming is a good router for gaming. Only thing you should know about is that the original PS4 and original XBox One do not have support for 802.11 ac. The newer PS4 Slim and Pro, and the Xbox One S and X editions do though.
On the hunt for the best router for gaming, MU-MIMO is a must-have feature if you use multiple devices simultaneously. Short for "Multi User, Multi Input, Multi Output", if a router has support for MU-MIMO that means it can communicate with multiple devices on the network at the same time without devices having to wait in line which is what devices without MU-MIMO have to do (called SU-MIMO devices, with the SU standing for Single User). It's not necessary for gaming, but crucial to look for in your router if you're a serious gamer.
Routers, especially the top gaming routers, come with their own built-in processor to help with processing and streamlining of the tasks/calculations it needs to perform. For example, the router's processor runs the OS (router's have an operating system), tracks and sends packets it receives from the internet to your devices, and more.
The best routers for gaming will have a decent dual-core or even quad-core CPU that could even make someone's desktop gaming CPU look slow in comparison. What CPU do you need for your router? Well, the more devices on your network the more you're going to benefit from a router with a fast CPU, but if you spend a decent amount on a good gaming router chances are it's going to have a decent CPU.
No, but it definitely helps, and you'll find that most if not all the best routers for gaming as of 2019 use beamforming as standard. What is beamforming in a router? In a nutshell, it's a special feature that routers use to detect where your particular devices are located around the home relative to the router, so that it can narrow/funnel the best signal towards that location.
The USB connections on your router are to conveniently share your printers, files and media to other devices on your network. Most good routers will have one or two USB ports, with the top models having USB 3/3.1 support for faster transfer speeds (but using a USB 2 port for this isn't the end of the world).
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VPNs are fast becoming must-have software these days to improve the security and privacy of a PC when online. There's lots of VPNs but NordVPN is objectively one of the best and the one I use (edit: it's currently over 60% off in October 2022). VPNs can also help for online gaming as explained here.
Indie game dev currently working on my first public release after years of hobby projects, a story-driven VR FPS adventure built using Unreal Engine (to be announced once I'm ready here and here for anyone into VR FPS's). Also likes writing and updating these tech articles, which helps fund development of the game.
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