Is there anything worse than the feeling of mixed rage and hopelessness that comes from getting kicked out of a game moments before your team was about to taste sweet victory, all because your stupid router crapped out again?
Well, yeah, lots of things are worse than that, but it’s still pretty frustrating. One thing that sucks, even more, is not being able to get into the match at all because five other people in the house are streaming Netflix and eating up all the bandwidth.
A modern, reliable router that can keep up with the ever-increasing amount of data flowing through your home can likely solve many of your gaming-related woes. If the cable company’s rental router from 2009 is still wheezing along on your desk, it’s definitely time for an upgrade.
We’ve poked around the internet to find a half-dozen of the best routers for gaming currently available. There’s a nice spread of different features to choose from between them, but they’ve all got one thing in common: they’re fast enough to keep the whole data-hungry family happy.
Top 5 Best Routers for Gaming
With some products, like the best gaming monitors and headphones, certain models are clearly built for gamers. When it comes to routers, it can be harder to know just what you’re looking at. What is MU-MIMO, and should you care? What about QoS?
We’ll cover the most common router acronyms further down in the buying guide. For now, all you need to know is that some routers are much better for gaming than others. All of our top picks in this guide are capable of super-fast upload and download speeds, and they span a wide range of price points and features so that there’s something on offer for everyone. If router price is an especially important factor in your next router purchase, hop over to our roundup of the best gaming routers under $100.
Best Choice: Netgear Nighthawk R6700 AC1750
Pros & Cons
- Outstanding WiFi range
- Free backup software for files on your network
- Intuitive parental controls
- Customer service
- Speeds up to 1.7Gbps
- USB ports (one 2.0, one 3.0) for network storage or streaming
Netgear Nighthawk R6700 AC1750 Review
Yes, Netgear makes quite a few Nighthawk routers. You’re not crazy, this is a neither the XR500 nor the AC2600. This is the Netgear Nighthawk AC1750, and it too is excellent. Currently selling for $79 on Amazon, it’s among the cheapest routers on our list, but it still has tons of high-end features.
The Netgear Nighthawk AC1750 store page doesn’t specify how far its effective WiFi range is, but we found several owners that claim it adequately covers homes of 2,500 to 3,000 square feet all by itself. Many people in homes that large need extra routers or repeaters for full WiFi coverage, so it’s pretty rad for one router to be able to reach that far.
Not only is the AC1750 fast, with speeds up to 1.7Gbps, it’s also got a USB 3.0 port for media sharing or backup drives. It even comes with free software that helps you easily set up network backups, which is a neat little bonus we haven’t seen on most other routers.
Speaking of extra features: it’s 2020 now, which means gaming has been around long enough for many gamers to have kids of their own. Parental controls don’t get discussed much, but the AC1750 router offers a suite of convenient tools to help you control what happens on your network.
By simply logging into the router’s admin page, you can restrict certain websites entirely or allow them to be accessed by certain devices only during certain hours. Such tools are usually third-party applications that have to be purchased, so it’s nice to see them bundled with the router for free.
As we’ve already mentioned, the Netgear Nighthawk routers are generally excellent products, but Netgear’s customer support leaves something to be desired. The AC1750 doesn’t seem likely to malfunction based on the user reviews we’ve combed through, but if it does happen, you might be in for a bad time. Consider a third-party warranty if you’re worried about the potential hassle.
Premium Pick: Netgear Nighthawk Pro Gaming XR500
Pros & Cons
- Incredibly fast – speeds up to 2.6Gbps
- Geo-filtering feature automatically identifies the best servers based on location
- Four 1-gigabit Ethernet ports
- Good performance in both wired and wireless modes
- 1.7GHz dual-core processor can handle a lot of traffic
Netgear Nighthawk Pro Gaming XR500 Review
Most mid-range modern routers can handle a whole family’s internet traffic just fine, but if you need an absolute butt-ton of speed for multiple devices, you’ll have to shell out a little more cash. If you don’t mind dropping $299 for the Netgear Nighthawk Pro Gaming XR500, you’ll surely be pleased with the result.
Personally, I like to use wired internet connections whenever possible. One less step between your PC and the tubes outside means greater reliability, and in most cases, noticeably greater speed. The Netgear Nighthawk Pro Gaming XR500 comes with four ethernet ports that support gigabit-level speeds (not all routers do, at least not yet).
All other things being equal, a wired connection will always be faster than WiFi, but in the XR500’s case, the difference is effectively a theoretical one. It’s capable of reaching WiFi speeds up to 2.6Gbps (provided your ISP is actually running that much juice into your house, of course). Yeah, plugging in an ethernet cable will get you even more speed, but does it really matter at that point? What are you downloading, the entirety of YouTube?
If you do any online gaming at all, you know that how much data your internet connection is capable of handling at once isn’t as important as how long the data takes to reach its destination. Even if you have fast download speeds, too much latency can still kill the game. The XR500 uses cool geo-filtering technology to periodically reach out to several different servers and check which one has the lowest ping and least packet loss at the moment. If it finds a better server, it quietly switches over to keep your online session as stable as possible.
The XR500 is a stellar router, but quality rarely comes cheap. Its $299 price tag is its only real downside, but hey, you (usually) get what you pay for.
Best Value: TP-Link AC1750 Archer 7
Pros & Cons
- 3 antennae for solid 360-degree coverage
- Easy setup
- Automatic QoS optimization
- Confusing admin UI
- Speeds up to 1300 Mbps (5GHz) or 450 Mbps (2.4GHz)
- Ideal for multi-gamer households
TP-Link AC1750 Archer 7 Review
If speed, price, and reliability are all more or less equally important to you, look no further than the TP-Link AC1750 Archer 7. It’s an excellent, dependable router, and unless you’re sharing your network with more than 50 people, it should be able to handle anything you throw at it. It’s one of the best wireless router for gaming out there and it’s currently $56.99 on Amazon.
Most people try to set their router up somewhere near the middle of the house or apartment, if possible (unless the place is small enough that a single router can provide adequate coverage from one corner). The potential problem with having your router in the middle of your place is that, if it’s only got one or two antennae, it may not actually be sending a strong signal in all directions. The TP-Link AC1750 Archer 7’s three well-positioned overlapping antennae ensure true 360-degree coverage.
Setup is easy too, which is important for… well, everyone. (Even IT professionals rarely want to spend half a day futzing with their home equipment.) The TP-Link AC1750 Archer 7 is about as plug-and-play as a router gets. Even semi-advanced features like guest networks are easy to configure once you decipher the clunky UI (more on that later).
In keeping with its central theme of simplicity, the TP-Link AC1750 Archer 7 also features automatic QoS (quality of service) adjustment. If you’re not familiar with the term, it basically describes how much bandwidth is allocated to each device in your home. If you’re downloading a huge patch for Apex Legends but your mom is just checking her email, you obviously need a lot more speed than she does.
Older and cheaper routers simply split the available bandwidth evenly among all devices, which is no bueno for most households. The AC1750 Archer 7 can intelligently track who’s using how much data and adjust accordingly.
This router’s biggest and only real drawback is its admin UI, which is fairly terrible. It looks like an artifact from the 90s in terms of its layout and design philosophy. It can be hard to tell which page contains the setting you’re looking for, and many of the settings are not labeled in a layman-friendly way. If you don’t have a solid understanding of networking basics, you may need to do a lot of Googling or ask someone for help to get everything tweaked the way you want it.
Best Multimedia: Netgear Nighthawk X4S AC2600
Pros & Cons
- Multi-user MIMO technology keeps speeds high for the whole family
- Two USB 3.0 ports
- Nighthawk app offers simple setup for network novices
- Customer service/technical support may be lacking
- Supports speeds up to 1.7Gbps
- Powerful 1.7GHz processor
- Dynamic QoS
Netgear Nighthawk X4S AC2600 Review
If the excellent but expensive Netgear Nighthawk Pro Gaming XR500 router is a bit out of your price range, consider its little brother, the Nighthawk X4S AC2600. It’s still bonkers fast, just not quite as fast as its big bro.
In terms of speed, the Netgear Nighthawk X4S AC2600 tops out around 1.7Gbps, which is still plenty fast even for a house full of 4K gamers. It utilizes nifty MU-MIMO (multi-user multi-input multi-output) technology to ensure nobody has to wait in line for their data. In a nutshell, older routers have to handle requests from multiple devices one at a time, while MU-MIMO devices can handle multiple requests at the same time. The end result for you and your roommates is a smoother, faster connection for everyone.
Some new routers are starting to advertise themselves as local media servers, and the AC2600 has jumped on that bandwagon too. It comes with two high-speed USB 3.0 ports; plug a drive full of music and movies into one of them and stream content to any device in your house without eating up your data allowance. This technology has other applications too—you can set up an automatic backup drive for your whole network, for example.
With all the fancy features on offer here, you might expect the AC2600 to be a pain to set up. Fear not, it comes with a very user-friendly application that can walk you through the setup process and explain some complex IT jargon in plain English. Even your grandma should be able to figure it out.
We’ve been pretty impressed with this router, but caveat emptor still applies. Not many users seem to have problems with this router, but among those that do, customer support appears to be lacking. A small but vocal number of owners are pretty mad about Netgear’s customer service, so you might want to grab an extended warranty from a third party just to be safe.
Best Performance Value Balance: Linksys Max-Stream AC1900
Pros & Cons
- Gigabit Ethernet transmits huge amounts of data almost instantaneously (if your ISP supports it)
- MU-MIMO technology sends and receives data on multiple channels quickly
- Admin panel makes traditionally fussy tasks easy
- Admin UI is a bit clunky, visually speaking
- The supplied power cord may cause problems
- Speeds up to 1.3Gbps
- Easy setup, even for advanced features
Linksys Max-Stream AC1900 Review
The main draw of the Linksys Max-Stream AC1900 is its price-to-performance ratio. There are faster routers out there, but most of them are proportionally much more expensive. This router would be a great pick if you want high-end speed at mid-range prices.
If your current router is more than a few years old, there’s a good chance it uses Fast Ethernet technology (which is indeed fast, just not as fast as Gigabit Ethernet, which is still fairly new). In short, the Max-Stream AC1900 is blazing fast, especially over a wired connection. Provided you’re getting gigabit speeds from your ISP, you’ll be blown away as entire Steam games download in just a few minutes.
If you’re looking at routers capable of gigabit speeds, chances are you’ve got several people and/or several devices competing for bandwidth. Like the excellent Netgear Nighthawk routers above, the AC1900 utilizes MU-MIMO technology to communicate with multiple devices seamlessly. Simultaneous video streaming and multiplayer gaming should be no problem. The performance is comparable to the best dual band router.
The admin page for configuring the router’s settings is a mixed bag. Visually, it’s dated and weird, which is more of an annoyance than an actual reason not to buy the router. Functionally, it’s fantastic. If you’ve ever tried to set a static IP address, for example, you know that trying to do so through Windows sucks, and many router admin panels don’t make the process much easier (if they even offer the option).
The AC1900 lets you reserve a static IP address for a particular device with one click, and the settings actually stick (at least most of the time). Port forwarding and other semi-advanced features are similarly intuitive.
The bigger issue with this otherwise great router is its included power cord. Some owners have reported that the AC adapter is simply not the one that should have shipped with the router. The router itself has a sticker that calls for a 12-volt, 2-amp power supply, but the included cord is a 12-volt, 0.5-amp cord. It’s simply not capable of supplying enough power to the router, which causes a variety of problems.
It’s not clear whether the incorrect power cord is an engineering mistake or a shipping snafu. It’s not even clear how common the problem is; at least some units do ship with an appropriate 2-amp cord. In any case, if you decide to buy the AC1900, check the power cord as soon as you open the box. A few people that experienced this problem say that Linksys sent them an appropriate cord once they asked.
Gaming Router Buying Guide
If you’re not super familiar with tech lingo, the information on a router’s product page can look like hieroglyphics. There are acronyms everywhere, and even a relatively straightforward term like “800Mbps” doesn’t tell you much about how the router will perform in your particular home without more context.
Routers operate on different frequencies at different speeds. There are a whole bunch of security protocols—how do you know which one to use? Even something as relatively simple as port forwarding doesn’t work exactly the same on any two routers. Finally, the amount and kinds of data you consume matters, as do the particular devices you intend to connect to your network.
There’s far too much to know about routers to lay it all out here, but we can at least give you a basic rundown of the essentials you should understand before clicking that “Buy” button. In this buying guide, we’ll cover speed considerations, wired vs. wireless connections, how ports work, how to evaluate a router’s effective range and a few other technical terms you should at least be able to recognize.
At the end of the day, speed really is everything, but a router’s maximum link rate is only one of many pieces of information you need to know in order to get an accurate idea of its performance. If its product page says it’s capable of speeds up to 1Gbps, you’re only going to see that speed under certain conditions—conditions that will rarely exist in your home.
Let’s touch on the obvious factors: your ISP, types of content, and the number of concurrent users. If you read the fine print of your service provider’s TOS carefully, you’ll undoubtedly notice that what you’re actually paying for is a connection capable of speeds up to a certain number.
If you’re paying for 100Mbps, you might actually hit that speed here and there, but your average consistent speed will likely be anywhere from 20-50% lower. There are many reasons for this, the biggest of which is how much data your neighbors are using at any given time. (ISPs essentially give large geographic areas a “pool” of bandwidth to share.)
Once you’ve figured out your real average internet speed, now you need to think about how many people you live with and what they do on the internet. If your household has five people and if it’s not uncommon for everyone to be streaming video all at once, that’s at least 25Mbps of data right there (standard HD streaming consumes about 5Mbps, while true 4K streaming can eat up 50Mbps or more per device).
In most cases, online gaming doesn’t use as much data as you might expect—usually about the same as a standard HD video stream. Streaming music can consume similar amounts, especially with high bitrates. As a safe estimate, you should probably budget at least 20Mbps per person in your home.
Finally, to account for a bunch of other miscellaneous factors like packet loss, interference from other signals in the area, and a half-dozen other things, you should probably double that 20Mbps number again to be absolutely sure you can expect consistently high speeds for everyone.
A media-heavy family of five should shop for routers capable of at least 200Mbps wireless speeds. If you’re eyeballing routers capable of 500Mbps or greater, it’s hard to imagine that you’ll ever be starved for speed (at least until about 2030 when real-time 3D holograms are the new HD video).
Wired vs. Wireless
Many gamers—especially those under 25 or so—underestimate how awesome a wired internet connection can be. Wireless networks are great too, though, and virtually all routers support both.
Connecting wirelessly has obvious advantages, like not requiring any wires (duh). Guest networks are a commonplace and easy-to-use feature nowadays too; they allow your guests to connect to your network without you having to hand over the password. Initial setup is faster, easier, and cheaper—just plug in the router, create a password, and you’re done.
Once upon a time, wired networks were objectively superior in terms of data security, but that’s no longer the case. Modern WiFi network standards have made wireless networks just as secure. Nonetheless, there are still some good reasons not to cut the cord.
In almost all cases, you’ll get better speed more consistently over an Ethernet cable than you will over WiFi. Over time, you’ll also experience fewer service outages (your router’s local wireless network can go down independent of your actual internet connection). Wired connections aren’t subject to interference from other wireless devices and are less technically frustrating because you can simply plug and play; WiFi is a more complicated technology, which necessarily means it’s more prone to a variety of problems. Finally, there is a hybrid option in the form of wireless adapters. These devices simulate a wired network (almost) without wires. Crazy, right? They come in pairs: plug one unit into a power outlet near your router and connect the two devices with a short Ethernet cable.
Do the same near your PC, and you now have a “wired” connection (it’s transmitting internet particles through the electrical lines in your house—it’s basically magic). You’ll lose up to 30% of your potential speed vs. a real wired connection, but depending on your devices and how your living space is arranged, it may still be the best option.
Ports & Port Forwarding
Port forwarding, like self-medicating with essential oils, is a delicate mixture of art and science. Lol jk, forwarding your ports is a real thing and it actually does do something for you.
Think of your router (and by extension, your PC) as a six-lane highway, but instead of six lanes, it has a few million. Each “lane” of the highway is a particular digital “route” that a given set of internet particles from outside your home takes to get to you. For a whole host of reasons (including security concerns), your router, your firewall, and any other networking applications you might use manage the flow of traffic to and from your PC automatically, and they usually do a pretty good job.
Sometimes, though, in order for a particular game to work correctly, it needs access to specific ports that your automatic digital traffic cops have decided to close off. Enter port forwarding, which is simply the process by which you tell them “it’s cool, Minecraft can come in, he’s with me.”
It’s possible to manually open (or close) single ports as well as an entire numeric range of them, but the exact method of doing that varies from one router to another. This is why you’ll want to carefully comb through screenshots and user reviews for any router you’re thinking about buying: to ensure that its particular admin UI is intuitive, clean, and easy to navigate. A well-designed admin page will use clear, noob-friendly language to guide you to and describe the basics of each of its functions.
Measure twice, buy once. Before purchasing a new gaming router, you should know the exact distance between the spot it will occupy in your home and the farthest point at which you’ll expect to get a good signal.
Distance isn’t quite all you need to know, though. Various materials in your home will affect the router’s signal strength to some extent, effectively reducing its range. Metal will have the biggest negative impact on your WiFi range, followed by concrete, wood, and plaster.
If there’s enough metal in between your PC or phone and your router—say, several filing cabinets or a heavy security door—the range could be reduced by as much as 50%, so plan accordingly. If the range is extra critical to your setup, check out the best long-range router we’ve found.
As video games become more complex, router manufacturers spend much of their time thinking up a thousand new ways to make your gaming experience more enjoyable. There’s far too much to say about router technology to even mention it all in one article, but here’s a quick overview of some of the most significant router evolutions for gamers. Arguably, one of the most important features to look for in a gaming router is QoS (quality of service) capability. Not every device on your home network is consuming exactly the same amount of data all the time, so why should your router divvy up the available bandwidth evenly and call it a day?
QoS-capable routers intelligently track data usage on a per-device basis and dynamically adjust speeds as needed. Basically, if you’re in the middle of an Apex Legends match and your sister is listening to a podcast, your router will make sure you’re first in line for that sweet internet juice.
One of the biggest advancements in recent years is MU-MIMO (multi-user multi-input multi-output) technology. If you think of an older router as a dude whose job involves stacking chainsaws in a warehouse one at a time, his MU-MIMO router equivalent would be a dude who knows how to juggle chainsaws.
Old routers can only handle network traffic from one device at a time, which inevitably results in reduced performance when there are multiple gamers in the house. MU-MIMO routers, though, can handle your whole family’s network traffic simultaneously (the total amount of bandwidth available will still impact everyone’s experience, of course).
Needless to say, the technology that makes it possible to play a game with 23 other people in 15 different countries is super complicated. Everyone’s hardware needs to speak some kind of common language that can be understood by everyone else’s hardware. In the past, gamers regularly had to tweak their own NAT settings, forward a ton of ports, and generally jump through more hoops to make a game work than is necessary today.
Routers that can handle many of those confusing tasks for you—like the new Linksys WRT Gaming Router Optimized for Xbox—are starting to become more common, and router manufacturers are always innovating to bring you more quality-of-life improvements in the future.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some of the most common questions Google is currently fielding about gaming routers, along with our concise answers to them.
What is the best gaming router for PS4?
You may think that your console of choice shouldn’t really matter when it comes to pairing it with a particular router—and you’d be largely (but not entirely) right.
In 2020, it’s not enough to say that you have “a PS4.” There are several models by now, and which one you have might matter when choosing a router. For example, the original PS4 won’t be able to connect to modern 802.11ac WiFi networks because that standard didn’t exist when they came out.
It’s also important (though not mandatory) to pick up a router with dynamic QoS features if you can. Consoles can use almost no data at all, or they can be huge bandwidth hogs, depending on what they’re doing. By picking up a router designed for gamers (like any of the excellent Netgear Nighthawk models we reviewed in this guide), you should be good to go.
What is the best gaming router for Xbox One?
If you prefer Microsoft over Sony, your choice of the router might matter a little bit more. Xbox gamers as a whole tend to experience more connectivity and latency issues than PS4 gamers do (although we fully admit that it’s very hard to tell exactly how true this is; we suspect that, like most things on the internet, this claim is likely some mixture of fact, anecdote, and coincidence).
Still, if we roll with the assumption that Microsoft’s multiplayer servers are indeed more finicky, it may be worth your time to investigate the Linksys WRT Gaming Router Optimized for Xbox. Linksys claims that it’s been specially engineered to give Xbox gamers a better, more stable multiplayer experience, though we haven’t evaluated this particular router ourselves.
One thing is just as true for you as it is for the PS4 crowd: definitely pick up a router with robust QoS features if you can.
What is the best router for Netflix and gaming?
You could rephrase this question as “what’s the best router for me if I use a crapton of data?” The simplest answer is: one that has a high maximum link speed (at least 40Mbps for every person in your house that games or uses Netflix) and (ideally) has MU-MIMO technology.
MU-MIMO routers are great at handling requests from multiple devices simultaneously without sacrificing performance, but if you can’t find an MU-MIMO router you like, brute force is an option. To an extent, a very high maximum link speed with low latency can compensate for not having MU-MIMO capability (assuming your actual internet connection is fast enough).
What is the most secure gaming router?
We poked around the internet ourselves and came up with two pretty clear winners if protecting your data is a top priority. For raw data security above all other concerns, we’d recommend the Synology RT2600ac. It’s got some sweet features like an automatic VPN that (claims to) work flawlessly with all multiplayer games and some sort of built-in antivirus capability.
If you’re a parent and security, to you, also means parental controls, the Synology RT2600ac has those, too.
If you’re willing to go a little bit less hardcore on the security front in exchange for more features designed specifically to enhance your gaming experience, most (if not all) of the Netgear Nighthawk routers also have out-of-the-box VPNs and parental controls as well. Check the article on best VPN for gaming for more insight.
As gaming becomes an ever more popular mainstream hobby, we’ll start to see even more tech products designed specifically for us gamers. Having lots of choices is always a great thing, but it also means you’ll have to do more research in order to shop smartly.
If you’ve stuck with us through this whole guide, you should now feel pretty confident about picking a gaming router that will produce great results as part of your current setup. If you are neither confident in making a decision nor one of our picks from this list, we’re happy to recommend the ASUS RT-ACRH13.
- Chris Stobing, Gaming Routers vs. Standard Routers: What’s the Difference, Make Tech Easier, November 8th, 2018