The Best Wi-Fi 6 Routers for 2021
The standard for Wi-Fi routers has been "ac" for years, indicating the latest protocol and compatibility with new mobile devices. Now a new standard has appeared, 802.11ax or Wi-Fi 6, which means a whole new crop of routers is here. Wi-Fi 6 is a new standard, so only laptops and smartphones hitting store shelves since late 2019 will be able to access those faster speeds.
Yes, Wi-Fi 6E was only recently announced, but frequencies have been allocated and mobile devices have begun to appear that support it, so now is certainly the time to think about a serious router upgrade. In other words, if you want your network properly future-proofed, your best bet at present is still Wi-Fi 6. Wi-Fi 6 promises new speeds, fewer problems, and better security -- and you'll need a new router to access it. In our reviews of dozens of the latest routers, we've kept an eye on new models that are Wi-Fi 6 compatible.
Now, we're ready to make some recommendations: Netgear's Nighthawk AX8 is a great starting place with everything you'd want in a cutting-edge router, but be sure to check out our other picks, too.
Netgear Nighthawk AX8
Netgear has released a whole line of Wi-Fi 6-ready Nighthawks, but the AX8 offers some great middle ground for those who want the best but don't exactly need an office router. This model promises speeds up to 6Gbps across its bands -- yes, Wi-Fi 6 really is that much of an improvement -- and is designed for large homes that have a whole lot of devices on the wireless network. Inside, the 1.8GHz processor helps take care of the details, managing up to eight simultaneous OFDMA connections and 16 simultaneous Wi-Fi clients while making sure there are no dead zones around.
There are also six Gigabit Ethernet ports for file transfer, including the ability to combine two of the ports to create an even faster wired connection. There are plenty of Nighthawk AX models that are Wi-Fi 6 ready if you want to choose something with a little less power and a lower cost, but the Netgear Nighthawk AX8 is the top of the line for a home router if you really want the best!
Asus has several Wi-Fi 6 routers and, honestly, we're impressed with all of them. This particular model has a lot in common with the Nighthawk AX8, offering 6GBps speeds (around 1.15Mbps on the 2.4GHz band and 4.8Mbps on the 5GHz band, the expected speeds on all Wi-Fi 6 models), plus 8 LAN ports.
The dual-band router also works with AiMesh, the Asus Wi-Fi mesh system that can link multiple routers together for better, stronger coverage where necessary. The router also supports both OFDMA and MU-MIMO for direct connections to devices for greater stability and better data streaming. Gamers, meanwhile, will appreciate the Adaptive QoS that can prioritize games to make sure there are no slowdowns that the worst possible time.
As with most modern Asus routers, the Asus RT-AX88U's network is guarded by AiProtection Pro, a security filter to help keep your data safe.
TP-Link Archer AX6000
With Netgear and Asus offer top-tier ax models, you know TP-Link can't be far behind. This Archer model offers up to 6Gbps across its bands, nine Gigabit LAN ports, and compatibility with both OFDMA and MU-MIMO. It comes with a 1.8Ghz quad-core processor, and two co-processors to help manage connection quality.
By now, all this may be feeling a little familiar. But TP-Link has a few unique features to contribute. The "band-steering" and "airtime-fairness" software helps make sure that bands don't get overcrowded, while also ensuring that one device doesn't get too much attention.
The TP-Link Archer AX6000 also comes with a USB-C 3.0 port, useful for everything from data transfer to charging up your mobile devices -- a nice benefit if your router is on your desktop. There's even Alexa compatibility if you want to give it voice commands.
Asus ROG Rapture GT-AX11000
Primarily interested in gaming? The Rapture is a Wi-Fi 6 model designed for gamers that may not be able to get a wired connection but still want the highest-quality wireless connection available.
The router will prioritize gaming devices, gaming servers, and what it identifies as gaming data packets, speeding up the connection from beginning to end, aided by the 1.8GHz quad-core processor. If you do find an arrangement that allows for a wired connection, the Asus ROG Rapture GT-AX11000 has a dedicated 2.5G port for gaming devices. AiMesh allows you to connect multiple Asus devices, while AirProtection provides a nice security filter.
There are also plenty of options to customize connection monitoring and prioritization so you can check up on the quality of your connections at any time. Oh, and it makes port forward extra, with the ability to pick your game and device and activate open NAT in seconds.
TP-Link Deco X60 WiFi 6 AX3000 Whole-Home Mesh Wi-Fi System
TP-Link's Deco was an impressive mesh system to begin with, designed to spread multiple units throughout your building for superior coverage and no dead zones. But thanks to its 2020 upgrade, Deco is now better than ever.
The new units can cover up to 7,000 square feet, making them suitable for pretty much any large space you have. They also provide up to 3 Gigabits per second (Gbps) speeds for up to 150 devices, so it's faster than ever, too. The router is a smart choice if you enjoy video chatting, streaming, or gaming.
Expected upgrades like OFDMA and MU-MIMO are here, but note that the TP-Link Deco X60 also supports WPA3 encryption -- soon to become the new required standard -- along with the TP-Links suite of security tools. The initial setup is simple, too. Just follow the process outlined in the Deco app.
Deco is the mesh system to pick for the new decade.
A mesh router system includes satellite models that function as repeaters, strengthening and rebroadcasting the Wi-Fi signal at different points to cover much more ground. This particular version offers both the primary router and one extender to cover a total of 5,000 square feet, but you can add more satellites for covering an even greater area, if necessary. In addition to Wi-Fi 6 speeds (up to 4.2Gbps across the three bands supported by the router), this mesh system can handle more than 40 devices and includes Gigabit Ethernet ports on each device for wired connections.
The Orbi app also gets a nod for being particularly easy to work with, an important factor when setting up a more complicated mesh system. While such a high-end mesh network may not be for everyone, the Netgear Orbiis an excellent choice for large homes, businesses, and public areas where plentiful coverage is important. You can choose several different varieties if you want to look for a different price!
Research and buying tips
Are Wi-Fi 6 routers worth it?
A router isn't a device that's replaced very often. Unlike a smartphone, it tends to sit in one spot and do its job for several years or so. While Wi-Fi 6 is only starting to show up on newer devices (as we mentioned, it first appeared on the market in late 2019), within a couple of years, it will become the expected standard, the way 802.11ac was considered standard.
Getting a Wi-Fi 6 router now isn't just good future-proofing, it's really the only option if you want a router that will be useful for longer than a year or two.
Do Wi-Fi 6 routers have better range?
Not innately, no. Wi-Fi 6 will improve your connection quality and eliminate dead zones, but your router will still keep its original technical range. If you need a larger technical range, mesh routers are probably your best option.
The big benefits of Wi-Fi 6, also designated by the moniker Wi-Fi 802.11ax, include better throughput speeds, reduced latency, and the ability to connect more devices to the same access point. These benefits will be great for applications that require responsiveness, such as gaming, augmented reality, and virtual reality, to name a few. This makes Wi-Fi 6 routers great gaming routers.
To benefit from Wi-Fi 6's support for faster speeds, you'll need a fast broadband connection, and that's something you'll have to discuss with your Internet service provider, or ISP.
How do I check if my router supports Wi-Fi 6?
It's usually pretty obvious, but you can always look up your router model online. Compatible routers will state clearly they use Wi-Fi 6 or 802.11ax, which both mean the same thing. If you've had your router for more than a year, it probably won't use Wi-Fi 6.
Remember that it's also important to see if any of your new devices support Wi-Fi 6. You'll have to make sure both your router and the connected device are Wi-Fi 6 compatible so that they can work without any disruptions.
Can my current router be upgraded to Wi-Fi 6?
Unfortunately, a simple upgrade isn't possible. Wi-Fi 6 requires new components that are only available in newer routers.
The same isn't necessarily true of your connected devices, though. If you are comfortable modding your computer, you may be able to add a new PC Wi-Fi card that supports Wi-Fi 6. In the future, if you're upgrading your smartphone, tablet, or laptop, be sure to check to see if those devices support Wi-Fi 6 -- Intel-powered devices will be labeled as Wi-Fi 6 Gig+.
In addition to Wi-Fi 6, a revised standard called Wi-Fi 6E is starting to make its way to the market.