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Sluggish speeds and poorly timed lag can determine a victory or defeat in any MMO. If you don’t completely suck, then your internet connection is probably the culprit for all the times you were ever outmaneuvered or killed off.  

Persistent ping issues can be combatted with a hard-wired ethernet connection and many die-hard gamers opt for just that. But, if you aren’t willing to conform then your other option is an upgraded wireless router. 

The demand for gaming routers has shot up and many companies have jumped on the bandwagon. So these days, there are plenty of options to choose from. Some pricier than others. But sorting those you can trust to have your back in a first-person shooter from those that are just a marketing gimmick can be tough. To weigh the pros and cons is tricky without a comparison. Do you need to fork out for a speedy Wi-Fi 6 or not?

Firstly, there are lots of ways you can improve your computer performance in terms of FPS and lowering your ping. Ry Crist has linked a beginner’s guide to gaming lag in his review of the best gaming routers for cnet. It might be worth a read-through before you part with your cash. At the end of the day if you still have issues after trying moving your router etc then an upgrade might be your only solution. 

Luckily we have had a look at 14 routers and couldn’t agree more with Ry’s top 5 recommendations. So here is an overview of their specs, how they were tested, and all you need to know about picking the best router for you.

By the time you’re done reading our guide, hopefully, you’ll have all the info and be ready to take the plunge on a faster router to boost your gaming experience.   

Overall best router

Asus RT-AC86U

Image credit: allithypermarket.com.my

We are staring with the top contender to give you something to base the others off of. With a user-friendly web interface and router app, the Asus RT-AC86U has a lot to offer. It is a dual-band wireless router that runs with a 1.8GHz dual-core processor. The performance and latency are pretty impressive and in rigorous testing, it held its own with the top-dogs. It can reach 5GHz speeds

The design is solid and simple without any unnecessary bells and whistles. The Asus service engine is easy to use and is full of optimization settings to help tweak to boost your connection further. You can customize pretty much everything.

It is now an older model since Asus has released a new edition. It looks to be pretty great and boasts Wi-Fi 6 for better speed test data but retails for $250. So the older gen Asus RT-AC86U at $180 is easier on the bank account. Without putting the new model through its paces we can’t yet comment but Ry at cnet has promised updates in the future.

Buy it at B &H for $188

Speediest router

TP-Link Archer AX6000

Image credit: xcom-hobby.ru

As speed is high on the priority list for gaming connections next up we have the TP-Link Archer AX6000. While it isn’t specifically manufactured as a gaming router it is one of the fastest by far so it more than deserves inclusion.

Equipped with the latest Wi-Fi 6 capabilities it outperforms many of the gaming-centric routers available out there. There are some great tools within the TP-Link’s Tether app too.

Its latency test data speaks for itself and makes it comparable to the Archer C5400x the companies tethered connection version.

Wi-Fi 6 is not yet fully in use but to already have it to hand make the AX600 a future-proof option. It is the next step in gaming evolution and will likely become the new industry standard. Many models offering it cost upwards of 400 bucks so the TP-Link Archer AX600, whilst pricier than some gaming routers is a sound investment at $300.

Buy it at Best Buy for $300

Best designed router

Amplifi HD Gamer’s Edition

Image credit: forbes.com

A router option that just screams designed exclusively for the gaming community is the Amplifi HD Gamer’s edition by Ubiquiti. With an impressive, compact design a convenient touchscreen, and an LED-lit base, you won’t feel the need to stash it out of sight.

It didn’t ace controlled speed tests when hard-wired but the range on offer wirelessly is better. Using a multipoint mesh network to relay your signal and steadily spread wi-fi across a distance you get an extended range.

It has a great app with features dedicated to lowering your latency and avoid a laggy game. 

Being a high-end mesh network device it is on the pricier side. Currently retailing for $380 it might be a stretch for some. But for those with a bigger budget it is priced reasonably when compared with similar competitive options. The Nest Wifi mesh system is only slightly cheaper at $349.

Buy at  B&H for $380

Best cheap router

D-Link DIR-867

Imagec redit: cnet.com

The cheapest router tested out was the D-Link DIR-867 which you can get your hand on for as low as 120 bucks. It surprisingly outperformed many others on the 2.4 GHz band during the speed testing phase and even trumped some on the 5GHz band as well.

If you are a hard-core gamer then you might be underwhelmed where features are concerned but it does have a pretty decent quality of service engine. You can use it to prioritize traffic on your network a bare essential, but more than some standard routers.

Its value for money is obvious especially if you read on to see how well it performed under lab-like and real-world conditions. The latency wasn’t the best nor the worst and as we said the speed was better than some models twice its asking price. Because of this, it is getting hard to source with some places selling-out on the model. So be warned and snatch a bargain while you still can.

Buy at Target for $117

Best hard-core gaming router

Asus ROG Rapture GT-AC2900

Image credit: hardwarezone.com.sg

Without paying premium prices it doesn’t get much better than the Asus ROG Rapture GT-AC2900.

Another great dual-band option, it was in the top 5 of the data results in most tests. Acing average download speeds as well as latency and providing the best range without a speed drop-off. 

Of course, it also benefits from the top-notch Quality of Service engine the other Asus routers are privy to. Offering game-and-platform-specific port-forwarding to help with traffic and lag.

It doesn’t look out of place in a bedroom. The construction is solid and for those who care, it is decked out with obligatory token RGB lighting effects.

$180 AT AMAZON

Test subjects

The 5 delights above were put through their paces alongside some of the best-selling, top-recommended, routers to see how they truly performed and compared. 

Some of the standard routers selected also boast Wi-Fi 6 so a lot could be gleaned by viewing them side by side.

14 routers made the shortlist in total but testing and ranking is an ongoing process as newer models are hitting the market later this year. Ry Crist insists that there will be more added over time. He is currently waiting on Wi-Fi 6 routers like the TP-Link AX11000 and the Asus RT-AX92U to examine the mesh system capabilities. Here are the 14 he has looked at so far in ascending price order. Prices were correct when tested (Aug. 10, 2020):

  • TP-Link Archer A9 AC1900: $90
  • D-Link DIR-867 AC1750: $100
  • D-Link EXO AC2600: $131
  • Linksys EA8300 AC2200: $130
  • Asus RT-AC86U: $180
  • TP-Link Archer C3150: $130
  • Zyxel Armor Z2 AC2600: $178
  • Asus ROG Rapture GT-AC2900: $180
  • TP-Link Archer C5400X: $283
  • Netgear Nighthawk Pro Gaming XR500: $249
  • TP-Link Archer AX6000: $300
  • Asus ROG Rapture GT-AX11000: $447
  • Amplifi HD Gamer’s Edition: $380
  • Netgear Nighthawk AX12: $489

The testing reality

When it comes to Wi-Fi testing there will always be variables. Some factors are easy to counter and others are simply out of your router’s control.

Internet speed at home, for example, boils down to your chosen internet service provider. The connection available will limit the speed of your router no matter how well it is capable of performing. 

Data can’t be transferred any quicker than the speed you pay for. Although some areas can brag about access up to 1,000Mbps fiber connections the reality is wireless download speeds across major internet service providers in the US average out at around 100Mbps. 

That makes it incredibly difficult to obtain accurate real-world test results in general. On top of that, Wi-Fi 6 ready routers can transfer with rates five times higher than top fiber connections. So how do you go about testing a 5,652Mbps transfer rate?

Controlled testing

With the ISP factor in mind, testing was approached with a wired connection bypassing ISP issues altogether. Pulling data from a local MacBook Pro server via a CAT 7 Ethernet cable. There was a lower risk of interference that way than using a wireless modem connection to pull data from the cloud. The MacBook also provided a Thunderbolt 3 port hook-up better for the high-speed data transfers they wanted to investigate.

The clock the speeds of a wirelessly routed connected laptop were then monitored. The download speeds were tested several times over 2.4 and 5GHz bands. The laptop was moved and tested at various distances as well. The clock test results demonstrated the transmission speeds very clearly. 

Connect s gaming console directly with an Ethernet cable is much more reliable and should ultimately be faster. So both connection methods were tested for comparison. Unsurprisingly a gigabit Ethernet connection clocked an average of 940Mbps each one within a margin of 1 or 2 megabits.

Ry Crist test results for CNET

The top wireless speeds for each router are charted on the above graph. They were again tested at the 2.4GHz band (shown in blue) as well as the 5GHz band (marked in red). The distances of the readings were taken from 5 feet, then 37.5, and finally 75 feet away. 

As you can see, looking at the 5GHz band results the Wi-Fi 6 routers clearly take the lead as expected. It should be noted that the laptop supported Wi-Fi 6!  In top place, the TP-Link Archer AX6000, though not technically a gaming router achieved average speeds of 1,523Mbps  from 5feet on the 5GHz band. The average speed dropped relative to the distance the laptop was taken falling to 868 Mbps at a distance of 75 feet. This was still faster than any of the Wi-Fi- 5 gen models managed at the 5ft hurdle.

At the 2.4GHz band, however, the Wi-Fi 5 models shine. The Netgear Nighthawk Pro Gaming XR500 was the cream of the crop at 2.4GHz and was also the fastest Wi-Fi 5 router at 5GHz. 

It was followed closely by the D-Link DIR-867. The DIR-867 earned itself a recommendation because it was the cheapest reviewed, performed so well, and has a Quality of Service engine developed for prioritizing gaming traffic. 

The Asus RT-AC86U was chosen as the overall best as the second-fastest Wi-Fi 5 at 5GHZ.

The controlled testing via the MacBook Pro gave a technical set of results. Yet this had to be applied to the real-world. As mentioned the ISP you have will weigh in heavily here. Signal strengths vary from house to house and are dependant on traffic, users connected, and even home layouts and possible physical obstructions.

Home testing

For that reason, the models were further tested in a 1,200 square ft home set-up over an AT&T fiber internet connection. The ISP was capable of delivering speeds of up to 300Mbps. The second set of tests were run from a Dell XPS 13 which didn’t support Wi-Fi 6. This created more realistic settings. The data results were more representative of what an average user may experience.

A screenshot (above) of some of Amplifi’s in-app features, including a choice of modes; Latency or Throughput, and easy-to-read signal strength indicators. Provided by Ry Crist for CNET

In his home environment, Ry re-ran speed tests from five locations. The furthest being at the far end of the house four rooms away. 

Throughout each test, he used a PlayStation Vue to stream and provide baseline household traffic. He also chose different times of day to account for the variable of ISP fluctuation.

Around 1,000 different speed tests were performed. 14 routers, in five locations (testing 3 times in each for an average) at different times throughout the day. With that in mind, the data collected was pretty reliable.

Enlarge Image

At-home data results by Ry Crist CNET

This time the Netgear Nighthawk Pro Gaming XR500 averaged more than 250Mbps on a 5GHz band at all distances taking first place. The Amplifi HD Gamer’s Edition came next with its signal relay( mesh) system. It was outperformed at high-speed but without a connection that exceeds 500Mbps, you won’t notice.

Again though, the bargain D-Link DIR-867 router proved its worth when operating over the 2.4GHz band. Maintaining an average 85.9Mbps speed performance was surprising. It was around 62% slower at a distance (averaging 32.3) with a bigger drop-off.  If you have a bigger home it probably isn’t the router for you but in a smaller space, it wipes the floor with the competition at 2.4GHz.

Enlarge Image

The Asus RT-AC86U stylish QoS with a great layout and handy features.  Screenshot courtesy of Ry Crist at CNET

The Asus RT-AC86U, on the other hand, showed the least drop-off effect. With 5GHz average speeds of 187.3Mbps throughout the house only fell to 144.1Mbps. When you compare that to the Nighthawk XR500 which dropped to 72Mbps you can see its value. The performance of the RT-AC86U was strong throughout the 2.4GHz band as well.

The TP-Link Archer AX6000 showed strong average speeds on both bands and stood out in terms of range as well. The results for this one are interesting. They demonstrate that even without a Wi-Fi 6 supporting console or laptop it still performs at the top of its game. 

The other Wi-Fi 6 routers were less impressive from room to room despite their amazing control test results. Taking the penultimate and ultimate spots in the at-home, real-world testing were the Netgear Nighthawk AX12 and the Asus ROG Rapture GT-AX11000 respectively. 

Both will set you back around $400 so perhaps the TP-Link Archer AX6000 retailing at $269, is a more feasible upgrade. You are ready for the future of Wi-Fi 6 but don’t have to sacrifice anything in the meantime. 

If you are more interested in a gaming-centric router with the specialized features that the Asus ROG offers, you could consider the GT-AC2900 instead. 

Ry Crist/CNET

Latency testing

During the home-testing phase latency spikes were also under scrutiny. If you connect to a busy gaming server your router can only do so much to minimize latency issues. If they strike at a critical moment during a match it could be a make or break moment for you and your teammates.

To gauge the router’s response to latency issues over servers they were tested ruthlessly, logging the ping to a server located over 100 miles away. On average each router ping came in at 15ms but there were a few higher spikes noted.

The Asus RT-AC86U performed the best overall as far as latency was concerned. It averaged 13.1ms at 2.4GHz and 12.9ms at 5GHz. The Asus ROG Rapture GT-AC2900 and D-Link DIR-867 also returned pretty well on both bands.

At the other end of the spectrum was the Linksys EA8300. It disappointingly pinged in last place on both bands with spikes of 37.5ms on the 2.4GHz band and 35.4ms on the 5GHz. 

The TP-Link Archer A9 AC1900 also did pretty poorly on the 2.4GHz band front, returning an average latency of 34.8. However, at the 5GHz band, it operated better with a ping under 20ms.

The best of the bunch? That’d be our top pick, the Asus RT-AC86U, which returned. That was good enough for first place in both cases. The only other routers to finish in the top five on both bands were the Asus ROG Rapture GT-AC2900 and also our budget pick, the D-Link DIR-867.

The new Wi-Fi 6 edition of the Asus RT-AC86U, the Asus RT-AX86U looks like it will be even better. Although not officially included it never exceeded the 20ms mark in over 90 individual speed tests.

Gaming routers are set to route your gaming traffic via the closest servers. They also try to avoid joining rooms with less equipped competitors in an effort to keep your latency optimal. These features can be beneficial to help combat lag in general but can’t prevent or rule it out completely. That is just the nature of an MMO environment.

Conclusion

Testing over at cnet is still ongoing the TP-Link AX11000 and the Asus RT-AX92U results are yet to be added to the mix. The second sports a next-gen two-piece Wi-Fi 6 mesh system. This will no doubt boost data transfer speeds whether or not you have Wi-Fi 6 devices. 

The AX11000 is a step-up from the  TP-Link C5400X ad also boasts much faster speeds, the latency tests results of the first were impressive so the Wi-Fi 6 upgrade is bound to outperform its progenitor. 

It doesn’t stop there either. Before the end of the year is out, we are also going to see some Wi-Fi 6E routers floating. They will take advantage of the newly unlocked 6GHz band and will essentially operate over an extra-wide, private highway of their own with far less traffic. Asus has already announced a high-end 6GHz gaming router on the cards and others are following suit.

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