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Semi-Holiday: The Ultimate Wireless Routers of 2016
Tech Features

Semi-Holiday: The Ultimate Wireless Routers of 2016

If money is no object, these overqualified routers have networking prowess.

Having a router keeps everybody’s working, communication, and entertainment needs alive anywhere in the house. Basically, the more options at your disposal, the better.

To celebrate all the things that routers provide to us, we took the proper course of action and gathered up the absolute best right now from Linksys, NETGEAR, ASUS, and D-Link. Strictly speaking, this roundup is about which one has the most bulk and the most cartoonish array of antennas reign supreme. Definitely top of the pack if money is no object — in the service of gorging on ultra-high definition streaming or gaming without interruption, all at once.

In descending order, we breakdown the best of best in general impressions, based on our hands-on experience and availability at the time of this writing. Read on to find out which candidates make the grade.

Linksys Did It Right

If you’re one of the many people looking for reliability, then the Linksys EA9500 MAX-STREAM Gigabit Router can do everything with conventional ease. Basically, the EA9500 is an all-around champ in any crowded dwelling, for example: our 2000sqft place has 3 laptops, 2 gaming desktops, one 4K-capable HTPC, and at least four game consoles (PlayStation 3/PlayStation 4/Xbox One/Wii U); sometime running all at once.

When everybody is fighting for bandwidth in open spaces, the EA9500 can effortlessly blast an entire multistory building with Wi-Fi and plenty to spare. Heavily equipped with AC5400 Tri-band speeds (N1000 + AC2166 + AC2166), 4×4 MU-MIMO, and a 1.4GHz dual-core processor.

Despite being separated by five walls (including a partial garage) and 78 feet away, our wireless speed tests and benchmarks with the EA9500 were consistent and roughly 93% of our network throughput with (5GHz 802.11ac enabled), making this one of the best routers we have ever tested. Connectivity is equally generous with two USB ports and eight Ethernet (LAN) ports, with configuration options through Linksys Smart Wi-Fi being fairly manageable for anybody to adjust.

$379.99 on Amazon

NETGEAR Comes Packing Wirelessly

All of the routers discussed here are on par with each other in one way, so to gain an edge, NETGEAR equipped their flagship Nighthawk X10 AD7200 Smart Router with the most stuff. Without a doubt, the Nighthawk X10 outguns the competition in technical specs with its 1.7GHz quad-core processor, Plex media sever and Amazon Drive cloud storage, and one of the fastest routers on paper thanks to 802.11ad. Additionally, the reserved-looking X10 is well-connected with six Ethernet ports, two USB 3.0 ports, and long strip of status lights upfront.

The consumer name of 802.11ad is called WiGig, and can broadcast at a 60GHz maximum frequency speed of 7.2Gbps — and easily the winner if we could base our impressions on this feature alone. However, the effective range of WiGig is impractical with line-of-sight performance of roughly 30 feet, and you’ll actually need compatible devices to take advantage of the increased bandwidth.

You’ll also be paying for the privilege too, because the price of the Nighthawk X10 is the most expensive out of the four routers here. Another surprising discovery is that the maximum 5GHz band is the lowest to compensate for the additional wi-fi band (1733Mbps vs. 2166~2167Mbps), which didn’t affect real-world usage but a noteworthy distinction nonetheless. Beyond that, NETGEAR is incredible if absolute speed and immediate bragging gratification is a priority.

$449.95 on Amazon

Transformer-like Styling From D-Link Remains Simple

D-Link has carved a niche for themselves as the best mainstream option without  going broke. It fact, their DIR-895L/R Ultra Wi-Fi Router has been around the longest compared to the other picks, always being in short supply since its initial release — or completely sold out if you try to buy it direct.

But being first doesn’t necessarily mean being the best. When the DIR-895 works, it’s brilliant in a family household in need of simplicity. However, the DIR-895 occasionally fell short under our peak periods of usage. We found the effective range good through walls but seldom did we reach the desired benchmark figures (the lowest average we got was 55% of what was advertised), and advanced users will grow tired of the coddling layout of the options due to its idiot-proof setup.

As a consolation, the DIR-895 is a bargain costing less than $300 brand new, and getting cheaper by the week. If you want the speed (most of the time), transformers styling, and have no intention of diving into the advanced presets, D-Link will have what you’re looking for.

$289.99 on Amazon

ASUS Ain’t Got Game

Owning the best router becomes subjective if you’re mostly in it for gaming performance, and the ASUS RT-AC5300 Gigabit Gaming Router eagerly caters to the demographic. One advantage for ASUS  is the their router has been around since last year, and reputedly held the top until recently.

This rides the hardcore motif with bold asymmetrical lines, ROG-inspired (Republic of Gamers) ornamental glyphs, and will be right at home in any gaming living room. Absolute control is also at your fingertips and there’s a lot of tweak, with nothing being hidden and easy to navigate if you know what you’re doing. We also liked the concept of AiProtection which automatically incorporates vulnerability detection and security on an enterprise-level (allegedly).

Unfortunately, it seems that time has quickly caught up with the RT-AC5300. Getting those desired speeds turned out to be an exercise in futility, before and after deciding to manually adjust things yourself as partial workarounds until our benchmarks dragged yet again. Other intermittent issues involved mediocre distance between walls at 55 ft, dropped signals every few hours, and poorly implemented firmware that we could never alleviate.

These issues were so persistent with the ASUS RT-AC5300 that we gave up and had to return our tester in frustration. If you’re luckier than us this still might be a hard-edged router ready for gaming — hopefully ASUS built yours to a decent standard.

$345.95 on Amazon

Conclusion

So, there you have it. Our three favorite (and one not-so-great) routers for the biggest dough. You can pick any of these models up either at Amazon, or your local retailer.

About the Author: Herman Exum