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Security

Hackers are hijacking Wi-Fi routers with zuoRAT malware

As if you didn’t already have enough to worry about, a new report finds hackers are targeting home Wi-Fi routers to gain access to all your connected devices.

The report comes from Black Lotus Lab, a security division of Lumen Technologies. The report details several observed real-world attacks on small home/home office (SOHO) routers since 2020 when millions of people began working from home at the start of the COVID 19 pandemic.

According to Black Lotus Lab, the attackers use Remote Access Trojans (RATs) to hijack a home’s router. The trojans use a new malware strain called zuoRAT to gain access and then deploy inside the router. Once deployed, the RATs allow attackers to upload and download files to all the connected devices on the home or office network.

“The rapid shift to remote work in spring of 2020 presented a fresh opportunity for threat actors to subvert traditional defense-in-depth protections by targeting the weakest points of the new network perimeter — small office/home office (SOHO) routers.” Lumen Technologies said in a blog post. “Actors can leverage SOHO router access to maintain a low-detection presence on the target network.”

ZuoRAT is resistant to attempts to sandbox it for further study. It attempts to contact several public servers when it first deploys. If it doesn’t receive any response, it assumes it has been sandboxed and deletes itself.

The malware is incredibly sophisticated, and Lumen Technologies believes it may originate from a nation-state actor, not rogue hackers. This means a government with a lot of resources could be targeting SOHO routers in North America and Europe.

ZuoRAT gains remote access to SOHO routers. It is constantly scanning networks for vulnerable routers and attacks if one is located.

Once the trojans are in, there’s no limit to the damage they can do. So far, they’ve been content with stealing data — personal identifiable information (PII), financial information, and normally secure business or corporate information. However, the ability is there for threat actors to deploy other malware once they’ve gained access.

Blue Lotus Lab was able to trace one of the zuoRAT viruses to servers in China. Other than that, little is known about the origins of the malware.

Most common household routers seem to be vulnerable, including Cisco, Netgear, and ASUS.  The best way to protect against a zuoRAT infection is to regularly reboot your home router. The virus cannot survive a reboot, which wipes the router and restores it to its factory settings.

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Computing

Best Long-Range Wi-Fi Routers for 2021

While there are many routers capable of delivering fast speeds and the latest Wi-Fi 6 technology, some homes or small offices are simply too large to cover. In general, a whole-home mesh networking solution will be able to blanket larger spaces with a reliable, speedy Wi-Fi signal, but for those who don’t want to install satellite receivers and nodes, having a robust Wi-Fi router will also do the trick. These are some of the best long-range Wi-Fi and mesh Wi-Fi systems that can cover homes in varying sizes from 5,000 to even 8,000 square feet.

Best long-range Wi-Fi routers

Netgear Nighthawk RAX200

Why you should buy this: The Nighthawk RAX200 boasts a unique router design, Wi-Fi 6 support, and speeds up to 10.8Gbps with a coverage area of up to 2,500 square feet.

Who’s it for: Gamers, streamers, and home users who don’t want to compromise on speed.

Why we picked the Netgear Nighthawk RAX200:

Whereas traditional routers use unsightly antennas to help extend coverage to your home, Netgear’s futuristic take on the humble Wi-Fi hub is based on the wings of a jet. The design isn’t as minimalist as some of the home mesh network systems — a few of which are also on this list — but the Nighthawk RAX200 isn’t overly aggressive with its design like the octopus-like designs of some of the best gaming routers.

To cover properties as large as 2,500 square feet, the Nighthawk RAX200 relies on eight antennas concealed in the wing-shaped design, and signals are broadcasted on the 2.4GHz and dual 5GHz bands. With MU-MIMO and beamforming support, the company claims that you’ll get speeds up to 10.8Gbps. As advertised, that’s 4x more capacity and 40% more data throughput, which means that active homes can stream multiple 4K video feeds, game, and browse the web at the same time no matter where you are in the home.

Keeping things running smoothly is a quad-core processor under the hood. Though you likely would not experience any drop in coverage with the Nighthawk RAX200, gamers and streamers can also opt for a more stable wired connection through the built-in Ethernet ports.

Netgear Orbi 5G Wi-Fi 6 Mesh System NBK752

Netgear's Orbi 5G broadcasts your mobile broadband connection over Wi-Fi 6.

Why you should buy this: Netgear’s latest Orbi 5G allows you to connect directly to a 5G network in areas where there isn’t DSL, fiber, or cable service, and you can connect multiple satellites together to build an expansive mesh network.

Who’s it for: Rural residents who need access to fast mobile broadband or anyone who wants access to 5G Internet for failover.

Why we picked the Netgear Orbi 5G Wi-Fi 6 Mesh System NBK752:

Though the Orbi 5G WiFi 6 Mesh System resembles many of the company’s previous Orbi designs, this latest router comes with a clever new trick. In addition to being able to hook up this system to your existing DSL, cable, or fiber modem to use as a whole-home mesh network, you can also pop in a nano SIM card and use your favorite wireless carrier’s 5G network. This makes it the perfect solution for rural residents and small businesses who may not have access to fast wired broadband access as well as anyone else who wants a failover network in case your regular Internet goes out.

Currently, Netgear states that the AT&T and T-Mobile networks are supported, and the company will add support for Verizon’s 5G network soon. While the Orbi 5G sounds more like a mobile hotspot than a home router, you’re getting all the latest features, including tri-band Wi-Fi 6 support, up to 5,000 square feet of coverage, and speeds of up to 4.2Gbps for up to 40 devices to connect. The company admits that its router stands taller than competing mesh network products, but the bulk is to house all the antennas to improve coverage and signal performance. Just add an Orbi satellite to eliminate dead zones or expand coverage by another 2,500 square feet, and manage the mesh network with Netgear’s dedicated Orbi app on iPhone and Android smartphones. The biggest downside with this solution is finding a compatible mobile broadband plan that’s affordable enough to take advantage of Orbi’s latest features.

Linksys Velop MX12600

Linksys Velop AX4200 router and satellites.
Linksys

Why you should buy this: Linksys’ Velop MX12600 can blanket properties as large as 8,000 square feet with Wi-Fi 6 coverage and allows up to 120 devices to connect.

Who’s it for: Residents of large homes who need their Wi-Fi signal to travel further.

Why we picked the Linksys Velop MX12600:

Linksys’ Velop MX12600 is another mesh networking solution with three nodes that can stretch your Internet connection over properties as large as 8,100 square feet. Highlights of this mesh networking system include Apple’s HomeKit support for smart home connectivity, Wi-Fi 6 on-board, and the ability to connect more than 120 devices simultaneously, making it the ideal hub for large IoT-enabled homes. The compact square-shaped tower with its white-clad design helps the nodes fit in with your home decor.

Linksys claims that the whole-home mesh network is capable of delivering 4x more capacity and 3.5x faster speeds compared to older Wi-Fi 5 systems. The Velop is capable of speeds up to 4.2Gbps, making it perfectly suited for bandwidth-intensive tasks, like multiple 4K streaming, downloading large files, and gaming. A convenient app makes setup easy and gives you access to features like guest network access as well as establishing device priority to ensure buffer-free, lag-free streaming.

Asus ROG Rapture GT-AX11000

Asus ROG Rapture is a solid gaming router.

Why you should buy this: The Asus ROG Rapture delivers speedy performance, comes with Wi-Fi 6 support, and has adaptive QoS to prioritize gaming traffic.

Who’s it for: Gamers who need speedy traffic in larger homes.

Why we picked the Asus ROG Rapture GT-AX11000:

The Asus ROG Rapture GT-AX11000 is one of the best Wi-Fi routers around and has been a beloved choice for gamers for good reason. In addition to supporting Wi-Fi 6, the ROG Rapture comes equipped with adaptive QoS, which helps prioritize gaming traffic during periods of congestion, and a dedicated 2.5Gbps gaming port, ensuring that gamers never suffer from dropped frames due to home network speeds. What makes the ROG Rapture GT-AX11000 a solid pick is that this router, with its eight antennas, can cover homes as large as 5,000 square feet with its beamforming tech.

Asus promises speeds as fast as 11,000Mbps with this router, and OFDM support means that a single channel can transmit data from several devices at the same time, making it speedy and efficient. VPN Fusion technology intelligently routes traffic from your computer, tablet, and smartphone through a VPN while keeping your gaming traffic connected directly for latency-free connectivity. The router also supports Asus’s Auro RGB lighting, making it a perfect complement to gamers with other compatible ROG devices and components.

TP-Link Archer AX6600

Why you should buy this: TP-Link’s Archer AX6600 is an affordable alternative to Asus’ pricier router while still delivering all of the gaming-centric features over Wi-Fi 6.

Who’s it for: Gamers on a tight budget who don’t want to compromise on speed and performance.

Why we picked the TP-Link Archer AX6600:

Gamers who want all the advanced features of the ROG Rapture GT-AX11000 on our list but don’t want to pay Asus’ premium price tag will find lots to love with TP-Link’s more affordable alternative. Like its ROG counterpart, the TP-Link Archer AX6600 is designed for gamers. Features such as QoS support, eight dedicated beamforming antennas, and support for tri-band frequencies show that this is a router that’s been thoughtfully designed for gamers.

All this adds up to having robust Wi-Fi 6 coverage with speeds that top out at 4.8Gbps. For even larger spaces, you can add range extenders to form a mesh Wi-Fi network with the company’s OneMesh solution. TP-Link didn’t give a rating for the Archer AX6600’s coverage area, but the prior model is capable of blanketing spaces up to 3,500 square feet, while the company’s mesh Deco AX 6600 can blanket up to 6,000 square feet.

Where the Archer AX6600 excels is in the number of advanced features covered under the company’s HomeCare security suite. Unlike competing products, HomeCare doesn’t require a recurring monthly subscription, making the Archer even more affordable in the long run. You get enhanced parental controls with sophisticated traffic filtering, anti-malware support, and more.

Eero 6

Eero 6 Wi-Fi Mesh Router
John Velasco / Digital Trends

Why you should buy this: Amazon’s Eero 6 brings Wi-Fi 6 coverage to homes in a compact, attractive design with an intuitive app, automatic software updates, and plenty of controls.

Who’s it for: Home users needing a no-fuss home mesh network that delivers Wi-Fi 6 performance.

Why we picked the Eero 6:

Arguably the first company that brought the idea of mesh networks into the homes of consumers, Amazon’s Eero 6 maintains the company’s philosophy in creating an easy-to-use product in a compact design that’s made to blend in with your home. Though the simplicity makes the Eero 6 extremely attractive to general home users — the companion smartphone apps makes setup easy and updates are seamlessly delivered during off-peak times — the limited number of Ethernet ports on the main router and lack of ports on the satellite nodes may frustrate advanced users, those with smart home bridges, and gamers who may want a dedicated wired connection to their console or PC rig.

Where the Eero 6 excels is that it can blanket homes up to 5,000 square feet with a multi-unit package consisting of a main router and two satellite add-ons. Surprisingly, the more premium offering with three routers instead of satellites covers a slightly smaller 4,500-square-foot living space. The Eero 6 comes with advanced features like OFDMA technology to reduce and avoid congestion, beamforming antennas, dual-band support, and the company’s proprietary TrueMesh technology to avoid disruptions. Eero promises speeds up to 500Mbps on the Eero 6 mesh system, and the router comes with a built-in Zigbee smart home to connect compatible IoT devices. Users with faster connections will want to upgrade to the slightly pricier Eero Pro 6, which is more suited for gigabit connections.

Asus AX6000 RT-AX88U

The Asus AX6000 RT-AX88U is a more affordable and less aggressive gaming router.

Why you should buy this: The Asus AX6000 FT-AX88U delivers speeds up to 2.3x faster than an 802.11ac router using its 4×4 dual-band antennas.

Who’s it for: Home users who need Wi-Fi 6 speeds but don’t want the ostentatious designs of a dedicated gaming router.

Why we picked the Asus AX6000 RT-AX88U:

While the Asus AX6000 RT-AX88U is a router made for gamers, it comes with a less aggressive design, making it the perfect addition to any household. With four antennas instead of the usual eight on premium gaming routers, the RT-AX88U’s design is considered to be more discrete, and the router’s black-clad body with gold accents attracts less attention than the black and red designs on gaming-forward solutions. Still, this Wi-Fi 6 router packs quite the punch, delivering speeds up to 6000Mbps, which is up to 2.3 times faster than a typical Wi-Fi 5 router, according to Asus. For gamers, the router’s built-in tech allows you to maintain a fast connection with little latency, and ping times have been reduced by as much as 75% with tech like adaptive QoS to help prioritize traffic.

Beamforming antennas, AiMesh technology to create a whole-home mesh network, security controls, and plenty of gigabit Ethernet ports round out the list of features that make this router so attractive. The RT-AX88U can blanket homes up to 5,000 square feet, ensuring that you have even the most remote rooms in your house blanketed with Wi-Fi signal for gaming, 4K streaming, or casual web browsing. It’s a powerful router that comes at an affordable price. For even larger homes, you can connect additional Asus routers to form your own mesh network.

Google Nest Wi-Fi

Google's Nest Wi-Fi incorporates a built-in smart speaker.

Why you should buy this: Google’s Nest Wi-Fi mesh system incorporates a built-in smart speaker and can blanket homes up to 7,000 square feet in size.

Who’s it for: Home users who want a compact, aesthetically pleasing mesh system that’s non-obtrusive and reliable.

Why we picked the Google Nest Wi-Fi:

You’ll be partially correct if you mistook Google’s latest Nest Wi-Fi for a smart speaker. The compact cylinders — roughly the same size as Apple’s HomePod mini speakers — is just as capable of playing music and answering queries as it is at broadcasting Wi-Fi signals to cover your entire home. As a mesh networking system, coverage depends on how many receivers you have, and you can blanket homes as large as 7,000 square feet with a Nest Wi-Fi router and three additional nodes spread across your home. Google recommends keeping five access points at most to any home to reduce interference.

Google’s setup process is just as simple as the competing Eero system made by Amazon, and the best part about the Nest Wi-Fi is that by bundling in smart speakers, you can eliminate the clutter and cost of having separate devices here. Sadly, though, its features fall somewhat short of all the other products on our list, as it is limited to dual-band Wi-Fi 5 signals rather than the latest Wi-Fi 6 tech. In general, this will work fine with most American households, and you generally won’t benefit from speed promises from Wi-Fi 6 unless your broadband plan is fast enough anyway. Speeds top out at 2.2Gbps when connected directly to the router or 1.2Gbps when connected to the satellite nodes, so the system will work with homes with up to gigabit cable or fiber connections.

Long-range Wi-Fi router buying guide and FAQs

Should I invest in a mesh network?

There are plenty of advantages to getting a mesh network, and many routers on our list allow you to pair an additional router from the same manufacturer to create your own smart mesh home network. A mesh network achieves a similar purpose of blanketing a larger living space by allowing you to seamlessly hop between the satellite nodes without having to switch between different network names and passwords. Choosing a node can also help in more difficult situations where a single Wi-Fi router’s signal may be hampered by thick walls or metal doors.

What should I look for when choosing a long-range router?

Most manufacturers advertise coverage in terms of square feet. You’ll want to choose one with a coverage area that’s as large or larger than your living space to ensure that your home will be covered from corner to corner. Our list contains routers with coverage from 5,000 to 8,000 square feet, and you can even go farther by adding satellite mesh nodes.

That said, there are other factors that can affect Wi-Fi coverage. Hiding a router behind a shelf or behind an entertainment center can weaken the signal that’s being broadcast. Signals may not be able to easily penetrate thick walls, concrete, or metal, so keep that in mind as well. If your home is constructed with brick and concrete, a whole-home mesh system that’s expandable may be a better option.

Do I need Wi-Fi 6 or Wi-Fi 6E coverage right now?

Wi-Fi 6 is also known as the 802.11ax standard. In general, most American homes won’t benefit from any promised speed boosts from Wi-Fi 6 unless you have gigabit or faster Internet. The new protocol, however, provides benefits that may not be tangible or as visible, like lower latency for gaming, allowing more devices to connect for IoT-filled homes, and improved security. Be sure to check the speed of your broadband plan with your ISP to see if it will be covered with your router. If your ISP speeds are faster than what’s advertised by your router, you won’t be getting the maximum benefits from your plan. In general, choose a router that provides faster speeds than your ISP to future-proof your investment.

I am not a gamer. Should I buy a gaming router?

If you don’t mind the gaming-forward aggressive aesthetics of a gaming router, opting for a router made for gamers can provide you with plenty of tangible benefits. First, gaming routers tend to optimize and prioritize traffic for games and videos. If you stream a lot, you can benefit from this adaptive QoS feature that’s found on many gaming routers, especially if you have a larger household with a congested network. This way, you’ll experience less buffering.

Is it complicated to set up a new network when I upgrade to one of these long-range Wi-Fi routers?

Historically, the user interface to access the settings on a router required a bit of technical knowledge. Many of these routers, especially the mesh networking systems, now come with a simple, easy-to-use app to adjust the settings, create guest networks, and change the security protocols used. Some routers come with parental controls built-in, and enhanced security features can be obtained through an optional subscription package.

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Computing

How to Change Your Router’s Wi-Fi Password

A router Wi-Fi password should hit the sweet spot between being secure enough to offer protection, and being easy enough to remember and share with family or friends. To help stay safe and keep out unwanted guests, a good Wi-Fi password should include upper and lowercase letters, numbers, and ideally, special characters too.

If it’s time for a quick update to your old Wi-Fi password, our guide will show you just how to do it.

Note: There are two important passwords connected to your router. The first, and the one we are discussing here, is the Wi-Fi password that you and your guests use to log onto your Wi-Fi network. The second is an administrative password that you use to log in when changing router settings or updating your router — the default login for this password is usually on the back of your router (though you should change it too, for security reasons).

Step 1: Find and sign in to your router app

Routers today typically offer management options through an app that can be used to control settings and change your Wi-Fi password. Make sure you have the correct router app downloaded on your device, and sign in to it using your administrative password if necessary.

Router apps will naturally differ when it comes to user interfaces, so your individual steps may vary slightly from what we will go over here. In this case, we are using Netgear’s Nighthawk app as an example of what to do. If you are using a different app, look for similar language and options and it should be clear what to do.

Step 2: Select Wi-Fi Settings

The Nighthawk app showing Wi-Fi settings.

After you have signed in, the app will detect your router and connected devices, which may take a minute. It will then take you to the home screen, where you will see a variety of categories. Scroll down here until you see Wi-Fi Settings. Select this.

Step 3: Choose your Wi-Fi network

The Nighthawk app showing present Wi-Fi bands.

Now you will choose the Wi-Fi network that you want to change. The Nighthawk app, for example, allows you to choose between different Wi-Fi bands if you want. Unless you are setting up more complex access options, you probably want to set the same password for every Wi-Fi band, so you should change each in turn if necessary. Select your standard 2.4Ghz band to begin.

Important note: If you are using Netgear’s Nighthawk app, you will see an option to enable Smart Connect, which is automation software for your Wi-Fi network. If Smart Connect is enabled, you must disable it to access your Wi-Fi bands and make changes. This process will take several minutes.

Step 4: Select your Wi-Fi password and change it

The Nighthawk app showing the option to change Wi-Fi password.

You will now see the name of this specific Wi-Fi band and its current password below. Simply select the password and type in a new one to make the change. In the Nighthawk app, you’ll notice a small eye-shaped icon to the right, something most apps should offer. Selecting this will allow you to see the characters of your Wi-Fi password, which is very useful when you are typing a new one.

When finished, select Save to complete the change. Now that you have a new Wi-Fi password, you’ll want to do two important things: First, make a note of it in your password manager or a similar safe space. Second, make sure you update all your smart devices, smart TVs, mobile devices, game consoles, and anything else on your Wi-Fi network with the new password.

Don’t have a router app?

Text on the back of a router showing the access website and default password.

Older routers may not support access to an app for quick management. In this case, you can log into your router settings webpage to make changes. You can usually find this page by inputting the default local IP address for the router, which may be printed on the router — although we have a guide to help you find it no matter what. You will also need to log in with your administrative password to change settings.

Once logged in, look for options like Wireless Settings or Wireless Security. Here you will find options to adjust your encryption (WPA3 or WPA2 are recommended here) and change your password. Type in the new password and save your changes to make it go into effect.

Setting up your Wi-Fi for the first time?

Your default wireless password should also be printed on the back of the router for easy access. If you are using an app to set up, you may not need to worry about logging in at all, just recognizing the default name of your Wi-Fi network so the app can connect to it during setup, which will prompt you to change both the Wi-Fi name and the password to something personalized.

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Computing

The Best Wireless Routers for 2021

Upgrading your router can improve your wireless speed, especially if you stream high-definition videos or play games online. Buying a newer model may also improve wireless coverage, so you can watch and play anywhere in the home or office. Our current favorite is Netgear’s Nighthawk RAX50 AX5400, namely because it packs a ton of great features into a device that remains extremely affordable.

Along with our favorite, we reviewed and compared some of the latest models to select the best wireless routers you can buy right now. Take a look at the recommendations below to get a better idea of which device matches your needs. Whether you’re looking for a Wi-Fi 6 Router, a budget-based alternative, or the best router for gaming, we’ve got you covered.

Shopping on a budget? We’ve also rounded up the best wireless router deals available now.

The best wireless routers at a glance

The best wireless router: Nighthawk RAX50 AX5400

Why you should buy this: It’s fully featured, priced competitively, and provides great speed.

Who it’s for: People wanting the best new router for their homes.

Why we chose the Netgear Nighthawk RAX50 AX5400:

If you want a new router that will last for years, it needs to be ready for Wi-Fi 6 — formerly known as Wireless AX and 802.11ax — which delivers many new benefits and important changes. It’s a huge step up from Wireless AC (now Wi-Fi 5) and is backward-compatible with all your current devices. As our devices become W-Fi 6 capable, our routers need to upgrade, too. However, upgrades can be rather expensive.

Fortunately, this six-stream Nighthawk router combines the latest Wi-Fi compatibility with a more affordable price than many alternatives. You can get a better version of the model, but this option is perfectly suitable for the average home while still providing excellent dual-band speeds. Four Gigabit Ethernet ports are included, along with a 1.5GHz three-core processor, USB connections, and WPA3 compatibility for the latest in Wi-Fi security.

The Nighthawk RAX50 AX5400 is also a very smart router: It offers beamforming and Smart Connect to make sure your devices get the attention they need without dead zones, plus OFDMA tech for the most efficient signals possible. It’s even compatible with Amazon’s Alexa if you ever want to control Wi-Fi connections via voice commands — something parents may find handy when making sure their kids are studying, for example.

The best high-performance router: TP-Link Archer AX6000

TP-Link Archer AX6000

Why you should buy this: It offers Wi-Fi 6 connectivity without compromising performance.

Who it’s for: Those ready to invest in the latest Wi-Fi technology.

Why we chose the TP-Link Archer AX6000:

Like our first pick, this model supports Wi-Fi 6 — but offers a performance upgrade for those who want to push their routers to do even more.

The Archer AX6000 is an excellent dual-band Wi-Fi 6 router dishing out speeds of up to 4,804Mbps on the 5GHz band and up to 1,148Mbps on the 2.4GHz band. It’s compatible with important new technologies like OFDMA and MU-MIMO. Port-wise, it provides a USB-C port for charging and high-speed data transfers, along with nine Gigabit Ethernet ports.

This router includes proprietary technology as well, like software that moves devices between bands if one band gets too crowded. There’s Alexa compatibility, too, so you can perform basic network management actions with voice commands.

Many router manufacturers already offer Wi-Fi 6 models, but the TP-Link Archer AX6000 is particularly versatile.

The easiest wireless router to use: Google Nest WiFi

John Velasco / Digital Trends

Why you should buy this: It creates a powerful mesh network, perfect for larger homes.

Who it’s for: Anyone who needs a large, uniform network.

Why we chose the Nest WiFi:

Google’s Nest WiFi is an excellent example of a mesh network router, where multiple nodes link together to form a wireless network with bigger, better coverage. The router alone covers 2,200 square feet, but you can bundle it with either one or two “points” to cover up to 5,400 square feet. It’s ideal for large spaces or homes that struggle with heavy interference and dead zones.

The real selling point is its ease of use, however. Unlike many other routers, Nest WiFi makes setting up and managing a home network extremely simple. More than that, each Google Wi-Fi unit also functions as a Google Assistant smart speaker that can play music and control smart home devices.

The $169 router unit includes two Ethernet ports tucked away in a compartment on the bottom — one for the modem and one for other wired devices, like a switch or desktop. The $149 points do not have an Ethernet port, so all wired devices must reside near the router. This also means you can’t wire the router and point together for better throughput.

You can buy a combo pack with the Google Nest WiFi and one point for $269 or the router and two points for $349. You can get the points in white, Mist, and Sand colors.

The best budget wireless router: TP-Link Archer C1200

TP-Link AC1200

Why you should buy this: Few routers can compete with the TP-Link Archer C1200 at this price.

Who it’s for: Anyone wanting to expand their network on a budget.

Why we chose the TP-Link Archer C1200:

Looking for a budget router? This $68 model has everything you need without breaking the bank. It’s a perfect fit for a home that only needs a simple net connection for checking email, browsing, and light media streaming.

TP-Link’s Tether app is one of the better router apps for mobile, meaning setting up and managing the router shouldn’t be a hassle. The router itself features AC1200-class dual-band speeds (300Mbps at 2.4GHz and 867Mbps at 5GHz), two USB ports, and Gigabit Ethernet ports. While these specifications aren’t earth-shattering, they are the important basics you need for good wireless connectivity.

If you plan to stream 4K content or perform other data-heavy tasks, then you may want to consider a more powerful model, but the TP-Link Archer C1200 is an excellent choice for saving money while providing Wi-Fi for all basic tasks.

The best gaming router: Netgear Nighthawk Pro Gaming XR500

Netgear Nighthawk Pro Gaming XR500

Why you should buy this: It prioritizes game services and game data for the best results.

Who it’s for: Gamers and anyone who wants the fastest network possible.

Why we chose the Netgear Nighthawk Pro Gaming XR500:

This AC2600-class router supports speeds of up to 800Mbps on the 2.4GHz band and up to 1,733Mbps on the 5GHz band. To reach those maximum speeds, you’ll need a device that supports four streams.

The XR500 includes a 1.7GHz processor and four Gigabit Ethernet ports. It prioritizes gaming connections and optimizes connections for low-ping gaming on more twitchy shooters. It also helps you connect with a gaming VPN for additional security or regional options. And that’s just the beginning.

The XR500 also gives you more direction customization and connection monitoring. It has even more options like geo-filtering, which lets you pick your favorite servers (where the VPN comes in handy again). There are additional customization options that span all connected devices and give you the power to control each one’s status separately. For example, you can choose each device’s network status while also monitoring your ping simultaneously. 

The XR700 is a newer and, naturally, better model, but it costs almost twice as much as the Netgear Nighthawk Pro Gaming XR500. Still, if you can shell out for the more expensive XR700, it’s well worth the high cost in terms of performance. If not, the XR500 is still a solid choice that won’t disappoint.

Knowing what to look for is crucial when you’re upgrading your router. Our guide covers the latest models for home use, business applications, and gaming, from budget options to more high-end models. We recommend exploring this guide extensively to ensure that you find the product that best fits your financial limitations as well as your technical needs. 

The best mesh router: Netgear Orbi RBK852

Why you should buy this: Mesh routers offer expanded coverage and the latest speeds — this is one of the best available.

Who it’s for: Businesses, offices, and large homes struggling with coverage issues.

Why we chose the Netgear Orbi RBK852:

Mesh router systems include satellite routers designed to work right out of the box with the primary router, allowing them to set up a network with excellent coverage and reliability — in this case, up to 5,000 square feet with the two devices included, plus an additional 2,500 square feet for each new satellite device connected. It’s all managed via the Orbi app too, which makes the setup process much easier than would otherwise be.

While extended coverage and killing dead zones is useful, this Orbi model also brings plenty of speed thanks its Wi-Fi 6 compatibility, offering up to 6Gbps across three different bands with support for over 100 devices. It also offers Gigabit Ethernet ports on each device for wired connections when necessary. The software allows you to do anything from view the network map of your satellite devices to managing all connected devices and running security sweeps.

While the Netgear Orbi is a particularly strong choice for large areas, public spaces, and hospitality businesses, it’s a lot to ask for a single home to pay over $500 for a mesh router system, even if it’s an excellent one. The Nest Wi-Fi mesh system may be a better option for single-family houses.

Research and buying FAQ

How does a wireless router work?

A wireless router has a wired connection to the modem, the device that connects to the broader internet infrastructure outside your building. The router takes that internet data and turns it into a radio signal (far outside the range of human hearing) that can be broadcast across the surrounding area. Our electronic devices are equipped with receivers that pick up these signals and translate them back into data our devices need to create the content we see, hear, and use on our screens.

What are the various Wi-Fi bands, and what do they represent?

These are radio frequency bands that are specifically set aside to communicate wireless data. The two primary bands are 2.4GHz and 5GHz. Dual-band routers can broadcast Wi-Fi signals on both these bands at once, allowing devices to switch between bands depending on where there is the least interference. Some routers use a second section of the 5GHz band for additional possibilities, so these are called tri-band routers.

The two bands can be broken down further into channels, or narrower sections of the radio spectrum, but this usually isn’t necessary unless you’re doing pinpoint analysis of what frequencies are best in a specific area.

What are the various Wi-Fi protocols, and what do they represent?

Wi-Fi is always undergoing improvement in things like how data is efficiently packaged into radio signals, what security it uses, and how it forms connections with electronic devices. That means that the Wi-Fi protocol — the standards and data formats that routers use — occasionally changes so much that a new protocol is developed to incorporate all the technological advances and, well, level up Wi-Fi.

In the past, Wi-Fi protocols were named after codes like 802.11ac. This refers to the specific IEEE (Institute of Electronic and Electronics Engineers) local area network standards, sort of like citing chapter and page for reference. But when the 802.11ax protocol arrived, there was a broad decision to change the naming conventions and simply call it “Wi-Fi 6,” to make things easier for the consumer. The next protocol will almost certainly be called Wi-Fi 7, but that’s still years away.

A router (and receiving devices) needs to be compatible with protocol to use it: Protocols contain a lot of backward compatibility for older devices, but an older router won’t be able to use a new protocol, which is why it’s always important to see what protocol a router has before buying. These days, look for routers branded Wi-Fi 6 to enjoy the latest advances.

What should I look for in a wireless router?

We already mentioned how important Wi-Fi 6 is for our current crop of routers and devices. Other important features to watch for include:

How long does a wireless router last?

Compared to many electronic devices, routers are a long-lived bunch. They can often last for five years or longer without developing any problems that would require a replacement. However, replacing a router every few years is a good way to ensure you are keeping up with the latest technology and security, not to mention Wi-Fi speeds. If you start to see more and more devices supporting a new standard like Wi-Fi 6, that’s an excellent reason to look for a new router.

What is a mesh router?

Routers have long had the ability to expand their signals via repeaters, or devices that take the router signal and replicate it in a different area, reaching more space and fixing problems like dead zones and dropped connections. A mesh router is simply a more advanced, user-friendly version of this idea in one package. Routers like Netgear Orbi and Nest WiFi have a primary router to serve as a hub, and satellite routers made to connect to it. These mesh systems are strong solutions for businesses, venues, and other large areas.

Can a better router increase your internet speed?

Your internet speed is primarily decided by your provider and local infrastructure: However, a better router can offer many features that remove roadblocks to potential speeds, or make the speeds you experience seem faster. If your current ISP (internet service provider) plans is promising speeds that you never see on your Wi-Fi network, try a direct cable connection and run speed tests again. If your speed noticeably improves via a wired connection, that means a better router is more likely to increase your speeds, too.

Why would I want a gaming router?

Gaming routers include software that can identify and prioritize gaming connections so they get the bandwidth they need to avoid lag or graphics issues. Some also work to connect to closer servers so that server issues are less likely to occur. These features are not necessary for a satisfactory wireless gaming experience, but if that’s what you use Wi-Fi for, then they are certainly worth looking into. Our Netgear Nighthawk Pro Gaming XR500 pick is a great place to start, but there are other gaming routers at a variety of price levels.

Editors’ Choice




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Computing

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.

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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 RT-AX88U

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 designs 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 set-up is simple, too. Just follow the process outlined in the Deco app. Deco is the mesh system to pick for the new decade.

Research and buying tips

Are Wi-Fi 6 routers worth it?

Yes. 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. 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.

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 clearly state 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.

Editors’ Choice




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Categories
Computing

The Best Routers for Gaming in 2021

A slow internet connection can cause online games to lag and become difficult to play. Upgrading to a newer, more modern router should deliver a better experience when gaming online or broadcasting gameplay. A high-performing router will reduce lag and ensure that other non-gaming devices don’t experience any slowdowns while you’re playing online.

Finding a high-speed router is easy, but you might be wondering which is best for gaming. We selected six of the best routers designed for gaming and checked out their specs and features.

If you’re more concerned about overall Wi-Fi speeds than gaming, check out our guide to the best wireless routers.

At a glance

  • The best gaming router: Netgear Nighthawk Pro Gaming XR500
  • The best MU-MIMO gaming router: TP-Link AC5400X Tri-Band Router
  • The best gaming router for busy places: Asus RT-AX88U
  • The top affordable router: Zyxel Armor Z2 AC2600
  • The best dorm model: TP-Link Archer C9 AC1900
  • The best high-end gaming router: Netgear Nighthawk Pro Gaming XR1000

Netgear Nighthawk Pro Gaming XR500: The best

Netgear designed the XR500 for optimal gaming on a wireless network. This AC2600-class router supports speeds of up to 800Mbps on the 2.4GHz band and up to 1,733Mbps on the 5GHz band. To reach those maximum speeds, you’ll need a device that supports four streams (4×4).

The XR500 includes a 1.7 GHz processor and four Gigabit Ethernet ports. It prioritizes gaming connections, optimizes connections for low-ping gaming on more twitchy shooters, and helps you connect with a gaming VPN for additional security or regional options. And that’s just the beginning!

The XR500 allows for more direction customization and connection monitoring. You can choose even more options, like geo-filtering to pick your favorite servers (where the VPN comes in handy again) and app options to monitor your ping and network status in real time, device by device. This is great if you like manual optimization, though not all gamers may get the most out of these in-depth features. The XR700 is a newer and better model, but at almost twice the price, it’s only really worth it for those with deep pockets.

TP-Link Archer C5400X: The best MU-MIMO gaming router

TP-Link Archer C5400X

The powerful tri-band router is easily one of the best MU-MIMO routers we’ve seen. MU-MIMO allows routers to communicate with devices simultaneously (multiple users) rather than sequentially, as seen with older MIMO-based routers. This greatly improves apparent speed and connection dependability, ideal for mobile gamers — especially if there’s more than one in the house.

TP-Link’s Archer C5400X is an AC5400-class router promising speeds up to 1,000Mbps on the 2.4GHz band (4×4) and up to 2,187Mbps on the 5GHz band (4×4). What’s notable here is that it offers a second 5GHz connection, thus you can dedicate it to gaming while the other two 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands serve the network’s non-gaming devices.

This router features a quad-core processor clocked at 1.8GHz, three co-processors, 1GB of system memory, and 128MB of storage. It includes eight Gigabit Ethernet ports — two of which you can configure for link aggregation — along with a Gigabit WAN port and two USB-A ports (5Gbps).

TP-Link’s Archer C5400X includes built-in OpenVPN support along with VPN acceleration that promises a five times increase in VPN-based speed. You’ll also find HomeCare, a family-focused platform in the back end providing parental controls, QoS, and built-in antivirus. This router supports Amazon Alexa’s voice commands, too.

Asus RT-AX88U Dual-band Router: The best gaming router for busy places

Asus RT-AX88U Router

The dual-band RT-AX88U offers cutting-edge speeds of up to 1,000Mbps on the 2.4GHz band (4×4) and up to 4,333Mbps on the 5GHz band (4×4). It’s powered by a quad-core processor clocked at 1.8GHz and backed by 1GB of system memory and 256GB of storage. It includes eight Gigabit LAN ports, one Gigabit WAN port, and two USB-A ports (5Gbps).

This Wi-Fi 6 router is compatible with AiMesh, which allows you to pair it with other compatible Asus routers for whole-home coverage. You also get a lifetime of AiProtection via Trend Micro that blocks any noted threats from your network. Adaptive QoS prioritizes game data for the smoothest gameplay possible. Wtfast determines the shortest path between you and the game server for a lower ping.

All the latest features mean the RT-AX88U costs more than many on our list, but it’s also an excellent long-term router for busy places and gaming parties. You’ll also be at ease knowing this router is ready for new technologies for years to come.

Zyxel Armor Z2: The top affordable router

Zyxel Armor Z2 router

Zyxel’s Armor X2 is an AC2600-class router offering speeds of up to 800Mbps on the 2.4GHz band (4×4) and up to 1,733Mbps on the 5GHz band (4×4). Under the hood, it’s powered by a dual-core processor clocked at 1.7GHz along with 512MB of system memory and 4GB of storage. It includes one Gigabit WAN port, four Gigabit LAN ports, a USB-A port at 5Gbps, and an older USB-A port at 480Mbps.

Zyxel’s router targets “power users” requiring speed and reliability for smooth gaming and 4K content streaming. It uses MU-MIMO and beamforming technology to concentrate your Wi-Fi signals. It’s also based on Qualcomm’s StreamBoost technology, which is a step up from the typical QoS by analyzing all applications accessing the network and assigning their bandwidth accordingly.

While this router isn’t quite as feature-packed as other solutions on our list, there’s plenty for the price. It offers Denial of Service protection, remote management through Zyxel’s cloud, easy photo backups using a connected USB device, an easy-to-remember backend address, and more. Plus — and this may be particularly important if you’re on a budget — the Armor X2 is not as expensive as many other high-end routers.

TP-Link Archer C9: The best dorm model

TP-Link Archer C9 AC1900

This AC1900-class model offers a different sort of solution. TP-Link suggests that you use the 5GHz band for clear, lag-free online gaming while reserving the 2.4GHz band for your other wireless connections. It reaches up to 600Mbps on the 2.4GHz band (3×3) and up to 1,300Mbps on the 5Ghz band (3×3).

Despite its size, this router offers four Gigabit LAN ports, one Gigabit WAN port, one USB-A port at 5Gbps, and another USB-A port at a slower 480Mbps. It supports storage and media sharing while providing integrated FTP and media servers. Beamforming technology and parental controls round out this elegant little router.

Overall, TP-Link’s Archer C9 is ideal for setting up wireless networks in dorms and small apartments. TP-Link also sells larger, sturdier versions of this model if your lifestyle is somewhat more permanent.

Netgear Nighthawk Pro Gaming XR1000: The best high-end gaming router

Netgear Nighthawk Pro Gaming XR1000

For the best Wi-Fi 6 router, this is the gaming router to get. Sure, it’s pricey, but Netgear’s latest packs a huge wireless punch.

Under the hood, the XR1000 features a three-core processor clocked at 1.5GHz. It powers the fully-customizable, easy-to-read DumasOS 3.0 operating system designed specifically for gamers. They can view a Ping Heatmap to find servers with the lowest pings, filter servers, allocate bandwidth, and more.

The device has four removable antennas and six simultaneous wireless streams—two for 2 GHz reaching a maximum of 600 Mbps, plus four for 5 GHz with a combined optimum speed of 4.8 GHz. Four Gigabit LAN and one Gigabit WAN provide wired connections, and you have local storage thanks to the USB-A port (5Gbps).

Netgear Armor and BitDefender provide internal security for the router, while OFDMA offers improved data management and frequency use. Netgear routers use Beamforming+, a fine-tuned edition of the range and performance-optimizing technology.

The XR1000 is a router with one eye on the future, keeping its users from having to waste money continually purchasing brand-new technology. Not many devices are compatible with the AX5400 currently, but that will change soon.

If you’re after more budget-friendly models, check out our curated deals page.

Editors’ Choice




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Categories
Security

Ubiquiti, maker of prosumer routers and access points, has had a data breach

Ubiquiti, the company I bought networking gear from because I wanted Wi-Fi that’s totally under my control, now tells me something may not have been under my control after all: my basic account information. According to an email it’s sending out to users today, a “third party cloud provider” was accessed by an unauthorized user, and that provider might possibly have some of our data.

While the company says it isn’t hasn’t found any evidence that our user data has been accessed, it also “cannot be certain that user data has not been exposed”. The potential data at risk will be familiar if you’ve received these kinds of emails before: names, emails, phone numbers, addresses, and (encrypted, hopefully unreadable) passwords. You’ll want to change your password now.

It doesn’t sound like that bad a breach as breaches go, but it’s annoying news to hear from a company that prides itself on giving users control. If I had wanted my data on someone else’s server, I might have picked a router that gave me some benefit for it, like plug-and-play setup. The database of customer info, it seems, is hard to get away from.

The full email text, which can also be viewed on the Ubiquiti forums, is below:

We recently became aware of unauthorized access to certain of our information technology systems hosted by a third party cloud provider. We have no indication that there has been unauthorized activity with respect to any user’s account.

We are not currently aware of evidence of access to any databases that host user data, but we cannot be certain that user data has not been exposed. This data may include your name, email address, and the one-way encrypted password to your account (in technical terms, the passwords are hashed and salted). The data may also include your address and phone number if you have provided that to us.

As a precaution, we encourage you to change your password. We recommend that you also change your password on any website where you use the same user ID or password. Finally, we recommend that you enable two-factor authentication on your Ubiquiti accounts if you have not already done so.

We apologize for, and deeply regret, any inconvenience this may cause you. We take the security of your information very seriously and appreciate your continued trust.

Thank you,
Ubiquiti Team

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