How we test Wi-Fi routers

Tyler Lizenby/CNETHow we test Wi-Fi routers

The past year or so has made the importance of a steady internet connection at home abundantly clear. Along with

finding the right internet plan for you and your family

, that also means that you’ll want a dependable router managing your connection.

Most internet service providers will lease you a router (or a gateway device with the router built-in), but you can often do better by buying your own hardware outright — and in a lot of cases, using your own router will let you skip an equipment rental fee, too. In that case, buying your own router could pay for itself within a few years — but which one is best for your home? Is it worth it to

upgrade to a mesh router with multiple satellite devices

, or maybe a router that supports

Wi-Fi 6How we test Wi-Fi routers

?

Questions like those get confusing fast, and perhaps a little intimidating if home networking isn’t your strong suit. That’s why we’ve dedicated time to testing and reviewing the top selections from the router aisle — we want to help you demystify your options and find a router upgrade you can feel confident in. Those reviews help CNET make money by way of advertisements on the page and also referral links, where CNET earns a small commission whenever someone buys a product using the links on our site, but none of that impacts the products we select for review or our opinions of their capabilities, which we’ll always communicate clearly and honestly.

Putting that coverage together means spending countless hours with each router we review, and we run hundreds of controlled speed tests to give you a thorough look at how each of them stacks up in terms of performance. You can find the full rundown of those results in my lists of the

best routers

, the

best mesh routers

and theHow we test Wi-Fi routers

best range extenders

of the year. If you’re interested in hearing about how those tests actually work, keep reading.

Who says your home’s back bathroom can’t double as a test lab?

Ry Crist/CNET

Testing routers in the work-from-home era

I first started reviewing routers for CNET in 2019 — a little over a year later, life as we knew it screeched to a halt, forcing millions of us to make the best of working remotely, out of our homes.

Fortunately, I had already begun developing a process for testing routers at my home. A 1,300-square-foot shotgun-style house in Louisville, Kentucky, my place isn’t the ideal spot for testing connection speeds at long range, but it’s long and skinny enough to have a stubborn dead zone in the back that a lot of routers struggle to reach. That’s helped make it a workable living lab for testing routers and range extenders.How we test Wi-Fi routers

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As for speed, my home’s

AT&T fiber plan

caps my uploads and downloads at 300Mbps, so while my tests offer a good, comparative look at performance in a real-world environment, they won’t show numbers much faster than that. That’s why, when necessary, we’ll run additional top-speed tests at our test lab, where we’re able to measure the speed of wireless file transfers between a router and a laptop connected to its network at distances of up to 75 feet, which gives us a better look at a router’s top speed and range capabilities.

That said, with every router I test, I start by setting it up at my home and playing around with the various features and settings. That gives me a good sense of what the router offers and how easy it is to set up and use, as well as other practical considerations like the level of encryption offered for your network and the number of spare Ethernet ports for plugging in things like media streamers and smart home hubs. Throughout all of it, I always maintain consistent network settings, and I make sure to position the router in the same spot in my living room, which sits at the front of my home — your router’s specific position and the obstructions surrounding it will make a noticeable impact in the quality of your connection.

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