Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t find great wireless routers for under 100 dollars. It can be done – easily. All you need is a basic understanding of the way wireless technology works, how it’s marketed, and your specific needs. This page covers important things to look for when shopping for any wireless router. You’ll also find examples of some of the best wireless routers available for under $100.
When shopping for a wireless router the first things you’ll notice are the speeds the box (Or the ad if you’re shopping online.) You’ll notice the 1900 is more expensive than the 1200. The 3200 is way more expensive than the 1200 and probably more money than you want to spend. You’re being conditioned to believe the more money you spend the faster your wireless devices will be. That’s not necessarily the case.
The numbers on the box are confusing but they still contain important information. For example, a router with an advertised speed of 1900Mbps is not really a 1900Mbps router. That number is for comparison purposes only. It’s actually a combination of two numbers – 1300Mbps + 600Mbps. That means 1300Mbps on the 5GHZ AC band plus 600Mbps on the 2.4GHZ N band. It may seem misleading but it’s valuable information from a comparison standpoint because these numbers are standards set by the IEEE and are closely adhered to.
The “600” number is usually derived from 3 spatial streams (connections) on the 2.4GHz band of 200 a piece – 3×200=600. It’s important to get a router that supports wireless N for backward compatibility purposes so the “wireless N” band is included on AC routers.
The “1300” number specifies the separate 5GHZ AC band which is usually derived from 3 spacial streams of 433Mbps each – 3X433=1300. AC is a faster and wider band than wireless N. This is the band you want to run your TVs and video games on. The example I just gave you would be referred to as a 3X3 router which means 3 spatial streams on each band. You’ll find other combinations such as 2X2, 2×3, etc.
3200 Mbps (1300ac+1300ac+600n)
1900 Mbps (1300ac+600n
1750 Mbps (1300ac+450n)
1350 Mbps (867ac+450n)
1200 Mbps (867ac+300n)
What wireless router manufacturers don’t tell you is most devices can only connect to one band (5GHZ AC or 2.4GHZ N) at a time and many times only one or two spacial streams at a time. If you’re on a phone with a maximum connection speed of 433Mbps that can connect to only one spacial stream at a time. It will never go any faster than 433Mbps no matter how big the numbers are on your wireless routers box!
So why bother with all the extra bandwidth? You probably won’t need all the bandwidth a 3200Mbps wireless router provides unless you have a home with a lot of wireless devices such as TVs, game consoles, laptops, and phones. The more bands and streams your router has the more connections it can support. That doesn’t mean they’ll be any faster but they’ll spend less time competing and interfering with each other.
The trick is to find the sweet spot between what you really need and what the advertisers want you to buy. If you live in a medium-size apartment or small home with a few laptops, a single TV that’s not constantly streaming video, and a few phones any of the wireless routers on this page should be fine for you. Anything more and you want to look at a more powerful long-range wireless router designed for large homes or a gaming router that’s designed to handle large amounts of data.
The most relevant WiFi standards in use today are 802.11N, 802.11AC and 82.11AD.
802.11N is also known as WiFi 4. It supports dual bands, MIMO and maxes out at about 600Mbps. If you’re still using an 802.11N router in today’s world it’s time for an upgrade.
The most common standard is 802.11AC also known as WiFi 5. WiFi 5 (Wave 2) 802.11AC supports MU-MIMO and maxes out at 3,466 Mbps. That’s over 4 times WiFi 4 speeds. WiFi 5 is backwards compatible with WiFi 4.
802.11AX or WiFi 6 can reach uncanny speeds of up to 9, 608 Mbps on the 5GHz bands at 160MHz. This is the WiFi standard of the future!
VPN stands for Virtual Private Network. As you may know the Internet is not one big network. It contains many smaller networks some of which are private and others that are public. Your home network is a private network. It cannot be accessed directly from the public Internet without a router. A VPN allows you to extend your private home network across the internet to remote locations using very secure encryption protocols. Another use of VPN technology is a service which allows you to connect to the Internet using encryption and a remote IP address. This can be used to conceal your identity on the Internet.
Typical wireless routers will have dual bands. They operate at different frequencies so they can co-exist in the same space without interfering with each other. The 2.4 GHz band is slower than the 5GHz band but it has a longer range than the 5GHz band. A typical use for this is using the 2.4GHz band for slower devices all over the house and using the 5Ghz band on nearby devices that need more speed.
MU-MIMO stands for Multiple User Multiple Input Multiple Output. Its and expansion of the MIMO technology found on wireless N routers. MU-MIMO works with beamforming to aim multiple “spacial streams” at several devices at once. This is done with multiple radios and antennas. This speeds things up by preventing devices from having to share a single signal with other devices.
Simply put parental controls provide different methods to track and limit your children’s access to the Internet by placing limits on their devices. Smart parental controls are usually require a subscription service which eliminates some of the manual configuration needed.
Instead of spewing its wireless signal in all directions a wireless router using beamforming focuses its signal on each device like a flashlight and locks on even as the device roams. This technology has greatly improved with the introduction of AC and MU-MIMO.