Most mesh kits have easy-to-use apps and they can automatically download and install firmware updates, which is important. Most people don’t ever think to check if their router’s software is up-to-date, which can lead to big security holes. Also, a lot of the mesh kits look a little better than traditional routers, which tend to be angular, dark and bristling with antennas.
It still sounds like I want one.
Mesh kits are expensive. A three-pack can cost $300 to $500. And unless you have a big house — say, more than 3,000 square feet — most people just don’t need one. It’s going to be overkill, and having these three powerful Wi-Fi signals in your small house or apartment can actually make your network (and your neighbors’ networks) slower than if you had a single router.
Then I’ll need to buy a bigger house. So, about those regular routers and modems, should I still be renting my equipment from my internet service provider?
Not if you can at all avoid it. Most I.S.P.s charge you a monthly fee for a mediocre modem/router combo. If you have cable internet, it’s easy to avoid this charge by getting a compatible cable modem, which will pay for itself within a year. (We recommend the Arris SURFboard SB6183.) A stand-alone router will give you more control, and probably much better speed and range. If you have to use your I.S.P.’s modem/router combo (usually if your I.S.P. uses D.S.L. or fiber instead of cable), you can still buy a better router and just turn off the Wi-Fi on your I.S.P.’s modem/router. (The Wirecutter pick is the TP-Link Archer C7 (v2).)
It seems like there is a new kind of router every few years. Do I need to worry that I’m not stuck with old technology?
You should be good for a few years. The next version of the Wi-Fi spec, 802.11ax, won’t be finalized until 2019 or so, and won’t be common for a couple years after that. Right now you should be thinking about all the devices in your home using Wi-Fi. As we get more Wi-Fi devices in our homes (thermostats, light bulbs, cameras, phones, toothbrushes or whatever), that’s starting to become a problem.
If your router isn’t using 802.11ac Wi-Fi, it’s time for a new one. We’ve found in our testing that $100 is the sweet spot to get all the features you need without overpaying.
Are you about to lay some more jargon on me?
You can handle it.
This will get you something in a speed class of AC1750 or AC1900 or a little above. Speed class is marketing nonsense, but those numbers indicate you’ll get a two-band, three-stream router, which is a good match for all the gadgets you most likely have. Any higher number and you’re paying for bandwidth you don’t need and your devices can’t use yet.