Hunting for a wireless router that could match the mettle of your brand new MacBook Pro, are you? Equipped with the latest 802.11ac networking standard, here’s the best router lineup, that can deliver blazing fast data transmission speeds across your home or office networks.
Need for Speed
Go for the latest 802.11ac standard routers, that promise data transmission speeds up to 1.3 Gbps.
The modern man has four basic needs, including food, clothing, shelter, and Wi-Fi. As we head towards the era of Internet of things and seamless integration across devices becomes an increasingly important necessity, Wi-Fi technology has become as indispensable, as a life-support system.
Wireless router technology has gone through its latest regeneration cycle, with the 802.11ac networking standard (a.k.a 5G Wi-Fi), that offers roughly 2.5 times faster data transmission speeds, compared to the earlier 802.11n standard.
Besides the enhancement in speed, the new standard allows for up to eight transmission antennas in routers, and operates entirely in the 5 Ghz frequency range, that is inherently less likely to have large-scale interference.
The beamforming technology, that provides directed signal transmission, is an added feature that enhances data transfer speed, by optimizing signal strength.
Ergo, with your brand new MacBook Pro or iMac in place, this is the right time to upgrade to a new router and create a ubiquitous wireless network, which lets you seamlessly share your data and connect with the Internet.
Top 5 Wireless Routers for a Mac
After an extensive analysis of the real world performance and specifications of a range of routers, that are on offer in the market, the ones that stood out, and which would especially suit Mac users, are the following. All of them are based on the new 802.11ac technology, that promises a theoretical maximum of 1.3 Gbps of data transfer speed, while actually delivering more than 300 Mb per second. This is a substantial improvement over the 50 – 150 Mbps speeds, provided by the earlier 802.11n standard.
All the reviewed devices are backward compatible with the earlier standard; however, to derive the full advantage of the new standard, you will need your Mac and other devices, to have wireless adapters that are based on the 802.11ac standard. The latest MacBook Pro and iMac, along with many high-end smartphones like the Samsung Galaxy S4, have 802.11ac chipsets and adapters.
Asus RT-AC68U Dual-band Wireless-AC1900 Gigabit Router (Avg. Price: USD 220)
If state-of-the-art and cutting edge is what you are looking for, this Asus product has it all. While offering up to 1.3 Gbps speeds on the 5 GHz band, through the 802.11ac standard, it offers a transmission speed up to 600 Mbps on the 2.4 Ghz band.
Inside, it’s uniquely equipped with a Broadcom BCM4709 chipset, with a dual-core Arm Cortex A9 processor, that clocks at 800 MHz, with 256 MB RAM. Broadcom TurboQAM technology enhances the speed for 802.11n transmission by 33%, to offer a maximum of 600 Mbps. It’s backward compatible with all earlier standards (802.11 a/b/g). Weighing a mere 640 gm, the device has 5 Gigabit Ethernet ports, as well as two USB ports, that can enable file and printer sharing.
It is equipped to be a media server, with support for multiple video and audio formats. The router can serve as a printer server, as well as a Samba and FTP server. In terms of encryption, the device offers WPA2 Enterprise level support, besides other options like WPA2-PSK.
A small feature that deserves mention is the option to turn off LED lights, when you need a room to be completely dark. The AiDisk feature allows easy sharing of data from a connected storage device, through an FTP server. AiCloud software allows the sharing of network data to remote users. While you can set up two main Wi-Fi networks for each band, you can set three additional networks per band, for guest users. In addition, it also offers built-in VPN connectivity, along with parental control features, for home users.
Real world speeds, offered by the router, on the 5 GHz band are close to 530 Mbps, while providing a maximum speed of around 200 Mbps, when switched to the wireless-N network. It is ideally suited for HD video streaming across networks, while its range of features, makes it a versatile device, that can be used for various purposes.
The only few minus points are its price, which is a bit on the expensive side and the fact that it is not wall-mountable.
This is unarguably one of the most powerful routers at hand, that can effectively act as your complete wireless sharing management solution. Its extra features like built-in VPN and cloud sharing, make it an effective choice for small businesses, as well as power users, who would benefit from its personal cloud services. If high speed and versatility are the features you are looking for, this is the one for you.
Apple AirPort Extreme (Price: USD 199)
Sporting a sleek minimalistic design, this is the Cupertino-based company’s very own wireless networking solution, ably equipped to deliver data across the Apple ecosystem, with an upgraded 802.11ac chipset. Among all the routers reviewed here, it has a natural advantage, due to the fact that it is specifically designed to work with iOS and Mac OS X devices. So Mac users will find this router to be the easiest to install. Designed to be compatible with Windows PCs as well, it can connect a maximum of 50 users.
In terms of specifications, not much has changed since its last version, except the threefold increase in transmission speeds, offered by the new networking standard. Your Mac has a native software program known as AirPort utility, that will help you easily set up this router. It offers file sharing, port forwarding, Dynamic DNS, as well as USB hard drive sharing. Real world transmission speeds on the 802.11ac band are reported to be nearly 280 Mbps, which would serve the needs of most home users.
The much-needed media streaming facility, through a connected USB hard drive, is sorely missed in this device. There is no parental control facility or VPN connectivity.
All in all, the router is ideal for home users, with an Apple ecosystem, who need an easy-to-install system, that serves robust data transmission speeds in the range of 280 Mbps.
NETGEAR AC1900 Nighthawk Smart Wi-Fi Router (R7000) (Price: USD 199.99)
With a name straight out of a spy novel, the NETGEAR Nighthawk is a powerhouse performer. A simultaneous dual-band (2.4 GHz and 5 GHz) device, that delivers up to 431 Mbps (real world) speed on the 802.11ac mode, this is one of the most feature-rich products in the market. Powered by a 1 GHz dual-core processor, 128 MB Flash, and 256 MB RAM, it is equipped with two USB 3.0 ports and one USB 2.0 port, besides 5 Gigabit Ethernet ports.
This router is especially well-suited for gamers, with its upstream and downstream QoS, that enables smooth video streaming. Those into LAN gaming, will be pleased with the lag-free gaming performance offered by the device. It is equipped with powerful detachable antennas, that can provide an extended range for users, who are looking for a wider coverage area. The full VPN facility makes it ideal for businesses, who need remote sharing.
The only disappointing factor is the lower throughput on the 2.4 GHz band, which is about 230 Mbps. But considering the switching option to 5 GHz 802.11ac band, this is not much of a drawback. Besides this, another feature of note is its capacity to act as a NAS (Network-attached storage) server. For Mac users, it offers the extra advantage of support for automatic backup, using Time Machine.
This product is an excellent choice for gamers and those looking for a long-range device, that can deliver high throughput. In terms of versatility, it actually competes with the Asus product.
D-Link Wireless AC1750 Dual-band Gigabit Cloud Router (Price: USD 169.99)
A substantial improvement over the earlier version, this D-Link router is a dual-band device, upgraded with the 802.11ac networking standard. Its prime USP is its ease of installation and excellent throughput on the 2.4 GHz band, along with decent speeds on the 5 GHz band. Its QoS feature is programmed to prioritize data traffic for optimum throughput. The AC smartbeam technology offers targeted signal transmission to devices, substantially boosting speeds.
The USP of this device is its easy setup, enabled by a Quick Router Setup app, available on the iOS and Android platforms. It provides easy personal cloud storage access through the mydlink SharePort app, while the mydlink Lite app offers access to your home camera feed, via your iOS or Android smartphone. While the apps are a great innovation, they have been executed poorly.
While performing poorly compared to other routers, in terms of 802.11ac data transmission speed, on the 802.11n front, it has some of the best speeds (around 170 Mbps on the 5 GHz band and about 60 Mbps on the 2.4 GHz band).
This is not a stellar performer, but it will do the job and in the price range offered, it is an excellent choice. If you are looking for a no-frills device, this is the one to go for.
TRENDnet TEW-812DRU AC1750 Dual-band Wireless Router (Price: USD 119.99)
The budget choice of the whole lot, this TRENDnet product is ideal for the home user, who is looking for a simple wireless networking solution, that offers high-speed data transfer. A throughput of about 260 Mbps on 802.11ac, around 190 Mbps on 5 GHz wireless-N range, and 53 Mbps on 2.4 GHz wireless-N range, makes it an excellent performer at this price range. The DVD setup is easy and it comes pre-encrypted, besides offering a one touch connection to a network, with a WPS button.
The most affordable option, it offers a taste of high speeds that 802.11ac is known for, while offering excellent throughput on the Wireless-N network. It is ideal for a small home network and offers real value for money, at that price tag.
When it comes to choosing the router, there is no need to stick to the Apple pedigree by default, though AirPort Extreme is a formidable piece of equipment. More or less, every one of these devices fits the bill, as far as choosing the best router for your home or wireless network is the purpose of your search. Perhaps, on the basis of your budget and your specific requirements, you can find one among these, that has features which will suit your needs. If I have to choose a favorite, it would be the Asus RT-AC68U, for its all-round performance.