Reviews You Can Rely On

How We Tested WiFi Routers

Friday March 25, 2022
wifi router
Credit: Jenna Ammerman

How do we test WiFi routers? First, we conducted extensive research, looking at reviews and experiences with dozens of models, then bought the most promising products. We took these routers and pitted them head-to-head in multiple tests, divvied up among five weighted rating metrics. The following sections describe our testing methods, and you can consult our comprehensive review to see the full results of our test and find out which WiFi router is the best addition for your home or office.

wifi router - the d-link was relatively easy to use, but still gave us more...
The D-Link was relatively easy to use, but still gave us more difficulties than the other routers.
Credit: Jenna Ammerman

Features


Comprising 25% of the overall score, features are the most important characteristic we examined. We looked at whether or not the router had MU-MIMO, if you could adjust the indicator LEDs, if you could wirelessly reset the router, the number of LAN ports, if the router has beamforming, and the number and type of USB ports to determine scores. We also noted if there were any other special or standard features a router had, noting those in its individual review.

wifi router - while these routers claimed the awards, they didn't manage to nab...
While these routers claimed the awards, they didn't manage to nab the top spot in our Throughput metrics.
Credit: Jenna Ammerman

It was relatively easy to score each router on if it had MU-MIMO or beamforming, as these are yes or no questions. MU-MIMO, or "Multiple User - Multiple Input, Multiple Output," refers to the ability of a router to exchange data with multiple devices simultaneously, effectively increasing the speed of your overall network when there are multiple devices on it. Beamforming is the ability of a router to roughly determine the relative position of a device and focus the WiFi signal strength in that direction rather than transmitting omnidirectionally.

wifi router - the x10 has a ton of indicator lights, even leds showing which ports...
The X10 has a ton of indicator lights, even LEDs showing which ports have an ethernet cord plugged in (1-6).
Credit: Jenna Ammerman

Next, we looked at if you could turn off or dim the LED indicator lights on the router. These lights usually flicker with network traffic, meaning they can be somewhat distracting if you have your router by your TV and are trying to watch a movie or TV show at night. We awarded the most points to models where you could completely turn off all of the lights and fewer to ones that only allowed you to dim them.

wifi router - the talon supports 4 lan ports and 2 usb 3.0 ports.
The Talon supports 4 LAN ports and 2 USB 3.0 ports.
Credit: Jenna Ammerman

Next, we looked at if you could wirelessly cycle power to the router. Usually, resetting the router by cycling power is the first thing to attempt if you are experiencing internet connectivity issues — something that is much more easily done if you can do it wirelessly, rather than digging out your router from the out of the way place where it is stored. Finally, we tallied the number of LAN ports and USB ports on each router — noting if they are 2.0 or 3.0 — and awarded points accordingly.

wifi router - the netgear ac1750 (r6400) is one of the easier routers to...
The NetGear AC1750 (R6400) is one of the easier routers to use and operate.
Credit: Jenna Ammerman

Ease of Use


For the next metric, worth 20% of the total score, we assessed and judged how much of a hassle it is to use each router. We focused on how much effort it took to get each WiFi router going out of the box — whether it was a pain to set up or if you needed to update the firmware before use. We also looked at how user-friendly the interface of each router is, if there are parental control functions and if there is Quality of Service, or QoS. QoS refers to the ability to prioritize bandwidth in your network, allowing important devices to take precedence over unimportant ones. For example, a parent may want their work computer to be placed higher than a teenager's mobile device, or a TV streaming device may be placed at the front of the queue to minimize interruptions.

wifi router - the netgear orbi is very easy to set up and operate.
The NetGear Orbi is very easy to set up and operate.
Credit: Laura Casner

To assess startup difficulty, we unboxed each router and noted if we needed to update the firmware. We then attempted to set a custom network name and password through the initial configuration. We timed how long it took to accomplish this and the number of issues we encountered, and their severity, using this data to determine scores.

wifi router - the step-by-step wizard for asus routers made the setup process very...
The step-by-step wizard for ASUS routers made the setup process very easy.

Next, we looked at the user interface of each router. We were looking for an interface that is relatively easy to understand and doesn't look completely outdated. We also noted if there were persistent, browser-based issues with the web interface, such as if it didn't work well in Chrome or Safari.

wifi router - the x10's home screen shows you widgets that you can click on to...
The X10's home screen shows you widgets that you can click on to quickly navigate.

To evaluate parental control features, we first noted if the router even had the option to enable parental controls. Then, we looked at how you could control content for the ones that did. We awarded more points for ones that allowed you to set a schedule of internet access by device and filter content by genre or keyword rather than by specific URLs. Finally, we compared how the QoS worked on each router — if they had it — looking at the difficulty in setting device prioritization and if any automatic features make it easier.

wifi router - the tp-link system has various parental control settings that are...
The TP-Link system has various parental control settings that are easy to navigate.

2.4 GHz. & 5 GHz. Throughput


Both account for 20% of the overall score, our 2.4 GHz. Throughput and 5 GHz. Throughput metrics get into how fast each router is. We used a program called iPerf3 running on a test computer to test this. This program sends data back and forth with the router, measuring the speed in Megabits/second, abbreviated as Mbits/s. This test is independent of the internet speed provided by the ISP, only testing how quickly each router can communicate with a computer. We used both the 2.4 GHz. and the 5 GHz. network of each router, scoring the results independently.

wifi router - we run diagnostic tests on all of these routers to verify...
We run diagnostic tests on all of these routers to verify manufacturer claims for throughput distances.

We conducted five different tests with different levels of obstruction and distance between the router and computer. For each test, we ran three trials of the iPerf3 test, averaging the results for any unexpected anomalies. Our first pair of throughput tests were the short distance line of sight, and short distance obstructed test. The line of sight test had about 10 feet between the router and the computer, with the obstructed version having a single wall between them.

wifi router - the r6400 is a solid router with an excellent range.
The R6400 is a solid router with an excellent range.
Credit: Jenna Ammerman

The next set of tests was the medium distance version of these tests, with about 35 feet between router and computers, again with a wall between the two in the obstructed version. The final test of each of these metrics was the long-distance test, with about 70 feet separating the router and computer. We only conducted an obstructed version of this test. We felt it would be a very uncommon circumstance to have a distance that far be completely unobstructed between a router and computer. This test also had 3-4 walls separating the router from the computer, compared to the single wall of the previous tests.

wifi router - the eero's 5 ghz. network didn't propagate as far as some of the...
The eero's 5 GHz. network didn't propagate as far as some of the others.

Range


For our fifth and final metric, we looked at the effective range of each router. We selected a 5-minute YouTube video as our test clip, then attempted to play the video in its entirety at set distances away from the router. We streamed the content in 720p and measured the distance from the router that the video stream began to experience interruptions and buffer. We cleared the cache between tests and conducted multiple trials, averaging the measurements to confirm our results.

wifi router - the netgear orbi is a fantastic mesh router, and stylish to boot.
The NetGear Orbi is a fantastic mesh router, and stylish to boot.
Credit: Laura Casner

Conclusion


For more information on how specific products scored with this testing process, take a look at our complete WiFi router review or check out our helpful Buying Advice guide for a thorough breakdown of what these products do and an explanation of some of the more technical jargon surrounding these products for those unfamiliar.

Ad-free. Influence-free. Powered by Testing.

GearLab is founded on the principle of honest, objective, reviews. Our experts test thousands of products each year using thoughtful test plans that bring out key performance differences between competing products. And, to assure complete independence, we buy all the products we test ourselves. No cherry-picked units sent by manufacturers. No sponsored content. No ads. Just real, honest, side-by-side testing and comparison.

Learn More