What makes a router a gaming router? There is no strict definition, but you'll probably know one when you see one. Gaming routers usually sport aggressive angles and a plethora of antennas. RGB lights are often in the mix as well. MSI's RadiX AXE6600 is a good recent example.
But aesthetics aside, what makes a router a gaming router, let alone the best gaming router? In general, with a gaming router, you can expect higher-end internal hardware than budget offerings, including extra bands to handle more devices, and often a faster CPU and more RAM to juggle a larger device load.
Usually, features aimed at gamers are also included in the user interface to help prioritize gaming traffic and packets. And extra granular controls are tossed in for tweaking and streamlining your network performance to make sure it best serves your gaming needs. Unsurprisingly, this typically comes at a higher cost than most mainstream routers. But spending more and making the right choice can make for a better gaming experience with less lag, especially if your home network and Internet bandwidth are split between several users and dozens of devices.
All that said, a gaming router might be overkill, particularly if you’re in a small apartment or house, without several people clamoring for your limited internet bandwidth. If that sounds like you, consider a more mainstream router and spend the extra money on a better CPU, graphics card, or a bigger SSD so you can install more games.
Also, keep in mind that while the best gaming router can prioritize your gaming packets and limit lag, it won't give you better, faster Internet than what you're currently paying for, or make you substantially better at competitive gaming. A properly configured gaming router will, at the very least, make sure that the reason you won or lost has more to do with your skillset (or lack thereof) than anything else.
For much more on this subject, check out our guide to shopping for the right gaming router. But we'll cover some of the basic considerations below.
How to Choose the Best Gaming Router
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There is plenty to consider if you’re in the market for a router, whether you're after the best gaming router or something less gaming-specific.
- Should you splurge on Wi-Fi 6/6E (802.11ax), or Stick with Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac)? Unless you’re just going to get a budget router to tide you over, you should get at least Wi-Fi 6, though probably not 6E just yet. For more on this, check out our Wi-Fi 6/6E feature.
- How many wired ports do you need? While Wi-Fi is convenient, wired Ethernet is still ideal when it comes to latency and reliability -- two important factors for gaming. So whenever possible, you'll want to be plugged into your router via Ethernet when playing competitive games. Most routers ship with four LAN ports for plugging in four Ethernet devices, plus one input for your Internet (WAN).
Four ports is enough for most people, but with the rise of smart home hubs, set-top boxes, consoles and other devices, you may want more. Higher-end options sometimes (but not always) ship with more Ethernet ports. TP-Link's Archer AX6000 impressively has eight Ethernet ports. Alternatively, you could plug in one of the best network switches and add as many Ethernet ports as your network needs.
- Consider the size and makeup of your home. Deciding which model is the best gaming router for you also comes down to how big your home is, plus how old it is, which tends to dictate what's inside your walls. If you have a large space and/or your walls are made with things like brick, metal, or foil-wrapped insulation, consider a mesh router or a router that’s mesh-compatible so that you can buy additional satellites to place in areas where signal strength is weak. Note that most of Asus' recent routers can function as part of a mesh setup; look for a feature called AiMesh (opens in new tab). Range extenders/repeaters can also be used to improve throughput or fill in dead spots. But they are often more complicated to set up and don’t work as seamlessly as a mesh setup, which your devices will see as a singular network, no matter where you are in your home and which device you're connected to.
- How many bands do I need? That largely depends on how many devices there are in your home connecting to your network. Think of bands like separate highways for devices to connect to. Just note that not all of those highways travel at the same speed or have the same amount of lanes. Without getting into details that could turn this whole section into a story unto itself, if gaming traffic is your priority, look for a router with two 5 GHz bands, so that most of your modern devices can connect to one and you can leave the other wide open for your gaming packets.
If you have one of the best gaming PCs or best gaming laptops with Wi-Fi 6E capabilities, you may want to consider a router with a 6 GHz band. Just know that the range of 6 GHz tends to be shorter than 5 GHz or 2.5 GHz, so you'll want to be sure your router is fairly close to your gaming rig. Remember, though, that ideally you should be plugged directly in via Ethernet so that crowded Wi-Fi bands won't be a concern at all.
The Best Gaming Routers You Can Buy Today
It lacks RGB lights, and setup could be easier, but Netgear's Nighthawk XR1000 brings its powerful DumaOS 3.0 for fine-tuning of the network to prioritize traffic, as well as Wi-Fi 6 with beamforming. There's no Wi-Fi 6E here either, but with very few devices actually supporting that spec, plus the fact that its inclusion would come at the sacrifice of a second useful 5 GHz band, most users are better off without 6E for at least a couple more years anyway. If you're after something simpler and much cheaper, D-Link's $99 EXO AX1800 delivers Wi-Fi 6 on the cheap, though it has plenty of limitations.
The Netgear NXR1000 may not be for everyone, especially given its $300-plus price. But those who want a true gaming router with granular controls rather than colorful lights should consider this the best gaming router for their needs.
Read: Netgear Nighthawk XR1000 review
The Asus RT-AX82U offers a good combination of Wi-Fi 6 throughput and gaming performance, all in an attractive, reasonably compact package for a modest $230. We were impressed by the high fps scores, the option for gaming-centric QoS settings, and the integrated security.
You also get Aura compatible RGB lighting, which some will appreciate, but you can also turn off. Just know that your Ethernet and USB options are limited, and there's no WTFast option. There's also no Wi-Fi 6E here, but we wouldn't expect it at this price, and the vast majority of devices can't take advantage of the 6 GHz band yet anyway.
Read: Asus RT-AX82U review
Asus' ROG Rapture GT-AXE11000 was the first Wi-Fi 6E router available, and it shows that coming early to a new standard is not without some issues. We applaud this router's extremely speedy Wi-Fi throughput, ease of setup, integrated security, support for OutFox, a service which promises less gaming latency, and the flexibility in the wired ports that offer link aggregation.
But the GT-AXE11000 is extremely expensive; there are very few Wi-Fi 6E devices on the market, and we saw poor QoS performance in our testing with the current firmware at the time. This issue was fixed by reverting to older firmware, but that firmware introduced latency issues. Clearly at the time we tested, Asus was still working out some software bugs.
It's possible or even likely that these performance issues will be improved by the time you read this. But Wi-Fi 6E is still very much in its infancy. So unless money isn't an object and you simply must have the latest Wi-Fi standard (along with some other very good features that this router brings to the table), you may want to wait until more 6E routers are available and the standard has had some time to mature and proliferate to more clients.
TP-Link's Archer AX6000 Next-Gen Wi-Fi Router sits somewhere between a full-tilt gaming router like the Asus ROG Rapture GT-AXE11000 and basic budget options like TP-Link's sub-$70 Archer A7 AC1750. The Archer AX6000's ‘middle of the road’ approach results in a router that's larger than some, with lots of antennas (8) and gigabit Ethernet ports (8, plus a 2.5GB WAN). You also get Wi-Fi 6, though not the newer 6E that makes use of the less-cluttered 6 GHz band.
Delivering a good value for about $250, the Archer AX6000 impressed us with its solid 5 GHz throughput speeds, high fps gaming scores when connected via Ethernet or 5 GHz, integrated 8 port switch, and included security subscription. Just know that the gaming-centric and QoS features found in pricier gaming routers are often absent here, as is a third band to better handle lots of devices. But as a general-purpose, mid-range router, there is plenty to like about the AX6000, including decent overall gaming performance.
Other tested products:
In recent months, we've tested some other routers that weren't good enough to make our best gaming router list. Asus' mecha-inspired ROG Rapture GT-AX6000 EVA Edition delivered stable video streaming in our tests, and includes some nice gaming and security features. But it's expensive considering it's only a dual-band device and doesn't support the lastest Wi-Fi 6E standard. And its security features aren't enabled by default.
Netgear's Nighthawk Mesh Wi-Fi 6 AX3600 looked like a promising mesh solution, with its solid features and ease of setup. But its inadequate QoS, connection issues and the fact that you need to pay for antivirus (in addition to its already high price) made it hard to recommend.
D-Link's EXO AX AX1800 (DIR-X1870) has more mainstream appeal, thanks to its Wi-Fi 6 support and good gaming performance, paired with its $99 price. But 2.4 GHz performance was disappointing, ports are limited (with no USB) and the router was painfully slow to accept and enable any configuration changes.