The right gaming router: A guide for 2021.

   Regardless of which router you choose (be it one of the best gaming routers or something more basic and affordable), any competitive online gamer will tell you that if You want good gaming performance, you need to be connected to the nearest Ethernet jack. That is largely true. And hey, if you're in a position to play games right next to your router or run ethernet drops in your home, good for you.


   If you're wired, you won't have to worry as much about pings or flickers crashing the game with most routers worth it. But if you can get good with a solid mainstream router, then why in the world would you buy what is basically the flashy hot bar of the router world? If you don't have a hard-wired connection, would a gaming router help you? Finally, if you decide you want or need a gaming router, how do you choose one? If you are asking any of those questions, you have come to the right place.

    Of course, you'll want to consider the standard features: how much does it cost? How much area does it cover, and at what speed? Does it work well with a wide range of devices? But with a gaming router, you'll have to go a few steps further. What are the game-specific features? Are they helpful features or a placebo? Furthermore, what kind of device are you gaming with? If you are using a PC and want to play wirelessly, what generation wireless card does your device have? Wi-Fi 5, Wi-Fi 6 or are you an early adopter of Wi-Fi 6E? Big or small, the many levels and even the material structure of your walls or the things that decorate them can have a big impact on your wireless signal. We'll share all of this below so that by the end of this article, you'll be armed with the knowledge you need to make the right buying decision for your next gaming router.


   Here are some key tips to decide which gaming router to choose and which gaming router to choose:


* What you play matters:


    If you're not into the fast-paced, twitchy game that wins by a few pixels of defeat, a gaming router can be an expensive lesson in overuse.


* Where does your latency come from?


   If you're having issues, is your router really killing your signal? Faulty game console hardware, bad cables, problematic modems (if you're using your own—they're not all created equal), or even the hub your home's cables dropped can have. could be the cause of your gaming problems, and you may want to fix those problems first.


* Consider network protocols:


   Can you use an older WiFi 5 router or do you need a WiFi 6 device? WiFi 6E? This depends on many factors (which we address in detail here), from the size of your home to the devices that will be online to your wishes in the future. Basically, consider that a Wi-Fi 6E (or even a Wi-Fi 6 model) router has few compatible clients to take advantage of today. And while you can certainly upgrade your Windows PC to work with Wi-Fi 6E, you'll likely have to buy brand new versions of each device in your home . new multi-standard.


* Consider your network and environment:


   A gaming router can improve your gaming experience, but if you're also going to use it as your primary wireless Internet hub, a crowded network, or a large, complicated router and dense home can challenge the router to the point of making everything else in your life a nasty mess.


* Security:


   Overall, you should be fine if your computer is locked down. However, adding IoT devices like Wi-Fi enabled devices, connected ceiling fans, sensors, etc. represents the expansion of potential security holes in your network. Keeping that in mind, security should probably be at the forefront of your decision-making, second only to feature set.

*Price:


   A good place to start is your budget. Gaming router prices can range from $100 for a used WiFi 5 gaming router, to hundreds of dollars for all the bells and whistles (like Wi-Fi 6E and fast gateways). ). Setting a reasonable budget will help you narrow down your options, although it may also limit the wireless protocols your router supports, as well as the feature set available to you—though not. as much as you would expect. You can get some really great routers for under $200, as long as you prioritize features the right way. For example, the Netgear Nighthawk Pro Gaming XR500 offers excellent gaming performance, with very low ping and a user-friendly, web-based GUI that provides comprehensive information and extensive configurability without overwhelming the user. users, thanks to Netduma's custom implementation of DumaOS. For even high-end players, this router will be more than enough to satisfy their gaming needs and can still be sold for under $200 at major retailers.


   Of course, while you can expect to take advantage of your router's low ping performance, you'll miss out on the features offered by the still evolving 802.11ax or Wi-Fi 6 wireless protocol, which brings to MU-MIMO functionality which is more powerful than what is available with WiFi 5 and introduces OFDMA, an additional technology. Taken together, the two allow your router to handle a busy home network more seamlessly, as they allow your router to communicate with multiple devices at once, with MU-MIMO support in high-bandwidth applications such as video calls and streaming, and OFDMA does so for low-bandwidth devices such as smart home sensors. Of course, as Wi-Fi 6E routers and devices start to gain popularity, the cost of a good Wi-Fi 6 router like the Asus RT-AX86U will start to drop in price.If you have a higher budget, as with most things, you get quite a bit more space for features. The $200-$300 range probably offers the most value over price, and any of the above tends to fall into the descending returns category, with a few exceptions.


* Environment:


   The decoration and layout of your home plays one of the biggest roles in the performance of your wireless network. A router's square foot rating, while nice as a general guide, isn't directly related to the size of everyone's home. Since most homes tend not to be a perfectly symmetrical circle, they don't always have a convenient center point on which to place your router. To complicate matters further, most people place their router right next to their modem, which the installer may have lobbied for to place the router at the most convenient point for them on the day of installation. This often results in placing the router in the basement or adjacent to an exterior wall in a corner of the house. It won't be the end of the world if this happens to you and it can be remedied in many ways. But all of them will cost you some money and/or time. Of course, the simplest solution is to simply buy a more powerful router with more range.


   It's also helpful to remember that a given router's coverage area doesn't equate to range on a straight line. For example, a router rated for 1,500 square feet, will probably only reach about 50 feet, maybe a little further in the right circumstances. In general, 25 to 30 feet will be as far away as you'd expect before you'll notice degradation most of the time, as long as the walls your signal hits are just drywall and studs. For example, my house is a shotgun-style house, longer than it is wide, and my router is as centered as possible. As such, it gets to my bedroom pretty easily and parts of my backyard. And there are areas in the house where the signal is very weak, but I'm much closer to the router. This is due to different bits and types of interference, like the two wardrobes tucked into the rim that make up the space between the office, where the router is located, and the living room, where my TV and game console are. The signal to the dining room is similarly limited, as it has to push through cabinets full of plates, bowls, pots and pans, and so on. You might be surprised how many materials can wreak havoc on your wireless signal-wood, metal, other electronics, water, and even the human body act as Wi-Fi transmission medium. - Poor Fi!


* Network topology:

   The construction of your network—that is, modems, routers, computers, smart home devices, game systems, TVs, and more—and the way they are all connected is called the network topology. How it looks can greatly affect the type of router you should choose. In the old days, before smartphones, networked sensors, smart TVs, and Wi-Fi microwaves, it was very rare to have multiple devices connected—usually just one or two computers, perhaps. more than in a family. with more money to go around. These days, the average household has several devices online at a given time, and it's not uncommon for some homes to have up to 50 connected gadgets. If your location falls into this category, you can be sure that it will affect network performance.
Some routers now boast the number of routers that can be connected to them, with many being capable of accommodating more than 100 devices. You'll want to keep track of how many devices a single router can handle at once when you buy, as reaching or exceeding this limit for lower routers can lead to a lot of problems. Network instability and a smart home are more annoying than helpful. Naturally, this also means unreliable, laggy gaming as your router tries to keep up with demand from dozens of devices.
This is where you might find mesh routers particularly useful. Most mesh systems are designed to handle a higher number of connections than your standard meshless system. So far, apart from a few models, the mesh gaming router market has not really come to fruition. But there are some good options, including Asus' AiMesh System, which allows nearly any modern Asus Router to function as a mesh button.


   You may be wondering why I haven't mentioned Wi-Fi 6 much. That's because, while features like Downlink/Uplink MU-MIMO and OFDMA will eventually be important improvements, especially in crowded network environments, those benefits won't really show until customer support for the WiFi 6 standard is widespread. Until then, most WiFi 6 routers will actually work like the expensive WiFi 5 routers. Sometimes they perform worse than they actually are, if you have a lot of older devices on your network, as WiFi 6 routers can cause incompatibilities that many older clients can't handle.


   If you're not worried about compatibility, you can also consider one of the few precious 6E WiFi routers out there. But before you do, you should know the key differences between WiFi 6E and its predecessor, WiFi 6. Mainly, while WiFi 6E offers significant latency benefits over WiFi 6-in part thanks to improvements to the base 802.11ax standard to MU-MIMO and OFDMA and partly to the newly opened, scarce 6 GHz band - there are extremely few devices and radio stations currently using this technology and those the benefits may not be apparent until 6E grows quite a bit more.


   Last and very important, although all 6E routers are tri-band, no 6E Wi-Fi router currently offers a second 5 GHz band. And if you have very few WiFi 6E client devices (or none at all), purchasing one of these routers means you may actually see worse performance, as you could lose significant bandwidth if there's no that second 5 GHz band. Unless you're going to go ahead with technology and replace every single device in your home with a Wi-Fi 6E-enabled one as soon as possible, this is an area you may not want to future-proof. That's especially true if you prioritize using every percentage of your router's performance.


* Internet Plan:


   Sorry, but your internet plan is your speed limit, stop completely. No number of antennas or color ac RGB lights will change that, but that doesn't mean something like the ASUS ROG Rapture GT-AX11000 (or its WiFi 6E cousin, the GT). -AXE11000 ) is a meaningless purchase for you—quite the opposite. Here's what might surprise you: gaming isn't really a particularly bandwidth-intensive activity. Game consoles often recommend the minimum total home bandwidth, and you'd be surprised how low this number can be. For example, on PlayStation 5, that number is only 25 Mbps. That speed is considered quite slow by many urban standards, but that speed, with the exact same device, can provide more consistent performance, better than internet service with higher throughput much in some cases.

   If this seems counter-intuitive, it's because the language we use to talk about internet "speed" is a bit misleading. What we often call fast internet is actually high bandwidth internet, or internet with larger "pipeline" for data transmission. The speed at which data travels from one end of the pipeline to the other is measured by your latency, where a lower latency connection is actually a faster connection. It's on a lower-latency connection that gamers can see the most improvement from a gaming router, thanks to game-focused Quality of Service (QoS) features, forwarding rules, and more. Integrated port forwarding and host connectivity—monitoring features many of these routers have. They can't get past the stubborn Ohm's Law limitation imposed on traditional copper, where the metal's resistance slows down data transmission significantly, but they can provide greater efficiency, leading to improved Real world connection speed for players!


   In fact—perhaps surprisingly—a gaming router probably offers the least benefit to gamers over a fiber connection. While you can still find some value in some of the more indirect benefits of a gaming router, it's hard to justify the additional cost when you can still get the speed. literally lightning fast from a regular router, thanks to the lag-free connection offered by fiber. At this level, you will get a lot of profit from upgrading the device, such as choosing one of the best graphics cards or the best gaming mouse. That said, many gaming routers offer other cool features, with a focus on traffic monitoring and other cool features. And proper QoS can still benefit you with a great connection; it's just a matter of whether the remaining potential improvements are really worth the money you pay.


* Game play style:


   Of course, style can also be important to the player. Are you the type to refer to your desk, reinforced gaming chair, and transparently present liquid-cooled PC tower as your battle station? Or does your level of online gaming involve swinging through your friends' island in Animal Crossing to pick up some sweet, sweet 54-bellied turnips? If the former, you might be looking for the lag-bustin'-est router you can find. For you, the features offered by DumaOS on Netgear's Pro o Series of gaming routers will not only be an easy thing to have, but practically a necessity. The best of the best here will not only give you measurable improvements to latency, but also excellent QoS data prioritization. In other words, the router will prioritize certain devices and certain types of data. Some even let you tweak this on a device-by-device basis, allowing you to make quick changes and set up pre-configured profiles to use in certain scenarios. .


   However, if you're not trying to increase the speed at which you can produce a headshot in a fraction of a second, then one of those big router-powered tools might be overkill. Games like World of Warcraft or Mario Kart really don't require the same kind of unconscious reaction speed as professional baseball players. For you, again, a solid, easy-to-use network might be worth exploring. Many of these systems are reasonably priced. And with the exception of fast sensational shooters where every millisecond counts, you simply won't notice any difference between the performance offered by such a system and the options available. choose another stronger.


* Easy to use:


   This may not seem obvious to most people. After all, who cares how easy it is to use a router once you're all set up? For a serious gamer or even a parent of a gamer, this is really important. Aside from just setting the SSID and password and deciding whether to split the 5GHz and 2.4GHz bands, visual router configuration is often non-existent. Adjust QoS settings, configure port forwarding, use special gaming VPNs—many people don't use these features because they're not obvious to set up. The point is, these need not be the exclusive domain of a trained IT professional or hobbyist. I've seen routers that handle this well, and I've seen others give these features without thinking twice. Having easy-to-understand settings is a real boon, saving you time and frustration as you steadily tweak options that often take time to understand and appreciate.

   So what does this look like? I will give you an example. As long as you stick with the gamer-oriented features, ASUS handles their menu system very well, with pre-configured rules for specific games that you simply toggle to use. . And the list of games where they have entered these rules is huge and varied. For Netgear's DumaOS, everything you could possibly want is front and center on your router's home screen, with an easy to understand, customizable card-based interface. Even out of the gate, you'll see everything a player might want to be introduced to: network traffic, access to gaming features, and basic, normal network administration stuff. usually like updating the SSID.


   Of course, you probably want the router to be even more easy to use, and this is where some gaming routers can fall. For most people, once you get beyond the gaming features on certain routers, you'll find a confusing jumble of unexplained acronyms, sliders, toggles, etc. and drop-down menus can be easily overwhelmed.


   However, this is not necessarily the case and some manufacturers recognize this. Some remove all that control, leaving you with the lowest set of options, while others make a real effort to create streamlined and accessible menu hierarchical configurations. Which appeals to you more, after you've decided on a router that's right for your needs, depends on your personal style. And I have absolutely no reluctance for a user to want a router that does everything for them. I play with routers for a living, and at the end of the day I want my network backbone to be handled by the same mesh system I've been using for the past year and a half. It's hard to argue with an uncomplicated router setup, even if it lacks granular control or the fastest speeds and best features.