Don’t believe the hype. A gaming router won’t help you earn more kills or beat the raid boss any faster than a regular router with the same specs. But if your current router is struggling, upgrading to a newer, more powerful one can give all your devices a faster, more reliable connection, which will improve your game latency. Whether that improves your gaming performance is, of course, up to you.
We tested five of the best-reviewed gaming routers against our pick for the best overall Wi-Fi router in a 2,000-square-foot, single-story home and a 1,100-square-foot, two-story townhouse. We benchmarked their speeds at different combinations of range and connected devices, slammed them with the kind of bandwidth-eating activity you’d find in a busy house and evaluated their features and ease of use for gamers and nongamers alike.
Best gaming router overall: Asus RT-AX86U
$279.99 at Amazon
The Asus RT-AX86U, which is also our pick for the best overall Wi-Fi router, wowed us with its ability to handle multiple bandwidth-hungry devices at once with less fuss and need for manual configuration than the other gaming routers we tested. Its gaming-specific features had no noticeable impact (a common thread in our testing), but the RT-AX86U is the best router you can get for general use or gaming at home.
In our preliminary long-range testing, the RT-AX86U’s 5GHz performance put it in third place among the seven gaming routers we tested, with one important caveat. The TP-Link Archer AX11000 and Archer GX90, the two routers that beat it, are tri-band routers; they each have two 5GHz radios. In our download test, one of the AX11000’s bands was 60% faster than the RT-AX8U and one was 33% slower; one of the GX90’s bands was 90% faster and the other was 67% slower.
When we tested the finalists by placing them in a central location in a 2,100-square-foot test house, as you should at home, the RT-AX86U picked up the pace. Here, in our point-to-point throughput test — transferring data between two Wi-Fi 6 smartphones — only the Archer AX11000 beat the RT-AX86U, and only on one of its 5GHz radios.
The hot streak continued in our multi-device test. We set up each router in the living room of a two-story, 1,100-square-foot townhouse in a crowded neighborhood, then simultaneously slammed them with two 4K video streams, a large file transfer, a point-to-point throughput test between two Wi-Fi 6 smartphones, an internet speed test and a game of World of Warcraft, all on the same 5GHz radio on the same router. We ran each test with the gaming features off, then again with them enabled. For tri-band routers, we tested each 5GHz band separately, with and without gaming features, and then once with the World of Warcraft computer connected to one 5GHz radio and everything else on the other one.
The RT-AX86U beat both tri-band TP-Link routers across the board, with much faster internet download speeds and lower latency, faster device-to-device throughput and usually lower game latency. The TP-Link AX11000 kept up in PC-to-NAS and phone-to-phone transfers, and had the second-best WoW latency and Cloudflare ping and jitter, but only on one of its two 5GHz bands, and it fell behind in the Cloudflare download.
The only concrete advantage we saw from the tri-band routers was when we put the World of Warcraft PC by itself on one 5GHz radio and everything else on the other. We saw a big reduction in latency in WoW and slight improvements on all the throughput tests. Even in that scenario, though, latency was only a little lower than with the RT-AX86U, and the throughput tests were still slower.
Most importantly, the RT-AX86U was consistent. On the tri-band routers, we got vastly different results depending on which devices connected to which band. That’s a configuration headache that most people at home won’t have the patience for and shouldn’t have to deal with. The Asus router only has one 5GHz network, but it was good every time.
The RT-AX86U has four Gigabit Ethernet ports, a Gigabit WAN port and a 2.5Gbps port that can be used for either WAN or LAN. (One of the Gigabit LAN ports is a “gaming port,” and you can enable a feature to let the router prioritize traffic from that port.) It also has link aggregation, letting you combine the connections of two LAN ports or two WAN ports for redundancy, load balancing or extra throughput. Two USB 3.2 Gen 1 ports are a nice treat if you’re looking to connect multiple storage devices that everyone on your network can access at once.
We appreciate that the RT-AX86U supports DFS channels, letting it bypass crowded parts of the 5GHz spectrum by using frequency ranges reserved for radar, though how effective that is for you depends on the presence of nearby airports or weather stations. It also supports WPA3 encryption.
The gaming features on the RT-AX86U — Game Accelerator, OpenNAT (including a custom port-forwarding profile for World of Warcraft) and Adaptive QoS — didn’t make a perceptible difference in game latency in our tests. Your mileage may vary, depending on how much of your available bandwidth your devices eat up. In our tests, which simulated typical activities in a normal house, the RT-AX86U’s performance was great whether these features were on or off, unlike the competing tri-band routers whose performance was dictated by which Wi-Fi network they were on rather than gaming prioritization settings. (For the fastest speed and lowest latency, of course, you should use Ethernet, not Wi-Fi.)
Some of the RT-AX86U’s features are poorly explained. For example, “Game Accelerator” just turns on a simplified version of the router’s Adaptive QoS feature. Others, like AIProtection, work by passing your traffic information to a third party that’s been busted for collecting browser histories in the past. No, thanks!
We’d ignore most of these features and focus on the basics, all of which the RT-AX86U has: schedulable guest networks, parental controls, access point mode and an OpenVPN server to securely connect to your home network when you’re out.
Finally, we appreciate that the RT-AX86U isn’t enormous. It still looks a little robotic, as is the Asus way, but it’s much smaller and more subdued than the bulbous, heavy, antenna-filled routers we tested alongside it.
How to choose a gaming router
Routers marketed for gaming usually have garish designs and come packed with gaming-specific features like the ability to prioritize traffic from specific devices or programs to improve response time in multiplayer games. These features turned out to be more “gaming-themed” and didn’t make a difference in latency in our testing, and most aren’t unique to gaming routers. In a few cases, the gaming routers had features identical to regular routers, just with the word “game” slapped on the front. Some gaming routers came with unique features like server ping utilities that are only useful for specific games; we can’t imagine these getting a lot of use even from people who play those games.
What did make a difference? A strong, fast Wi-Fi signal and the ability to juggle everything you can throw at it. You don’t need a gaming router; you need a good router.
At minimum, if you’re buying a new router for gaming, get one with Wi-Fi 6. Wi-Fi 5 is still fine, but Wi-Fi 6 has been around since 2019 and is faster and more secure. If you care enough about gaming to be considering a gaming router, you probably already have a few Wi-Fi 6 devices and will likely buy more. A four-stream (4x4) Wi-Fi 6 router is a good starting point, thanks to a technology called MU-MIMO that lets the router split its bandwidth between multiple clients (if they all support it) instead of switching between them very quickly, as in previous Wi-Fi generations. Paired with beamforming, which lets the router focus its signal in the direction of a specific device, and you have the potential — but not a promise — of good speeds and range for your connected devices.
A good router should support Dynamic Frequency Selection (DFS) on the 5GHz band. This lets your router use channels normally reserved for radar, as long as they’re not in use (by military installations, airports, weather stations, etc.). You get more opportunities to avoid your neighbors’ competing 5GHz networks, which can improve your performance in Wi-Fi-saturated environments.
Otherwise, most router features aren’t worth worrying about. A great router should support automatic firmware updates, guest networks, DFS channels, WPA3 encryption and an access point mode that lets you repurpose your router once you upgrade to a new one, thus extending its useful life span. Avoid any router feature that sends your data to a third-party company, such as Asus’ AiProtection, Traffic Analyser, Apps Analyser, Game Boost or Web history. You probably don’t need to give Alexa access to your router either.
No matter what, make sure your next router at least supports the top speeds of the fastest devices you own. Don’t worry about future performance for devices you might not ever get. You can always get something faster when you need it.
How we tested
A gaming router is still a router, and all the fancy gaming features in the world don’t matter if you can’t get a solid connection. So we subjected each gaming router to the range and throughput tests from our Wi-Fi router guide before we even looked at their “gaming” features.
Our first tests took place in a 2,000-square-foot one-story house with the router in a bathroom at one end of the house. The house is secluded, and the only other Wi-Fi signal in range is the house’s existing router, which we left on for the first test. We set up each router using its default settings, like most people will, with automatic channel selection and auto channel width enabled — two features that should let the router avoid interference from neighboring Wi-Fi signals. With only one network in range, we expected all the routers to avoid it easily. We were wrong.
We used the Ubiquiti WiFiman (iOS, Android) app to test upload and download speeds between two Wi-Fi 6 smartphones: a Samsung Galaxy S21 Utra 5G in a bedroom near the router and an iPhone 12 Pro in the living room, 45 to 50 feet away. Multiple walls and rooms separated the iPhone from the router, and there were two walls and one smaller room between the Samsung Galaxy phone and the router. We tested on the 5GHz band because it supports faster speeds and is less prone to interference but has shorter range than 2.4GHz.
We moved the three routers with the best long-range performance to the center of the house and repeated the same tests, this time with the house’s existing Wi-Fi turned off.
Our last and hardest benchmark tested multi-device performance in a two-story, 1,100-square-foot townhouse in a neighborhood with lots of competing Wi-Fi signals. We placed each router in the ground floor living room and ran the following simultaneous tests on the router’s 5GHz networks:
- A 4K UHD stream from an Apple TV in the living room
- A 4K Apple TV+ stream on an iPad Pro in a bedroom directly above the router
- A 16.6GB file transfer from a desktop PC with an Intel Wi-Fi 6 AX200 adapter in the second-floor office to a NAS connected to the router Gigabit Ethernet
- A World of Warcraft session on a MacBook Pro in the upstairs office
- A two-way WiFiman throughput test between the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G in the living room and an iPhone 12 Pro in the office
- A Cloudflare Internet Speed Test on the desktop PC
We watched for buffering or poor signal in the video streams, recorded lag in World of Warcraft and checked throughput on the file transfer and WiFiman tests, and throughput, jitter and ping in Cloudflare. We also ran the same tests, but swapped out World of Warcraft for Overwatch, a first-person shooter game where lag could be a lot more noticable.
We ran the multi-device benchmark once on each 5GHz radio on each router, both with and without its gaming features enabled; for the tri-band routers, we tested each band separately, and even tested with the game stream on one band and everything else on the other.
We also looked at each router’s size, specs, security, ease of setup, and included features, especially gaming-related ones.
Other Wi-Fi gaming routers we tested
$224.99 at Amazon
We had high hopes for the TP-Link Archer GX90, a tri-band router, especially after one of its 5GHz Wi-Fi networks outperformed everything else in our long-range test. However, it dropped to third place in the semi-finals, and in our multi-device testing was far outpaced by both the dual-band RT-AX86U and the low band of the TP-Link Archer AX11000.
Unlike the Archer AX11000 and Asus GT-AX11000, the GX90’s two 5GHz radios aren’t identical. The higher-channel “gaming” band has four streams and the lower channel has two. While the upper band did consistently outperform the lower, it’s not clear that the difference in number of streams is responsible, since the other two tri-band routers showed similar differences between their 5GHz radios, which are all four-stream. Interference, though, surely played a role.
The GX90 has four Gigabit ports and a 2.5Gbps LAN/WAN port, but doesn’t support link aggregation. It has two USB ports — 2.0 and 3.0 — for connected storage. The GX90 has plenty of features we care about, like support for OpenVPN, guest networks, schedule-based Wi-Fi access, WPA3 encryption, and DFS support on the upper 5GHz band, though not the lower. It also supports TP-Link’s OneMesh system, so you can use it as a node in a mesh system, though unlike the Asus it doesn’t support wired backhaul.
The biggest quirk of the GX90, aside from its different 5GHz radios, is that TP-Link has skinned the router’s web-based configuration to look like a gaming router, but almost all its features are the same as a regular TP-Link router’s; their legends just have the word “Game” added to them.
$255.99 at Amazon
The Archer AX11000 looks nearly identical to the newer GX90, though with two 4x4 5GHz radios instead of a 2x2 and a 4x4, and eight Gigabit LAN ports instead of four. Despite having identical specs, the two 5GHz radios had vastly different performance in every one of our tests.
In our long-range throughput testing, the AX11000’s upper band had by far the best upload speeds and the second-best download speeds of any router we tested, and it blew past the competition in the centralized tests too. The lower band’s performance was middle-of-the-pack In our multi-device tests, meanwhile, the lower band beat the GX90 and rivaled the Asus RT-AX86U for latency and speed, while the upper band crawled.
As with the GX90, putting the WoW client on its own 5GHz band and everything else on the other gave us the lowest ping in WoW and slightly improved throughput on everything else, but anyone seriously concerned enough with gaming latency to notice this should just use a wired connection.
The Archer AX11000 has similar features to the GX90, but it doesn’t support automatic firmware updates. This router is a few years old, but we don’t see why that incredibly useful feature couldn’t be added as part of a software update itself.
It’s nice that the AX11000 has eight LAN ports, and a USB-C port for connected storage, but those aren’t essential. We don’t see any reason to pick up the A11000 instead of the slightly less expensive, faster, and more consistent GX90, or any reason you should opt for either when you can get the Asus RT-AX86U for the same price.
$431.07 at Amazon
The Asus GT-AX11000 router cost a whopping $430 at the time of our testing, but it was soundly beaten in long-range performance by routers that cost half as much or less—including Asus’ own GS-AX5400 and our primary pick, the RT-AX86U. As a tri-band router, it shared the same performance issues as the aforementioned TP-Link routers; depending on which 5GHz network we used, we experienced noticeable speed differences, except they ranged from so-so to poor rather than great to okay. This may be because the router defaulted to 160MHz channel width even in an incredibly crowded Wi-Fi neighborhood, opening itself up to interference from all over. A router this expensive should be smarter than that.
$249.99 at Newegg
The ROG Strix GS-AX5400 was the least expensive gaming-branded router we tested. It performed very well on our long-range tests for 5GHz, but it wasn’t as fast as the finalists. It’s smaller size and restrained design (including a lovely front glow) makes it a welcome alternative to the bulky, antenna-party look of some of the other gaming routers we tested, but it’s not quite built for a next-generation home. The Asus RT-AX86U has the same interface, more features, a 2.5Gbps port, and better performance for the same price.
$369.99 $241.84 at Amazon
The Netgear Nighthawk XR1000 was our biggest disappointment, because its DumaOS web configuration screen is one of the best we’ve used. It’s beautifully designed, incredibly responsive, and is chock-full of useful information on its very first screen—a gigantic dashboard that shows your internet status, guest Wi-Fi network status, CPU usage, and current download and upload traffic. That’s just the default; you can pin just about any panel from any section to this dashboard, giving you an easy way to quickly access settings and stats you care about most.
We’re not done. A built-in Geo-Filter lets you restrict connections to faraway servers and players, giving you a way to self-optimize by forcing connections to closer hosts and servers. Similarly, a Ping Heatmap helps you figure out map server locations (with ping rates) for the games you play, so you can try for the best connection. You can also run a speed test directly from the router, which gives you more accurate results about your own connection’s download speeds, upload speeds, and latency than running from a connected client.
The XR1000 also supports many of the standard features we look for, including guest networks, WPA encryption, DFS channels on 5GHz, schedulable parental controls (via a pretty thorough Traffic Controller feature), automatic firmware updates, OpenVPN, and VLANs.
But as good as this router looks via a web browser, its performance left much to be desired. On our long-range tests of its 5GHz network, the XR1000 performed worst of all seven gaming routers we tested. Fancy features and beautiful user interfaces are great to have, but you’re a lot more likely to notice performance issues when they pop up.