Despite only having broken out onto the home networking scene a few short years ago, mesh routers have quickly become the preferred way that thousands of users set up a wireless network in their home.
But with so many options to choose from (and so many of them being released in just the past year, making it difficult to tell which models stand the test of time), which is the best mesh router in 2018?
After 30 hours of research, we’ve concluded that the Linksys Velop Mesh Networking system is the best mesh router of 2018, but why?
Well it’s no secret that for over 20 years Linksys (and their parent company Belkin) have produced some of the best routers in the business, including our #1 pick for best overall router the Linksys WRT3200 ACM.
This is no different in the case of the Linksys Velop system, which combines ease of setup, powerful antennas, and a wide variety of features into a stylish and slim package.
3 Best Mesh Routers Compared 2018
- Functional, minimalist design
- Decent performance at short range
- Extremely user friendly
- No 2.4GHz/5GHz channel separation
- Slow speeds at distance
- Ridiculously high price for the 3-pack
When we tested the Linksys Velop last year, we were impressed with many different aspects of its build, design, and setup process.
Firstly, the design itself is just about as minimal and unassuming as you can get, fine to blend into the background of your home rather than trying to take center stage in everything. Sure the nodes might be a bit bigger and bulkier than what you would get out of similar mesh systems like the Tera Nova, but what the Velop lacks in slim profiles it more than makes up for in performance and power at its rates ranges.
Speaking of power, this is where the Velop truly shines. Although we did struggle to maintain consistent performance at the outermost ranges of the rated distance extension, the onboard AC6600 MU-MIMO, 2.4GHz/5GHz radio pumped out more than enough bandwidth to handle the needs of a family of 10, if it needed to.
Getting the Velop running was also a breeze thanks to the dozens of innovations that Linksys has made to the overall setup process, making it one of the most user-friendly and feature-rich routers we’ve tested to date.
But all that power and simplicity comes at a hefty cost: $299.99 for the two pack, and nearly $450 for the three pack, which means that if you’re looking for something cheaper with just a few less features we might recommend going with one of the other options listed below.
#2 AmpliFi HD – Top Performing Mesh Router
- Clean, thoughtful design
- Solid performance at all ranges
- Intuitive setup and app UI
- Software was missing many core features
- HD model could be pricey for some
From the outside, nothing about the AmpliFi HD’s sleek, slim, and downright gorgeous looks would give you any hints about the beast of a router that’s hiding in wait underneath.
The AmpliFi HD takes style and function to a whole new level with its small box main hub that features a tasteful (and helpful) onboard LCD display. This screen displays anything from the time to the current upload/download speeds you’re getting depending on your preference, and man, are those download speeds something to talk about.
In our tests not only was the AmpliFi punching way above its weight class in its range, but its performance simply blew the doors off the place without even breaking a sweat. When left unchecked on the 5GHz band, the AmpliFi HD achieved scores of 534Mbps down/368Mbps up, which makes it one of the single fastest routers we’ve ever tested flat out.
That said, one area where the AmpliFi HD was still lacking a bit was on the software side of things. The company has since added several of the features we dinged it for not having during our review (QoS, Parental Control, Guest Access), but they’re also slow to bring the router into the future with more nuanced options like port forwarding and DMZ options.
All that said, unless you’re a hardcore geek for these types of configuration options the AmpliFi HD marries style, price, and power into an ultra-sleek package that anyone can set up in minutes.
#3 Google WiFi – Best Mesh Router for Stylish Homes
- Seamless software integration
- Simple setup
- Decent range/power
- Might be too expensive for some larger home owners
- No web-based app
Like everything Google does (except Google+, we don’t talk about that anymore), the Google WiFi mesh networking system combines the best elements of its competitors while also adding its own dose of Google flair on top of everything.
According to the company’s specs, just a single Google WiFi node (only $99) can cover a home as large as 1500 sq. ft, while adding two additional nodes on top of that ($299) will get you a whopping 4500 sq. ft of total coverage.
The Google WiFi app is both simple to use and configure, making it easy for the non-tech savvy users out there to completely setup their home network to work exactly the way they want it and protect their network from outside threats. Google WiFi also comes with a nifty extra feature called Network Assist, which automatically switches to the band and channel that’s most optimized for the device you’re trying to connect from.
This means you’ll never be left getting less than optimal speeds compared to another mesh networking system, and have a huge jump over traditional routers attached to extenders or repeaters instead.
The one (admittedly pretty small) drawback of the Google WiFi home mesh networking system is its lack of any sort of web-based interface.
The entire routing network is handled and configured from Google’s own WiFi mobile application for iOS and Android, which means desktop or laptop warriors will be left out of luck if they want to change a new setting on the fly while they’re disconnected from the primary network at work, for example.
#4 Netgear Orbi – Top MU-MIMO Mesh Router
- Alexa-integration support
- Tri-band radio
- High-bandwidth backhaul
- Less nodes might mean less coverage depending on your layout
- A bit bulkier than other units
The Netgear Orbi is the long-awaited mesh system released by one of the biggest networking giants in the world, and for the most part, the wait was well worth it.
Using just two satellite nodes the Netgear Orbi can cover homes as large as 5000 sq. ft, which gives it the best bang for the buck power/range value of any router on this list. Netgear also brings the mesh system into the 21st century with its Alexa integration that lets you control every aspect of your home wireless networking experience just with your voice.
There’s nothing quite like yelling out “Alexa, kick my kids off the internet for the night” and having the parental controls boot up in a few seconds seemingly almost by magic.
There’s also a lot to be said about the tri-band high-bandwidth backhaul technology included with the Orbi, which as far as we can tell, is unique to Netgear’s mesh networking system alone.
This configuration guarantees that your devices never drop connection or lose power depending on where they’re connecting from in the house, which feeds into the MU-MIMO capability to provide a truly one-of-a-kind browsing, streaming, and downloading experience.
The only drawback that bears mentioning here is the bulkiness of the Orbi units, which, when stacked against other options like the Plume below can seem downright massive by comparison.
#5 Plume SuperPod – Longest Range
- Small, discreet pods
- Large number of nodes included in the default package
- Innovative pricing system if purchased through the company’s website
- Gorgeous design
- Not as much speed throughput as other options on this list
- Subscription plan may put some users off
While most mesh networking options on this list might include two, maybe three nodes per system by default (with the option to add additional nodes on for a price), the Plume SuperPods have gone with the “more is more” ethos, including six pods in your basic Plume kit.
This means that you can truly customize your mesh networking experience, throwing a pod in just about every room where you plan on browsing the internet and then some. Probably the single best part about this approach (aside from the increased, even coverage of the signal) is that if you’re a gamer or heavy streamer, every pod also comes with the option to plug your device into the pod using a direct Ethernet hookup.
For gamers this means less latency, less dropped packets, and more throughput overall when you’re in the heat of battle and need every bit of ping you can muster in the moment. Not only that, but Plume has also made strides to make its system more affordable, offering a monthly subscription plan which subsidizes the cost of the hardware.
But it’s not all good. The subscription plan is required if you want to access features such as parental controls and QoS, which means that no matter what, even if you buy all the hardware up front for the full cost, you won’t be able to unlock the Plume’s full potential unless you pony up for an extra fee each month.
#6 Tenda Nova – Best Cheap Mesh Networking System
- Super cheap price of entry
- Decent performance for the cost
- Sleek design
- Power isn’t great
- Coverage could be better
If there’s one trend you might have already noticed on this list, it’s that no matter which mesh networking system you decide to go with, you should expect to spend in the upper $200-$500 range to get the full experience of everything that mesh routing has to offer.
Not so with the Tenda Nova kit, which brings the cost of a three-node system down to an almost suspiciously low $99 out the door. Too good to be true? Well, kind of. Sure the Tenda Nova doesn’t have all the latest tech and suffers from the dreaded “backhaul” traffic problem thanks to its limited radio (where the speed of the extended nodes can suffer if the first node is hogging all the available bandwidth), but all that said the system does still put out a respectable amount of zip when used under the most optimal conditions.
All in all we can’t fault the Nova Tenda for what it’s lacking when you get a gander at that price point. This system undercuts even the closest competition by a factor of almost half, which means that if you’re shopping for a mesh networking solution on a budget and need something that’ll work in a pinch, there’s nowhere else to go except with Nova.
#7 TP-Link Deco – Best Mesh Network Under $200
- Dedicated backhaul-channel enabled
- MU-MIMO enabled
- Comprehensive antivirus/firewall options
- A bit slower than the competition
It should come as no surprise that TP-Link, the dark horse of the routing industry over the past few years, would bring their same flair for power, performance, and feature-rich production to its newest and best mesh networking system to date.
The TP-Link Deco takes all the best elements of routers the company has released in previous years and combines them all into a subversively powerful and feature-rich package. Whether it’s the dedicated backhaul-channel support thanks to the tri-band radio or the slew of onboard parental control, QoS, and firewall options, just about everything you could possibly want out of a router and a mesh system is ready to go in the Deco – all at a price that just skates under the $200 mark if you go with the available 2-node option.
#8 Eero Home WiFi System – Best Mesh Router for Easy Setup
- Sleek design
- Low profile external nodes
- Simple to set up and use
- Pricey for what you get
- Coverage could be better for the cost
Above all else, the eero Home WiFi system holds the title of being one of the very first mesh networking systems to market, and has still managed to maintain its place as one of the best ever since.
Originally launched as a Kickstarter project by a tech geek who was tired of troubleshooting his family’s WiFi problems, this little mesh networking system launched an entire industry that it continues to dominate both in sales and in innovation. The eero comes with most of the standard features we’ve come to expect out of mesh networking systems like MU-MIMO and comprehensive configuration settings in the eero app, but what it gains on these fronts it loses a bit of ground when you consider the price.
At $400 the eero Beacon system is one of the most expensive systems on this list, and the coverage isn’t as impressive as what you’d get with smaller systems like the Orbi. That said, if you want one of the best mesh routers on shelves today, you simply can’t go wrong with the original that helped to define the entire genre that followed it.
What is a Mesh Router?
A mesh router is a new type of networking hardware that replaces traditional routers with a series of smaller, often much more stylish “nodes” which make up a “mesh” of coverage around your home.
Mesh networking works by creating an ad-hoc link that stretches from node to node, removing the need for additional accessories like range extenders and routing repeaters to get a powerful and consistent signal to every area of your home completely unimpeded.
Mesh systems are often preferred by customers with larger homes or those who want to browse in areas that can present challenges for less powerful traditional routers. This includes browsing in areas like your backyard, basement, or attic, and can also make it easier to get a more consistent signal to all of your devices at once no matter where you’re trying to surf from in the home.
How Much Should You Expect to Spend on a Mesh Router?
The one drawback that most of you’ve probably already noticed from the list above is that when compared against traditional routers, mesh networking systems can cost quite a bit more out of pocket.
This is because physically you’re paying for more hardware, with most mesh systems including at least two nodes and many going up to five nodes to get complete coverage around your home. Because of this, you should expect to spend at least $50 – $200 more than you would for a competing traditional router, though in our opinion if you live in a large home there’s simply no better way to go for getting the most out of your local wireless network.
Some options like the Tenda Nova are still relatively affordable with each three pack costing just a little under $100, though this can quickly add up when you need more than three nodes to get complete range and power coverage. Comparatively other options like the eero Pro will set you back a staggering $500 for the same three pack, and it’s in situations like these where you really need to break down all the features you’re looking for and if the Tenda Nova covers them all, consider going that route instead.
Mesh Router Buyers Guide
Below are the top features you should look for in a mesh router.
2.4GHz and 5GHz
- This is the big one. Not all mesh systems are made alike, and some may only feature a single bandwidth for you to stream and download your favorite content on.
- The entire point of buying a mesh system is to get the absolute most range and power possible out of every device you own, which means that the system you go with needs to support dual-band access in order to build the most complete coverage around your home.
- Some mesh systems break down the setup
- This is a newer feature that’s only been added to most routers (traditional and mesh) within the past few years, but ever since crashing onto the scene it’s become a near essential.
- It works like this: in non MU-MIMO routers every packet of data is sent to every device attached to the network one at a time in very, very rapid succession. While this generally is fine if everyone is in different parts of the house, where it starts to slow everything down is if, for example, the whole family is in the living room or kitchen and are all browsing from their devices at the same time.
- MU-MIMO, or “Multiple-In, Multiple-Out” fixes this problem with some clever directional routing techniques that stream a consistent number of packets to every device simultaneously. This can be vital if you’re say, trying to stream a movie on Netflix from your Smart TV while you and your kids are on your phones/tablets at the same time all gathered on the same couch.
High Bandwidth Rating
- As broadband speeds continue to increase around the globe, you’ll want to make sure you have a router that’s both future-proof and can handle the output of a full family all streaming, gaming, and downloading at the same time.
- Most of the benefits that you gain from mesh router ultimately come down to how much bandwidth it can handle, especially in the case of larger families who find themselves at their heaviest periods of usage all at the same time (3-10PM).
Solid Onboard Software/Easy Setup
- One of the main reasons why most consumers would want to choose a mesh routing system over a traditional router or router+range extender is ease of setup and a solid onboard software option.
- Mesh networks make it simple (sometimes even too much so) to get your home network up and running in 20 minutes or less. This is generally accomplished through mobile apps that connect to the main hub via local ad-hoc WiFi or Bluetooth, and will let you configure everything you need on the router directly from your preferred device without having to plug in a laptop or desktop via Ethernet to set things up properly.
- This section also covers the onboard features of a mesh system. Some mesh routers are (as we mentioned before) almost too simplistic, and don’t carry many of the more advanced configuration options we’ve come to expect on routers like parental controls, QoS settings, port forwarding and more. Be sure that when you scan the feature set of the router you plan to buy that it also includes everything you want in this space, or at least a promise from the company that they plan to patch those features in within six months of your purchase.
- Another major reason that some customers prefer to go with a mesh routing system over a traditional router (even if they live in smaller homes that would be perfectly fine with a standard router), is style.
- Mesh routers do away with the big blocky routers of yesteryear with their huge, gaudy antennas sticking off all sides thanks to the technology that makes the whole thing work.
- Because mesh systems don’t need to use external routers and spread the load of the work to multiple units, these routers can be significantly more stylish and well-designed than their larger counterparts. Some options like the AmpliFi HD and Google Home are quite simply the most beautiful, well-designed routers we’ve ever seen, traditional or otherwise.
Enough Range to Cover Your Whole Home
- Finally, we come to the issue of range. As we spoke about before, you’ll want to be sure that you’re carefully checking the manufacturer’s website and spec list to build the perfect mesh system that’s custom-tailored to your home and layout.
- Not only that, you’ll also want to maximize what you get for your money. This means pushing every node in the network to its absolute limit of range from the main hub, while also giving just enough slack to prevent signal drops and power loss.
- The range factor will ultimately come down to your budget, your home size, and the base power rating of the mesh networking system you choose from the list above.
Mistakes to Avoid
- Not Buying Enough Antennas: Although it can be tempting to skimp on the cost of your mesh routing system by only buying the most minimal options available from the manufacturer, we recommend doing a bit of research beforehand and see what the company recommends for your size home. This can also change depending on your use case (browsing outside, in a basement, in a house with 3+ floors, etc), so be sure to read all the specs and how much range you can expect to get out of each antenna before rolling through the checkout.
- Going With Mesh Routers When a Standard Router Will Do: Even though it might be tempting to go exclusively with a mesh routing system since they’re the newest hottest product on the block of home networking, realistically they’re only designed for a specific subset of the consumer market. This includes users who have large homes or struggle to maintain a reliable signal throughout their house when they move from one end to the next, but may not make as much sense for those living in apartments. Apartments and smaller homes (generally those under 2500 sq. ft) can be serviced fairly well by a standard router (which can cost significantly less than a mesh router), but of course you may also want something that’s less obtrusive and more stylish than a traditional router, which is where a mesh system might still be the better choice.
- Spending Too Much: Another common mistake that first-time mesh router buyers might make is pretty much the opposite of not buying enough antennas — buying too many! Again, you’ll be able to find the ratings for specific mesh systems on the manufacturer’s websites that will effectively break down exactly what kind of setup you’ll need to cover your specific house layout and device count.