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CNET: Best mesh Wi-Fi routers for 2021

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Published in Science & Technology News

We're all still depending on our home Wi-Fi networks more than ever — and having areas around the house where you just can't connect can be incredibly frustrating. Fortunately, dead zones can be decimated by upgrading your router to a mesh system that pairs a router with range-extending satellite devices to spread a fast and reliable signal throughout your home.

With those satellites, or nodes, spread strategically throughout your home, a good mesh setup will automatically "route" your connection as you move through the place, steering you from band to band within a single, unified Wi-Fi network. It'll also decide when to route your connection through a satellite device and when to send your signal straight to the main router. That's better than what you'll get from a simple range extender, and it makes for close-to-seamless home internet, with more consistent speeds in each room.

The rub is that mesh Wi-Fi systems are a lot more expensive than range extenders, and typically more expensive than single-point, stand-alone wireless routers, too — but with lots of new competition hitting the market, the cost has come down quite a bit in the last year or two. Mesh systems regularly sold for as much as $400 or even $500 a few years ago, but now all of these manufacturers and others offer multipoint mesh router systems — including the main router and the satellite devices, or nodes — that cost less than $300, if not less than $200. I've even seen entry-level mesh systems selling for as little as $99, provided you can catch the right sale.

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Best overall

Nest Wifi

 

CNET TAKE: A few years ago, the Google Wifi became a breakout hit thanks to its easy setup and its ability to spread a fast, reliable Wi-Fi connection throughout your home for all of your connected devices. Now, there's the Nest Wifi, a second-gen follow-up that adds in faster top speeds and a better-looking design, plus Google Assistant smart speakers built into each range extender. The price is a little lower this time around, too — $269 for the two-piece setup above, with roughly the same area of Wi-Fi coverage as a three-piece, $300 Google Wifi setup from a few years back.

On average, the Nest Wifi notched the fastest top speeds that we saw from any Wi-Fi 5 mesh router (and faster speeds than the newest Linksys Velop system, which supports Wi-Fi 6 and costs more than twice as much). Plus, the two-piece setup offered enough signal strength to provide sufficient coverage at the 5,800-square-foot CNET Smart Home. It also aced our mesh tests, never once dropping the connection as we moved about our home running speed tests. We never caught it routing my connection through the extender when connecting directly to the router was faster, either.

The lack of Wi-Fi 6 support might seem like a missed opportunity, but the Nest Wifi does include support for modern features like WPA3 security, device grouping and prioritization and 4x4 MU-MIMO connections that offer faster aggregate speeds for devices like the MacBook Pro that can use multiple Wi-Fi antennas at once.

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