Even conscientious consumers don’t think much about their home routers until they stop working – at the best, they are quietly blinking bricks that you put out of the way next to your modem. But sometimes, special occasions arise. Perhaps you need a particular router for a new apartment, dorm or job. Maybe your old router goes kaput and it’s time to get a replacement. Who has the patience to budget for something like that? Fortunately, with this list of the absolute best under-$50 routers, you don’t have to worry about it.
This is a great budget router, hands down, equipped with performance features that you rarely see in this price range. You can find the 1000 on sale for anywhere between $55 and $45 with a little bit of searching, so technically we’re still within budget.
Wireless 300Mbps speed, a QoS engine for your HD movies, and four Gigabit Ethernet ports give this router all the functionality that a house needs, but let us draw attention to two welcome features in particular. There is a SharePort Plus for sharing between nearby USB 2.0 devices easily, which means you can store data elsewhere and stream from various mobile devices and hard drives.
Additionally, the 1000 uses SmartBeam tech, which is worth talking about for a minute. SmartBeam features are all about getting rid of dead zones in your house so that you get usable wireless connection pretty much anywhere. This is typically accomplished via antenna setups that directs signals to specific locations, based on sensor feedback, device location, or other data. Smart bandwidth management is becoming an increasingly vaunted feature for marketing purposes, and it’s good to see the feature even on a budget device like the 1000, which has 6 different internal antennas that pinpoint mobile devices and focus signals to remove dead zone problems.
irst off the bat, there are several different home routers in this line, with a variety of speeds and price tags. The N300+ (indicating speeds up to 300Mbps) is a very solid budget option for the average home or office, but you can keep the price under $50 and spring for the version with Gigabit Ethernet ports, too. This gives you a huge boost to cable transfer speeds if you are exchanging data-heavy media like photos and video, so it’s a big win for the modern household.
If you consume a lot of media and want some fast wired connections for your gaming consoles or TV, this unit can solve a lot of problems. However, it doesn’t have the administrative, security, or management features that other models boast, making this Linksys a good fire-and-forget option if you don’t want a hassle.
TP-Link TL-WDR3600 ($50)
Here’s a larger, dual-band TP-Link router for the discerning wireless user. If you have a lot of mobile devices in your home and run into interference or bandwidth problems, dual-band is the prescribed solution. In addition to creating both 2.4GHz and 5GHz network options at 300Mbps each, the router comes with Gigabit Ethernet ports, a couple USB ports, and extra media compatibility with gaming consoles.
If you want the dual-band feature at an affordable price, this router is an attractive option. along with the multi-function USB ports, this model is great for a home business or just a busy apartment. The TP-Link Tether app steps up to provide mobile network management, parental controls, the ability to create guest networks, and more. The downside is a lack of antennas and smart network coverage technology, as found in the D-Link.
TP-Link N300 TL-WR841N ($20)
The 300Mbps TL-WR841N model is definitely on the small side, but don’t let that fool you – this router is still a winner. It is designed specifically for home offices and small businesses, with bandwidth control features that let administrators choose just how much bandwidth is allocated to individual PCs. It also comes with a Tether App for faster installation, and a WPS button for instant WPA2 encryption. For home use, there are live parental controls.
Several different versions of this router exist, and if your budget is a bit low you might want to try the home routers without two antennas. Amazon also offers a range extender bundle for under $50 if you want to make the original model stronger. There are a lot of options here, which is another point in its favor.
If your plans for a router are torn between “shelf at home” and “pocket in my laptop bag” then this ZyXel model could be what you are looking for. It’s a smaller box that you can probably find a place for in your luggage if you want to set up a more dependable, complete wireless network at your destination without depending too much on tethering and hotspots. That 3-in-1 moniker comes from the ability to act as a router, access point, and client bridge, depending on the type of project you are working on and how you want to let people in. It can also use a USB port for power if no outlets are nearby.
Speed is once more a bit lacking with this model, which provides rates up to 150Mbps. On the plus side – as suits a travel router – it has a variety of firewall options including NAT, VPN pass-through, and SPI. From gamer gatherings to business trips, this little guy is made to be popped off the shelf and taken around the world.