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Should I buy a mesh router or a standalone router?

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Best answer: Yes; a mesh system or a mesh capable router makes the most sense for most people. A mesh system costs a little more upfront, but it allows for growth down the line.

  • Router features with a mesh ecosystem: Linksys MAX-STREAM MR7350 ($150 at Amazon)
  • Compact and simple to use: eero ($249 at Amazon)

Wi-Fi that grows with you

The original home routers were rather simple in that they took an incoming internet connection from a modem and broadcast a wireless signal. Back when Wi-Fi was in use by fewer people and fewer devices took advantage of it, things like interference weren’t much of an issue. Not only that, but 2.4GHz signals were also more than adequate, and the lower frequencies could travel much further than 5GHz.

Today, most of us are always within range of multiple Wi-Fi hotspots, and we’ve come to expect Wi-Fi to handle a ton of traffic, often in excess of 100Mbps. Just think about how many devices you connect in your household daily. To achieve higher speeds, routers need to use higher 5GHz frequencies and wider channels that are more open to interference. Brute force from a giant router in the center of your home is not good enough for the speed and consistency we’ve come to expect from our internet.

Mesh systems aim to improve coverage and connection quality by decentralizing Wi-Fi. This allows your device to connect to a much close access point and let that access point do the heavy lifting communicating with the main router. Their small size can also help them blend in with much nicer and can eliminate some unsightly equipment from your entertainment center.

Many people are put off of mesh technology since many of the popular systems deemphasize traditional features like Ethernet ports. Others have tried to oversimplify user control. For many of us, that’s just fine, but not everyone wants to give it all up. For those people, a hybrid system might be the best solution. Companies like Asus and Linksys have started adding mesh capabilities to their standard routers. For most people, that’s the best possible compromise short of building a separate wired and wireless network.

Why you might want to stick with a standalone router

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The biggest strike against mesh systems is the cost. Mesh systems offer much slower speeds and sometimes fewer bands than a traditional router for the same or more money. The first and most obvious reason is that mesh systems have two or three devices included in a pack, which raises the cost of production.

Having multiple smaller routers making up a mesh system leads to slower and cheaper components being used to keep the package cost down. Another issue is that the nodes on the mesh system must communicate with each other, which uses precious bandwidth. In some cases, it can cut speeds nearly in half due to using dual-band Wi-Fi that must share its limited bandwidth between devices and mesh communication. Getting a fast tri-band mesh system is a solution but gets expensive fast.

If you care about speed and performance above anything else, a standalone router might still be your best bet. A fast gaming router like the Asus RT-AX5300 is not only faster than most mesh system, but it has more advanced features such a tri-band Wi-Fi and advanced controls.

Future expansion

Linksys MAX-STREAM MR7350

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$250 at Amazon

Keep traditional router features with Velop expansion options

Linksys brought its Velop mesh system to its Wi-Fi 6 routers with the MR7350 with speeds up to AX1800 and four Ethernet ports.

Simple Choice

eero

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$249 at Amazon
$250 at Best Buy

Easy to set up with great coverage

The newest generation eero strikes a good balance between speed and size with enough speed for most people and a simple app.

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