When it comes to fast wireless routers for Windows computers, consumers have a large selection of wireless-N routers to choose from. Top performers typically have simultaneous dual-band capability, with some able to perform data transfers at a theoretical 450 Mbps on each band. Such routers are designated N900, indicating two simultaneous 450 Mbps connections. Less expensive but slower dual-band routers are labeled N600, indicating two simultaneous 300 Mbps connections.
The Netgear WNDR3700 N600 (Est. $85) draws lots of compliments from users and several experts recommend it, especially for PC-savvy users who love to tweak their equipment. It wins Maximum PC's Best of the Best award after toppling six other comparable wireless routers. It beats out two others at SmallNetBuilder.com, whose tests excluded Apple routers, and it's a top pick at CNET and Information Week.
Before the Apple AirPort Extreme's recent upgrade to 802.11ac support, the WNDR3700 was often compared to it in reviews, with one or the other scoring higher based on reviewer preferences. Although less expensive than the Apple router, the Netgear WNDR3700 allows access to more settings and reads more external hard-drive formats for PC users. For example, while Apple routers can read external hard drives formatted in the Windows FAT32 file system, the WNDR3700 can also read the more common Windows NTFS format. For Windows users, this means "you can just plug an existing hard drive with data already on it into the router and share that with the rest of the network," CNET's Ngo says.
The Cisco Linksys E4200 (Est. $190) also gets consideration in professional reviews, making CNET's top-five list in 2012. Marketed as an N900 router for "multi-use, multimedia" home networks, the E4200 has a sleek, compact, matte black design that wins praise from reviewers, even those who don't typically comment on aesthetics. Experts highly recommend the Linksys router for use with Mac computers as well as Windows PCs, and hundreds of users at Amazon.com and Newegg.com particularly like the E4200's easy setup.
Asus wireless routers are more widely reviewed in Europe than in the U.S., and the RT-N56U (Est. $95) is considered one of the friendliest to administer. Ngo calls it "arguably one of the best true dual-band routers on the market" at CNET, and reviewers recommend the Asus N600 router as an alternative to those from larger manufacturers such as Cisco and Netgear. Experts praise the speed of the RT-N56U, which is one of the smallest premium routers available.
If you have the need for more speed, the N900 Asus RT-N66U (Est. $140) draws even more kudos, with reviewers calling it "the superhero of Asus' lineup of routers." Sometimes referred to the Dark Knight, it's very easy to set up and gets rave reviews from experts and users for its excellent coverage, stability and fast data rates, especially on the 5 GHz band. Reviewers recommend the RT-N66U for bandwidth-heavy multiplayer games and 3D HD downloads. If you're in the market for a router sporting the latest wireless-AC technology, the Asus RT-AC66U (Est. $185) is covered in the section that discusses 802.11ac routers.