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Wireless-AC routers are the next big thing

While 802.11n is the current standard ratified by the Wi-Fi Alliance, "draft" 802.11ac routers are becoming readily available. Wireless-AC routers offer better throughput -- up to 1.3 Gbps or 1,300 Mbps -- and range than wireless-N routers.

One catch is that most clients don't currently support 802.11ac, but that's beginning to change. Wireless-AC compatible devices include the HTC One and Samsung Galaxy S4 smartphones, and the latest version of the Apple MacBook Air. Opting for a wireless-AC router now won't render your old devices obsolete; wireless-AC routers are backward compatible with devices based on older standards, although you won't get the benefits of wireless-AC. Experts say you can expect the current wave of wireless-AC routers to perform much like premium, dual-band wireless-N routers with such older gear.

One of the best wireless-AC routers you can buy is the Asus RT-AC66U (Est. $185) , a wireless-AC update of the RT-N66U (Est. $140) that's sometimes called the Dark Knight. Experts rave about its performance, particularly on the 5 GHz band, and robust features. PC World's Michael Brown tests several draft-802.11ac routers and calls the RT-AC66U the best overall; "if you don't mind paying top dollar, this is the router to buy," he says. The Asus RT-N66U ranks fourth in a roundup of the 10 best wireless routers at PCMag.com and earns an Editors' Choice nod. At CNET, Dong Ngo names it one of the best 802.11ac routers available.

The Asus RT-N66U offers advanced features that make it suitable for home and small-business use, including full virtual private network (VPN) support, IPv6 capabilities, and granular control over the wireless signal and settings. While it offers plenty of tweaking for the most tech-savvy users, experts and owners say setup is fairly easy, even for home use.

If you want 802.11ac support but find the Asus router too pricey, the Trendnet TEW-812DRU (Est. $150) costs a bit less but earns high marks in professional reviews. Its excellent performance is comparable to the RT-AC66U, and even better in some tests. Advanced features include QoS and wireless distribution system support, which lets you wirelessly bridge across multiple access points. If you're looking for business-class functions like true VPN, however, the RT-AC66U is a better choice. One additional caveat: The TEW-812DRU can't be wall-mounted, and it's likely to wobble when a device like an external hard drive is plugged into its USB port.

The Cisco Linksys EA6500 (Est. $195) earns an Editors' Choice award at PCMag.com but is even more expensive than the RT-AC66U. Still, Samara Lynn likes its ease of use and the ability to access settings from the cloud. "The cloud as management console with Cisco Connect Cloud raises the bar for router management," she says.

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ASUS RT-N66U Dual-Band Wireless-N900 Gigabit Router
Buy from Amazon.com
from Amazon.com
New: $179.99 $108.00   
In Stock.
Average Customer Review:  
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ASUS RT-AC66U Dual-Band Wireless-AC1750 Gigabit Router
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from Amazon.com
New: $199.99 $142.95   
In Stock.
Average Customer Review:  
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TRENDnet Wireless AC1750 Dual Band Gigabit Router with USB Share Port, TEW-812DRU Version 2.1
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from Amazon.com
New: $229.99   
In Stock.
Average Customer Review:  
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Linksys EA6500 Smart Wi-Fi Dual-Band AC Router with Gigabit and 2x USB
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from Amazon.com
New: $199.99 $130.00   
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Average Customer Review:  

Wireless Routers Runners Up:

Cisco Linksys E4200 Est. $190

6 picks including: Amazon.com, CNET…

Asus RT-N66U Est. $140

6 picks including: Amazon.com, CNET…

Apple AirPort Express Est. $100

3 picks including: About.com, Macworld…

Asus RT-N56U Est. $95

3 picks including: CNET, NewEgg.com…

Securifi Almond Est. $90

3 picks including: Amazon.com, CNET…

Trendnet TEW-812DRU Est. $150

3 picks including: Amazon.com, CNET…

D-Link DIR-655 Est. $75

2 picks including: Amazon.com, Arstechnica.com…

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Cisco-Linksys E4200 Dual-Band Wireless-N Router
Buy from Amazon.com
from Amazon.com
New: $179.99   
In Stock.
Average Customer Review:  
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ASUS RT-N66U Dual-Band Wireless-N900 Gigabit Router
Buy from Amazon.com
from Amazon.com
New: $179.99 $108.00   
In Stock.
Average Customer Review:  
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ASUS Dual-Band Wireless-N 600 Router (RT-N56U)
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from Amazon.com
New: $129.00 $85.00   
In Stock.
Average Customer Review:  
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Securifi Almond - (3 Minute Setup) Touchscreen Wireless Router / Range Extender
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from Amazon.com
New: $99.99 $89.99   
In Stock.
Average Customer Review:  
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TRENDnet Wireless AC1750 Dual Band Gigabit Router with USB Share Port, TEW-812DRU Version 2.1
Buy from Amazon.com
from Amazon.com
New: $229.99   
In Stock.
Average Customer Review:  
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D-Link Wireless N+300 Mbps Extreme-N Gigabit Router (DIR-655)
Buy from Amazon.com
from Amazon.com
New: $124.99 $54.99   
In Stock.
Average Customer Review:  

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