The router forms the foundation of your wired and wireless network—it may be the most critical piece of technology in your home you don't think about, save your broadband modem. When your router is down, none of your devices can talk to one another or to the outside world. You can't browse the web, stream movies, listen to music, update social media, connect to your office, or pretty much anything else. About the only thing you can do is work on a spreadsheet and play Solitaire.
NAS devices don't serve as basic a need as routers, but they provide a lot of very valuable benefits for all sorts of users. A NAS is a standalone box that houses one or more drives that can store data accessible to all the devices on your network—PCs, smartphones, tablets, and even TVs and streaming media players. Our survey respondents use NAS devices for a variety of reasons, including backing up data and storing photos, music, and videos. Files stored on the NAS can be accessed in a secure manner on the internet so you can easily stream home videos when you're away on vacation or share photos with family and friends.
The most significant change in routers this year has been the increasing popularity of whole home Wi-Fi (mesh) systems. One of the biggest challenges with routers is ensuring a fast, reliable connection everywhere in your home. Even if you place your router in a central location, distance or certain building materials may prevent the signal from getting everywhere you need it. To address this, several router companies have devised systems that use multiple nodes that you place throughout your home, which create a mesh network of sorts. Most systems come with two or three nodes but you can typically add more as needed. Unlike range extenders, whole home Wi-Fi systems don't create additional networks in your home. No matter where you are, you're always on your main network.
Nearly every home networking company has announced or is already shipping a whole home Wi-Fi system. In addition, several lesser known companies such as Eero, Luma, and Securifi have entered the market. Even Google is offering a system called, fittingly enough, Google Wifi. Only two brands—home networking market leaders Linksys and Netgear—received enough responses to be included in our survey analysis this year, but we expect many other entrants to qualify in 2018.
As always, the goal of our survey is to gauge our readers' satisfaction with the products they use. Each respondent was asked to rate their overall satisfaction with their routers and NAS as well as more detailed questions such as satisfaction with reliability and ease of setup. Pay attention to how respondents rated their likelihood to recommend a brand. This question often proves to be one of the most telling aspects of user satisfaction. Use the results of our survey, along with our expert labs reviews of routers and NAS devices to help you decide the right way to stay connected.
This survey was in the field from March 13 through April 2, 2017. For more information on how the survey is conducted, read the survey methodology. Those who completed the survey were entered to win a $350 Amazon.com gift card.
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When deciding on a home router, you have several different brands from which to choose. Ten companies received enough responses to be included in our survey. Two—Apple and Asus—have stood out over the competition for years. Coming into this year, Apple had won our PCMag Readers' Choice Award every year since 2005; starting in 2012, Asus shared the award with Apple each year. This year, Asus stands alone as our sole winner of the 2017 PCMag Readers' Choice Award for home networking routers.
It's impressive that Apple has kept pace with Asus for so long considering that it has not released a new router since 2013 while Asus has continued to innovate. In fact, the two companies still tied for the highest overall satisfaction ratings in our survey: 8.9 on a scale from 0 (extremely dissatisfied) to 10 (extremely satisfied).
However, it appears that survey respondents are starting to sense that Apple is ceding the home networking market to other companies. The likelihood to recommend Asus remained at 9.0, the same score it received last year, while Apple dropped from 9.0 last year to 8.6, barely ahead of TP-Link and Netgear, which both received likelihood to recommend ratings of 8.5. (In the NetPromoter Score generated from that same question, even TP-Link out-scores Apple with a 56 percent rating compared to Apple's 52 percent.)
Apple's rating of 9.2 for satisfaction with reliability did edge out Asus, which scored 9.1, but both are excellent ratings and slight improvements over last year. Asus and TP-Link tied for top marks for satisfaction with setup (9.1). This question is only asked to respondents whose routers are less than a year old. Asus had the best overall satisfaction rating among new routers by far, earning a score of 9.1. Its closest competitors, Linksys and TP-Link, only rated 8.5.
As noted in our intro, whole home Wi-Fi systems, which use multiple nodes in what's sometimes called a "mesh network" to spread throughout a home to provide consistent fast coverage, are ever increasing in popularity. However, the technology is relatively new and only the Linksys Velop and Netgear Orbi systems received the minimum responses required for our analysis (and both, by the way, share our Editors' Choice Awards based on reviews).
However, only the Linksys Velop wins our inaugural Readers' Choice Award for whole home Wi-Fi systems based on its slightly higher overall satisfaction rating. The Velop earned an 8.7 from our respondents compared to the Orbi's 8.6. The two companies had identical likelihood to recommend ratings of 8.4. This is somewhat lower than we expected and may be due to the high cost of the systems. Both companies' 3-node systems list for $499, though you should be able to get them for less. In terms of reliability, the Orbi actually outscored the Velop, 8.8 to 8.6; not a single Orbi rated required repairs in the last 12 months.
If you're not sure what to choose, you might decide to just go with the router built into the broadband modem that your ISP provides. Keep in mind that these tend to get the lowest satisfaction ratings in our survey. Actiontec, Arris (which now includes the 2Wire and Pace brands), and Motorola either primarily or exclusively make integrated broadband modems/routers. Actiontec's overall satisfaction rating was 6.8, far behind most router companies. Arris (7.5) and Motorola (7.4) did not fare much better.
Standalone Routers: Asus
This is the sixth straight year Asus has won a Readers' Choice Award for its home networking routers. No brand is more likely to be recommended than Asus. The company receives excellent marks for their ease of setup and reliability.
Whole Home Wi-Fi Systems: Linksys Velop
Whole home Wi-Fi systems promise to provide a much more seamless wireless networking experience than standalone routers throughout your home. Linksys's Velop earns our inaugural Readers' Choice Award in this category for its top overall satisfaction rating. We look forward to continuing innovations as the competition in this market heats up.
Network Attached Storage (NAS) Devices
Network attached storage devices, also known as NAS devices, come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, and price tags. A simple single drive or dual drive system can be had for under $200 while multi-drive systems may cost several hundreds of dollars but can provide much greater capacity, speed, and reliability.
NAS devices can serve a variety of needs. In addition to backing up PCs and other devices, several respondents told us they use their NAS along with the Plex media server to view their videos and listen to music on any device from anywhere. Serious photo enthusiasts turn to NAS to store all their photos including large, lossless RAW files. Many NAS devices also let you share your photos with others outside your network without first uploading them to a service.
For the seventh year running, Synology wins our PCMag Readers' Choice Award for network attached storage. The past two years, Synology shared the award with QNAP, but this year it stands alone. Synology received a 9.4 for overall satisfaction compared to QNAP's 8.8. No other brand received higher than 8.3. Last year, Synology and QNAP both rated 9.0 in overall satisfaction ratings, so this is an impressive bump up for Synology and a slight dip for QNAP.
Synology had the highest satisfaction ratings on every drill-down question. Its top scores were a 9.5 for storing photos, music, and videos for access on the network and 9.6 for storing other types of files for network access, as well as a 9.6 for satisfaction with reliability. Synology rated 9.0 or better for accessing all types of files across the internet and sharing those files with others.
Many routers can become NAS devices when you attach external drives to them. This can be a cost-effective solution, but overall satisfaction with routers as NAS devices was lower than any dedicated NAS device. Linksys was the top-rated router-as-NAS with an overall satisfaction rating of 7.8, but that's not really enough to earn an award. Interestingly, both Linksys and Asus routers rated better than Seagate's NAS for storing files for access on the home network. However, none of the router-based NAS devices received very good satisfaction ratings for remote access to files. You might be able to save a little money and space by using your router to manage your network storage but our survey respondents seem to be recommending you opt for a dedicated device instead.
WINNERS: NETWORK ATTACHED STORAGE DEVICES
Synology has been a Readers' Choice Award winner every year since 2012. Even more impressive, every one of Synology's already excellent satisfaction ratings improved this year. The company's competitors can only look upon Synology from afar.