Best wireless router under $100 is Tenda AC18
There’s an often searched for term on Google: best wireless router under $100
But the results often come with a caveat. What exactly are you willing to sacrifice to save a few bucks?
Tenda is arguing that you don’t have to give up high-end features like Beamforming+ technology for seamless HD streaming or gaming.
After spending a week testing a Tenda AC18 (AC1900) at my home, it made a pretty strong argument.
If you’re looking for a powerful, dual-band Gigabit router without every possible customization, Tenda AC18 is one of the better bargains out there. It’s easily the best wireless router under $100. I would even buy a Tenda AC18 before going with the very popular TP-Link Archer C7.
You won’t have a Quality of Service (QoS) feature for prioritizing traffic on your home network.
But there are many other useful customizations within Tenda’s web-based configuration interface. A wireless repeating function lets you enable the router to become a repeater in one click. The Smart WiFi Schedule feature can automatically put the router into sleep mode when you’re not using it. You can set up a VPN connection and create a guest network for visitors who want to use your WiFi.
Wireless routers with features vs plug and play
Not everybody wants to tinker around with custom features. A simple plug-and-play solution is more attractive to many people, even tech-savvy gamers. And if you want to simply plug-and-play with a Tenda AC18, it’s not a problem.
What makes the Tenda AC18 stand out is its fast setup and consistently strong performance with multiple devices. Being a cord cutter, my standard for a high performance wireless router is fairly simple. I want to be able stream and game on multiple devices simultaneously without any lag.
While this is going on, others might also be on their smartphones or tablets surfing the web. No one should be the wiser that there’s a lot of bandwidth being used around the house. Essentially, I want a wireless router that blasts my Internet connection like a fire hose at full throttle.
How I tested Tenda AC18
This router was tested with a Arris SURFboard SB6141 cable modem. If you want to make sure that you’re getting the fastest speed possible from your Internet subscription, buying your own modem makes sense.
You will also be saving upwards of $60 or more a year in rental fees. I now recommend the SURFboard SB6183 because the model that I currently own is being phased out by some major cable providers. Even when my home is quiet, I typically have about 9 devices connected to my home network.
By way of benchmark, I swapped out a Netgear R6400 for the Tenda AC18. I named Netgear R6400 as a top pick in my review of the best WiFi router for streaming on multiple devices. In that review, I set out the kind of standards and features that I look for in a high performance router.
Once I knew I had a stable connection to the AC18 router, I tried to see if I could create some lag.
In my living room, I turned on my Amazon Fire TV and began streaming a show on PlayStation Vue. My wife watched the show and surfed the web on her Samsung Galaxy S5 smartphone using WiFi.
I went to the bedroom on the far end of the house where I fired up a Roku Streaming Stick and began streaming more live TV via a fuboTV subscription. I activated my Amazon Echo, instructing it to play some white noise (babbling brook). I also fired up a game on my Steam account and played a game for a while on my laptop. I created similar all-devices-on-deck scenarios over the next several days, including times when I knew Internet usage in my neighborhood was at its peak. (It’s a feature my ISP provides to me.)
With the AC18, I threw pretty much everything I had at it over the course of several days without tripping it up. As of this writing, I was also testing a HDHomeRun Extend and some recording features with PLEX pass for an unrelated review. Again, no problems with the performance.
Once, when I had to dash around the corner for a quick errand, I glanced down at my phone to check email. I noticed that I forgot to disconnect from my WiFi. I still had five bars of my Internet connection while standing three houses away from home. Throughout my testing, I noticed that my signal remained in the five bar range in the furthest parts and corners of my home where getting a signal was usually a struggle.
Tenda AC18 specs
Wireless ac-routers generally have a top rate of 150 Mbps per stream on the 2.4GHz band and 433 Mbps per stream on the 5GHz band.
Tenda AC18 is a AC1900 dual-band router. The 2.4GHz band operates up to 600Mbps, while the 5GHz band runs up to 1300Mbps. Like other AC1900 routers, Tenda uses Broadcom technology called TurboQAM, which boosts the maximum speed on 2.4 GHz. An AC1750 router like the Netgear R6400 that I have at home operates up to 450Mbps. The speed boost advertised with TurboQAM is actually not as useful as it sounds. To gain the benefit of the added speed, you actually need a device that support TurboQAM. That’s still a rare find in 2017.
Tenda AC18 has an exceptional range for its price. The router has three omni-directional antennas on the back, which can be adjusted to redirect where you want bands to be transmitted.
Each antenna is 8 inches long, measuring a full two inches larger than ones found on a Netgear R6400.
These antennas on the Tenda are powerful. Each are 3dbi, which is a little more than some Netgear routers.
The AC18 has five Gigabit ports with speed 10/100/1000Mbps on the back side. There’s one Gigabit WAN port and four Gigabit LAN ports. There’s also a power button, so you can shut off your router (and hopefully extend its shelf life) when you’re out of town and no one is using it.
In the front, you can open a small keyhole-sized cover and find a USB 3.0. You can use the USB 3.0 to connect a media server, FTP server or printer.
Tenda AC18 also supports third-party firmware like Tomato if you prefer to further customize your settings.
Tenda AC18 performance, setup
Set up was remarkably simple. It took less than a minute to connect to the router wirelessly using a temporary SSID and password that was affixed to a label on the router.
Once the AC18 router is connected to your modem, you can log in to your router by going to www.tendawifi.com. You could also go the more traditional route by typing 192.168.0.1 into the address bar of your web browser.
I changed the network name and password of the AC18 once I connected it to my modem. There’s a label fixed to the top of the router detailing you WiFi Network Name (SSID), and WiFi password.
The 5GHz bandwidth will have the same name as your 2.4 GHz band, but will have the added “5GHz” tag on the end. I prefer a slight distinction like this because I prefer to use my 5GHz for devices that are closer to the physical router, and 2.4 GHz to something further away like a bedroom.
There was one aspect of the Tenda AC18 that was slightly irritating. The power cord was less than four feet long.
That’s way too short for my taste.
It’s important to keep your router off the ground for the best performance. Tenda’s power cord felt more like a short leash when it came to setting the router on top of a 42-inch speaker in my living room. The Netgear R6400 comes with a power cord that is just under six feet. It gives me plenty of slack on top of my speaker, and more flexibility with my setup.
The shorter power cord isn’t a deal breaker, but it’s something to be aware of beforehand if you buy the AC18.
Why Tenda AC18 is the best wireless router under $100
There are a lot of reasons why the AC18 stands out as the best wireless router under $100. Its range, features and ease of use are my top three. The AC18’s performance is comparable to many routers that you will pay nearly twice the price for.
It’s interesting to see a company like Tenda pushing into the U.S. consumer electronics market, where buyers are paying two to three times as much for high performance routers with similar features.
They’re positioning themselves to be in two spaces at once by offering a budget-priced router with premium features.
I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the Tenda AC18 to anyone looking for a high performance router at the lowest price possible. Before buying one, I would recommend looking over its instruction manual and install guide as well. During my research, I noticed some people didn’t first turn off their modem before hooking up the router. They later complained about the router not being recognized until they reset their home network. No matter what brand you buy, you should always shut down your modem first when installing a new router. Your new network can then be recognized and configured without any problems. You will also prevent the possibility of a power surge or bricking your new hardware.
Tenda vs TP-Link, Netgear: What’s the best wireless router under $100?
Tenda is not well known in the United States. Based in Shenzen, China, Tenda is hoping to change that with their latest line of high-performance routers.
If you’re wondering how the Tenda AC18 stacks up against a similarly priced TP-Link Archer C7 (AC1750), here are a few things to consider.
The Archer C7 still has an excellent range for its price and supports features like guest networks and parental controls. You could buy the Archer C7 and be perfectly happy if you are someone who simply wants to plug in your router and start surfing the web.
On the features front, there’s a couple of things to be aware of.
The Archer C7 has a text-heavy and sometimes confusing, interface when it comes to configuring your router. Sure, you could install third-party firmware like DD-WRT, but that would void your warranty.
Another powerful TP-Link router is the Archer C9. It has Beamforming technology and its own kind of QoS feature to prioritize traffic. But you will pay a bit more for this router compared to the Tenda AC18.
For a more feature-rich router, the Netgear R6400 (AC1750) remains our top pick for its overall value. You get high-end features like a built-in VPN to secure your connection when you’re using public WiFi. Prioritizing traffic through its QoS feature is great if you stream a lot of Netflix while there’s other high-demand traffic from things like an Xbox One or gaming laptop.
The R6400 will push you over the $100 range, but you will get better performance and more features for the money. If you are about to replace your router, you should take a look at your cable modem as well to make sure its has the proper specs. My review of the best cable modems can give you a better idea of what kind of specs to look for.
I hope this review was helpful to you. Check out my other reviews for streaming devices, and networking if you’re in the process of cutting the cord.