With the coming of fibre to the node, getting the right DSL router is more important than ever.
A DSL router you buy today can potentially serve you through the upgrade to the FTTN NBN and for years to come.
To that end, you’ll want to get a modem router that supports VDSL (the technology of choice for FTTN) and also has enough wireless headroom to deliver the kind of bandwidth you need for multiple devices streaming video at once.
Here, we’ve reviewed six of the latest DSL routers that offer that kind of space for the future. All of the products below, bar one, boast high-end wireless AC capabilities; and all but one (a different one) support VDSL, ready for the FTTN transition.
As an added bonus, they all have Ethernet WAN options, so they’re perfectly capable of serving a fixed wireless or FTTP installation as well if needs be.
How we tested
For all the routers here, we performed a straight file copy test from a server attached to the router via Gigabit Ethernet.
At both 5m and 15m (with two intervening plaster walls), we copied a 1GB file from the server to a laptop attached to a Linksys WUMC710 wireless bridge. The WUMC710 is capable of 1,300Mbps wireless AC.
As always with wireless tests, there is certainly a case of ‘your mileage may vary’. The numbers presented are only useful for comparison, and are not necessarily an indication of what you might get in your specific home environment.
Although it’s getting a little long in the tooth and doesn’t boast the cutting-edge technology of ASUS’s latest broadband routers, the ASUS DSL-AC68U is still an absolutely rock-solid DSL router, boasting full VDSL2 support and utilising ASUS’s outstanding firmware.
Based on OpenWRT, it boasts advanced features like VPN support, per-user traffic monitoring, as well as the attachment of a USB 3G/LTE modem.
The latter can be configured as a backup by throwing a switch — if your primary DSL connection goes, it will jump over to LTE.
The VPN support is great, with both client and server supported and the easiest setup of either of any router firmware we’ve seen.
The router also plugs into ASUS’s AiCloud service — a web service that lets you access the contents of a connected hard drive remotely and from mobiles without having to fiddle with firewall settings.
ASUS also provides 100GB of cloud storage with the router, and a utility on the router itself will synchronise the contents of an attached hard drive with the cloud storage service. It’s all clean and well implemented, and an excellent selling point for the router.
Indeed, the only real complaint that we have with the firmware is the limited parental controls.
Nonetheless, with some outstanding firmware and top-shelf hardware, it covers you for both FTTP and FTTN NBN services, and the wireless has enough legs and more than good enough performance in our tests to keep you happy for years to come.
Verdict: Excellent firmware and very good hardware. A great choice.
Rating: 4 stars out of 5
AVM Fritz!Box 7490
This is a router that boasts features comparable to business IP PBXs, with multiple voicemail boxes, advanced call logs, cloud-saved contact lists, alarm and wake-up calls and more.
It has PSTN failover if the Internet goes down and it also happens to serve as a DECT base station for up to six cordless handsets.
For a small business user or home owner that uses VoIP, it’s pretty much perfect.
The firmware (Fritz!OS) has power and features to rival DrayTek and ASUS. VPNs are supported, there are considerable diagnostic and management tools and even the parental controls are solid.
Both of its USB ports are 3.0, which makes a huge difference when using the router as a file server.
AVM provides mobile apps (yep, they’re called Fritz!Apps) for remote and local access to shared storage, and the apps also provide full access to VoIP services including message checking, call logs, and making calls through the VoIP service from your mobile.
Although it would be nice if these weren’t divided up into so many individual apps, the solution is still pretty darn great.
It’s not just the software that sells the router, either. The hardware is rock solid, with 3X3 MIMO for 1,300Mbps wireless AC, VDSL support and gigabit on all ports.
A LAN port can be reassigned to WAN duties, so it can serve as a broadband router for FTTP if the need arises.
Verdict: A tremendous VoIP router that does pretty much everything well.
Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5
D-Link DSL-4320L Taipan
But in the DSL-4320L Taipan, we have a genuine AC3200 modem router with six antennas and a combined VDSL/ADSL port.
If you’re looking for that top level of performance, this is your best bet — and D-Link’s implementation of it here is pretty good, presenting only a single SSID and automatically assigning device to bands based on load and device type.
Our test device can only talk to one of the two AC networks the Taipan creates, so the test result only reflects single-device access. AC3200 routers only really reach their potential when a large number of devices are hitting them at once. But even for our single device, it performed well.
D-Link has dramatically improved the usability and feature set of its router firmware. There’s a simple setup and visualisation interface, but more advanced users can drill down into its feature set, too.
The firmware also lets you reassign one of the LAN ports as a WAN port.
D-Link supplies solid mobile apps for router setup, as well as cloud-based remote access, including both streaming and direct file access.
This is a perfectly capable ADSL/VDSL router with some very advanced wireless AC support. But it’s hellishly expensive, and we have our doubts that AC3200 wireless is all that compelling.
But if having that support in a single device appeals to you, this is one of your very few options.
Verdict: A decent router, but doubling the price because it has AC3200 support is a bit much.
Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5
DrayTek has been one of the slowest vendors to integrate 802.11ac across its integrated modem router product lines, and it’s a huge shame that the Vigor2860Ln’s wireless support is still limited to single-band 802.11n.
It’s an honest to goodness LTE modem router on top of being a capable ADSL/VDSL router.
It’s not just support for a USB 3G adapter — the router has an actual SIM card slot and two very large antennae for top 3G/LTE reception, much better than any USB card can accomplish.
You can even send and receive SMSs from the router interface, as well as assign load balancing or failover rules of your multiple WAN interfaces.
There’s an additional gigabit WAN port on top of its six LAN ports, meaning it covers pretty much every type of Internet connection, bar HFC.
Both DrayTek’s firmware and design reflect the company’s business-centric orientation. Most of the ports are in the front of the device, not pretty but it is practical.
The firmware is probably not for the faint of heart, being heavy on the jargon and light on the easy setup wizards. It is very capable, however, with advanced business and management tools that not even ASUS can boast.
You can even configure it to send and respond to SMS messages, rebooting the router or getting status updates.
For the advanced and small business users, it’s incredibly smart and well designed, but the lack of support for AC could be a killer, especially since it costs three times as much as the consumer competition.
Verdict: The wireless is a generation behind and the price is high, but everything else is aces.
Rating: 4 stars out of 5
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of its modem routers, which frequently lag significantly behind the competition.
The XAC1900 is currently the most advanced DSL product in Linksys’ lineup, but it lacks VDSL support and there’s a strong sense that the DSL components are an aftermarket add-on. The DSL port isn’t even built into the router itself, but is instead embedded in the power brick.
While for some users, this might have cabling advantages, it also makes the power brick huge and unwieldy. There is a gigabit Ethernet WAN port on the router itself, though.
The Linksys UI is built with non-technical users in mind.
It provides a nice way of visualising your network, and most of the settings are simple and well explained. On the other hand, as an advanced user, initial setup is actually quite annoying, since the router demands that it be the DNS server when you first connect to it with a web browser.
You’re forced to use the setup software or mobile app for first setup. Once you’ve done that, the settings can be surprisingly deep, if you’re willing to dig for them.
The mobile apps are good enough, and they’re useful for remotely configuring your router.
The performance, though, was a little lacklustre. Although the AC1900 Wi-Fi radio should deliver comparable performance to most of the other routers here, our tests showed it lagging a behind.
It’s not terrible by any means, but it is behind the competition.
Verdict: Uninspired. Needs to do more for its asking price.
Rating: 2.5 stars out of 5
Netgear Nighthawk X4S D7800
Being Wave 2 means that the router supports MU-MIMO, a wireless technology that separates user data streams to ensure that devices aren’t competing for the airwaves.
It’s not all that useful now, but will be once more client devices support it.
On top of that, it supports AC2600, which achieves 1,733/800Mbps wireless without any fancy multi-network shenanigans.
It delivered in our tests, too; although our test client device is limited to 1,300Mbps, it still produced excellent results.
The router is managed through Netgear’s genie interface, which does not provide the same kind of pleasing UI that Linksys or ASUS does, but has a lot of great tools and deep customisation under the hood.
Its ReadySHARE system that lets you access your content remotely and from mobile apps is excellent, and mobile apps are also available for router setup and management. Both its USB ports are 3.0, and there’s an eSATA port.
The parental controls offered by Netgear are of particular note.
Where most routers only allow you to control access times and maybe generate a manual blacklist of sites, the Netgear features proper live parental controls, with category-based filtering of adult content and a web-based management system.
Admittedly, this is done using OpenDNS, which technically any router can use, but Netgear makes it super simple by integrating it right into the router setup and mobile app.
Verdict: The price is high, but the technology is cutting-edge for a modem router.