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Is upgrading your basic broadband router worth the money?

When you sign up for broadband, you usually get a standard WiFi router included. So why would you want to pay £200-400 more for a premium upgrade? Will it really deliver a significantly better experience? Now that even regular broadband is delivering 60-80Mbits/sec of bandwidth, though, you could be limiting how much benefit you get from your Internet connection. We thought we would test just how much extra performance is available from the latest WiFi 6 and 6E routers against the kind of device that might have come with your broadband a few years ago.

The primary upgrade router we chose for testing was the MSI RadiX AXE6600, which we recently reviewed on its own. This promises an aggregated throughput across all its radios of 6,600Mbits/sec. Thanks to support for the latest WiFi 6E extension, it can operate at 5GHz, 2.4GHz, and the latest 6GHz frequencies. At 2.4GHz, the router delivers up to 573.5Mbits/sec, but this more than doubles to 1,200Mbits/sec at 5GHz. The 6GHz waveband offers 4,800Mbits/sec.

The broadband service-supplied router we have chosen to test the RadiX against is the original BT Smart Hub. This has been superseded by the BT Smart Hub 2, but represents the kind of device that would have come with a BT Internet service if you signed up for it a few years ago, and are now considering whether it needs an update. BT has never stated the performance specifications of the Smart Hub, except that it is dual-band, with a 3×3 antenna configuration for 2.4GHz and 4×4 for 5GHz. It also only supports 802.11ac (WiFi 5).

MSI also offers a router called the RadiX AX6600, which is essentially the AXE6600 but without support for WiFi 6E's 6GHz waveband, and minus a couple of other nice but not essential features. While the AXE6600 costs around £320 inc VAT, the AX6600 is under £240. Since we originally tested the AXE6600, we still haven't seen a significant upswing in 6GHz-capable end user devices. Your choices still currently only extend to a few Apple products, and a selection of notebooks. So the AX6600 is a valid choice for today's devices, if not future ones.

Both MSI routers offer the same fairly typical set of physical ports. These include four Gigabit Ethernet connections for wired client devices, but the broadband WAN port supports 2.5Gbit Ethernet. There's a USB 3.0 port for attaching storage to share across the network.

The BT Smart Hub also offers four Gigabit Ethernet ports for wired client devices, but has an ADSL modem built in so doesn't have a fifth port for WAN connections. There's a USB 3.0 connection as well.

So, if your broadband came with a BT Smart Hub – or equivalent – is a state-of-the-art upgrade like the MSI RadiX routers worth the additional expense? Read on to find out.

  • The MSI RadiX AXE6600 is available from Amazon for £319.98 inc VAT.
  • The MSI RadiX AX6600 is available from Amazon for £237.15 inc VAT.
  • The BT SmartHub is no longer available to purchase new.

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