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9 Laptops We’ve Tested and Love

9 Laptops We’ve Tested and Love

The Pixelbook Go is Google’s latest vision of what a Chromebook should be. Unlike previous efforts, the Go doesn’t shoot for the stars. Its price reflects that, and it starts at a full $350 less than its predecessor. However, if you like the original Pixelbook’s high-end specs, you can order a high-end Go with a Core i7 processor, 16 GB of RAM, 256 GB of storage, and a 4K display. 

The Go’s design is very much function over form, and an interesting ridged underside is the only thing that sets it apart from standard laptops. The base model uses the Intel Core M3 chip, but we recommend going for the Core i5. You’ll get 8 GB of RAM either way, which is plenty for average Chromebook use.

Chrome OS has progressed significantly in recent years and feels very mature. Support for Linux makes it decent for light development work too. Using Android apps on it can still be an exercise in frustration, but things have improved in recent releases.

Specs to look for: Intel Core i5, 8 GB RAM, 128 GB SSD

Another great Chromebook: Want something newer? Consider Samsung’s Galaxy Chromebook 2 (7/10, WIRED Recommends) for $700. It has a premium, all-aluminum build that’s lightweight, with a beautifully minimalist design. It also has a sharp, bright screen. The model I recommend has an Intel Core i3 and 8 gigabytes of RAM inside.

Shopping for a Router Sucks. Here’s What You Need to Know

Shopping for a Router Sucks. Here’s What You Need to Know

Everyone wants reliable and fast internet, and a good router can help. The trick is working out how the complicated mess of standards, confusing acronyms, and sci-fi-sounding features translate to better Wi-Fi in your home. Join us as we tear down the curtain to reveal the pertinent facts about Wi-Fi, routers, mesh systems, and other jargon. Hopefully, you’ll be better equipped to buy a router by the end. 

Updated February 2022: We added information on MoCA, linked to our Wi-Fi 6E explainer, and added an explanation of backhaul.

Table of Contents

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Who Is Your Internet Service Provider?

Internet service providers (ISPs) connect your home to the internet, and they usually send you a modem and router (sometimes in a single device). The modem connects your home to the broader internet; the router hooks up to the modem, and you connect all your gadgets—with wires or wirelessly—to the router to access that connectivity. ISPs often charge you a rental fee for this equipment, and their routers are usually basic in terms of performance and features. The good news is that ISPs are by law no longer allowed to force you to use their equipment or charge you to use your own hardware, though you may still have to return their stuff to avoid charges.

We’re largely looking at using your own router in this guide and using your ISP’s modem. By using your own, you can potentially save money in the long term, but you can also enjoy faster Wi-Fi, better coverage, easier configuration, and extra features like parental controls and guest Wi-Fi networks. We will run through your router options, but whatever system you decide to go with, check compatibility with your ISP before buying. You can also search your ISP’s forums to find posts where people discuss using different routers and modems. A little research before you shop can save you a big headache down the line.

What Kind of Router Do You Need?

Vilo Mesh Routers
Photograph: Vilo

There are various ways to make your Wi-Fi faster, and buying a new router is one of the most obvious. To help you decide on the type of router to go for, calculate the rough square footage of your home before you begin.

Single Router

The simplest solution for most people is to choose a single router or a router and modem combo. Bear in mind that this device will have to plug into your existing socket or modem via Ethernet cable, which restricts where you can place it. The Wi-Fi signal will be strongest near the router and will gradually drop off and slow down the further away you get.

Routers should always state square footage for coverage, but certain types of construction—thick walls, insulation, and other devices—can interfere with Wi-Fi signals, so don’t expect to enjoy full-speed Wi-Fi at longer distances. Powerful routers with wide coverage are often large devices with multiple external antennas, but they’re usually very expensive.

Mesh Systems

If you have a larger home and want solid coverage in your garden, or you have thick walls and specific dead spots with your current setup, then mesh Wi-Fi could be the answer. Mesh systems consist of a central hub, which connects just like a single router, as well as additional satellites or nodes you can place around the home.

Devices connect to the internet through the nearest node, so you can achieve wider Wi-Fi coverage and a more reliable connection in different areas by adding a node. Just bear in mind that each node will need a power outlet. Mesh systems are more expensive than single-router setups (though not always), but they enhance coverage and reliability, and they often boast additional features and control options. They also tend to be smaller than regular routers and are typically designed to blend in with your decor harmoniously.

Alternatives to a New Router

ethernet cable
Photograph: Eskay Lim/Getty Images

If your issue is more about coverage and you have a single problem room where you want to improve Wi-Fi, or a particular device that needs a faster connection, you might not need to buy a new router. Try one of these alternatives. They each have their own technical challenges and potential issues. Even when successfully deployed, they won’t come close to matching the convenience of a good mesh system, but they are all much cheaper.

Wi-Fi Repeaters

You can use Wi-Fi repeaters to spread the Wi-Fi from a single router a bit further and potentially boost the signal in a dead spot. These devices are a good solution for some people, but they can be inefficient, prone to interference, and often create a secondary network with a different name from your regular Wi-Fi.

Power Line Adapters

Sold in pairs, power line adapters pass an internet signal through your electrical wiring. You plug one into a power outlet near your router and connect it with an Ethernet cable, while the other power line adapter plugs into a power outlet in the room where you want faster internet. They can be a good solution if you have a console or smart TV in your living room at the back of the house, but your router is in the front hall, for example. Unfortunately, effectiveness depends heavily on your electrical wiring.

MoCA (Multimedia over Coax Alliance)

If your home already has coaxial cables installed (perhaps for cable TV), you can use them to create a reliable wired network that offers high speeds and low latency compared to Wi-Fi. You can buy routers, network adapters, or Wi-Fi extenders that support the MoCA standard. Much like power line adapters, this can be a great way to pass an internet signal to a smart TV, game console, or desktop that doesn’t get a strong Wi-Fi signal.

Access Points

If you don’t mind a challenge and have a spare old router lying around, you can look into configuring it as an access point or using it as a Wi-Fi extender. This can be particularly effective if you’re able to connect it to your main router via cabling, but configuration can prove tricky.

What Speed Do You Need?

kid sitting at gaming PC
Photograph: Getty Images

There’s plenty to consider when you’re trying to decide how fast your router should be. The maximum speed of your internet is determined by your ISP. Internet speeds are stated in Mbps (megabits per second). The median global fixed broadband speed is 58 Mbps for downloads and 24 Mbps for uploads, according to Ookla’s Speedtest. Most ISPs will state up to a certain speed or give you a range—like 300 Mbps download and 30 Mbps upload—but what you actually get is often lower than the maximum (especially upload speeds), and it must be shared between all of your connected devices. 

You can check what download and upload speed you are getting by running a speed test in your browser. Simply type “speed test” into Google to find some options. To get a rough idea of how Mbps translates into internet use, we can refer to the FCC’s broadband speed guide, which suggests you need 3 to 4 Mbps to stream a standard-definition video, 5 to 8 Mbps for HD, and 25 Mbps for a single 4K stream. Generally speaking, if there are multiple people in the household streaming 4K video with several gadgets connected, you’ll want at least 200 Mbps, if not more. If you only have a few devices connected and are mostly just surfing the web, with some videos here and there, you’ll be fine with 50 or 100 Mbps. 

What Is Wi-Fi 6E and Do I Need It?

What Is Wi-Fi 6E and Do I Need It?

We collectively stream more movies and TV shows, play more online games, and make more video calls than ever before, and all this activity puts a serious strain on our Wi-Fi networks. We know the latest Wi-Fi 6 standard offers a range of benefits, including faster and more reliable access, but how does Wi-Fi 6E fit in?

“Wi-Fi 6E is the name for Wi-Fi 6 devices that operate in the 6-GHz band, a new swath of unlicensed spectrum that more than 58 countries across the Americas, EMEA, and APAC have made available for Wi-Fi to date,” explains Kevin Robinson, senior vice president of marketing for the Wi-Fi Alliance.

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Wi-Fi 6E Explained

Until now, our Wi-Fi operated on two bands: 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz. The Wi-Fi 6 standard employs various features to improve the efficiency and data throughput of your wireless network and reduce latency for those two bands.

“Wi-Fi 6E extends the capacity, efficiency, coverage, and performance benefits of Wi-Fi 6 into the 6-GHz band,” says Robinson. “With up to seven additional super-wide 160-MHz channels available, Wi-Fi 6E devices deliver greater network performance and support more Wi-Fi users at once, even in very dense and congested environments.”

Each band is a chunk of frequency. The 2.4-GHz band comprises 11 channels that are each 20 megahertz (MHz) wide. The 5-GHz band has 45 channels, but they can be fused to create 40-MHz or 80-MHz channels, enabling them to transmit more data at once. The 6-GHz band supports 60 channels that can be up to 160 MHz wide.

That’s a huge chunk of extra capacity. Think of it as going from a single-track road (2.4 GHz) to a three-lane highway (5 GHz) to a six-lane superhighway (6 GHz). The analogy works for coverage too. Higher frequencies have a tougher time penetrating solid walls and floors, so the single track 2.4-GHz roads reach further than the 5-GHz highways, which reach further than the 6-GHz superhighways.

Rebranding Standards

Wi-Fi standards have traditionally been quite confusing. The Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) establishes Wi-Fi standards, and those standards are certified by the Wi-Fi Alliance, which currently has 866 member companies, including Apple, Facebook, Google, Intel, Microsoft, Qualcomm, Samsung, Sony, and many more.

The Wi-Fi Alliance realized (correctly) that a standard named IEEE 802.11ax might be easier to grasp if it was rebranded as Wi-Fi 6. This move retroactively makes the IEEE 802.11ac standard Wi-Fi 5, IEEE 802.11 becomes Wi-Fi 4, and so on. Each of these standards is an umbrella term for a range of new features and improvements.

To give one example, Wi-Fi 4 introduced MIMO (multiple-input, multiple-output) technology to allow for multiple simultaneous transmissions to and from a device. The second wave of Wi-Fi 5 products introduced MU-MIMO, (MU stands for multi-user), enabling multiple devices to connect simultaneously to send and receive data. Wi-Fi 6 improves MU-MIMO and introduces OFDMA (orthogonal frequency-division multiple access) enabling a single transmission to deliver data to multiple devices at once.

How to Use SharePlay to Virtually Connect With Loved Ones

How to Use SharePlay to Virtually Connect With Loved Ones

If you can’t physically be near loved ones this year during the holidays—we are very much still in a pandemic, after all—one way to keep in touch is through video calls. Specifically, if your friends and family have iPhones, iPads, or MacBooks, Apple recently introduced a new feature called SharePlay that lets you do more than just catch up. 

During FaceTime calls, you can share your screen to show Grandma those engagement photos. SharePlay also lets you watch movies, listen to music, or browse through TikTok with friends and family even if you’re miles apart. It’s a powerful tool that makes it easier to host virtual listening or watch parties (Hawkeye, anyone?). Here’s how to set it up and use it. 

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Update Your Apple Devices

SharePlay is a part of iOS 15.1, iPadOS 15.1, and MacOS Monterey 12.1. If you haven’t updated your Apple devices recently, you’ll have to do that first to use the new feature. To check your current version, head to Settings, General, About, and check the Software Version on your iPhone or iPad. If it says 15.1 or up, you’re set. On Macs, go to the Apple icon on the menu bar and click on About This Mac. If it says Version 12.1 or higher, you can already access SharePlay.

If your software is out of date, don’t fret. First, back up your devices. Our guide here outlines the process for iPhones and iPads. For Macs, open System Preferences after hovering over the Apple icon, click on Apple ID, and select iCloud Drive. Make sure everything you want to back up is checked off. Next, on your iPhone or iPad, go to Settings, General, Software Update, and follow the steps to install the latest iOS or iPadOS version. On Macs, go to System Preferences, Software Update, and click on Update Now

Now that your devices are on the latest versions, you’re ready to use SharePlay.

What Is SharePlay?

SharePlay is a function built into Apple’s FaceTime video calling app. It’s enabled by default, but you can make sure it’s toggled on by heading to Settings, FaceTime, SharePlay on iPhones and iPads. On Macs, open FaceTime, head to the Menu bar, click on FaceTime, Preferences, and SharePlay.

SharePlay lets you share your screen during FaceTime calls, peruse photos in Apple’s Photos app, watch a movie or show in real-time with synced playback and shared controls, listen to a new album together, or even work out simultaneously. All of Apple’s apps support the feature, but third-party apps will need to support it individually. You can find a curated list of such apps in the App Store (just search SharePlay and look for the Great Apps for iOS 15’s SharePlay collection), but it’s a good idea to tap on your user icon in the top right of the App Store and hit Update All to make sure your apps are on the latest versions too. 

How to Use SharePlay 

iPhone displaying Ted Lasso TV show
Photograph: Apple

There is no button to press specifically to start SharePlay. Instead, SharePlay can only be accessed when you’re in a video call on FaceTime. 

How to Share Your Screen in FaceTime

To share your screen in a FaceTime call, tap the button on the far right of the video call controls and then tap Share My Screen. A timer will start, and when it hits zero, you can swipe up to go to the home screen and the folks on the other end of the call will be able to see your screen. You’ll be happy to know that they won’t be able to see any notifications that come through, and if you swipe down on the notification bar, it will pause the screen-share session. 

There’s a purple bubble on the top left of your status bar to indicate that you’re currently sharing your screen. Tap on this and you can find the controls to the video call again to stop sharing your screen.

How to Watch Movies, Listen to Music, and Use SharePlay Apps

If you want to watch something or stream music with friends or family during a FaceTime call, you’ll first need to make sure they have the app. Some apps will require all parties to be a subscriber, but others may allow for a set amount of free SharePlay sessions per month. If you try to start a SharePlay session but nothing happens for the person you’re video calling with, then there’s a good chance it’s because they don’t have the app installed. 

How exactly do you start a SharePlay session? If the app you’re using is supported, just open it during your video call and you’ll see a banner notification that says “Choose Content to Use SharePlay” or “Will SharePlay Automatically.” Tap on a movie you want to watch in Disney+, a song you want to listen to on Spotify, a workout you want to try in Fitness+, or just open TikTok to browse memes. The person you’re talking to will see an option to Join SharePlay. Tell ’em to tap it. 

The Best Desktop Gaming PCs We’ve Played With

The Best Desktop Gaming PCs We’ve Played With

Consoles like the Nintendo Switch or PlayStation 5 may be great for gaming, but they’re hard to come by. Fortunately, a good old fashioned gaming PC is always an option. If you want to get access to the massive library of games on stores like Steam and Epic, we’ve got some of the best gaming PCs collected here.

Since gaming desktops can be upgraded more frequently than consoles, they can deliver high-fidelity visuals unrivaled by most other systems. Paired with the right peripherals—a quick and responsive mouse, a mechanical keyboard, and a good headset—a gaming PC can quickly become the place you spend most of your free time.

Choosing a gaming desktop can be incredibly complex, though. There are several specs and factors to consider, including specs, what kinds of games you’re going to play, and how many thousand RGB lights you want on it. Building your own PC is also a great option if you want to make it yourself and upgrade it over time, but for everyone else, these are the best gaming desktops we’ve tested at WIRED.

Updated November 2021: We’ve removed the HP Omen and Dell G5 desktops because those models have been discontinued. We also added the NZXT BLD custom build system.

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