How We Tested
I’m Richard Baguley, and I have been testing and breaking technology for over 20 years. In that time I have tested everything from automatic coffee makers to wearable computers. Until 2012, I was the VP of Editorial Development at Reviewed.com, where I created the testing protocols that are still used for products such as TVs, dishwashers, coffee makers and refrigerators.
The purpose of a Wi-Fi extender is to extend the coverage of a Wi-Fi network by retransmitting its signal.
During testing, we used each extender to boost the signal of a number of routers, one at a time.
On their own, the Wi-Fi signal from each of our test routers was never quite capable of reaching my backyard deck, or the second floor of my home, because of distance, intervening walls, and floors. So, we installed each of the extenders as the manufacturers recommended between the router and the test location, using included software tools (when available), to determine the location that best boosted the signal.
Once set up, we tested how well each extender worked by measuring the speed of the network using iPerf, and streaming a 4K video while counting the number of times the video stuttered or stalled because it didn’t have enough bandwidth.
What You Should Know About Wi-Fi Extenders
What’s a Wi-Fi Extender?
The further you are from the router, the weaker the signal is. Eventually, it becomes too weak to pick out from background noise. A Wi-Fi extender is a piece of hardware designed to receive the signal from your router and rebroadcast it, extending the distance the signal can be received.
Mesh Wi-Fi or a Wi-Fi Extender: Which Should I Buy?
We recently reviewed Mesh Wi-Fi systems, which replaces a single router with several devices that connect together to form a mesh of Wi-Fi access points that your devices can switch between, seamlessly. These are different from Wi-Fi extenders, which just extend the range of your router. So, how do you decide which you need? Consider your existing Wi-Fi router and setup:
- If you are happy with how fast it is and there is just one spot that it doesn’t cover well, you need a Wi-Fi extender.
- If your Wi-Fi is slow, doesn’t cover much of your home, or stops working when the kids are online, you should get a mesh Wi-Fi system that can handle more users.
Why You Should Match Your Routers and Extenders
It is also important to match the speed of your Wi-Fi extender with the speed of your main Wi-Fi router because a mismatch here will lead to either a slower network or wasted money. To show why this is important, we compared the fastest extender in our tests, the Linksys RE9000 with the slowest, the TP-Link RE220.
Both were tested with the same wireless router, a Linksys WRT1900ACS that is capable of speeds of over 200 megabits per second. Under the same test conditions, we measured the speed at which each extender could carry data. With the RE220, the speed was about 30 Megabits per second. With the Linksys, that speed increased to over 200 Megabits per second. In other words, the Linksys extender was about six times faster than the TP-Link RE220. That doesn’t just mean that a single device would be faster with the Linksys extender; it also means that more devices could connect to the Linksys extender at one time and still get a speedy connection.
Another advantage of getting the same brand of the extender as the router you own is that you might be able to keep the same Wi-Fi network name. If you use a Wi-Fi router and extender from different manufacturers, you will have two different Wi-Fi networks, called something like FRED and FRED_EXT, where the latter is the one created by the Wi-Fi extender. To use the extender network, you would have to manually switch between them.
If both the router and extender are from the same manufacturer, however, they can often share the same Wi-Fi network name, and your device should switch between them automatically. That is a manufacturer-specific feature, though: TP-Link devices call this feature OneMesh, while D-Link and Linksys devices call it Mesh Smart Roaming.
Terms to Know
AC750, AC1200, AC1950, etc: Most modern routers use a Wi-Fi standard called 802.11ac. The numbers after the letters in 802.11ac indicate the total theoretical speed that the router can send data at (called the bandwidth). An AC750 router, for example, can send data at up to 750 megabits per second, while an AC3200 one can manage 3200 megabits per second. These numbers can be confusing, though, as you will never actually manage to achieve these speeds. For one thing, they combine the speeds of all of the Wi-Fi bands that the router can use, while a device like an iPad or laptop, can only connect to one Wi-Fi band at a time. Additionally, the speed you will get in practice is even lower, because other signals, noise, and the distance between the router and device will affect the speed.
Wi-Fi 6: Released in 2019 and also known by the technical name 802.11ax, this new standard increases both the amount of data that can be sent over a Wi-Fi network and the number of devices that can join a network. The speed is increased to a theoretical maximum of 11 megabits per second from the 3.5 of the older 802.11ac standard that most modern devices use. More devices can also be connected to Wi-Fi 6 hardware, which makes managing mesh networks that include large numbers of devices easier.
Dual and Tri-Band: All of the Wi-Fi extenders that we tested for this guide are dual-band, meaning that they support two signal bands in the 2.4Ghz and 5.8GHz signal band. Some of them, including the Netgear EX6110, are tri-band, meaning that they also support an additional signal band in the upper 5GHz range. That said, most Wi-Fi devices can only use the 2.4 and 5.8 GHz bands, while the additional 5GHz signal is used by the mesh routers to talk to each other. As such, they can share data without using up the valuable signal space that they use to talk to your devices.
MIMO: Multiple In, Multiple Out. Modern routers use multiple antennas that can send and receive multiple signals at the same time. By synchronizing these signals, they can increase the amount of data that can be sent. The amount of antennas and signals that can be sent and received at once is usually described by two numbers, which indicate how many of these synchronized signals they can send and receive. The Eero Pro, for instance, uses 2×2 MIMO, so it can send and receive 2 signals at once. The latest Wi-Fi 6 routers expand this further with MU-MIMO (Multi-User Multi-In Multi-Out), which allows multiple users to use this technique at the same time.
Other Wi-Fi Extenders We Tested
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Checking our work.
We use standardized and scientific testing methods to scrutinize every product and provide you with objectively accurate results. If you’ve found different results in your own research, email us and we’ll compare notes. If it looks substantial, we’ll gladly re-test a product to try and reproduce these results. After all, peer reviews are a critical part of any scientific process.