In a perfect world, your Wi-Fi network would just work, and you’d never have to believe it. But Wi-Fi wasn’t made in a very perfect world. If your standalone Wi-Fi router does a decent job in most parts of your home but your laptop or phone regularly drops the connection in one area, a decent Wi-Fi extender is that the quickest, cheapest fix. After over 30 hours of research and testing, we found that the cheap TP-Link RE220 Wi-Fi Booster will make your network noticeably more reliable in a small area.
No inexpensive Wi-Fi extender will improve the speeds of an outdated router or cover multiple dead spots in your home. If you’ve got an honest router and tons of areas to enhance, we recommend the Netgear EX7700 Wi-Fi Booster below. If your router is quite a couple of years old, you’ll be happier skipping the extender and replacing your network complete with a mesh Wi-Fi kit.
The TP-Link RE220 Wi-Fi Booster may be a dirt-cheap, dual-band Wi-Fi extender that improved the Wi-Fi quality and connection reliability of our standalone router in testing. Plus, it’s easy to line up, it isn’t too bulky, and it’s an Ethernet port for connecting wired devices. At a typical price of $25, it’s an easy fix that costs plenty but a serious hardware upgrade. If you’ve got a compatible TP-Link router, you’ll use the RE220’s OneMesh feature—when we tried it out, it was easy to use and improved performance even more with the TP-Link Archer A7 router. The RE220 isn’t a panacea, because it improves reliability at the value of a drop in speed, but it’s a quick fix for dropped Wi-Fi connections in a very small a part of your home.
The TP-Link RE300 Wi-Fi Booster is larger and costlier than the RE220, but it offers slightly more reliable Wi-Fi coverage, with zero dropouts in our testing. It’s also a good choice if the RE220 is out of stock. It lacks an Ethernet port for connecting devices (such as desktop PCs or gaming consoles) to enhance performance, so it’s strictly wireless-only. But the RE300 has a similar OneMesh feature which will make it easier to set up and manage if you’ve got a compatible TP-Link router.
If you’ve got a decent router that’s only one or two years old and you need faster or more reliable Wi-Fi in a part bigger than simply one room, the costlier Netgear Nighthawk X6 EX7700 Wi-Fi Booster is a more sensible choice than the simple TP-Link extenders. It extends your existing network under a similar name, improves both reliability and speed in dead zones, and covers a bigger area than standard extenders. Though a brand new mesh kit with an identical router and extender may perform a bit better, going with the EX7700 generally costs $100 less than ranging from scratch with our favorite budget mesh-networking pick.
Another way to simply expand your Wi-Fi network is to use a powerline networking kit, which uses your home’s electrical wiring to transmit data from one extender to the other. Such kits are often more reliable than Wi-Fi-only extenders, but they’re also heavily dependent on the age, quality, and complexity of your home’s electrical wires. you’ll read more in our full guide to powerline networking kits.
Expand your Wi-Fi using wires you already have in your home
How we picked the best Wi-Fi booster
We looked at a wide range of extenders or Wi-Fi Booster priced between $25 and $150. We didn’t test any of the more-expensive extenders (up to $300) because at that point you should definitely buy a mesh kit. In considering models for this guide, we wanted each device to have the following:
- 802.11ac support: Older, slower 802.11n extenders won’t cut it, even if they’re dual-band.
- Performance: The extender must improve coverage and connectivity compared with the router alone—otherwise you’re just adding another device that sits on your network. Our testing takes into account the change in network performance when you’re adding an extender to a busy network, measuring both throughput (speed) and latency (the wait before page loads).
- Ethernet ports are handy for wired connections to entertainment devices.
- Mesh compatibility: Whether the mesh-networking features are compatible only with routers from the same manufacturer (TP-Link, Asus) or with all routers (Netgear), they can simplify setup and ensure that your devices are connected to the router or extender with the stronger signal, improving the stability of your network.
- Price: We didn’t consider anything over $150, and we gave special attention to extenders that cost $50 or less. The cost of the extender plus a good router requires to be less than that of a mesh kit.
Once we came up with a preliminary list of all the pure Wi-Fi and mesh-capable extenders offered by major vendors in our three price categories, we narrowed them down by looking at Amazon customer reviews and previous professional reviews from sites such as CNET and SmallNetBuilder. This move gave us a half-dozen devices from Asus, Netgear, and TP-Link
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How we tested Wi-Fi signal extenders
Instead of just testing for the maximum throughput from a single laptop, we used six laptops, spaced around our New York test facility, to simulate the real-world activity of a busy home network. The cellar of our office building has the luxury of space, as well as a mix of Wi-Fi challenges: masonry walls and drywall construction, open spaces, glass windows, and metal-framed doors. We used a TP-Link Archer A7 (our budget router pick at the time of our testing) as the baseline for our tests; it’s an excellent router in a small space such as a townhome or apartment, but its signals are stretched a little thin in our test space.
Because these tests simulated real-world traffic, they did a better job of modeling everyday performance compared with a tool like iPerf, an artificial testing tool that moves data from one machine to another as fast as possible. We did comparable testing for the latest version of our guide to Wi-Fi mesh networks.
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Our pick: TP-Link RE220 Wi-Fi range extender
TP-Link’s RE220 isn’t the fastest Wi-Fi extender on paper, but it boasts two advantages over its competitors: It measurably improved the performance of the Archer A7 base router in our tests, and it’s dirt cheap. It also offers a compact size, plugs directly into a power outlet, and has a 100 Mbps wired Ethernet port for nearby devices. The next best option to improve your existing Wi-Fi router’s performance—our powerline networking pick or our upgrade Wi-Fi extender pick—is faster and maintain more stable connections than the RE220, but either one costs roughly five times as much for a relatively small improvement in most homes.
The TP-Link RE220 measurably improved the performance of our network, particularly when it came to keeping six laptops connected and satisfactorily serving simulated video streams and websites. Without an extender, our router dropped connections nearly a dozen times during our tests, but the RE220 cut those drops to a rare few. The TP-Link RE300 and Netgear EX7700 never dropped their connections, but they didn’t offer enough of an improvement over the RE220 to justify their higher prices for most people. Network drops—such as when you add more devices like streaming media boxes to your network, and a phone or laptop subsequently drops off the Wi-Fi, with a reboot being the only “fix”—are probably the most frustrating Wi-Fi problem.
Even though most people think about making their Wi-Fi faster by increasing the throughput (or speed, generally measured in megabits per second, or Mbps), reducing latency is often more important. Latency (measured in milliseconds, or ms) is the delay you experience while you wait for something such as a Web page to start loading. When we compared the worst-case performance (that is, when you’re likely to be most annoyed at the wait) of the extenders we tested, the RE220 reduced latency by several seconds compared with what we saw while using only our test router. That’s enough of a difference to feel like a huge improvement in normal Web browsing. Even the best hardware we tested—including the Netgear EX7700—did only twice as well but generally for five times the cost.
Like most extenders, the RE220 has an onboard Ethernet port, though it’s only 100 Mbps instead of Gigabit (1,000 Mbps). Where possible, it’s a good idea to plug devices such as media streamers or game consoles into the RE220’s Ethernet port rather than having them use Wi-Fi—if you have more than one thing to plugin, you can use a cheap network switch to make them all fit.
If you’re already using a compatible TP-Link router like the Archer A7, enabling OneMesh on the RE220 improves connectivity even further. Unlike the normal extender mode, which rebroadcasts your Wi-Fi network on a second network name, OneMesh integrates the two devices like a mesh-networking system. All you have to do is enter the common network name (SSID) on your phone or device, and your phone or device will automatically connect to the extender or router and choose between the 2.4 and 5 GHz channels based on whichever connection is the most efficient as you roam around your home. Plus, you can manage settings and firmware updates for both devices using the same interface on the Archer A7. In our tests, performance was excellent with OneMesh activated, with no disconnects. Running the RE220 without OneMesh was a bit slower, with a couple of disconnected sessions, but on the whole Web browsing was more stable than on the Archer A7 alone.
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Flaws but not dealbreakers
As is generally the case with Wi-Fi extenders, adding the RE220 made Wi-Fi connections more reliable but slowed the speed a bit. Overall, though, the connection still felt more responsive and less frustrating than it did without the extender, so we think the increased stability is a good trade-off. If you have a compatible TP-Link router and enable OneMesh, the speed difference is less noticeable. But a mesh Wi-Fi kit or even our upgrade extender pick is a better choice if you want to maximize speeds.
You administer the RE220 (and other TP-Link extenders) through TP-Link’s Tether app or a Web interface. It’s easy to connect to if you have the manual—which informs you to browse to tplinkextender.net while connected to the extender—but if you forget that URL and want to reconfigure your extender a year or two down the road, you’ll have to hope your router offers a “Connected Devices” screen to help you figure out what IP address to find it on.
Once you’re connected, the Tether app or the RE220’s Web interface walks you through the process of attaching it to your base router’s Wi-Fi network. If you’re not using OneMesh, it offers you a chance to connect to the router on both the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands—though connecting just one band may be the better choice. You just need to choose carefully which band performs which task to relieve some of the load on the extender, because if you do so it will serve your devices with the other band and won’t be bouncing back and forth between the two bands. If you have older devices that can connect only on the 2.4 GHz band, for example, you should use the 5 GHz band for the communication between the extender and the router. If all your devices are on the newer side, in contrast, you can reserve the 2.4 GHz band for the connection back to the router and have the extender broadcast the 5 GHz band instead.
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Runner-up: TP-Link RE300 Wi-Fi range extender
If the RE220 is out of stock, or if you don’t mind spending a little more, the TP-Link RE300 Wi-Fi Booster offers nearly identical benefits. In our tests, it never dropped a connection on our Wi-Fi network extended over a similar area. The RE220 dropped just a few, but individual setups will vary, and since the RE300 is more expensive and lacks a built-in Ethernet port for wired connections, we still think the RE220 is the better choice most of the time. Both TP-Link Wi-Fi extenders are compact plug-in models, and both offer OneMesh support for even better performance if you have a compatible TP-Link router.
When we added the RE300 to our test Wi-Fi network, all six laptops had rock-solid connections throughout our test period, without a single drop. That result was a little better than what we saw from the RE220, which showed marked improvement in network stability but still dropped fewer than a handful of connections during our tests. Both models were noticeably better than the Archer A7 without extenders—alone, the router dropped connections time after time, in a way that would frustrate even the most patient Web surfers. Just like the RE220, the RE300 reduced latency—the time you’re waiting for Web pages to begin loading—by a significant amount, especially when our test network was at its most congested.
The setup process for the RE300 is identical to that of the TP-Link RE220, and using the TP-Link Tether app should make it easy enough for most people to have the extender up and running in under a half-hour. If you have a compatible TP-Link router, both the RE300 and the RE220 work in OneMesh mode, giving you the benefits of mesh networking such as a single network name and improved performance. However, in OneMesh mode the RE220 actually proved a little more reliable than the RE300, so this is another reason we’d recommend the cheaper model for anyone with a compatible TP-Link router.
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Pricier but much more capable: Netgear EX7700 Wi-Fi range extender
The Netgear Nighthawk X6 EX7700 Wi-Fi Booster costs several times as much as our other picks, but it’s worth the investment if you have larger dead spots in your home or if you want mesh features—such as a single network name—that can work with any router. Unlike the regular Wi-Fi extenders, which improved our test network’s reliability but gave up some speed, the EX7700 improved our Wi-Fi in every way. Because it adds mesh features without replacing your main router, it’s also the best option for problematic Wi-Fi if you have to use an ISP-provided router for TV functions. But if you’re thinking about buying the EX7700 as well as a new router, you’re better off just starting from scratch with a dedicated mesh-networking kit.
The EX7700 Wi-Fi Booster is typically five times more expensive than the RE220 or RE300, but in return the Netgear EX7700 outpaced both of those extenders in all of our testing. Whereas other extenders improved reliability in a small area at the cost of some speed, the EX7700 was able to improve the size, reliability, and speed of our network compared with using the Archer A7 router alone.
Paired with a good budget router, the EX7700 Wi-Fi Booster easily kept up with the performance of expensive Synology and D-Link Covr mesh kits we recommend. All six laptops reported above-average numbers on our tests, so even a whole family’s phones, tablets, and streaming boxes should have strong enough connections to keep everyone satisfied. Like our best mesh-networking kits, the EX7700 didn’t drop any connections during our tests. In contrast, our test router alone dropped the connection to our test laptops nearly a dozen times.
Even more than raw speed (in Mbps), high latency—basically just delays in the connection on your network—can cause slow browsing. Although cheap extenders like the TP-Link RE220 improved latency a noticeable amount in our tests, the EX7700 did an even better job, reducing latency by nearly 50 percent more than the RE220 when we compared worst case to worst case. And while the RE220—and the RE300—traded some speed in exchange for the better latency, the EX7700 improved both. We saw a 50 Mbps speed increase compared with the results of using our router alone; that kind of performance improves download times and helps reduce buffering times when you’re streaming audio or video.
The extra performance—and price—comes in part because the EX7700 is a tri-band extender, while the RE220 and RE330 are dual-band models. The Netgear has two 5 GHz channels rather than one, and that extra channel serves exclusively for communication between the extender and the router, freeing up the other 5 GHz channel and the 2.4 GHz channel to serve your laptops and other devices.
That said, we still recommend buying a purpose-built mesh-networking kit if you’re also replacing an old router, or if you know you’ll need to expand your network even farther in the future. For the same price as a router plus the EX7700 Wi-Fi Booster, a mesh-networking kit gives you even more value. Kits have a unified administration page or mobile app, which is a lot easier to manage than two separate ones (one for the extender and one for your standalone router). And because all the components of a mesh-network kit are designed to work together, they may be a bit better at juggling devices than a standalone router with an add-on extender. Also, finding and speaking with tech support for a dedicated mesh kit is more convenient. If you discover that the EX7700 and your existing router still can’t reach all parts of your home, it’s a less ideal option than an easily expandable mesh network from a manufacturer such as Synology or Eero.