If you own a two-story condo or sprawling ranch house, you’ve likely experienced dead zones. Dead zones are those areas of the home where the internet goes to curl up and die. You know you’re in one when the connection slows to speeds akin to dial-up and your streaming video lurches from frame to frame. On the whole, this is a highly unpleasant and frustrating experience.

The good news is that it doesn’t have to be this way: the solution to poor connectivity and speed rests in Wi-Fi extenders, which are sometimes called “boosters” or “repeaters.” They either amplify the Wi-Fi signal or disperse it throughout the home. Because extenders coordinate with your router’s Wi-Fi, they tend to be categorized by Wi-Fi protocols, either the standard 802.11n or the newer 802.11ac.

We recommend paying careful attention to the protocol—purchasing an extender using 802.11ac won’t do any good if your router is based on 802.11n. When it comes to purchasing routers and extenders, compatibility trumps any other rules and guidelines.

Our Top 3 Wi-Fi AC Extenders

Purchase one of these extenders if your router uses the 802.11ac protocol.

Standard Frequency Ports Antenna Stars Price
D-Link Wireless Range Extender AC2600 2.4, 5 GHz 1 4 3.9 $147.99
NETGEAR Nighthawk Wi-Fi Range Extender AC1900 5.8 GHz 5 3 4.2 $120.71
Linksys RE6500 Wi-Fi Range Extender AC1200 2.4, 5 GHz 4 2 4 $99.99

Data effective as of 2/10/16

Our Top 3 Wi-Fi N Extenders

Purchase a Wi-Fi 802.11n extender if you’re using a Wi-Fi 802.11n router. If your router relies on an earlier standard, you will want to replace it prior to buying an extender. To select a quality Wi-Fi router, check out our guide.

Standard Frequency Ports Antenna Stars Price
Amped Wireless High Power Smart Repeater N300 2.4 GHz 5 2 3.8 $69.62
D-Link Wireless Range Extender N300 2.4 GHz 1 2 3.9 $59.99
NETGEAR Wall Plug Wi-Fi Range Extender N300 2.4 GHz 1 2 4 $39.99

Data effective as of 2/10/16


All Your Wi-Fi Extender Questions Answered

 

What Is a Wi-Fi Extender?

A Wi-Fi extender supplements your existing router by extending the Wi-Fi connection throughout the home, increasing connectivity, reliability, speed, and overall performance. With one or more extenders installed, dead zones disappear.

How Does a Wi-Fi Extender Work?

A Wi-Fi extender works in conjunction with your existing router, essentially piggy-backing on the signal. It takes that signal and either transmits it further or creates a secondary access point. Depending on your home and connectivity desires, you may want to purchase more than one extender. For example, if you want to extend wireless coverage to the backyard and the basement, you would likely need at least two extenders.

Do I Have to Buy a Wi-Fi Extender?

You don’t have to buy a Wi-Fi extender—you get to buy one. The extender enhances signal strength and range, making it a recommended and desirable purchase, but not a necessary one. In short, it’s a privilege rather than an obligation. For more information on why you might not need an extender, read the section below about the differences between boosters, repeaters, and extenders.

What Are the Pros and Cons of Wi-Fi Extenders?

It seems like an extender would only come with pros, but it does claim some cons. One of these cons is interference. If the extender is too close to the router, it could cause a signal overlap, producing interruptions that lead to poor performance.

The pro is obvious: coverage. An extender will improve your device’s connection to the internet. But be careful—most extenders run wirelessly, so they are essentially additional devices attached to the network, meaning they pull power and speed from it just as a laptop and tablet do.

To overcome slow speeds, place the extenders strategically and perhaps pair them with a dedicated device like a TV or gaming system. Hardwiring the extender and device should reduce the network load and increase speed and reliability.

What’s the Difference Between an Extender, Booster, and Repeater?

Wi-Fi extenders and repeaters increase wireless coverage by repeating the internet signal throughout the home and, in some setups, the backyard. A booster, by contrast, usually attaches to an existing modem, router, or other device to increase signal strength. If you own a small home or rent an apartment, a booster may serve you better than an extender.

What Should I Consider When Choosing a Wi-Fi Extender?

Several features hold court as must-haves when it comes to Wi-Fi extenders: compatibility, frequency, Ethernet ports, single- or dual-band, and ease of use.

Compatibility
As noted earlier, compatibility should be your primary concern. A Wi-Fi extender can work wonders in your home, but only if it’s compatible with the router. If it helps, think of the two devices as pets: the one won’t like the other crowding its turf unless it plays by the same protocols (802.11ac or 802.11n).

Frequency
Routers and extenders either rely on the standard 2.4 GHz or have upgraded to 5 GHz. Since the 5 GHz frequency is relatively new, it’s less congested and less prone to signal interference. If you purchase a router that relies on the newer frequency, you should buy a matching extender. Newer routers often feature additional technologies like MU-MIMO or beamforming to facilitate high speeds at longer ranges.

Ports
Ethernet ports assist with reaching top speeds. By hardwiring some devices into them, you decrease the number of items demanding power from your Wi-Fi network. Most extenders feature at least one Ethernet port, but some include as many as five.

Bands
Routers and extenders are either single- or dual-band. Dual-band tends to prove highly beneficial because it directs traffic flow, sending some devices to the 2.4 GHz band and others to the 5 GHz one. The dual-band technology can also help prevent signal interference.

Use
Lastly, you should consider ease of use. Some extenders will automatically connect and configure with the router once plugged into a power source. Others require you to press a button or to employ a setup wizard, often via a mobile app.

What Else Do I Need to Know about Wi-Fi Extenders?

Besides the must-haves, you should also think about security and aesthetics. Only purchase devices that enable strong, private, and secure home networks. To that end, examine the security protocols and make sure they use the latest Wi-Fi Protected Access version (WPA2-PSK (AES)).

Extender aesthetics vary widely. Some look like power adapters and are plug and play; others seem to materialize out of a Star Trek episode and feature numerous antennas, ports, and a host of other bells and whistles.

Finally, the extender market continues to grow, meaning manufacturers will continue to add feature sets. If you seek an extender that improves your streaming capabilities, there is likely one available or soon-to-be available for that.


 

Top 3 Wi-Fi 802.11ac Extenders

If you own or plan to buy an 802.11ac router, you should complement it with an 802.11ac extender. It will ensure the best performance, reliability, and range. These three extenders are some of the best.

 

1. D-Link Wireless Range Extender

Best Overall

3.9 Stars (3.9 / 5)

See on Amazon

You spend a bit more upfront on the D-Link Wireless Range Extender, but the price offers long-term rewards like “ultra-fast 11ac Wi-Fi coverage.” The broader coverage and higher speeds allow for things like simultaneous online gaming and video streaming.

Protocol: 802.11ac
Standard: AC2600
Frequency: 2.4 GHz, 5 GHz (dual-band)
Ports: 1
Antennas: 4
Other features: This particular extender employs MU-MIMO, the acronym for “multi-user, multiple input, multiple output.” It allows for concurrent activities across a large number of devices.

2. NETGEAR Nighthawk Wi-Fi Range Extender

Most Powerful

4.2 Stars (4.2 / 5)

See on Amazon

The Nighthawk provides options: you can choose to extend existing Wi-Fi, set up a new AC Wi-Fi access point, or combine the previous two modes to create a dedicated “FastLane” for HD streaming and gaming.

Protocol: 802.11ac
Standard: AC1900
Frequency: 5.8 GHz
Ports: 5
Antennas: 3
Other features: The NETGEAR 802.11ac extender delivers on promised performance with speeds up to 1.9 Gbps and 700 mW amplifiers. It also features a dual-core 1 GHz processor.

3. Linksys RE6500 Wi-Fi Range Extender

Best Value

4 Stars (4 / 5)

See on Amazon

With this extender, you can plug into four Ethernet ports, including a USB 3.0 port. You can even plug in an external storage device to the eSATA port, which doubles as a USB 2.0 port.

Protocol: 802.11ac
Standard: AC1200
Frequency: 2.4 GHz, 5 GHz (dual-band)
Ports: 4
Antennas: 2
Other features: In addition to relying on the newer Wi-Fi protocol and dual-band frequencies, the Linksys extender employs beamforming technology.

Top 3 Wi-Fi 802.11n Extenders

To see the best speeds and connectivity, a wireless 802.11n router should be paired with a compatible extender or repeaters. The following three products rank well on Amazon and cost less than $100 each.

1. Amped Wireless High Power Smart Repeater

Best Overall

3.8 Stars (3.8 / 5)

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You’ll never let appearances deceive you again. This deceptively small extender features five ports, making it a smart solution in a home boasting a bevy of TVs, DVRs, and gaming systems.

Protocol: 802.11n
Standard: N300
Frequency: 2.4 GHz
Ports: 5
Antennas: 2
Other features: Besides the five ports, the Amped Wi-Fi extender features dual 600 mW amplifiers and two detachable 5dBi antennas.

2. D-Link Wireless Range Extender

Best Value

3.9 Stars (3.9 / 5)

See on Amazon

The D-Link offers backward compatibility, extending the lifetime of current routers and devices. It can also be used to extend an existing Wi-Fi connection or to create a new access point.

Protocol: 802.11n
Standard: N300
Frequency: 2.4 GHz
Ports: 1
Antennas: 2
Other features: You can opt to set up the extender with a simple push of a button or through the mobile app.

3. NETGEAR Wall Plug Wi-Fi Range Extender

Best for Ease of Use

4 Stars (4 / 5)

See on Amazon

Budget-friendly and easy to use, the NETGEAR Wall Plug Wi-Fi Range Extender may be the device you’ve been looking for.

Protocol: 802.11n
Standard: N300
Frequency: 2.4 GHz
Ports: 1
Antennas: 2
Other features: This extender uses LED indicator lights to show you where to plug it in to provide optimal Wi-Fi coverage for the home.


 

Start ramping up your home’s wireless network by checking out some of the extenders listed here. Not only will they make dead zones a thing of the past, but they’ll also improve reliability, speed, and coverage, giving you an all-around better user experience that you’ll be grateful for every day.

Also See:

How to Get Wireless Internet in Every Room of Your Home