Gaming laptops are traditionally full of compromises.
Linksys Max-Stream AC1900+ WiFi Range Extender RE7000 review
The WiFi extender we’ve all been looking for. Almost.
- Significantly boosts 5GHz WiFi
- Easy setup
- Combines WiFi network names into one
- Works best with high-performing top-end Linksys routers
- Expensive for other routers
It boosts 5GHz networks much more than 2.4GHz networks. We love the seamless combination of the extended WiFi network name into the primary network name but this only works on high-end Linksys routers. But it's an expensive option if you don't have an expensive Linksys router already, and if you do have one, do you really need this extender?
Price$ 200.00 (AUD)
Update: Check out Google WiFi, the new wireless mesh node system.
[Note: This is part of a big, ongoing WiFi test where we look at the latest MU-MIMO routers and see how much difference they really make. There have been many, many (so very many) tests performed along the way.]
Many people hate their WiFi and usually because it’s due to range issues. The main ways of increasing range are to buy an expensive new router, use a powerline adapter or buy a WiFi range extender. Expensive new routers are, well, expensive. But, as we’ve verified in extensive testing over the past few days, even they only go so far. Powerline adapters can be a godsend as they literally use the copper power lines that connect the plug sockets in your home to extend your network. However, performance varies dramatically depending on the state of your home’s wiring and you won’t find out how usable this technology is until you switch it on. You also may need another wireless router (and therefore a second wireless network) to plug into the second powerline adapter as many are wired only. There are powerline adapters with wireless extenders built in but we find the wired-only ones work best.
In theory a WiFi extender is the easiest solution as it simply plugs into a plug socket (ideally half way between your router and the dead space) and extends the reach of your network. However, in reality it sets up another separate network. While your devices theoretically will automatically connect to the strongest signal, in reality you’ll find that they don’t unless you’re the other side of the house. Anywhere in-between you’ll find yourself connected to either the main network or the extended network and too often one of them can be quite weak. It’s a kerfuffle.
A wild solution appears
But now, Linksys has fixed this problem. Almost.
If you have a new Linksys router and an AC1900+ WiFi Range Extender, clever software makes both the main network and the extended network appear as one. The caveat here is that it only does this for the 2.4GHz band and not the 5GHz band (which still appears as a separate, extended network). Still, it represents a leap ahead of the competition.
Setting up the Extender is generally easy. These days, the WPS button is your best bet as most routers have them (and these days they actually work). This had us up and running quickly although only on the 2.4GHz band.
Connecting to the Extender to set it up either semi-automatically or manually is relatively simple – you just connect to its wireless network and follow the Quick Start Guide. Next you enter extender.linksys.com in your browser to go through to the settings where you can follow a wizard or set things up manually. If everything goes wrong just hit the reset button and try again.
The Basic settings are straight forward – letting you change the name and password of each band's wireless network. There’s also a Spot Finder setting which helps you locate the best location to set the Extender up. Advanced settings let you adjust security settings, channels and access control as well as delivering usage statistics.
Testing was performed in a three-storey, Sydney townhouse. On the ground floor was our new Linksys Max-Stream EA9500 wireless router which was connected via Ethernet cable to our Alienware Alpha test PC. We then performed three sets of speed tests: next to the router, in a bedroom one floor up and finally two floors up in a second bedroom.
Because both the router and Extender support MU-MIMO technology (Multiple User-Multiple In Multiple Out) which ensures that top speeds are possible even when something slow is on the network (usually networks adjust performance to match the slowest thing on it) we performed tests with both an empty network and also when the network had other traffic – in our case we had an old iPad 2 playing V for Vendetta on Netflix (by the router) and Tinkerbell and The Lost Treasure on Netflix on an Xbox One upstairs in the second bedroom. When we tested with the extender, it was placed on the landing, one floor up from the router (and one floor beneath the second bedroom), near the door to the first bedroom where we performed the tests.
We then transferred a 2GB movie file across the (loaded and unloaded) network using both 2.4GHz and 5GHz WiFi bands. We did this using both the native WiFi adapter in our Surface Pro 3 and also a Linksys MU-MIMO WiFi dongle attached to it. All computers were running Windows 10.
Note, all speeds are in MegaBytes per second (these are easier to visualise than the traditional Megabits per second used in network speeds).
Next to the router (and without the extender), our SP3 could transfer the file at 9.2MB/s on the 2.4GHz band and at 37MB/s on 5GHz.
When using the Linksys MU-MIMO dongle we actually found these speeds dropped when up close – down to 6MB/s and 28MB/s respectively (we’ll cover MU-MIMO performance in a forthcoming article).
Bedroom 1 – One floor up
SP3 – 8MB/s (2.4GHz) and 5.5MB/s (5GHz)
SP3 with Extender 8MB/s (2.4GHz) and 12.5MB/s (5GHz)
Linksys MU-MIMO dongle – 4.8MB/s (2.4GHz) and 10MB/s (5GHz)
Linksys MU-MIMO dongle with Extender – 4.5MB/s (2.4GHz) and 12MB/s (5GHz)
So one floor up on the 2.4GHz band we didn’t really see much of change in performance with the Extender whatever the configuration – all speed drops were within 1.5MB/s of each other.
However, on the 5GHz band, the improvement was more pronounced. Instead of dropping from 37MB/s to 5.5MB/s it only dropped to 12.5MB/s when using our SP3 and the Extender. However, with the MU-MIMO dongle the speed drop went from 28MB/s to 12MB/s (instead of 10MB/s) when the Extender was used.
This makes sense as we expect the 5GHz band to be faster but drop away quicker than the 2.4GHz band.
Bedroom 2 – Two floors up
SP3 – 7.8MB/s (2.4GHz) and 1.5MB/s (5GHz)
SP3 with Extender 7.5MB/s (2.4GHz) and 5MB/s (5GHz)
Linksys MU-MIMO dongle – 4.6MB/s (2.4GHz) and 4.2MB/s (5GHz)
Linksys MU-MIMO dongle with Extender – 5MB/s (2.4GHz) and 9MB/s (5GHz)
On the 2.4GHz network there was little difference across the board (again). However, the 5GHz results were, once again, more pronounced. First off, our top-floor Xbox couldn’t stream Netflix at all on the 5GHz band when there was no Extender. It could when connected to the Extender’s 5GHz network.
The Extender boosted our SP3 5GHz transfer speed from 1.5MB/s to 5MB/s and, when using the Linksys dongle, speed jumped from 4.2MB/s to 9MB/s.
Linksys recommends putting the Extender midway between the router and the blackspot. But in the spirit of First World Anarchy, we refused to comply with this and instead placed the Extender on the top floor leaving a gap in coverage on the middle floor.
We only used the SP3’s own WiFi for this (not the dongle). In bedroom one (now sandwiched between the router below and the Extender on the floor above), on the 2.4GHz band we saw speeds of 2.6MB/s. In bedroom two, next to the XBox and the Extender itself, this increased to just 3.4MB/s. On the 5GHz band we saw speeds of 6MB/s in both bedroom 1 and bedroom 2. While some of these speeds are faster, it should be noted that all of these tests saw pronounced fluctuations in transfer rates as testing occurred. It does nonetheless illustrate that it’s worth playing around with the location of your Extender to see if it makes a pronounced and consistent difference where you set it up.
We also tested the Extender with an older D-Link router (which isn't MU-MIMO compatible). With this, all test results spanned between 1.5MB/s and 3MB/s transfer rates. The Extender definitely works better with the Linksys router.
The Extender also has a Gigabit Ethernet port which we also tested.
Our main PC sits on the top floor with the XBox. It’s connected to the router downstairs via a D-Link DHP-700AV powerline adapter. We used this to transfer our test file and saw speeds of 14.5MB/s. When we swapped in the Linksys Extender and used its Ethernet connection, while we couldn’t be sure which network band (2.4GHz or 5GHz) it connected to, we saw a speed of 4MB/s. So powerline won in this scenario.
When it comes to connecting things wirelessly, high-performance users (mainly gamers) will worry about ping. This is how quick a computer is at responding to what’s happening on the internet. Few people will notice a difference of a couple of milliseconds in normal applications (including video calls), but to gamers it’s literally the difference between virtual life and death.
From bedroom one we tested ping using Speedtest.net and the SP3’s own WiFi. On the 2.4GHz band we experienced (our usual) 10-11ms pings. When using the extender this fluctuated between 10-12ms. On the 5GHz band we saw a consistent 11ms ping when connected to the router but with the Extender this consistently became 12ms.
When using our PC on the top floor we saw consistent ping times of 10ms when using a wired Ethernet connection – both over powerlines and the Extender’s WiFi.
So it’s fair to say that when connecting to the Extender wirelessly, we saw a difference of 0-2ms ping.
As we saw in the main group test, we’re yet to see huge benefits from MU-MIMO in the real world. Nonetheless, this extender did prove its worth to some extent.
On the one hand, you need one of Linksys’ top Max-Stream WiFi routers to get the best out of it but these routers don’t leave many blackspots in the first place!
We didn’t see too many benefits with the main 2.4GHz band although it was nice having the one WiFi network on display instead of a separate Extender network - it's a shame this only works with compatible Linksys routers. Where the Extender came into its own was with the 5GHz band – suddenly our XBox could connect to the internet and speeds were noticeably improved.
But it’s not an unqualified success. Our powerline adapter was faster for connecting our PC at the other end of the house. If you have a router that isn’t a top-end Linksys model, there are far cheaper options available that do much the same thing, albeit without combining the name of your WiFi network.
So while this is the best WiFi range extender we’ve seen, it’s more of a luxury product to complement a product that’s already decent than a must buy for everyone with poor WiFi.
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