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The best Wi-Fi range extenders in 2021

Does your home Wi-Fi network need an extra room's worth of coverage? A range extender might be just what you need -- here's everything you need to know.

Whether you're working from home, getting your kids through remote learning, or trying to keep up with friends and family over video chats, the chances are good that you're relying on your home's internet connection more than ever before. If your workspace is a little too far from your router, you've probably learned the hard way that dead zones where you just can't connect are a real pain. 

Fortunately, a good Wi-Fi range extender can help -- and you've got plenty of options to choose from, including ones that support Wi-Fi 6, the newest and fastest generation of Wi-Fi. 

Wi-Fi range extenders give your network a boost by receiving the wireless signal from your router and rebroadcasting it out farther into your home. They're easy to set up, too -- just pick a good spot, plug it in and press the WPS button to sync it with your main router. In most cases, your wireless range extender doesn't even need to be the same brand as your router in order to work. 

Don't start thinking these things are interchangeable, though. Over the past year, I've tested 10 different range extenders here at my home in Louisville, Kentucky, and performance definitely varies. I've focused on plug-in range extenders because those are the most popular style. If you're thinking of spending more than $100 or so on a fancier, table-top extender, you should really be thinking about replacing your router, instead -- more on that towards the end of this post. 

In the end, I found three clear winners among the range extenders that outperformed the rest -- let's get right to them:

Ry Crist/CNET

Currently available for $80, the TP-Link RE505X is one of the most affordable Wi-Fi range extenders that includes support for Wi-Fi 6, which means it supports faster, more efficient speeds for current-gen devices with the latest Wi-Fi radios. There's a growing number of those on the market and in our homes, so for most of us, Wi-Fi 6 is worth prioritizing at this point.

The RE505X is about as consistent a performer as it gets, and powerful enough to offer average download speeds no lower than 140 megabits per second in any part of my home, where I have incoming fiber internet speeds of 300Mbps and a dead zone in the back where speeds typically plummet into single digits. Average upload speeds in that dead zone sat comfortably above 50Mbps, too, which is fast enough for HD video calls and anything that involves a lot of uploading. I didn't see any ping problems, either, as latency stayed low throughout my tests. All of that -- the fast download speeds, the sturdy upload speeds, the low latency -- held true regardless of whether I was running my tests on a shiny iPhone 12 Pro with full support for Wi-Fi 6 or on a dusty Dell laptop from 2015 with an aging Wi-Fi 5 radio.

Combine that with idiot-proof setup and a wide roster of additional features in the app, and you're looking at my overall top range extender pick for 2021. My only real criticism is that the RE505X creates its own, separate "EXT" version of your network rather than melding in for a unified experience (unless you're using a TP-Link Archer A7 router) -- but if that's a deal breaker, keep reading for a solid alternative.

Ry Crist/CNET

Let's say you want better range from your home internet connection, but you don't want to jump back and forth between your normal network and a range extender's "EXT" network. You want to keep everything unified to a single network that automatically routes your connection through the range extender when needed. Your best bet is just to upgrade to a mesh router, because that's exactly what mesh routers are designed to do.

That said, if you shop around, you'll find range extenders that make the same promise. It's a taller ask, since you'll often be connecting your range extender with an off-brand router from an entirely different manufacturer. Fortunately, there's a unified protocol called EasyMesh that's designed to help everything play nice.

Two of the range extenders I tested in 2021 support EasyMesh, and both of them were indeed able to blend right into my existing network and boost its speeds to my home's dead zone without needing to create a separate "EXT" network. Of the two of them, I prefer the less-expensive D-Link DAP-X1870. It boosted upload speeds in my back bathroom dead zone more than any other extender I tested, and it hit the fastest dead zone download speeds when I used a Wi-Fi 6 client device. Those speeds fell noticeably when I reran my tests using a Wi-Fi 5 client, but the performance was still solid.

Ry Crist/CNET

At $35, the TP-Link RE220 was the least expensive range extender during my first run of tests in 2020, but that didn't stop it from outperforming everything else I tested at every turn. It's fast, it's reliable, it works with just about every router out there, and it's easy to use. And, as of writing this, it costs even less than I paid for it -- down to just $27.

Plug it in and press the WPS button to pair it with your home network, and it'll begin broadcasting its own networks on the 2.4 and 5GHz bands. Both offered steady speeds throughout my home, including average download speeds on the 5GHz band of at least 75Mbps in every room I tested, along with strong upload speeds. The RE220 never once dropped my connection, and its speeds were consistent across multiple days of tests during both daytime and evening hours.

It's a little long in the tooth at this point, and it won't wow you with Wi-Fi 6 speeds, but the strong ease of use and the steady, dependable level of performance it offers means it's still an absolute steal at $27. It's a perfect choice if you want to boost the signal to a back room that sits beyond the router's reach, but you'd like to pay as little as possible to get the job done.

Read more about improving your home's Wi-Fi.

 

How I tested them

We're still working from home here in 2021, so for my second round of at-home range extender tests, I followed the same playbook as I did in 2020. In short, I ran lots and lots and lots of speed tests.

I started out by measuring the average internet speeds in five different parts of my home, a 1,300 square-foot shotgun-style house with an incoming AT&T fiber internet connection of 300Mbps. I started towards the front of the house in the living room, where the router sits, and worked my way back to my home's back bathroom -- a common dead zone whenever I'm running speed tests here. Even with an AX1500 Wi-Fi 6 router running my network traffic, speeds in that back bathroom dropped to averages of 15Mpbs for a Wi-Fi 5 client device (my six-year-old Dell laptop) and 50Mbps for a Wi-Fi 6 device (my six-month-old iPhone 12 Pro). Upload speeds are typically in the single digits, and sometimes the connection drops you outright.

Those baseline speeds are represented by the gray columns in the test results below. See how they drop off in that back bathroom?

Ry Crist/CNET

The top chart shows you the average speeds in each room when I ran my speed tests on a six-year-old laptop with an aging Wi-Fi 5 radio. For the bottom chart, I ran my speed tests on an iPhone 12 Pro with full support for Wi-Fi 6. All of the extenders boosted the back bathroom speeds for both of them, but some did a better job than others.

Ry Crist/CNET

If that back bathroom were, say, a back office, I'd be miserable -- but that presents a clear mission for my test extenders. Which one would provide the biggest, steadiest boost to internet speed in the back half of my home? 

To find out, I plugged each range extender in one at a time and paired them with my router, connected my laptop to their extension networks, and repeated my speed tests (and then again on the iPhone, with Wi-Fi 6 in play). I placed the extenders in the hall, halfway between the spots where I test in the hallway bathroom and the master bedroom, and close to the edge of where I'm able to hold a strong connection with the router. A good range extender should be able to receive a solid signal from the router at that distance, then beam its signal out farther than the wireless network could originally extend.

In the end, I ran a total of sixty speed tests for each extender, thirty to test its speeds to a Wi-Fi 5 client device and another thirty to test its speeds to a Wi-Fi 6 client device. With each test, I logged the client device's download speed, its upload speed and the latency of the connection, too.

Wi-Fi range extenders


TP-Link RE315 TP-Link RE505X TP-Link RE605X Netgear EAX15 D-Link DAP-X1870 Asus RP-AC51
Price $45 $80 $95 $100 $115 $50
Speed rating AC1200 AX1500 AX1800 AX1800 AX1800 AC750
Wi-Fi standard Wi-Fi 5 Wi-Fi 6 Wi-Fi 6 Wi-Fi 6 Wi-Fi 6 Wi-Fi 5
EasyMesh Support No No No Yes Yes No
Average download speed, Wi-Fi 5 device 122.49 168.38 177.12 133.62 141.11 139.58
Average download speed, Wi-Fi 6 device 119.27 198.67 195.40 242.10 218.47 151.72
Average upload speed, Wi-Fi 5 device 90.47 116.74 124.72 107.25 171.35 91.02
Average upload speed, Wi-Fi 6 device 86.26 129.65 147.73 168.50 159.37 96.77
Average latency 18.75 ms 19.10 ms 19.02 ms 19.32 ms 19.15 ms 26.35 ms
Average dead zone download speed, Wi-Fi 5 device (originally 15.80 Mbps) 102.44 143.88 140.56 62.47 78.09 114.68
Average dead zone download speed, Wi-Fi 6 device (originally 51.80 Mbps) 108.83 165.67 171.17 160.98 188.00 107.12
Average dead zone upload speed, Wi-Fi 5 device (originally 2.14 Mbps) 39.03 54.92 78.41 40.11 80.41 38.09
Average dead zone upload speed, Wi-Fi 6 device (originally 9.91 Mbps) 59.83 66.80 107.48 93.97 117.67 53.98

The 2021 results: Wi-Fi 6 wins out

All in all, I tested six new plug-in range extenders over the past month. TP-Link is the most notable brand of the bunch, as it makes and sells a wide variety of range extenders. It also produced CNET's pick of last year, the RE220. This year, the company has three new models up for sale, including two that support Wi-Fi 6 -- I made sure to test them all, along with range extenders from Asus, D-Link and Netgear.

The two that don't support Wi-Fi 6 -- the Asus RP-AC51 and the TP-Link RE315 -- both performed reasonably well. Speeds from each were more or less identical whether I was using my Wi-Fi 5 laptop or my Wi-Fi 6 iPhone, which makes sense given that the extenders were connecting to each of them using the same set of Wi-Fi 5 protocols. Fancier Wi-Fi 6 range extenders can use new tricks like OFDMA and 1024 QAM for faster transmissions to other Wi-Fi 6 devices.

Speaking of which, the other four extenders each include support for Wi-Fi 6, and each of them provided performance that was superior to the RP-AC51 and the RE315. Note that the Netgear EAX15 and the D-Link DAP-X1870 both support EasyMesh, so instead of speed testing their dedicated "EXT" network, I had to test my original network with the range extender automatically kicking in whenever I moved out of range. That's why Netgear's average speeds look so good in the living room (the orange columns in the graphs above) -- I was connecting directly through the router in the same room. 

These graphs show the latency results for all six range extenders across all of my tests -- Wi-Fi 5 on the left, Wi-Fi 6 on the right. A steady ring that's close to the center is ideal here, and most of the extenders nailed it, holding tight at 20ms or so. But the Asus RP-AC51 (red) saw lots of spikes in both rounds of tests, with the average latency landing closer to 30ms.

Ry Crist/CNET

Just be sure that you also note that those speeds weren't as good as what I would normally expect from that router in the living room (gray). In fact, the D-Link model essentially cut those normal living room speeds in half. EasyMesh is a useful feature, but you shouldn't expect perfect performance when two competing brands are forced to play nice.

Another red flag: Both the Netgear EAX15 and the D-Link DAP-X1870 at times underperformed with Wi-Fi 5 client devices, with dead zone download speeds that were slower on average than what I saw from the Wi-Fi 5 extenders. It's not a disqualifier, but it pushes TP-Link towards the top spot since both of its Wi-Fi 6 extenders had no such trouble boosting speeds for Wi-Fi 5 and Wi-Fi 6 devices. That said, D-Link redeemed itself with superb upload speeds -- the best among all six extenders in my back bathroom for both Wi-Fi 5 and Wi-Fi 6 devices, the best throughout my entire house for Wi-Fi 6 devices, and the second best throughout my house for Wi-Fi 5 devices.

In the end, I awarded the top spot to the TP-Link RE505X, because it costs a little less than the also-great RE605X while managing to offer a comparable level of performance. I think it's more than enough oomph for most people, but if you make a lot of video calls or engage in other internet activity that leans heavily on uploads, consider spending up for the RE605X -- the moderate bump in upload speeds is probably the biggest difference between that one and the RE505X.

None of the plug-in range extenders I tested in 2020 were able to hit blazing fast speeds -- but the TP-Link and D-Link models were able to sustain speeds in the back of my house that are easily fast enough for streaming HD video or making FaceTime and Zoom calls.

Ry Crist/CNET

Last year's tests

In 2020, I tested four bargain-priced range extenders to see which one offered the most bang for the buck. It was the start of the pandemic, and people were scrambling to bolster their home networks -- I wanted to be sure we could point them to a good, budget-friendly pick that would do the best job of offering an extra room's worth of coverage in a pinch.

In the end, the TP-Link RE220 was the runaway winner. Still available for $35 or less, it remains a solid value pick in 2021.

A before and after in my back bathroom, where it's often difficult to maintain a strong Wi-Fi connection. The TP-Link RE220 (right) did a great job of boosting speeds.

Ry Crist/CNET

I've separated these four models from the other six because the test setup was different in 2020, and it wouldn't be fair to make direct comparisons to those results. The big difference is the router I used. This year, in order to fully test the capabilities of extenders like the TP-Link RE505X, the Netgear EAX15 and the DP-Link DAP-X1870 that support Wi-Fi 6, I needed to use a router that supported Wi-Fi 6, as well. Last year, in 2020, I used the combination modem and router that came with my ISP plan, and that one doesn't support Wi-Fi 6 at all.

You've already read about the best of that bargain-priced bunch, the TP-Link RE220. Here are my takeaways from the other three I tested:

With two adjustable external antennas, the D-Link DAP-1620 is pretty powerful for a budget-priced range extender, but it wasn't as consistent as our top pick.

Ry Crist/CNET

D-Link DAP-1620: This was the only range extender that ever managed to hit triple digits during my 2020 tests, with an average speed of 104Mbps in my bedroom during evening hours. Setup was just as simple as what I experienced with TP-Link, too. I was able to stream HD video, browse the web and make video calls on the extender's network without any issue.

Network speeds were inconsistent though -- and much slower in daytime hours, with a bigger dropoff than I saw with TP-Link. The device also dropped my connection at one point during my speed tests. On top of that, the app was too finicky for my tastes, refusing to let me log in and tweak settings with the supplied device password. It ultimately forced me to reset the device.

Software woes aside, the hardware seems good with this range extender, and it has a dual external antenna setup. Since it's not quite the newest model from D-Link, there's a good chance you can find it on sale somewhere. One seller has it listed new on Amazon for about $40, but I wouldn't spend more than $30 on it, given what the superior TP-Link RE220 costs.

The Netgear EX3700 wasn't powerful enough for the price.

Ry Crist/CNET

Netgear EX3700: It's a dated-looking device, and it wasn't a strong performer in my tests. The 2.4GHz band was able to sustain workable speeds between 30 and 40Mbps throughout most of my home, which was strong enough to stream video with minimal buffering, or to hold a quick video call with a slight delay. But the 5GHz band was surprisingly weak, often dropping into single digits with only a single wall separating my PC or connected device from the range extender. 

I wasn't a fan of the web interface, either -- it seemed more interested in getting me to register for the warranty (and opt into marketing emails) than in actually offering me any sort of control over the connection. There's an app you can use instead, but it's only available on Android devices. WPS button-based setup lets you skip all of that, which is helpful -- but still, with most outlets offering it for about $50, this is one you can safely skip.

The Linksys RE6350 left a lot to be desired.

Ry Crist/CNET

Linksys RE6350: My speeds were consistent with the RE6350 -- they just weren't fast. 

By default, the device automatically steers you between the 2.4 and 5GHz bands, but with download speeds ranging from 10 to 35Mbps throughout all of my tests over multiple days, it might as well just default to the slower 2.4GHz band. The device supports automatic firmware upgrades, which is great, but you can't use the Linksys Wi-Fi app to tweak settings -- instead, you'll have to log in via the web portal.

On top of all that, the RE6350 seemed to be the least stable of all the extenders I tested, with more than one dropped connection during my tests. At about $50, that's just too many negatives for me to recommend it.

Most plug-in range extenders only offer basic features at best, but the TP-Link RE220 also includes a signal strength tester and a High-Speed Mode in the app.

Screenshots by Ry Crist/CNET

Other things to consider

Aside from my speed tests, I made sure to stream video in my bedroom on each extender's network, and I made several video calls on each network, too. I also spent time playing with each extender's settings. You shouldn't expect much, but most will at least make it easy to change the extension network's name or password. Some include app controls with extra features, too.

My top pick, the TP-Link RE505X, makes it easy to tweak settings via TP-Link's Tether app on an Android or iOS device. Again, the features make for slim pickings, but you can check signal strength or turn on High-Speed Mode, which dedicates the 2.4GHz band for traffic from the router to the range extender, leaving the 5GHz free for your normal network traffic. That mode actually wasn't as fast as sharing the 5GHz band like normal when I tested it out, because those incoming 2.4GHz speeds are limited, but it still might be a useful option in some situations.

Setting a range extender up is about as painless as it gets. Most, including all ten that I've tested here at home, support Wi-Fi Protected Setup, or WPS, which is a universal protocol that wireless networking devices can use to connect with each other. Just plug the range extender in and wait a minute for it to boot up, press the WPS button, and then press the WPS button on your router within two minutes.

It's also worth making sure that your range extender includes at least one Ethernet port. If you can connect your wired device (like a smart TV) directly to it, then you'll enjoy speeds that are as fast as possible.

img-4047

A mesh router with its own, dedicated range extenders will do an even better job of spreading a speedy Wi-Fi signal throughout your home, and you can get one for less than you might think. For instance, this three-piece setup from Netgear Orbi did well in our tests, and it's currently available for less than $150.

Netgear

Should I just get a mesh router?

One last note: If you're living in a larger home, or if you need speeds faster than 100Mbps at range, then it's probably worth it to go ahead and upgrade to a mesh router that comes with its own range-extending satellite devices. You've got more options than ever these days, and just about all of them would likely outperform a standalone router paired with a plug-in range extender like the ones tested here.

For instance, I had a three-piece TP-Link Deco M5 mesh router on hand during my 2020 tests, so I set it up and ran some speed tests alongside the four range extenders I initially tested. My average speeds stayed well above 100Mbps throughout my entire house, even in the back. Better still, I didn't need to jump back and forth between my main network and separate extension networks. Everything was consolidated to a single, unified network, and the mesh automatically routed my connection through an extender whenever it made sense. Simple!

Better still, a three-piece version of that system with a router and two extenders currently costs $150 -- and it's just one of several decent mesh setups you can get for under $200. For instance, the 2019 version of Eero's mesh system now costs $199 for a three-pack. The AC1200 version of Netgear Orbi is another good budget mesh pick, and a three-pack is available for just $140 at Walmart. Options like those are why I don't recommend spending much more than $100 on a range extender.

If you're willing to spend more than $200 on a mesh router, you'll start seeing options that support the newest, fastest Wi-Fi 6 speeds, as well as tri-band models with an additional 5GHz band that you can dedicate to traffic between the router and the extenders. If you can afford it, my recommendation is to invest in a system that does both, as tri-band design paired with Wi-Fi 6 makes for one of the most powerful combos you can get in a mesh router

Later in 2021, we'll start seeing mesh routers that support Wi-Fi 6E, which adds in exclusive access to the newly opened, ultra-wide 6GHz band. I've got plenty of information on systems like those in my full mesh router rundown, so be sure to give that a look, too.

That said, if all you need is for your current router to maintain a steady signal one or two rooms farther into your home, then a simple range extender will probably do just fine -- especially if you buy the right one. For my money, the TP-Link RE505X, the D-Link DAP-X1870, and the TP-Link RE220 are the best places to start.

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