You’re reading this because you have spotty Wi-Fi in your home or your wireless router doesn’t have the necessary range. Perhaps you can’t get a reliable signal in your basement, or maybe you have unexplainable dead spots. You might even be here because you want to extend your Wi-Fi into your yard so you can surf the web while you lounge by the pool. In this buying guide, we address these concerns and discuss how you can get the best Wi-Fi possible in your home. We also help you diagnose dead zones to determine the best course of action. In addition, we researched and reviewed the best Wi-Fi boosters to help you find the right one for your situation.
In most cities, searching for a wireless network on your smartphone or laptop reveals one thing – we are all swimming in a veritable ocean of Wi-Fi. Unless you live in a rural community, it’s more difficult finding an area without Wi-Fi than an area with a signal. This shows just how essential a Wi-Fi connection is to everyday life. While it started out as a convenient way to surf the internet, it is quickly becoming an essential hub of communication and integral to everyday functions in a home. Almost all new technology is built with Wi-Fi compatibility, allowing you to brew coffee, lock doors, dim lights, adjust the thermostat and perform other tasks with apps on your phone.
So, when your home is riddled with dead zones and weak spots, it can be more than a frustrating inconvenience – it can affect your home’s security, functionality and overall comfort. These days, simply picking up your laptop and moving closer to your wireless router is not a remedy. Wi-Fi boosters exist for this reason – to extend your wireless range and get a strong signal in every part of your home. That said, every situation is different. For example, some people are better off upgrading their old router or investing in a mesh router.
Diagnosing the Problem
Before you purchase the best Wi-Fi extender on the market, you need to diagnose the problem areas to understand why you have dead zones. Chances are you already know where your dead spots are, but if you want to get a good picture of them, you can download an app that virtually analyzes your Wi-Fi in every part of your home. The best Wi-Fi analyzers provide visual representations of your wireless coverage, allowing you to gauge whether a physical object is blocking the signal or the wireless router simply doesn’t have the necessary range.
Once you’ve analyzed your home’s dead zones, you can start to consider ways to fix the problem:
The simplest fix is to adjust your router’s antenna if it has one (many new routers use an internal antenna that can’t be adjusted). Make sure it is in a vertical position, as this ensures the wireless range is at full capacity. Your wireless range won’t be as wide if the antenna is in a horizontal position.
A significant cause of dead zones is poor router placement. Like most people, you’ve probably installed your router in a corner your office or entertainment room. The former is largely a holdover from the dialup and cable era of the internet when your router needed to be next to your desktop computer because of the cords. The latter is the result of online streaming becoming popular.
The problem with installing your router in these rooms is they are often not in a central location. This means the router’s range may not reach parts of your house. By simply installing the router in a more central room, you might eliminate dead spots or weak zones. Of course, in some homes, installing a router in a central location isn’t possible. In these cases, a Wi-Fi range extender or a mesh router is a good option.
A lot of homes were built long before the internet, much less wireless connectivity. As such, they sometimes have physical characteristics that can interfere with wireless signals – thick plaster walls that contain chicken wire support, bricks, sandstone, metal walls, large metal filing cabinets, thick lead paint, etc. These have all been known to cause issues with Wi-Fi.
As you find a dead spot, look for anything that might block or weaken the signal. If moving your router doesn’t eliminate the dead zone, it’s likely something physically blocking the signal. If you can’t remove the object, such as a brick wall, then a Wi-Fi booster is your best option for getting a signal around those barriers and into dead areas.
Other wireless technology can sometimes interfere with your wireless signal. Microwaves are particularly notorious for killing Wi-Fi. In addition, baby monitors, wireless security systems and wireless sound systems have all been known to interfere. Even your neighbor’s wireless signal can interfere with your Wi-Fi if it’s running on the same channel. Most routers are good at automatically choosing the least congested channel to avoid this, but in areas where you’re in close proximity with others, such as apartments, congestion can be the main culprit of your problem.
Fixing these issues usually means changing to the least congested wireless channel on the router. This requires using a wireless analyzing app to gauge which channels are the busiest.
Upgrade Your Router
If you recently moved into a bigger house or you can’t remember when you last replaced your router, then upgrading to a new model might be the best fix – Wi-Fi extenders and repeaters tend to have diminished speed on the boosted signal. If you think that’s your best route, check out our review of the best wireless routers.
Best Wi-Fi Booster for Large Homes
To find the best Wi-Fi boosters, we looked primarily at the range extension, ease of setup, security features and performance. We didn’t consider price as we looked at models for large homes, but you’ll likely pay around $100 for a suitable range extender. With Wi-Fi boosters, you basically get what you pay for – so if you want the best, you should expect to pay for it.
Using testing data from our colleagues at Tom’s Guide, we evaluated and compared the results for the Linksys RE6800, Netgear Nighthawk EX7000 and TP-Link AC1900. Tom’s Guide tested the boosters’ extended range and the data throughput. They are all rated to extend your Wi-Fi by up to 10,000 square feet, which should be enough to blanket most large houses. That said, if you want the best possible Wi-Fi for your home, you should consider the mesh router recommendations below. These are more of an investment, but they provide better overall speed and coverage.
Netgear specializes in routers and modems for home and business, so it’s no surprise that the Netgear Nighthawk EX7000 is the best Wi-Fi booster for large houses. It features dual-band Wi-Fi with speeds up to 1900 Mbps and a dual-core 1GHz processor for an optimized signal. In tests, it outperformed every Wi-Fi booster in both range and throughput by a significant margin. That said, it’s not the easiest range extender to set up.
Best Wi-Fi Booster for Medium Homes
For medium-size homes, we looked at Wi-Fi boosters that cost between $50 and $75. This price range typically includes models that can extend your Wi-Fi signal by 6,000 square feet, though you can certainly purchase an extender with a specified range up to 10,000 square feet.
We put the Securifi Almond and the TRENDnet AC1200 head to head to determine which is best. Both extenders feature touchscreen interfaces and are easy to setup. We also consulted tests performed by our colleagues at Purch Labs and Tom’s Guide to determine performance.
Securifi specializes in creating multifaceted routers designed to be easy to use and easy to set up. The company wants its products to be the hub of your smart home, and this is evident in the touchscreen of the Securifi Almond. The Almond is simultaneously a Wi-Fi range extender, network access point, wireless bridge and a regular router. It doesn’t provide a huge extended range, which is why it’s ideal for a medium-sized home with dead zones. When you combine the usability and versatility, it’s an excellent Wi-Fi booster for your home.
Best Wi-Fi Booster for Small Homes & Apartments
If you find dead spots or weak zones in your small home or apartment, you’re probably better off upgrading your router. But if you don’t have the budget to upgrade, you can certainly get an affordable Wi-Fi booster for under $50.
We evaluated the D-Link DAP-1330 and Netgear N300. Both cost less than $30 and are quick and easy to setup – these small devices simply plug into a wall socket. Both are also very popular and earn high marks on user reviews.
The D-Link DAP-1330 certainly isn’t in the same league as the best Wi-Fi boosters on the market, and its performance doesn’t compare to that of a mesh router. Still, it’s very easy to set up, comes with a 300 Mbps throughput rating and costs less than $30. If you live in a small house or apartment with dead spots in your wireless signal, the DAP-1330 might be your best option. There’s no need to spend more than is necessary when the DAP-1330 easily fills out the holes in your wireless signal.
Best Mesh Router
If you want your wireless signal to maintain a consistent speed and strength throughout your entire home, then a mesh router is your best option. They are used to create a mesh network using three or more wireless routers to blanket a large area under a single network. It’s the same technology used by large businesses like universities and hospitals.
Since mesh routers aren’t technically Wi-Fi boosters, they don’t suffer from the same one-way data pitfalls. This means your wireless speed remains consistent throughout your home. However, mesh routers cost significantly more than Wi-Fi range extenders. Remember, if you want performance, you should expect to pay for it.
Another downside to mesh routers is the technical setup. You can’t simply plug them in, connect them to your wireless signal and going about your day.
Our colleagues in Purch Labs thoroughly tested a number of mesh routers. From these performance tests, we determined that the Netgear Orbi and Eero are the best on the market. In addition to comparing the performance results, we also evaluated the ease of use and setup to determine our recommendation.
If you live in a home that’s too big for a single router to cover, you might consider investing in the Netgear Orbi RBK50 mesh routers to do the job instead of a standard Wi-Fi booster. We thoroughly tested the Orbi, and it outperformed all other mesh routers in nearly every way. If the best Wi-Fi possible is what you’re looking for, the Orbi RBK50 is your best option.
Wi-Fi Boosters: What We Tested, What We Found
The best Wi-Fi range extenders prioritize three things: long reach, fast throughput and easy setup. The reach is simple – a range extender has little value if it only slightly extends your Wi-Fi. The throughput is more complicated. Unless you use a mesh router, the speed of the extended Wi-Fi is going to be slower than the main signal because the extender only has one-way communication. The throughput determines how fast data can transfer back and forth.
Wi-Fi Range Extenders
Our colleagues at Tom’s Guide thoroughly tested the extended range, data throughput, ease of setup and settings adjustments of the top Wi-Fi boosters on the market in the Purch offices based in Manhattan. The same tests were performed in a reviewer’s home as well. Rather than repeat all the same tests in the Top Ten Reviews office, we relied on the data gathered by Tom’s Guide.
Testing range is relatively simple and straightforward – set up the range extender to boost the signal and see how far you can roam before you lose it. Range was tested using a Microsoft Surface 3 tablet connected to the Wi-Fi booster’s 2.4-GHz band. The tester opened a radio station and slowly walked away from the Wi-Fi booster until the signal dropped. Once the signal dropped, the distance was measured.
Throughput is the amount of data the Wi-Fi booster can move back and forth, and it is more difficult to test than range. Our tester used the IxChariot benchmark with a Digital Storm Triton notebook running Windows 10 and a wireless card setup to gauge throughput intervals at 5, 15, 50 and 140 feet from the Wi-Fi booster. The IxChariot software simulates traffic while simultaneously moving data back and forth. In this way, we can test how fast the Wi-Fi booster moves data through the wireless signal.
Ease of Setup
Some Wi-Fi extenders are simple to setup – all you have to do is plug them into an outlet and connect them to the existing network. That said, this isn’t always the case. Some boosters come with software to help you get everything set up correctly, but even that can be complicated for some. While ease of setup is an important consideration for some, the best performing Wi-Fi extenders tend to be more complicated, which means you may have to suffer through a trickier setup for better performance.
In addition to the tests performed in New York by Tom’s Guide, the mesh routers in our review were thoroughly tested in Purch Labs – a lab devoted to testing products for review.
Our experts performed months’ worth of testing to find the best performing routers, including mesh routers. Many of the tests resemble those run by Tom’s Guide to measure range and throughput, but we also looked at signal-to-noise ratio, Wi-Fi heat mapping, signal penetration (reliability through objects like metal, soundboard and ceilings), and 3D tests (signal above and below the router). Using the data collected from these tests, we were able to clearly delineate the best from the simply average.
Different Types of Wi-Fi Boosters: Extenders vs Repeaters vs Mesh Routers
There are three types of Wi-Fi boosters: range extenders, Wi-Fi repeaters and mesh routers. Each of these technologies boosts your Wi-Fi to fill in dead zones and extend your range. However, it’s worth noting that the difference between Wi-Fi range extenders and Wi-Fi repeaters is so diluted that even manufacturers use the terms interchangeably. We make a delineation below to explain the different technologies, but you will find manufacturers using them both interchangeably with “Wi-Fi boosters.”
In the most basic terms, a range extender captures your existing Wi-Fi signal and creates a second network from it. Imagine a speaker addressing a large crowd of people. On its own, the speaker’s voice isn’t loud enough for people in the back to hear. A Wi-Fi range extender is like a second speaker standing at the very edge of the first’s voice to repeat everything to the back of the crowd. The second speaker has a different voice (a second network).
Range extenders are easy to set up and install – some you only need to plug into a wall outlet and set up the second network. However, they have some significant downsides. You have to sign into a second network, and it’s half as fast as the original – if you’re standing at the back of the aforementioned crowd, everything you hear is on a delay, and if you ask any questions, the second speaker has to relay them to the first.
Another downside is the second network may not be secure, which leaves your network susceptible to hacking. That said, this is typically only an issue with older Wi-Fi extenders that lack compatibility with security protocols like WEP, WPA and WPA2. Every Wi-Fi booster in our review is compatible with these wireless security protocols.
A Wi-Fi repeater does essentially the same thing as an extender, but it does so a little differently. To return to the analogy above, rather than use a second speaker to repeat everything that the first says, a repeater is like setting up a microphone with an amplifier. The microphone picks up the first speakers voice and carries it to the back of the crowd. Again, repeaters suffer from dips in performance like range extenders, but you don’t have to sign in to a second network.
Mesh routers are most commonly used in large buildings, such as colleges and hospitals, to maintain the same network across the entire structure. They have started to gain popularity with consumers, as they are the best way to extend the range of a single network without losing performance.
Mesh routers are essentially a network of routers set up in strategic places around your home. All the routers work together to blanket your home with a wireless signal. However, it’s not easy to set up a mesh network – it takes some technical know-how, software and time. In addition, mesh routers aren’t cheap, so they are more of an investment than a booster.